Slovakia 28th June-8th July


We shared the shores of Liptovsky Mara with a mixed bag of free campers. There was a gang of hard partying youth celebrating the saints  day holiday with drink and a mix of techno/folk chanting and cheering in a well behaved way till about 9.30 when they politely turned off the pumping sound system. There were some families with kids out for the (hot)day. There were a lot of serious fishermen with lots of gear and multiple rods and inflatable dinghies with electric motors who were constantly on the case, catapulting bait, checking lines, throwing nets, putting out floats, motoring and rowing around, and reeling in a lot of poor stressed fish that then got released again making the whole operation a bit pointless to me. And in the middle of it all a couple of young lovers oblivious to everything around them cavorting and pawing and giggling on the beach. 

It was a nice place to wake up and very tranquil in the early morning light.  

 The fishermen were already at it, working their books as they floated through the mist rising on the water.  


The whole day was spent in camp watching the goings on and providing some entertainment ourselves by putting up all our shades and windbreaks with a complex system of lines and pegs, fiddling around with them and taking them all down again. We did a lot of swimming to cool down although as the day went by the water seemed to heat up and the slight algae green hue began to deepen and by the evening the lake had begun to resemble a soup that I didn’t think was too good for all the nasty swollen bites I’d been nursing for a few days. 

We were heading to the Lesser or Lower Tatry mountains the following morning and a bit of googling came up with some healing water thermal and mineral spa pools on route. So our first port of call the next day, after a finely executed shopping raid on some superstores, was the lovely little town of Lipovsky Jan with its mosh mash of old style buildings  

     and it’s free amenity park and pool. 

  The water was only slightly warm but bubbled up through a pebbly bed with a sulferous odour and a bit of a sting but I convinced myself it was good for my legs quite successfully cos they’ve been much better since. 
Sally got to share the central bubble pipe with a bunch of friendly laughing locals who had no qualms about getting up close and personal but didn’t wholeheartedly recommend the experience so we headed for coffee in a quirky little cafe stuffed with stuff. 


Feeling suitably healed and refreshed we headed for the hills. And what hills they were. They may have been the Lower Tatras but the steep climb proved too much for poor old Tranny who was spitting boiling water and gasping and wheezing by the time we reached the restaurant at the pass over the top. Nothing for it but to have a bowl of hearty Farmers cabbage soup  

 and some Stray sheep, which turned out to beaming of cheese filled dumpling – sort of, while we let her cool down and hoped we hadn’t burst or overcooked anything. 

I’d read recently about a couple of Irish lads who had hiked the ridge of the Nizke Tatry where we were on a leg of the E8. The E8 is one of those long distance European trails that intrigues and tempts me 

 this one especially so because it starts on the Atlantic coast in Co.Kerry ( and ends in Istanbul a good while later). I felt compelled to walk a little on a path that led all the way home so we made a symbolic few steps on the ridiculously steep track.  


The midday sun was really beating down so we retreated from the E8 and set off again in search of cool water to immerse ourselves in. We had the name of a lake or resevoir on the south side of the mountains at Krpacovo and Serena got us there but we couldn’t see the lake. The next hour or more was spent wandering the tracks looking for it but all we found was a bizarre  Soviet monument that had been smashed up at some point.  


We had more or less given up and were driving away when I spotted the water through the trees below us. It didn’t take us long to get in with the rest of the cool seekers.  

 There was another imposing ruin here too. Overlooking the lake was the huge bulk of a brutalist block of ,I guess, more Communist era leftovers.  The hotel from hell.  

  but down around the shore it was a different story with a funky little bar and a collection of what looked like DIY dwellings.  

   Also on the lakeside was a wooden “kobila” or restaurant that said we could park up there for the night.  


An early morning swim in the now deserted lake and it was time to pack up and drive out of the mountains onto the main roads and down to the border. Goodbye and thank you Slovakia, hello Hungary. 

We’d heard that this crossing can take time with paperwork but it was fine, we just had to buy a vignette for motorway driving. 

It was less than 100km to Budapest but there was a national park we knew of some hikes in so we turned off onto minor bumpy and potholed roads and headed past the sunflowers and into the oak and beech.  

 There is still a little forest railway line no longer for transporting the lumber but now people who want to come out into the woods. There is as a stop at the bar we had coffee.  

 Concerned about the heat we were only delighted to discover an outdoor swimming pool and made the wise decision to hang out there till things cooled off.  


 Eventually it did cool off. Cloud was building and we knew a thunderstorm was forecast for later so we headed further into the forest for our walk. On the way we passed 1000s of tons of harvested timber in neat stacks beside the road. I know I’ve gone on about timber a  since Germany but this was unreal. The next couple of hours were like being in the dragons lair filled with gold for someone whose fuel is wood. It turned me giddy and lightheaded to see so much of it.  

