I had a few days before my friend Babs joined me to go hiking together in the Tatry. I decided to head North and follow the Slovakia section of the Iron Curtain Eurovelo 13 which follows the river Morave from Bratislava to the Czech border. It was a different world from the well trodden Rhine and Danube cycle trails.
From Bratislava I went to a nearby small village called Devin, obviously thriving, with art galleries and wine cellars. This changed the further I went, from the capital to empty small villages with one tiny shop which had hardly anything on it and huge forests untouched by humans for over half a century.
Left over signs of what it must’ve been like where dotted all over the landscape – bunkers and memorials to those who fought for change. I kept on thinking about what those majestic trees must’ve seen and I longed for them to tell me the story.
Memorials to the First World War where also everywhere. I found the one in Hor Oresăny particularly moving. I sat by it for a while thinking about the young men in the photos that never came back to their village and wondering when we will learn the lessons of history.
I had my first wild camp experience on this trail. I went down what I thought to be a small road, instead it was a sandy track that went through the middle of a huge acacia forest. It was getting late so I camped in a small clearing. There were hardly any sounds but as night started to fall, the place filled up with the noise of thousands of insects. I felt a bit apprehensive, there is something about forests that I find unnerving. In my sleep bag I used all kind of techniques to try to relax but my ears refused to switch off attentive to the smallest of sounds. Finally I went to sleep only to be woken up shortly after by the sound of movement and breathing by the tent. I laid very still scared to move whilst my imagination went wild. It was a very long night and in the morning I saw the footprints of what must’ve been deer not to far from the tent. It would have been so much better if I hadn’t been on my own!
It was exciting meeting Babs and together we headed for the Tatry. Tatranska Magistrala, there was something about the name that I found irresistible when in London and it didn’t let me down . The hike was tiring but pretty wonderful, striking mountains, wildlife, flowers, staying in mountain huts… I was in my element, after all mountains are my first big love.
Then, sadly, it was time to say goodbye to Babs and collect Foxtrot who’d been resting for a few days. My next port of call was Spišský Castle, one of the largest castles in Eastern Europe. An impressive sight siting on a hill rising above the plain of Western Slovakia.
From its ramparts I could see the hills I’d cycled over and the ones to come as I head for Hungary for my next rendezvous with friends in Budapest.