23 May 2013

K55postfeatureRoznava to Kosice
No bus
No tourist info in Cultural Capital
Beautiful & Baby – Centrum Hotel
Walking
Tourist info

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Rain
Walk
New Hotel
Walk
Rain
Music

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Hanging around
Break-dancing
More walking, but nothing to see in the suburbs
Train

We left Roznava today.  More rain.  No surprised there then.  We are going to Kosice.  The Cultural Capital of Europe this year.  Apparently this makes it an unmissable city.  Our Mistake.

Good views through the rain

Good views through the rain

On arriving at the bus station there is nothing.  Well, I suppose there is a bus station.  It has buses.  Passengers, and if push came to shove you could describe railings, the bitumen (in pretty bad repair) and even a couple of stalls selling stale sandwiches and awful coffee.  It looked so bad that even from a distance I knew I didn’t want any.
Now the useful things, like a map of the city, tourist information, and even how to get out of the damn place were missing.
Luckily there was the railway station near by.  That may help.  Nope.  The cultural Capital of Europe has NOTHING when you arrive.  No information, no help and no listings of anything.  To top it all off,the railway station is still under construction with about one third being completed.

We almost wanted to leave then and there, but again, there was no information on how to get out of the place!  Giving up on all that, we decided to try and wander into town.  Our only problem was that we did not know what direction it was in.  That helps I suppose.  After we started following one of the major roads (there were three to choose from), we did come across a map.  This was slightly helpful, as it told us we were going in the right direction.  There were no tourist info signs on the map though, and it was only a couple of cm/2  so no real detail.
K46posttown2Making it into the city, we noticed a distinct lack of hotels, hostels, town centres, tourist information, or even helpful people.  Not a good start.  There were nice large touch screen monitors set up occasionally on the walk into town.  None of them were working though.  Most were blank, and the ones that had power going to them only had the administrator log on showing.  The touch screen had not been initialised (if it had, I may have been able to get into the system and learn something) on these, so as far as we could tell it was a whole lot of European money spent on nothing.
Criss crossing streets we eventually found an up market pension.  They were a bit out of our price range, and had no idea what tourist information was (can we cook it?) or anything else.  However they were helpful enough to eventually try and find it online for us.  Apparently it is in the middle of some shopping centre.  With very rough directions, we made it to the main town square.  It is nice.  Pretty even, but by now we are tired and frustrated.  Finding the shopping centre, we were able to locate the tourist information that we had been supplied by the pension.  It was the same map we had discovered a way away from the railway station.  Only a bit bigger this time.

K48posttown1Useless.  However we could see a couple of hotels now.  Checking the prices they ranges from 100 euro up (we didn’t even bother with the Hilton.  I couldn’t afford the scandal!). Eventually we found one that was only about 70 Euro.  Ouch!  Even then, it had a Baby & Beauty fair going on.  Just great.  Yet we had no other option, other than walk for hours in the faint hope of finding a place.
After checking in, we went for a walk around the city.  It is pretty, but there is a lot of work that needs doing.  Even the main part of town has buildings that still need extensive renovations.

Going past the cathedral we had our first piece of luck for the day.  We found tourist Info.  If you were not careful, you would miss it.  Going in, we found the people in there quite helpful.  They found us two options for tomorrow that we may be able to stay, and told us a bit about what was happening in town.  Still, the whole thing was a bit bitter.  On leaving we expressed how amazed we were that there is nothing at the main entry points of town to tell us where they were, and how to find them.  Apparently it is coming.  So is the apocalypse.  Who knows what will happen first, as I don’t plan to be around to see either.

The underground city

The underground city

Walking around we had seen a number of plexiglass things around the main street.  Looking into them, we saw sections of the old city that have been uncovered.  Towards the park and a big statue, that seemed to be of more interest to the pigeons than humans, we found a staircase descending down into the depths of gloom.  Going in, we discovered it was a small museum of the old city, and you could walk around underneath the new, imagining what it would have looked like from sewer level.  We had to do that!  Especially as the saying goes that cities are built upon the city.  This is definitely true in this case.

Two years old and counting.  Lets see how big they are after 100 years!

Two years old and counting. Lets see how big they are after 100 years!

There are the old town walls, then renovations and expansions, and through this an old sewer line, and finally the new town built on top.  Then there is more on top of that, but it is street level and does not count here!  One thing that has amazed us in this country is how stalactites form on anything here.  The cement work that has been put in to keep the ceiling up only a few years ago is already starting to get formations.  It seems that everywhere there is water in Slovakia there are stalactites!

More walking and a pub or two to drown our sorrows to top off the day.