 We passed a nice little spot with a well and picnic tables and benches and a fire pit. And , of course , some timber for the fire! 

 There were guys in there sawing and stacking and we past their camp.  

 The skies were darkening and it felt pregnant with rain. The track got rough with machine tracks and the. They were upon us.  

 Big stuff dragging big stuff.  

 We were in the way.  

 So with thunder and lightning starting to rumble and flash we returned to the van, arriving as the first fat drops dampened the dusty trail. Time to batten the hatches. We drove a bit further to find a park up and ended up in the shelter of trees beside a sea of timber.  



A beautiful clear sky led to an impressive sunset behind the mountains in the west while a fat full moon rose out of the forest to the east.  


I sat outside the van, sipping on my bottle of Missis ,  

  a Slovakian version of Baileys and was suddenly surrounded by tiny twinkling fire flies. I didn’t know they lived in Europe but was entranced by their darting flights of light. 

In the morning more surprises from the natural world when I took the dogs for their early morning constitutional. We headed off down the trail out of camp far enough for the job to be done and we’re heading back when I instinctively jumped over something on the track. Looking back I saw. …

  An adder I think. Luckily the dogs didn’t even notice it as they past. I’d say it was pretty inactive in the early morning chill but didn’t hang around to find out. In hindsight I should have caught it in a forked stick and brought it back for my women to skin and cook for breakfast. That would have got me in the good husband books. 
We’d promised ourselves a “day off” and Sally fancied a night in a bed after a month in the van so a bit of googling came up with a place next to the ski lift we wanted to take for our next hiking/scrambling adventure further west down the range at a place called Strbske Pleso. It a popular ski and hiking resort and with the national holiday weekend coming up to celebrate St Cyril and St Methudious the place was fairly heaving in the hot sun.  


We did a stroll around the big lake, our hike for the day, and eyed up the mountains we were going to be tackling the next day.  


There was all sorts of tourist stuff going on to entertain the crowds like tree walking and souvenir buying.  


 We came across a charming young man in traditional dress playing a strange wooden instrument that was a bit like a tuneful didgeridoo.  

 Outside a restaurant some more ideas for my scots pine trunks at home.  


The hotels were a weird combination of grand old style lakeside 4 star  and concrete communist blocks. Ours was the latter.  

 We had a ” bungalow ” out the back that was pretty shabby but dog friendly and the hotel building had an amazing ” wellness centre” that we spent a good while in reviving muscles for the work ahead. Three different saunas, nice jacuzzi and a chill out room with beds, and the first place I’ve seen NO CLOTHES signs with a pair of crossed out shorts. 

To finish the day we went to have a look at the chair lift we would be taking up to 1800m in the morning. The sign told us what to do if it stopped working.  

 It also told us we could take well behaved dogs if we held them tight but there was no way our boys could cope with that experience.  

The morning saw us on the first lift up, a fairly thrilling and surreal trip as we glided nearly silently through the treetops and then high above them. 

  The ex communist state has embraced capitalism to the extent that the chair lift pillars had adverts to peruse as you slide by.  

 We were soon on terra firma again looking back down to the resort below.  


We started off with a climb to the 2120m summit of Predne Solisko which was lined nearly all the way with well laid stone steps.  

 The work put in to track making has been stunning and has saved these well walked paths from a lot of erosion.  

The views from the top were 360 and we could see the valley we were heading up next threading its way deeper into middle of the range.  


So it was back down to the chair lift where another path lead us across the face of the mountain to meet yet another path  

 leading up the Furkotska valley past wild flower meadows and streams,  

 through the dwarf pines,  

 across the tumbled mass of rockfall skilfully laid into track  

 and up to a pristine tarn where amazingly there were a team of park people diving for information.  


We continued to climb higher, surpassing the height we had been at on the previous summit to reach another tarn at 2200 with lots of ice still covering the surface.  

 Then it started to get really tricky with lots of loose scree climbing very steeply to a Coll about 100m above us. The route was also getting pretty busy by now ( great to be somewhere where this crazy human endeavour is normal, even for teenage girls and oldies like us) and a lot were coming down against us, so we decided the view was just grand where we were and settled in for the Sarnies. 

By the time we had made it back down the valley we were grateful for a chair lift ride back down to the van. It might seem like a lightweight approach to mountain hiking  but these lifts allowed us the time to go deeper into the peaks than we could otherwise. 

The resort was noisy and crowded when we got back, the dogs were cooking in the van and we got out as soon as we could, heading to the far less visited western Tatras. 

We had sussed out a route from a simple campsite in the forest taking us up into the mountains and up and down along a narrow ridge to the summit of Jacubina ,the second highest peak in the Western Tatras at 2194m. From there we would go to another meeting of trails a little further down the ridge on the border with Poland and begin a long steep descent to the end of the valley above us. 

