June 06, 2003 GMT
Love At Second Sight

I seemed to have started off on the wrong foot when I crossed the border from Austria into Slovakia near Bratislava. The border guard on the Slovakian side was probably over-worked, under-paid and a couple of other things. - Presumably in the best effort to make sure no stolen vehicles came into his country he beckoned (nay... too nice a word), he ordered me forward a meter or so, in order for him to check the registration number of the bike. Okay, he probably did that in the interest of the owner of the vehicle (i.e. yours truly) but he did so in a manner that would have make any drill sergeant of the marines proud. - Anyway, I did not have to do 30 push-ups and was motioned on.

Okay - I am being over-sensitive here and I am exaggerating a little, but such was the welcome in this country that I would rate it "sub-investment grade" (inside joke for those who knew me in my professional capacity).

The weather was not very helpful either (thunder showers), and I appeared to have entered the country in a region were there is very little in terms on tourist infrastructure. I was driving from one rain shower to another, it was getting late and I could not find a B&B accommodation nor any campgrounds. The response of one or two landlords was perfectly in line with that of the miserable person at the boarding house near the German/Czech border I had mention in my previous report. Flat rejection. So there! My motorcycle gear and the fact that my Slovak language skills (other than pivo = beer) are not existent did not help either.


"Velke pivo = large beer"

So things are being made a little challenging. I check my trusty GPS and find a road going up north to the mountains. The analytic mind is working: mountains equal tourism equals accommodation. Since the major road up north links a couple of towns or villages, I reckon that my chances of finding a roof for the night should be fair.

I cross the city limits of a industrial town of "Novaky" and find a small hotel just by the roadside. I seem to be the only guest and the facial expression of the owner/manager suggests that he thinks he is doing me a favor to even speak to me. Anyway, since I am tired and not very eager to continue on, I accept the situation and the rate of 35 Euros (which is somewhat more than I have budgeted for accommodation).

The next morning (still no facial expression form the owner/manager) I leave early. I have identified a small city, "Martin" further north, near the mountain range which forms the "Mala Fatra National Park". That sounds promising.


"Main road along the scenic Vah river valley"

As I approach the city through the very scenic valley of the Vah river, I see various sign for accommodation/camping. By random choice I find neat camping site which also offers small cabins for rent (I am not very keen on sleeping in a small tent, which I carry for emergencies). I check out the city center of Martin and the decision is made - here I shall stay for a couple of days.


"The wide open pedestrian area of Martin"

The "Turiec" campground proves to be a good base for small excursions into the region of the "Mala Fatra National Park". About 10 km from the campground at an elevation of over 1200 meter is the Martinske Hole ski region. Not very busy at this time but a very interesting ride up on another small, winding road.


"Looking down on the city of Martin from the ski lift station at Martinske Hole"

The next day brings another UNESCO World Heritage place - the village of Vlkolinec. Another - you probably guessed it - small winding road up the hill leads to this rather quaint place. The locals build their housed in log-cabin stile and the structure of the place has be left in the original state. Hence he UNESCO statues. - Oh yes, you have to pay to enter and to take pictures.


"The village of Vlkolinec - UNESCO World Heritage"

I spend some more time in the city of Martin and I am beginning to fin"Vlkolinec - UNESCO World d that there are indeed very nice, helpful people around. I need to mention the staff at the local internet café who go of their way to allow me to upload my picture file for the travel story. And there is the sales person at the local photo shop. I have some problems with my digital camera and the lady who is running the place speak good English and is very informed about the technical aspects to the model I am using. In the end I need to buy a new camera (there goes another blow to the budget) but the new model is fully compatible with the equipment and software I am using. On the positive side - the new model allows for a much easier and faster transfer of the picture files to the laptop.

All in all I stay for five days and on Sunday, June 1st move on. I have identified the city of Levoca at the foot of the Tatra mountain range. It is only a relative short ride of some 100 km but the weather has decided to make in interesting: during the night there has been a thunderstorm and it is still raining hard when I leave the campground at 10:00 am.

After about and hour or so, the skies clear up and it is another bright, sunny day. I decide to stop at gas station on the motorway for a coffea and a snack. As I prepare to leave I suddenly find my motorcycle in the company of about a dozen or so vintage "Jawa" motorcycles.


"Members of the Spissky Veteran Klub from Spisska Nova Ves"

Click for bigger image

Of course you get into contact the owners. The youngest member of the group, Marek, speaks good enough English to explain that they are from the city of Spisska Nova Ves (not far from Levoca, my target for the day). The people are a member of the local vintage vehicle club - Spissky Veteran Klub -
and they are just back from a meeting with other fans of vintage vehicle. I am invited to check out a tricycle and find it hard to resist the humorous offer to trade my GS for this vehicle.


"Tempting - but no trade in for the beemer"

In the early afternoon I arrive at the Levoca campground. I take one of those wooden cabins with electric light and find the facilities somewhat less attractive compared to the place in Martin. I do not to look at the sanitary installations in too much detail. But for the equivalent of just under 6 Euros for the night, I decide not to complain too much.

The city of Levoca is quite interesting because it is encircled by high walls an moat and I would have liked to spend some more time here. But due to my delayed departure from Frankfurt and some more time spent in Martin than originally planned I need to move on.

So on Tuesday, June 3rd, I move on to Poland. I order to get there I have to cross the Tatra mountain range. The first city to visit will be Zakopane.


"All set to cross the Tatra mountains"

I want to be fair say that I need to correct my intitial opinion of Slovakia. The first impressions after crossing the border were really not typical for the whole country. I found the people to be very friendly and helpful. They did the utmost to overcome my lack of Slovak language skills and used whatever English or German words they knew to help me make my stay enjoyable.

In summary: generally very friendly and helpful people, excellent value for money, fantastic beer (throughout the country) and great country roads for relaxed touring - deserves up-grade to "serious investment grade" (in reference to comment in second paragraph above). ;-))

More to follow....

Posted by Heiko Neumann at June 06, 2003 12:26 PM GMT

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