K47postgargoyleThe next morning we woke to more rain.  A good start.  Checking out and leaving our bags, we went in search of other options.  The first place we have been given by tourist information is back near the bus station.  On arriving in the street, there was nothing to indicate accommodation.  Finding a door that could be it, we pressed the buzzer.  Turns out that it was the place.  From the outside there is really nothing to indicate that there is accommodation here.  Yet they are fully booked.  Not looking good.  The other place is all the way back across town.  The good thing about this is that you get to see a place by walking around it!
Getting there, we found that it was clearly marked, and it does have rooms available.  They even seemed surprised to see tourists, well, English speaking ones at least!  They asked us how we had found them, and replied that tourist info had told us about the hostel.  They seemed surprised to say the least.  With tonight sorted, we set out to explore the city.  This is always fun in the rain.  But we tried.  We tried to appreciate the beauty of the place, as it does have a lot of charm about it.  We appreciated the churches and the fresh produce market that we stumbled upon, and, of course, the small pubs that have their own breweries attached (ok, so they were interesting).  In this way we passed the day.  K19During the night there was much music and revelry.  All the way down the long walking street that is the main part of town there are different artists set up.  Everything from hard rock to Jazz and poetry.  As we were walking back to where we were staying we appreciated each one for different lengths of time.  Some were better than others.  Then there was the replica cathedral that people had created out of cardboard and were erecting near the original thing.
It was quite lively, and very interesting.  It was just a pity about the rain and miserable weather.
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Woke up to another grey rainy day.

All dressed up and waiting to go

All dressed up and waiting to go

Today we are planning to travel on to Hungary. Upon checking at the train and bus stations, we found out that there is only one train at night to Miskolc and no buses at all. We bought our ticket, and were left with another full day in Kosice. Luckily the city festival has some indoor activities and we headed over to the big shopping centre for some dance. A big break dance and street dance event was organised and although to took for ever to get started, the dancers entertained us with their practice moves off the stage. Amazing what some people can make their body do. (It looked better in real life, on the photo’s it looks a bit silly)
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In the afternoon we wandered a bit through the suburbs, but besides the standard repainted communists blocks, there really was not much to see.

With a break in the rain we made our way to the train station for our train to a new country.

AA

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22 May 2013

Ochtinska Aragonitova Jaskyna
Stitnik

Up early to catch the bus out to Ochtinska Aragonitova Jaskyna.  This was fairly easy, and the bus was at the right time. A25postfeatureOn the way we passed through the usual valleys looking up at the woodland hills, and crossing streams.  Nothing out of the ordinary here.  From the bus stop it is meant to be a leisurely 20 minute walk to Ochtinska Aragonitova Jaskyna. There is a cave there.  We were hoping to catch the 11am tour of the cave, but getting off the bus we found out that 20 minutes at the Roznava tourist info is actually 2km uphill.  There had been someone else getting off at the bus stop that had a car waiting and off they went.  Leaving us to walk.  The weather was a bit gloomy, with low clouds or fog.  This condensated on the high leaves of the trees and then trickled down, giving the sound of rain, without getting that wet!

The walk was not too bad, but not as interesting as others we have done recently, until, that is, we came across something lying in the road.  It was weird.  We had never seen anything like it before.  Looking at it, we thought it could have come from some tropical location, and had escaped from the zoo.  It was a lizard.  Not any sort of lizard, but a fat pudgy one with a small tail.  Not too weird you say, not knowing it was jet black.  Not just looking black, but a deep dark glistening black.  With yellow spots!  A23postpano1He was happy with us taking a few photos, then waddled off the road back to the forest.  This was a good thing for him, as a few minutes later a bus load of children went past, and he could have ended up a flat black lizard with yellow spots.  A bit further on we saw an hare.  It watched us for a second, then loped into the forest.  That was about it for wildlife today.
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We made it to Ochtinska Aragonitova Jaskyna about 10 minutes late, not too worried as there is another tour at 12:30, just a bit annoyed.  We were not allowed to buy our tickets yet, and had to hang around.  It was raining a bit now, so we took our time reading up on European UNESCO sites, as they had a board up with them on, as well as information about the cave and surrounds.  What makes this cave unique is that it is an Aragonite Crystal cave.

A26postlittleWe were thinking that there would be all sorts of crystal formations inside, and imagining it a bit like walking into a massive geode.  Turns out that Aragonite is just another name for calcium carbonate, just in a different structural form (Limestone).  This forms Helectites.  Yes, these are rare and different, but not, in reality, that uncommon if you look at lots of caves.  A27postlittle2Helectites have the unique ability to grow in any direction, and it is not surprising to see them going up, down, left and right from the one place.  Thinner than straws and very pretty.  The Wee Jasper Cave has a good example of them, as well as many other places.  We had even seen them growing in the old silver mine at Kutna Hora.
Still, UNESCO has listed it for a reason.

A28postlittle3When the time came, we were abruptly told to get our tickets.  Here we were given a piece of paper with English.  This told us what the tour guide would say.  Sitting back down to read it, we were then yelled at to follow the woman.  OK.  The guy before that had spent the last hour at the ticket office had needed a lesson in working with tourism, and it seemed to run in the organisation.  At the entrance we were then told we needed to pay another 10 euro for photos!  Not in a nice way either.  Well, they can get stuffed,  we have downloaded these from the internet.  FREE!  Hahahahaha.

