Saturday, July 19, 2014

[POPRAD] The Tatras in the Backyard


Filipinos are not really that familiar with Slovakia. Come to think of it, the only time when Czechoslovakia appears in a Tagalog conversation is when we try to crack a joke, which goes a little something like: “What is your favorite country?” “My favorite country is Czechoslovakia.” “Okay, spell Czechoslovakia.” “Uhm, actually my favorite country is Japan!” Bottom line, it’s hard to spell, and the joke is corny. It doesn’t help that a country called Slovenia exists, which adds to the confusion.


Our gang in Xiamen has a member from Slovakia. To cut the long story short, we found out that we would both be in Europe for her birthday, so I got invited. Vienna is just an hour away from Bratislava, so there really was no issue. Besides, the party would be on a weekend so what could go wrong, right? Just to clarify, though, the purpose of my Slovakia trip was not really for tourism, which explains the lack of photos and videos. It was more like a quick weekend getaway.


What about Bratislava? As I mentioned, it only takes around an hour by bus from Vienna. Unfortunately, both Vienna and Bratislava fell prey to that “they’re-so-close-I’d-just-visit-them-last” phenomenon. Of course, when this happens, you never do get to visit them. I mean, I lived in Vienna for almost a month, but only went around for sightseeing on the very last week. Bratislava got the shorter end of the stick. I was only there for less than half an hour, and I still had a strong Prague hangover. Sorry, Bratislava.


I did not really have an idea where we were going. All I knew was that Friend from Xiamen always said that she lived in the mountains. I thought that it would be around 2 hours away from Bratislava or something like that, so when it started to get dark and we were already driving for four hours, I started thinking that maybe Friend from Xiamen would be bringing me all the way to Ukraine. It turns out that her hometown is indeed in that Slovak region bordering Ukraine. Surprise!


If you have a map of Slovakia, try to find the northeastern region. That’s Prešov. The name of the district is Poprad. The name of the town is Svit. And yes, they have a mountain range in their backyard. Have you ever heard of the Tatra mountain range? That’s what we are talking about here. The place owes its popularity to those mountains, and it seems to be a popular hiking destination for domestic tourists. I am not really the type to go gaga over mountains, but I must say that the Tatras do look awesome.


One thing I have noticed during the almost five-hour drive is how Slovakia seems to be littered with castles perched on top of hills. In fact, this is all I remember now trying to recall how the country looked like in terms of geological features. There is always a hill. There is always a mountain. Chances are, there would also be some castle ruins on top of the hill. It would have been nice to explore, but we did not really have the time. We reached the woods just in time before sundown.


Aside from the land formations, I would also not forget the kindness of Friend from Xiamen’s family for accommodating a weird Southeast Asian guy for two nights. I was fed well, with lots of meat! What more could I ask for, seriously. The birthday celebration was just like any other I’ve already witnessed in this lifetime. There was more than enough food on the table. Drinks were flowing. There was also lots of chatter involved in three different languages or more. All in all, it was fun.


But yes, it is that image of the Tatras from their backyard which really left an impression. You do not always get a good piece of real estate with such a magnificent backdrop. How nice a feeling would it be to wake up every morning to that view? The cabin in the woods comes in second place. It was my first time to be in one of those secluded wooden accommodations, and it was actually quite legit too, like you could actually live a simple life in there far away from big city drama.


We went for a quick excursion to the Tatras on the evening of Friend from Xiamen’s birthday. The drive only took half an hour. I was a bit surprised that the mountain range actually has a residential area aside from the fancy resorts. It was dark, though, because we arrived close to midnight. Friend from Xiamen thought that there was some sort of Venetian inspired party there that evening. Either that party was invisible or we just arrived rather late to witness it. And so we just had a leisurely stroll by the lake.


We planned to come back the next day in broad daylight to take photos and videos, but we just ended up chillaxin'. What, it was a Sunday! Besides, we were going to drive all the way back to Vienna that night, a trip which would take around 7 hours and a quick rainstorm. Road trip! It would have been fun if the whole gang was there. Who knows, maybe we could make it happen one day.


By the way, we stopped by what seemed to be a small village of handicrafts and yummy food en route to Vienna. Think of those shops which sell delicacies on the road going down from Tagaytay. Again, hills and mountains were the predominant view, along with a lot of greenery. While I associate Prague with the grandeur of old Bohemia, Slovakia for me is more of an environmental refuge with a small town feel just perfect for quick weekend holidays spent with Mother Nature.

http://s208.photobucket.com/user/ihcahieh/library/SLOVAKIA%20-%20Compiled
[POPRAD] The Tatras in the Backyard

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