Friday, January 20, 2012

Slovak Flashback 2



Fiddling the FIAT.
 AFTER stopping briefly to help out a guy with an overheated, decrepit old FIAT 500, I crossed over into the Slovak Republic.

It wasn't all that long ago, this border station was patrolled by AK 47 wielding, unsmiling Communist soldiers checking paperwork with a fine toothed comb.

We sometimes forget that travel as we know it in the West was difficult if not impossible without visa and carnet's and sometimes cash hidden in a passport here in the former Bloc.


Country # 2
 TODAY all that remains of those times is a rusting building, sour smelling bathrooms that make you wish for an outhouse, and a cambio (money changing booth) 

Otherwise you ride right on thru, many of these countries now a part of the European Union, and as such have little or no interference crossing national boundaries.



THE young man at the cambio was telling me to forget taking the E 571 west, and to head east instead.  There on a hilltop, I would find a glorious restored castle, where they spoke English and Hungarian. 

Not to be missed he proudly stated.  After that I should turn north on the E 67 to a small town called Betliar, just on the outskirts of Rosnava, where a great little pension (I stayed in Hostales, pension's hotel and Inns during my travels) would take my breath away. 

It was surrounded by streams and mountains and the food was magnificent, he placed his fingertips to his mouth in the International gesture of fine dining!


FOR anyone that has ever travelled with me, especially on a motorbike, you know that the best laid plans are those you toss over your shoulder and ad lib!

This over night, 250km ride was going to prove that point with an exclamation mark or three!!!


Lovely view from the ramparts.
 I blew right by the turnoff and swung the bike in a wide arc to the east.  Within an hour I was passing the E67 and 10 km up the road, pulling into the parking lot of Castle Krasna Horka.*

It was very busy with tourists, the parking lot was nearly full.  I set the Divvie on her center stand just outside a small group of shops, asking the mid fifties attendant if  she would keep an eye out for me.



Notice the holes?
 AFTER all, this was my very first foray with luggage, outside of home base and I always have concern for my gear.  No problem she answered in English, and then we switched over to Hungarian.  She spoke 4 languages, amazing I would find throughout Europe.




A cathedral in a castle.
 UNFORTUNATELY
I opted for the tour, they offered no choice.  Normally I despise tours, they move at the pace determined by the guide, you are restricted to taking photos and it is crowded.

This place was in fine shape, and had been inhabited as little as 150 years ago.  Oil paintings of kings, queens, princes and princess' adorned the walls. 

It was beautifully restored.  Hard not to imagine the romance that these baroque castles exude.


Dislike tours...
 CONTRARY to the rules, I did snap a few very candid photos, after all... I was a tourist, maybe not Japanese, but riding a Japanese bike.  Surely that counted for something didn't it.

These structures were inevitably placed on the highest piece of land dominating a lush valley or confluence of some river or three.  This gave the villagers somewhere to plant their crops and still be able to retreat inside the fortress when threatened.

That was a fact of life in medieval Europe.

AFTER the tour had ended, and I wandered the gift shop for a few moments, I anxiously returned down the hill to my bike.

There was no problem she said, and in return for her help I purchased some small jewelry for my girls.




ONCE back on the bike, I headed the few miles west to the E 67 turnoff.  I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated but the scope of my trip to Europe.  How was I going to handle it personally, returning to my roots so to speak, dealing with the language barriers, the money, the security and in general, the bombardment of new experiences?



Beautiful view west from my room.
 WITHIN  20 minutes of the turn-off I was at the Baronka, a quaint two story building across from the village park, incredibly well kept, bright and cheerful.

It was August 2008, and the world was in the grip of a major financial crisis.  Throughout my travels, I always found a place to lay my head down, secure my bike, and eat heartily, without breaking the bank.



Wouldn't be the last time I stayed here.

THE staff were very friendly and although I didn't find anyone speaking English nor Hungarian, wherever I went, I would do just fine with hand gestures, the occasional drawing and lots of smiles.
They insisted I bring my bike and park it at the kitchen entrance so it was out of sight and protected.


After a fabulous meal, washed down by a very cold Slovak beer (those Euros love their beer!)  I retired to my small but very tidy room and to my surprise, was greeted not only by a lovely view of the opposite valley, but a beautiful blonde Slovak princess by my bedside. 

Tummy full, bike secured, a visit to a fab castle, a gorgeous companion, my first night on the road...



Wall art.

I felt like I was in heaven...


*While at the castle, I heard some very western English.  After approaching the family, I learned they were from Grande Prairie AB.  What are the chances of that?!

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