At the entrance we met another girl, and she would be our tour guide.  We were lucky enough to be the only people.  (With the school kids we had been passed by:  They had come out of the cave before, and were now having lunch.  Thanking anyone that would listen that we had not had to do the tour with them)  This girl didn’t seem to speak English, but was pleasant enough.  On entering the doors we were led down a carved out tunnel.  This is supposed to have been from a geological survey done in 1954, but looked more like something drilled as an entrance to an underground bunker.  At the base, our guide fiddled around for a bit, then an English welcome blares in our ears.  This went through the same spiel as on the paper, so we asked if it was like this all the way through.  It would be.  So we asked to do it in the quite.  No problem.  I think she hated the voice as much as we did.
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Entering into the cave proper, we followed a tall fisher in the rock, past a few pools of water.  The humidity in here is supposed to be around 95% in the driest part, with temperatures around 7-7.5 degrees. I will only do a rough idea on what the cave is like, as there is only so much to say.  The rock is full of fractures, and these are mainly what we followed.  There are no normal formations in the cave itself.  No flowstone, shawls, cauliflowering, stalactites or mites or even straws.  The walls are just limestone, with waves of quartz through it.  Wavy lines of different colours provide swirls to the rock.  There is also a high iron content and some of this has turned to ochre.  This gives the appearance of dirt in some places.  There is lots of water, and that’s about it.

A22postcavepano4Except for the Helectites.  They are everywhere. Seriously.  Most caves have the formations along fractures in the rock, or where water runs or collects.  Not here.  The little things get everywhere, and are not so little.  Some could be mistaken for plates of spaghetti, but for me, it seemed as if I was upside down and looking at the floor of a strange coral reef.  There were lines of them, clusters of them, and whole gaggles of them.  In other caves, we have had helectites proudly pointed out to us if there is even one.  If there is a group, they are the main attraction.  Here, one clump would make any serious cave guide weep.  We saw more in the first meter than I have seen elsewhere in the rest of my life.  And there was more.  Going around, we were told to hurry up by our guide, as we were taking too long, although I think she appreciated our awe.  Pointing out the standard ones.
A17postheartcaveThe heart of the cave, which is an Amonite structure resembling a human heart, the Milky Way, a large fracture filled to the brim with them, and the hedgehog.  Bristling with spikes.  There was one section that looked to be shawls, but made of Amonite.  The colour and look is subtly different from normal calcification, and when clean, the white is magnificent.  However there were a lot of muddy looking ones from the iron ore.

A20postcavepano3We could have spent a lot longer down there, but were rushed out after half an hour, so the next group of school kids could go through.  It was too quick for us, and a real pain that we could not take photos.  (If we had, we would not have made it past the first section)  Anna was not sure it was worth the effort.  It had taken us half a day to get here, and we didn’t know how long it would take to get back.  Along with the attitude of the staff (not including the guide, that started to thaw out as we went along, and her English is not as bad as she thinks.  Give us another hour with her, and I am sure she would have been happily chatting away), just for half an hour underground?  Still.  If you have your own car, and are interested in this, it is worth seeing.  Otherwise don’t bother.
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We walked back to the bus stop.  Very uninteresting, as there were no more lizards.  Passed again by the second group of school kids, and waited for the bus.  It was only about half an hour.  Just as long as we had spent in the cave itself…
A16postchurch1On the way back we had to do a stop at Stitnik.  There is not much here, but an old church.  As we had a few minutes until the next bus, we went for a look.  Glad we did, as it is stunning.  The outside is not so interesting,  and could be anywhere, but inside?  It is all wooden, and painted.  It does not seem to have been renovated lately, and I dread the day that happens. Although many of the paintings are faded, they are still there.  Along with a wooden balconies inside made it truly special.  Words cannot do it justice, and we didn’t even have the time to take photos!
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By the time we made it back to Roznava it was raining.  Heavily.  Picking up a few more supplies, and a meal we could make, we headed back to our accommodation.  I don’t think that we have mentioned that it is an old folks home, with short to mid term accommodation.  Nothing special, but a place to leave the bags and sleep.

AA

21 May 2013

To Roznava
bus to Betliar Castle
Walk back
Thunder and lightning

A short one today.  Our hostess had happily made us coffee for this morning.  We had not ordered breakfast, as we needed to catch an early bus (8:15!), but she had gone to the effort, and who were we to say no?  She had also gotten us some apples and a few chocolate filled croissants!  We were sorry to leave, and could have stayed much longer with them.  On finding out that school here starts at 7:30, we are happy not to have to be anywhere before 8, and don’t know how they do it!  Especially as last winter they had more than three meters of snow!

The bus ride to Roznova was about the same.  Well, it was the same as far as Dobsina.  We did get to see a deer after that, grazing in a field, but didn’t think the bus driver would take too kindly if we asked him to stop for photos!

Roznava has a very big nice central square that was under construction

Roznava has a very big nice central square that was under construction

Roznava is a major town for the region, and again an ex-mining centre.  It at least has shopping centres.

The famous watch tower towering up in the middle of town

The famous watch tower towering up in the middle of town

Stopping at tourist info, we found out that the castle we had come to see burnt down last summer.  Apparently there was a grass fire that got out of control, and the whole thing went up.  It is a shame, as it has been a museum since the mid 1800’s!  It was that good, and supposedly one of the best in Slovakia.  Disappointed, we made our way to the hotel, knowing there is still the Aragonite Cave we are planning on tomorrow.

R35town2

Not used to such an early start, or even such a short trip, we had to work out what to do in the afternoon.  We decided on a different castle/palace.  Betliar Castle.  It is only a few km away, and we went over to check the bus times.

