Friday, April 29, 2005

Levoca, Spissky Podhradie and Kosice


Levoca Town Wall
A hot shower felt really good this morning. Yesterday was definitely a rough travel day and thankful that our pension is so nice! After a quick breakfast, we headed out on to the town. There's not a huge amount to see in Levoca, but we knew that we'd spend much of the day travelling on the way to Kosice, the capital and largest city in the eastern half of Slovakia.

Levoca Town Wall
We walked around the town taking in the sights. The town itself is surrounded by town walls, Pension Miva is right inside one of the gates. First we went to the square and saw the Cage of Shame which was used to humiliate criminals. This large jail cell sits in the middle of the town square, right behind the Church of St. James. I'm not a huge fan of churches or religious sites, however, the church is an extremely beautiful Gothic building with a very large carved wooden altar. At 19m high by 6m wide, it's the largest in the world! The altar was carved by Master Pavol of Levoca from 1507 to 1518 and renovated during Communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia. The walls and ceilings were covered in frescoes and there were original wooden pews still in the church. As we were about to leave, a large group of tourists began to sing... something relgious? I didn't understand a word, but it was a really beautiful moment.

The Town Square and
Cage of Shame
Levoca
Before leaving town, we had to drop by the post office and the local grocery. I always love venturing into the local grocery store or market if I can, we always wind up with some kind of crazy snack that we fall in love with. Once again,we found some kind of cookie. Turns out that its a ginger cookie — Steph is not a fan of ginger — and we both love it!

The Town Square
Levoca
One more stop by Pension Miva to pick up our bags and Off to Spissky Podhradie we go! Its a short bus ride, thankfully, because its hot, crowded and stinky! We hop off in a decrepit little town, the guide book didn't have anything nice to say about it and now I know why. The reason we came was the Spis Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We walked toward the castle, it was standing out on a hillside just outside of town. We weren't exactly where the path to the castle was, but a local little boy walked a few blocks with us to show us where to go. He led us to the entrace to a parking lot from which the trail ascends to the castle.

The Town Square
Levoca
Steph informed me that I was crazy if I thought we're going to walk up THAT hill with THESE backpacks. This was one of the adventures on our trip that I was really looking forward to, so we can't turn back now. We thought the castle might be closed to visitors, but our pension informed us it was open and I could see people in the castle, near the top of the castle walls. Up the hill we go.

The Spis Castle
Nearly an hour later, we're hot and exhausted. We had to stop a few times on the way, but we climbed "Mt. Everest" and we're ready to see what's inside. But the gate is CLOSED! I figured that someone is inside and we should see if there's another entrance. So I looked at the map at the castle and headed to the "East Gate". We never did find it, the terrain was steep, we were tired and we didn't see anyone else around. We took some pictures and started heading downhill. Even without getting inside, this was a very worthwhile trip for the gorgeous scenery, looking out over the hills and small towns. We were alone and it was quiet except for the gusty wind.

The Spis Castle
At the base of the hill is the train station, we decided to try our luck on the Slovak trains to Kosice. Spissky Podhradie is at the end of a small line with a one car diesel train running up and down a few times a day. The next train wasn't for 2 hours, so we headed for a bus instead. What a mistake, the bus was late and we eventually decided it wasn't worth waiting, the train would definitely by more comfortable. So, we walk back to the train station and wait, eating the snacks we bought earlier in the day.

The Spis Castle
The conductor and engineer come out of the tiny station, hop on the train and we're off. This is a pretty unique experience for us, its a local train with kids, teenagers, laborers and us. It takes 15 minutes to Spissky Vlachy, where we get off at a slightly larger train station with a few tracks, but no people. An announcement comes over the PA and everyone heads toward the track to get on the train. We end up in a compartment by ourselves where we ride for almost 2 hours to Kosice.

The Spis Castle
Went to our pension where they seemed confused by our very presence. Checked in and thought how happy we are that this is only one night. Then we headed out "on the town" to go check out the city. Kosice is the 2nd largest city in Slovakia, but it has a very small town feel. We walked to the main square, everyone was setting up for a festival. We're a day early, unfortunately! After a stroll around the square we found a Slovak restaurant with a waitress that spoke no English but the beers and food were very cheap! We had a great meal and relaxed from a second tough travel day. We headed back to the pension early, we have a 5:10 AM departure for Eger, Hungary in the morning. Which means its time to learn how to say "please", "thank you" and "Do you speak English?" in yet another language!

The Spis Castle
I wish we were spending more time in Slovakia. What we have seen has been beautiful, especially the countryside around Spissky Podhradie and at the base of the Tatra Mountains. This is a country we're going to have to come back to in the future.


The Spis Castle

The Spis Castle



Spissky Podhradie viewed from the Spis Castle.
Full Size JPG 9.1MB



Train Station
Spissky Vlachy


2 comments:

Adam said...

Nice one guys. I went up that damn hill to the Castle too. The East entrance was not far. If you're looking at the closed entrance you go right for about 5-10 minutes just following the wall. But that one was closed too when I got there. You're lucky to have gotten good views. It was so unbelievably misty when I got there, spooky though which was nice.

dhs said...

Adam, I'm glad I'm not the only one who made that mistake... =-)