hiking in central europe

THE GRAND TOUR: SLOVAKIA / HUNGARY 6/7/8th 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.  

 

THE GRAND TOUR: CZECH 17/18th JUNE

9/ 26km

Heading into town in the morning , past some inviting holiday accommodation,

 the helpful lady in the info centre directed us to the uranium mine that had been opened to the public. Getting there we were told to come back in 3 hours. It seemed like they were busy with school groups. We read that there was a 9km trail from there that takes in some of the concentration/ prison camps and the sites of mine shafts from the soviet era from 40’s to the 60’s, so set off in the sunshine into beautiful scenery that belied it’s brutal past. We past the remains of camps

 one of which had been converted into a restaurant at some stage and the slag heaps and panning ponds

 and poked about in small buildings with unknown purpose.

 There were poignant maps of the past

 set amongst the placid woods.

 A walk that contrasted the beauties of nature with the savagery of man,the trail brought us round to Jachymov, now again a bustling and attractive spa town host to tourists not slaves.

  It got easier to imagine the horror of that past reality when we went underground into the uranium mine itself passing through the welded gates that kept the prisoners in.

 The tunnels open to the public extend for about 200mt which was more than enough to make you realise how grim it must have been.

 On the way back into town afterwards we went down the old wooden steps the prisoners used every day.

After that somewhat somber experience it was time to top up on the good times so we drove northeast to Bohemian Switzerland on the German border, another national park and area of great beauty.

On the way across the flat central plains we past lots of power stations with cooling tower chimneys sending plumes of smoke into the blue sky, and more massive areas of what looked like strip mining of coal. We had read that their had been extensive devastation of the forests in the Jachymov area in the 70’s and 80’s due to coal mining and burning but as went north again into the hills the ancient forests spread as far as the eye could see and looked very healthy.

We drove along the Labe river valley in the sunshine to the pretty town of Hrensko where the towering sandstone blocks for the which the area is known began.

 Another few miles and we were at our camp in the tiny Menzi Louka deep in the forest where a collection of cabins had seen better days.

The following days hike was a real pleasure despite the many steep ups and downs. The ascents through the beech, oak and pines were made easier by the steps either of timber logs or often cut into the Rock.

The woods were magnificent. Towering trunks straight as an arrow shot up from the steep slopes between huge hunks of weathered sandstone.

Where there was light foxgloves filled it with colour

 there were ladders and cables and handholds to enable you to get to the pinnacle of some of the imposing rock towers which gave us views out across a sea of trees.

 The dogs were left below a few times as we clambered up some pretty hairy stuff incredulous at the efforts put in to make it possible.

 One of the peaks even had a little hut bolted securely to the rock with picture windows

 All enchanting, as were the carved benches and picnic tables in scenic spots along the way.

 There were carvings and graffiti dating back nearly 400 years.

 Glorious, spectacular, awesomeness.

We emerged, hungry, five hours later into Jetrichovice and stopped to eat some unknown items from an unreadable menu. So far we’ve been lucky but awaiting the time we have to tuck in smiling to a dish of unthinkables like we order it all the time.

The wooded architecture in these rural Czech towns is stunning and it’s nice to see that quite a few old one are being restored. They are also keen gardeners and we were treated to some heady scents as we walked out of the town and down along a stream.

As we followed the steam down through the woods

 between sandstone cliffs on either side we passed a number of religious shrines, crosses  and wells all dedicated to different saints.

Eventually the stream led us to a collection of ruins on the banks of the bigger river in a majestic setting.

There were some laboriously carved rooms with stone beds set into the cliff which , coupled with the shrines along the way, made us think that this was not just the mill the info said it was.

One last major climb

 and an offshoot of the way to a viewpoint with a large soft rock carved over the centuries by many weary walkers.

We added ours before finishing the hike by passing some more handsome wooden buildings on the way back into camp.