They are doing up a lot of buildings but not sure why the church is now two different colours

They are doing up a lot of buildings but not sure why the church is now two different colours

Luck was on our side now, and the bus was just getting ready to leave, so we jumped on.  As the trip was back the way we came, we relaxed a bit.  There was a good side to the bus trip though.  We have been travelling for about a year now, and washing machines can be hard to find at some times.  Yet we have never, NEVER, smelt as bad as the guy sitting next to me.  It brought back memories of Elcho Island, and people that have eaten turtle or flying fox.  Choking back the gag reflexes was the best I could do, whilst gulping in semi fresh air from the aisle.  Yes, I smoke, Yes I have BO, Yes, my clothes might be able to stand by themselves and walk away at times, but NEVER have I smelt like that (If I do, kill me then and there!)

Back out in the fresh air was a relief.  We had been dropped in the centre of Betliar town.  They, similar to other Slovak towns, have notices up everywhere telling you the history of the place, and pointing out special buildings and sites.  This is great, and shows the pride the people have in their country/region/town.  We love it.  To top it off, it is multi-lingual.  English, German, Hungarian & Russian.  Perfect.  More countries should do this, as it makes a place a pleasure to travel.
Easily finding our orientation, we head up this particular stream in town to the right place.  On the way, we kept scanning the hills for it, but could not see a thing.  Turns out to be not so much of a castle but Noble’s Manor.

Betliar "Castle"

Betliar “Castle”

It is a beautiful house set in extensive gardens, and mostly dating back to the late 1870’s onwards.  Deciding not to do the house, as we have both been in plenty of period places elsewhere, we still enjoyed walking around the gardens.

The polar bears lived down stairs

The polar bears lived down stairs

Andrassy (the original owner) was a bit eccentric and had a Japanese bridge, gazebo, man made waterfall (complete with a couple of polar bears in his day) and lake.  It would have been stunning.

Unfortunately, there must have been a very hard winter.  We have seen signs of it everywhere, and been told by a few people it was bad, but here, in this protected garden, there were trees scattered everywhere.  Most have already been topped and tailed for collection and placed together, but the stumps were split, uprooted and scattered.  There were branches everywhere and the place could have been the Atherton’s after Cyclone Larry.  The destruction was that bad.  At least the Mansion survived.

We had the choice of walking back, or taking the bus.  By now there were some dark clouds appearing, with a few rumblings of thunder, but these were disappearing just as quickly as they came.  So, we decided to walk.  Didn’t we.

The view with clear skies..

The view with clear skies..

Back through the outskirts of town we found the yellow track back to Roznava.  It started out fairly easily along the road, then into mountain meadows.  Before it came to a big iron padlocked gate, and electrified barbed wire fences!  WTF?  The path now led us along this for the next couple of kilometres.  As it was so quiet you could hear the ticking of the electric fence.

Another bush walk

Another bush walk

We will try to find out what it was for,  as it looked as if it was to keep people out, however the electrified part was almost on ground level on the inside.  There were also holes on the fence occasionally where something had pushed through, and at one time looked to be cut.  We couldn’t see anything interesting in there, even though then path followed it religiously.  Speculation on Bear Sanctuaries to outer prison security or military.  There were not even any signs to interpret along the way.  At one point we did come across a box hanging on the fence.  There was nothing on our side, but as we walked around a convenient corner in the fence, we could see that it had a door and handle?  A weird thing to say the least.

By now the clouds had rolled in properly, and just as we made it to the edge of the forest, it started raining.  It was not too bad where we were, but the opposite hill was being soaked.  It was a bit of fun watching the lightning hit the hill, hearing the thunder rolling through the valleys and watching the veil of rain descend.  Until it started on us.  We backed further into the trees for protection.  This was not just rain, but hail!  Still,it only lasted a few minutes and we were on our way again.  Without the wind it would have been fine, but the chill caused by the gusts of wind were a bit cool.

From here it was an easy trip to town.  We heard a cuckoo bird in the distance, and as we closed in on it, were lucky enough to see it fly off to another tree, then we were in town, walking through a small suburb, past the decrepit hospital.  Anna had the right idea when she said they were probably spending the money on health care and equipment rather than the exterior of the building.  Back to the town centre and it started raining again.

Outside of down town Roznava turns into communists blocks, like our hotel.

Outside of down town Roznava turns into communists blocks, like our hotel.

Now we have a few supplies to last the night, so we can watch the clouds from the comfort of our balcony, but someone will need to go out and get more wine….

AA

20 May 2013

To late for train
walk from Stratena to Dedinky
No Ski lift
Walk over hill
Ladders and waterfall walk
Mountain meadow
Walk back down

We have been talked into staying another night to do a different walk today.  As if our legs are not already killing us!  After a bit of breakfast, we found out we had missed the train to our starting point in Dedinky, and we would have to walk that bit as well.  We talked about it, and decided that we would still do the pretty part of the walk, and depending on time decide which way we would come back.
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That decided, we headed off down the road.  This is not the prettiest bit, but there are hills covered with trees, and as we leave town, we continue to follow the stream.  This took us to a small lake, where there are a couple of houses, and a guy fishing.  The water is so clear that you can see the fish swimming happily around.  They were happy, and to celebrate the coming of spring, they kept jumping up out of the water.