The camp was getting busy with holiday weekenders but we found a spot in the shade and went for a meal in the little restaurant with some great menu translations.  


The next day’s walk, our last in the Tatras, was the most spectacular and probably the toughest. It only came to 21.5km but it took us 10 1/2 hrs and even though we started at 6 in the morning we still had a lot of climbing in the heat.  

 We realised how lucky we were when we came to a sign warning that the track was closed to the public mon to sat and we were there sun. This was a serious foresting area and I guess they didn’t want joe public wandering through the danger zone. Tractors were cableing massive logs down the mountain, dragging them along the track and leaving a mass of brash behind.  


The effort started luckily in the shady forest  

 as we climbed up to the ridge and emerged above the tree line at about 1600m.  

 The hot hard work began but was rewarded with more and more spectacular views as we rose to the peaks.  

   We could see our ridge laid out ahead as a white line across the green.  

 We surprisingly caught up with a group of Slovak hikers, one of whom had been in Cork for a couple of years, and we chatted as we climbed to the next peak.  

 We had made the cardinal error of not bringing enough water so had to hurry on as they stopped for food/ drink and reached the high point of the day with some other lads.  

One more peak to the borderline and on the way we met two park rangers who told us our dogs should be on leads (we knew and we’re glad they didn’t mention the muzzles that are also required. They were very nice and after talking for awhile said that as ours were so well behaved it was ok but asked to take photos to show school kids what not to do! 


 They explained that a dogs bark made the chamois think it was a wolf and freaked them out. 

Then we were looking down into Poland and the zigzag tracks going across the mountains in all directions. 


By now we were all really gasping and were very grateful when after a long and difficult descent we came to cool clear water pumping out of the mountainside.  

 Another close encounter with a snake sent me hurrying down the valley where another 3 hours hiking took us passed our first unmanned hut  

     and finally,wearily into the camp. 

Feeling very hot and craving cool water to swim in we quickly packed up and headed to a large lake / reservoir about 20 miles west where we found some excellent R+R parking. 

And in for a swim. 


After the exhausting efforts of the 17km trek up into the mountains the day before we thought we would give the dogs a rest in the van while we took a cable car up to the top of Lomnicky Stit the second highest peak in the Tatras at 2634m. There was cloud hanging around the summit but we thought we could do some walking at the half way stage until it cleared. Unfortunately, when we got the tickets we were told we had to go now and that we only had an hour up there. It looked like a fairly hairy ride almost vertically up 900m of cliff face.  


We slowly disappeared into the cloud and emerged into a strangely smart little bar like an upmarket hotel lobby with doors leading out to a savage wildness. Although today it was all a bit muted in a total grey out. There was a board pointing out all the peaks visible.  

 And a man trying to get the TV aerial to work- left a bit !! 


Eventually the clouds started to part tantalisingly to reveal patches of mountain around us fleetingly.  

     We could see the track snaking up the valley we had hiked the day before way down below the viewing platform projecting out over the abyss.  

 The cloud played peek-a-boo for the rest of our stay up there and all too soon in was time to squeeze back into the cable car with the guard whose job it was was to sit with his face jammed up against people’s arses all day and lock and unlock the car door. Nice work if you can get it. 

At the half way station we had walked from the previous day we headed in the opposite direction, past the observatory  

 and up into the dwarf pines.  


It  only about 4km to our target, a minor peak called Vefke Svistovka at 2036 m. It was slow going over a jumbled sea of rock and boulders.  

 This was followed by a steep zigzagging ascent but all our efforts were rewarded by the views from the top of the valley below us and we were relieved that we were not continuing on down the switchback path to the lakeside chata on the valley floor.  


So , back down once more after the sarnies past a whole gang of chamois and over a whole heap of rockfall.  


What we thought was going to be an easy day had left us knackered again by the time we got back to the van so promised ourselves a day off the next day. 

It didn’t quite work out like that as we were at it again from 7 till 5 but very enjoyable anyway. It was a fine clear morning 

 with a rosy glow to the peaks in the sunrise. It looked like it was going to be a hot one so we decided to stay down in the shade and do a riverside walk through the trees up to some waterfalls. 

It allowed us to see close up the recovery from the Bora, the great destroying wind of a decade ago. I wrongly said in my previous post that it took out 24,000 hectares when in actual fact it was only 12,500 hectares.  5 million trees came down and they covered 230km of walking trail that had to be cleared. The Slovakian Olympic team,trainers, committee and staff were some off the first volunteers as well as scouts and schools. An all hands to the pumps effort apparently. 

The recovering forest is lovely in places with a mass of young birch and rowan filling the gaps  

 but unfortunately the wind was only half the damage. A beetle that kills the surviving pines took advantage of the new conditions and created havoc by destroying countless more and a battle is being waged against them by setting up thousands of pheromone traps. We had been seeing them in the woods since East Germany and it now made sense.  

   It was sad to see all the damage but the cascades still made for a beautiful scene.  


We got up to a chata in a clearing where we were amazed to see a wild fox hanging around the picnic tables.  

   The whole place was impressive, run by a character from a distinguished line of chata men and porters who stuffed his little but with memorabilia.  


We surprised some wildlife and ourselves on the way back down  

   but managed to escape unharmed. 

Not surprising of course as they were stuffed and in display cabinets I the national park museum we visited later.  

 I wouldn’t want to meet one of these guys or the big brown bears. 

Next door was a nice spacious botanical garden containing all the plants we had been admiring in the wild and loads we hadn’t spotted.  

         Including the famous, thanks to Engleburt Humperdink, Edelweiss. 

Back to camp after another busy day with just enough time to sample some of the local elixirs before dinner. 


The rain never came on our night under the bridge but it was a fine park up a anyway and we weren’t disturbed by the cars or all the people going to mass in the early morning. Been surprised how early things get going in hard working Poland with a lot of people out and about when I get up around 6. 

The river next to us was popular for rafting 

 and we watched some as we climbed up the nearby trail to a viewpoint before heading off over the border. One of the things that has impressed us here is the trail markings and a new one on us was the one to warn you to pay attention coz something’s changing.  

 I guess we’re fairly easily impressed. 

We were in yet another spa town,( these are mineral rich hills), so we had to do the obligatory tasting of the healing waters.  

This one was supposed to be good for the digestive tract and I must say the following morning I produced the proof of that.   It still didn’t taste too good. 

Speaking of mineral springs we have discovered that the “greasers” mentioned in the last post were actually harvesting crude oil that came to the surface in a few places around Losie and had been at it since the 16th century. How about that?

So we spent the remains of our szotys on a bizarre selection of local produce and some tasty beers and drove up and up to the next country on the itinerary, Slovakia, and strangely, there did seem to be an immediate difference. 

The countryside was more open, less forested, wide rolling plains, and getting nearer by the minute the rising bulk of the dramatic Tatra mountains. The towns seemed poorer, the buildings a little shabbier and more plain blocks of flats. There didn’t seem to be any of the traditional wooden houses we had seen so many of in Poland. 

We didn’t have far to go and were soon settled into a campsite with a view of the peaks.  


Our early start the next day came to nothing as the thunderstorm finally arrived and we had to abandon the mission to the mountains. We were glad we hadn’t managed to get up there when the heavy rain continued for hours and we hung out in town and camp drying off. 

We had discovered that you a take dogs on the cable car so yesterday we headed up to 1700m sweat free and even though it was cloudy too start,  

 had faith it would burn off later. 

And so it proved to be. After half and hour on the stone laid track we started to see some vistas of the jagged soaring peaks and it got better all day as we climbed through the pine forest and then the dwarf pine.  

  We past areas prone to avalanche  

 and a lot of dead or dying trees. In 2004 there had been a devastating wind in the High Tatras which had felled 1000’s of trees. In all about 24,000 hectares was destroyed along with railway lines and every road blocked with uprooted trees. It took months for teams to clear the wreckage and the once hidden villages were open and exposed for the first time. Some areas have been replanted, some left to naturally regenerate and some left open to benefit from the new vistas that have opened up.  


After seeing a bold as brass otter swimming beside us in the lake the other night and the bear skin on the shed door we were wondering if we might come across a wolf or lynx or wild boar all of which live in these forests. We didn’t but getting up high, above the chata or ” mountain but” we’d stopped at for lunch at over 2000m, we heard the screaching of a marmot and soon after spotted a big chamois peering down at us from a rocky ledge.  

   We’d got up past patches of snow and ice by this stage 

   and we were on a section of trail that only opens mid June. We got to a section that involved the use of secured chains to haul yourself up the rock face and the dogs gave up. Sally stayed with them and admired the view while I clambered on to see if I could get to the next pass and get a look at the highest tarn or lake in the whole of the Tratra’s.  

   Time had run out on us though so we had to hurry back down the valley, pausing only to re-hydrate at a chata, to catch the last cable car.  

 Down past the tumbling streams we had seen emerging from the mountainside earlier 

 and along the path with views that had been hidden to us in the cloud before.  

   We got back without enough time to experience the hospitality of the final chata unfortunately  

 but we have learnt to appreciate what a wonderful service they provide. Everything is portered in but prices are still really good. We are trying to find out if we can stay in one with the dogs and so go deeper into these amazing mountains.