Could be in the Alps

Could be in the Alps

From this lake, we had to keep following the stream to Dedinky, but the hills closed in and became cliffs that you could not walk around.  The path takes this into consideration and heads straight up our side.  The other side had the train tracks, and they were lucky enough to have a tunnel.  Going up was not as bad as we had expected.  The path was fairly well used, and although not all the trees that had fallen over during winter had been removed, it was still an easy climb.  In one or two places there were old wooden ladders over the steeper sections.

Dedinky has it's own lake with little wooden boats

Dedinky has it’s own lake with little wooden boats

It was evident that this path has been used for years as nearby are the remnants of at least two other rotten ladders.
Winding down the other side through a light and airy forest into the town of Dedinky.  This is another mining town.  Built around the lake that is now used for summer recreation even though the town is reliant on winter sports.  There is not much of interest in town.  A few pubs, pensions and houses.  Apparently an old church, but it could have been built twenty years ago, and we were only allowed to look through the front door.

From here, we were supposed to catch a ski lift up the hill to the start of a small canyon.  We had our doubts about this, and they turned out to be accurate.  The ski lift was not working, and we had to make our own way up the hill.  This lead to another small village.  From here our trek started in earnest.

SP54postwalk2SP55postwalk3Just outside of Biele Ville, the small town, is Zejmarska roklina Gorge.  It is one of the smallest gorges in Slovenksy Raj national park (Slovak paradise), but also supposed to be pretty good (probably because you don’t have to share it with everyone else).  The start of the walk follows the base of the stream, and slowly the two hills come together.  Before you realise it, you are basically forced to walk through the high watermark of the stream itself.  At the moment it is somewhat swampy, but accessible without getting wet.  SP59postwaterfall2At other times, you would need a good pair of wellies, or go barefoot.  There is a lot of flood debris washed down, and the stream is littered with broken trunks and branches.  This makes the views a bit messy, but not less appealing.  On coming to the first of the waterfalls, we take our time to get some photos and enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the area.  Only to have a couple come up the path behind us.  We had passed this couple between Dedinky and Biele Ville.  Apparently they were planning the same hike.

SP56postwalk4SP57postwalk5We took longer than we had planned, and let them go past.  Darn it, we didn’t have the place to ourselves.  After not seeing anyone on the paths yesterday (well, considering the path we didn’t have in the afternoon, we are not surprised) it came as a bit of a shock and disappointment to have to share today. Especially considering it is Monday, and people should be out there working!  Continuing up, after a suitable delay, we came to the next waterfall.  The other couple were still here, and if we were not careful, we would be playing leap frog for the rest of the trip.  This waterfall was worth hanging around though.  The water twists on its way down.  Starting off on the left, then going right.  There are a few depressions in the rock, changing its course.  SP46postpano1SP49postpano4SP50postpano5By now the mountains have closed in, and it is hard to continue upwards.  There is a small narrow fissure in the rocks beside the waterfall that is a bit too steep to easily navigate.  Possible but risky.  However the people running the national parks have taken this into consideration, and for your convenience have placed a ladder a bit further away.  This is very helpful, and although Anna was doubtful about it, still made the climb.  There had been old wooden ladders here before as well, but had been washed away or rotted only leaving behind traces.  Now they have metal ones.  Although they will have to be replaced in a few years as well.

SP45postwaterfallIn this way we went from steep section and waterfall to easy walk.  Sometimes out on barbecue plates hammered into the rock wall, or other rickety ladders, but mostly using tree roots to help facilitate the climb.  At the top there is no magnificent view, we had a pretty good one earlier to make up for it.  There is just more forest, and a different way down.

Filling up the water bottle

Filling up the water bottle

What made it special was the start  of the stream.  It bubbled up out of the ground in a few places.  The most impressive place had a little shack built over it.  We were not sure if this was to protect it from winter or just to look good.  It is not often you see the start of a stream coming out the front door of a miniature house!

From here it was not supposed to be too far to a place where we could get a bite to eat a drink and continue on.  This too was closed.  It was the end of one of the ski lifts in the area, and again only open in winter.  They did have horses grazing in the fields, with a few goats and pigs in nearby yards, so was not a complete waste of time. Looking up at the sun, we chose the long walk back, and got started.

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Some snow remains, where cold air is coming out of the caves

Some snow remains, where cold air is coming out of the caves

This was a nice easy walk along the road, as it winds through the tops of the hills.  Going down, we found pockets of very cold air with snow still around, and assume that the ice caverns run all through the area and this is one air vent.

Eventually we made our way back to the hostinec, exhausted but happy we had done the whole walk.  Still no bears or deer, but plenty of fish, a couple of snakes, a few frogs, hundreds of beetles, tadpoles and much more.  It was only small things, but they say that the small things in life are often the best.

AA

19 May 2013

Stratena to cave
Dobsinska Ladova Jaskyna

After breakfast we had to head out to find these Ice caves.  Hopefully second time lucky.  C01Our hostess had provided us with a topographical map of the region with a nice walking track marked on there, and this scenic route should only take us about two hours.  We should be there before the 12:30 tour and that left the 2pm one as a backup..

The walk started out well, through the town and along a small mountain stream.  The path was fairly clearly marked with blue white lines painted on trees.  This is a nice quiet walk.  Occasionally we crossed the stream, and occasionally it went up the hill.

Following the crystal clear mountain streams

Following the crystal clear mountain streams

Loosing track of the markers was a bit of a problem as they were few and far between, and once when there was a small ladder to go up the rocks, we went the wrong way.  This was probably because the ladder was lying on the ground, and we thought it was another bridge.  Still, we made our way along.  Looking for bears and deer.  I heard something that could have been deer’s hoofs, but turned out to be a woodpecker.  The sound was fairly faint, and although we looked through the trees, we couldn’t see it.  A bit further along we heard it again.  This time we spotted it.  It was on a tree only a few meters away, but was only small.  This is why the noise was so faint.  We got to watch it running up the tree trunk pecking away at the bark for a bit then continued on through the mixed forest of pines and other trees.  Yep.  I have no idea what they were, but they had leaves, so should be trees.

Picture perfect

Picture perfect

The stream took us to a clearing that opened up onto a beautiful mountain meadow full of wild flowers and lush grass, this is perfect deer country apparently.  Good food, and the safety of the trees not too faraway, but still no deer.  We did see a few traces of them though.  With this in mind, we were a bit disappointed.  Until, that is, we got to see a once in a lifetime event.  Probably.  Tree sex.! Seriously.  With the wind blowing through the meadow, it was shaking the trees about a bit, and occasionally one tree or another would release great clouds of pollen to fertilise nearby trees.  These billowed out in the wind as they drifted down the valley.  A stunning thing to see.

C07The next section of the walk took us up past small limestone cliffs to the top of one of the ridges.  This was an almost vertical ascent, and made a little tricky from the half rotting leaves deposited before winter.  These cover the ground in a thick mat that could hide anything from good ground to small holes, or slippery rotting branches.  It made for an interesting climb.  Winding back down the other side was much easier, and eventually we popped out at Dobsinska Ladova Jaskyna.

This is the ICE CAVE!

Apparently it was formed 250 million years ago, and there is something unique about the geology that keeps the temperature between -5 and 0.5 degrees all year round.

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It has been a bit of a tourist attraction since the late 1800’s when one of the miners in the area discovered it.  Patronised by writers, mathematicians, geologists and princes.  Now being visited by us.  The lady at the ticket office was not that helpful (you can’t have everything, and apparently the place gets over 75,000 people a year) and we freaked out when we saw admission was 7 euro each (well,it is UNESCO) and 10 Euro for photos!  Still, we were willing to pay the price. She didn’t charge us for the camera though.  It was in obvious view, and I even waved it at her, so thought that if I got in trouble for not having the right ticket I would play dumb tourist.  It turned out we had made it just in time.  the 12:30 tour was almost ready to start.  Kids running around, screaming, hitting each other with sticks or lolling around in prams.  Out of the 20 odd kids there, you would be lucky enough to find one that would remember this in 5 years, let alone 5 days.  And why would you take a baby in?  Still, that’s what we will have to put up with, we will.  Its an ICE CAVE!!!
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The tour was only in Slovak, with another in Hungarian slightly later.  On asking if there was anything in English, we were told we needed a group of 40 people.  This means we have no real info on the cave itself.  (You know the website – wiki…)C59postpano1
On entering through the locked doors the first thing you see is a small walkway down to the cave entrance.  Flanked on either side by snow.  Entering this area the temperature plummets as the cold air billows up from underground.  Following the path you can already see ice forming on the handrails, and entering the cave you instantly see a wall of ice on the side.

C55postpanovert1C57postpanovert3C56postpanovert2The first chamber is stunning with a few stalactites and mites, even columns of ice over a large smooth area.  The room is glistening with crystals everywhere, and it is an amazing sight.  Although we didn’t get to stop here, it was apparent that we would be going past it on the way out.

The next sections are descending deeper into the system, here you can imagine a frozen deep freeze with all the little crystals gone, leaving the big thick compacted ice behind.  Smooth and silky.  Looking wet, but dry to touch.  The colours changing from white to blue to green.  It is flowing down through the cave and ripples as it goes.  There are no obvious fissuring of the surface, and it it smooth all the way down. Then you have to go through a couple of ice tunnels, these are almost similar to a fun house.  The ice is still smooth, but there are dimples and it undulates along.  A stunning thing to see before you pop out the other side and see another ice flow with bits sticking out of it.  C60postpano4Here there is a warmer pocket of air, and it creates some interesting effects with icicles coming away from the wall.  The roof also has formations on it.  Some of these are similar to normal cave formations, eg shawls and coral stone, but not to the extent of a limestone cave.  Back up and around a UNESCO sign listing the place (Made from Ice, of course) and back to the starting room.
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As the tour was in Slovac, we had been lagging behind taking photos, as it did not seem to be a problem, and as we caught up with the group again, we got to see the main formations that we had glimpsed on entering.  These are where the water drips through the overhead rock to create the aforementioned columns and stalagmites.  As this is only a small amount of the water entering the caves, the people looking after it have also carved fairly deep trenches along the metal walkways to funnel the fresh water deeper into the system to protect these formations (and probably make it easier for tourists).  The tour group left, and we decided to hang back a bit more.  It hadn’t been a problem before, and where could we go?  So we took our time admiring some small details before the Hungarians caught up to us.  C52postnice1C53postnice2C54postnice3Deciding it was time to move on (my fingers were so frozen by now that I couldn’t adjust the camera any more, and it was so frozen it wouldn’t take photos anyway!) we headed back up and out.  Jumping all the chains and opening the (Thankfully unlocked) door.  No problems.  Most people had departed for the walk back to the car park, and we took some time thawing out before doing the same.

The car park is a 20 minute downhill walk away (NOT Dobsina, thank you very much tourist info!) and a lot easier than the one we had just done.  Looking around at the end, there was a hotel that if it wasn’t closed, you could be worried that it would close very suddenly and terminally, and an overpriced restaurant.  There is nothing else here, other than cars.  We did find out that the cave system has been charted up to 22km and the Karst area we are in has many caves throughout it (not surprising for limestone country).

Walking back we got a bit adventurous,and decided to take another trail.  It was not that much fun following the road.  This one started out well, and led us up another hill, in the right direction.  The mixed forest with plenty off undergrowth of ferns and moss turned into a purely pine forest with needles everywhere, then got a bit darker.  The markers disappeared, the “path” completely vanished and the bush turned aggressive.

Entering the evil woods...

Entering the evil woods…

The trees sprouted dead, spiky branches everywhere, and were growing so close together that you couldn’t avoid them.  The hill got steeper and more treacherous, and eventually we came to a small limestone outcrop that we had to climb up.  It did offer an amazing view back the way we had come.  After an hour or two of hiking we were only about 1km from where we had started.  Now we had to get down the other side.  Needles to say it was worse.  Still, we made it with only a few major setbacks, as we zigzagged down, trying to avoid cliffs and passively aggressive trees!

It is a beautiful region, and the walks were both completely different, from open and airy, treey and soft to dark and foreboding.  Great contrasts all in one day.

Back at the Hostinec we had a great evening, they had a couple of books on Australia, and we had a very merry time talking and watching Sweden thrash Switzerland in the finals of Ice hockey.  It all came crashing down when the didgeridoo  came out though.  I tried to play it, and was impressed I could get some sound out of it but nothing good.  Still, what are the odds.  In the middle of Slovakia playing a didge?

AA

18 May 2013

Ice caves?

We are heading out of Poprad today.  We had wanted to yesterday, but needed another trip to Tourist Info.
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So, this morning, we made our way to Tourist info.  Yes, there is plenty of places to stay in Dobsina, even though there are no hotels, there are plenty of private residences or Zimmer Frei, similar to Germany.  This made us feel a lot better, as there was just one place we could fine on-line last night and it was a few kilometres out of town!  Then it is only a 20 minute walk to the Ice caves.  They printed out a bus timetable for us and we went off to find breakfast.  We love Tourist info in Slovakia, as they have always been helpful about the region and what’s around.

Last chance to see some traditional dancing before leaving Poprad

Last chance to see some traditional dancing before leaving Poprad

Breakfast was as good.  A nice meal at a terrace cafe.  I got Ham and eggs, and Anna got Bacon and eggs.  Not the way we had intended but still good.  We did have to pick them out from the menu by very small pictures!  For 2 Euro it even came with coffee and “juice” however it was very good, sitting there in the sun and having a nice meal.  Yet we still needed to catch the bus to Dobsina.  Making our way back to the hotel, we picked up our bags from the friendly people at the hotel and made our way back to the bus station.  We have spent much too much time here in the last few days and are happy to be leaving.

Pretty Slovakian countryside

Pretty Slovakian countryside

The bus arrived about half an hour after we got there, and we set out on the scenic trip south to Dobsina.  The road winds up and around mountains before winding back down the other side.  Through forests, past streams and mountain fields.  There was not much cultivation here, or even fields for cattle or sheep.  We didn’t see a flock anywhere.  Although we spent much of our time looking out the windows for bears than sheep or cattle.  Apparently there are meant to be bears, but we couldn’t find any.  Past numerous brown blurs in the bush, but most of these are tree stumps left over from the logging that has gone on in the area.  There are small stretches where all the pine trees have been felled and cleared.

Is it a tree or a bear?

Is it a tree or a bear?

This is sustainable logging that, from the bus, looks like it is done well.  There is not the left overs that you get in Australia, and they seem to be using most of the trees.  Branches and all.  Only the tree stump is left behind in a lot of cases.  Still, they are not bears.  There were no bears to be found.  I did wonder what they eat up here in the pine forests, and Anna thinks they could live off the Deer.  This would also explain why there were no Deer either.  So, Bears here eat Salmon, Honey and berries as everyone knows, but are also feeding on larger life forms.  Probably starting years ago with the spermophiles, and moving onto Gophers, Foxes, Wolves, and Deer before adapting to Tourists?  We will see.  (OK, we have had a nice meal tonight with a few drinks as is probably showing.  Especially that natural stuff they make here.  It is stronger than you think!)  OK.  Back to the trip.  Not much more to say.  We made it to Dobsina without seeing a bear.  We did pass an Ice cave about 20KM before the town, and thought that was a bit unusual, but this is the region, and there may be more than one Ice Cave.
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On arriving at Dobsina, we started to worry.  The bus station i.e one sad little bench with the words “bus stop” painted on the pockmarked bitumen, was next to the town square, and right beside a vacant, vandalised building with most of its windows smashed.

Dosbina from above

Dosbina from above

A good start.  On the drive through the town we did not see a place advertising accommodation at all.  Walking to the square, we were very happy to see a tourist info sign.  And very disappointed that it was not open on the weekend!  When do most people have time to travel around (excepting these weird people that have been on the move for the last 12 months)?  Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm?  Or do they get out on the weekends to see their country?  I would bet on the weekends, however Tourist info here is that people have their breaks during business hours.

So, we were stuck in a town with no-one around.  Tourist info closed, and on the board they only mention the local church as the must see for the area.  Not good at all.  Where is this cave?
We started walking around the town and it was not that long until we came across a Penzion.  This was proudly displaying a sign beside the road with its fitness gym, well being centre and restaurant.  Going up to check it out we quickly found that they no longer do accommodation!  Asking on another place to say we got one word.  “Up”  Up where?  Up the street?  up the mountain?  “Up, I have no idea what you are saying, up”  So we continued walking.  Dragging our decrepit bags behind us.  At the moment they are being held together with masking tape as we are sick of buying new ones every time we take a flight.  The wheels no longer work properly, and the handle of one only half extends, but we persist (For those of you not following the blog, we have had to replace the bags after nearly every flight due to the quality baggage handling that you get at airports).

Small towns in the valleys

Small towns in the valleys

Finding an old man watching us move up the street, we ask him for a penzion.  There is a bit of confusion, with no Slovak, or English but we made it known what we wanted with international gestures of sleep.  There is apparently one place.  It is a way out of town.  Not sure if it was a long walk in time or distance, but we decide it is not worth the effort as it seems to be the place we found last night on-line.  We thank him, and make our way back towards the bus station.  One last ditched effort to find a place to stay by dropping into a pub along the way.  Here we are a curiosity, but there is one person willing to help.  The others would have as well, but were already having trouble sitting on their stools, and again the language thing.  He even decided to walk us to our nights accommodation.  As we went,we got a run down on the town,its history, how it was not doing so well now, but the council was planning big things to renew the town.  Unfortunately for us it was in Slovak so we did not understand a word of it.  He could have also been telling us we were idiots for coming here as there is nothing in town, and nothing near by!
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We made it to the place he was thinking of.  It was the non-pension we had found before.  We tried to let him know it was no longer a place to stay, but he would have nothing of it, and we went back up to the girl behind the bar.  He tried very hard to change her mind and let us stay there.  Even to the extent of pantomiming us dragging our bags along the street.  This was somewhat amusing, but she didn’t change her mind.  By now, Anna had had a closer look at the maps we were carrying from tourist info and found out that the cave we had passed before was the right one, and nowhere near Dobsina.  So we let our friend know we would just catch a bus back there.  He even walked us back to the bus station.  Checked the times and let us know there would be a bus at 12:55.  Thanking him, we let him return to his now warm beer.  He wouldn’t even take an euro or two to buy a new one!  He was very disappointed that we were not staying, and was sure we would have a great time in town if we did stay.  Especially at his local.  The bus never came.  The next one on the time table didn’t come either.  Or the next.  Eventually one did turn up at 3pm and we got on it to go to Stratena, a town close to Dobsinska Ladora Jaskyna (where the ice cave is, and so close in name that it can be confused with Dobsina)  By now we were cursing Tourist info.

Stratena town

Stratena town

As we drove through the town on the bus, we saw three pensions, and when we were finally allowed off the bus we started walking back towards them.  The town is basically along the main road.  Stretched out, but not that many houses.

The first penzion was locked up tight.  The second was closed, but there was someone there that pointed us further along the road to the third.  Our final hope for the town was bustling with people.  Making our way into the restaurant, we asked if they have a room for the night.  No English.  Do you speak German?  Anna took over then, but all the responses were in English!  Still,  we were getting somewhere.  As it turned out, we got nowhere.  They were booked for the night.

Finally a place to stay!

Finally a place to stay!

With all our options exhausted, we made our way back to the bus station to wait for a bus.  Any bus.  I walked all the way up the other end of town.  Finding a Zimmer Frei sign in a vacant plot.  This was hopeful, but these hopes were dashed as the sign pointed nowhere, and on asking at all the nearby houses they knew nothing about it.  Back at the station, Anna thought it was worth asking at the Hostinec.  This looked like a pub, so could be worth a try.  I sat with the bags this time.

Success.  We had found a place to stay!  It had only taken us all day.  They had a room that we could stay in, and after taking our bags back down there, we were introduced to the dog (a really nice German Shepard) and shown our room.  Then back downstairs for a beer.  This turned into dinner of soup and dumplings, and yet more beer and wine.  Topped off by the local spirit mentioned earlier.  Still, we had found a place.  Whilst drinking we asked for a deck of cards, and was given half a tarot deck.  Too many jacks, and only one queen, but we made up our own game (that Anna always won) and watched the USA get thrashed 0:3 by Switzerland in the ice hockey.  A good evening.

AA