Is being still even an achievement when it’s forced upon you?
For five months and more we haven’t spent longer than three nights in the same place.
We’ve been in the Poprad area of Slovakia for the best part of a month.
If we could separate the reason from the fact then it’d be a wonderful thing.
We arrived along with a brief and harsh taste of autumn. Nights dropped below freezing, but beautiful clear days offered extreme visibility.
That autumnal feel was soon burnt off by an Indian Summer, and now most days top twenty degrees. There’s not a breath of wind to hasten the leaves from the trees, and the resulting colour display is the most beautiful I can remember.
Hillsides are a riot from still vibrant green through every shade of yellow, orange and red. Seen through low evening light as I stagger down the long steep hill from Uloza the beauty brings me to a regular stop, just to stare in wonder.
In the garden of the house we’ve rented the bees are frantic with industry, gathering every last bit of pollen before the inevitable freeze.
There are still butterflies. Many butterflies.
And the chirping of so many little birds lasts from first light through to dusk.
Lots of bushes have been tricked by the late warmth and are budding anew.
The garden offers apples and walnuts. I’ve never loved walnuts and even the thrill of picking them from the ground soon fades, but the apples are excellent. Deep red skin bleeds its colour to the otherwise crisp white flesh beneath. They’re firm, and taste very good.
In the background is a glass of the super strength blackcurrant juice from the garden. Ribena move over – this stuff is hardcore.
Across many of the countries we’ve travelled trees groan under the weight of unpicked apples – surely someone makes scrumpy?
Our visiting has been severely limited by events and the dog. Rather than days out we sneak away for a couple of hours, then back to medicate her leg again. That said the trips have been good ones.
I scoff at names such as Venice of the North, Paris of the Desert, or in these parts The Slovakian Vatican, but nonetheless this place is interesting. The far from beautiful St Martin’s Cathedral is at the centre of the Spis Chapter, a UNESCO listed area. Around the cathedral are fortified walls creating a very small ecclesiastical town. It would look great with a few monks wandering around to complete the picture.
What’s more interesting to me is the curious creation nearby of representations of some of Jerusalem’s key sites. Each was supposedly built to correspond with the originals’ position in the Holy Land, and are plotted on a map with the actual city walls of Jerusalem superimposed. These include for example the Akeldama (the field Judas apparently bought with silver he was paid for betraying Jesus), Calvary (the hill where Jesus was crucified) and more, they were built in the 1660s. A seriously early theme park!
Not only is the available information inconclusive, it completely misses any mention of the several large springs that pour forth in places on the hill of (Slovakian) Calvary.
It’s certainly odd, it’s mysterious with a Knights Templar feel.
The stunning October sunshine helped, and a light lunch within the city walls topped off the trip.
A Uloza stank.
After a more encouraging visit to the vet today I decided a celebratory adventure was in order.
Encouraging in that Polly has stopped getting worse.
She still has a horrible hole in her leg through which you can see her bones and muscle. I’ve described it as resembling an anatomical drawing but on a real creature. This is the first picture I’ve taken that I think is OK to share. Don’t enlarge it unless you’re feeling strong.
We parked up a mile or so outside of the hilltop village of Uloza and Polly took her longest walk in a month. For a dog who’d easily shrug off any walk her humans can manage it’s heart breaking to see her knackered after just walking a hundred metres, but that’s still progress.
Once she was happily snoozing back in the van it was my turn. I wandered off into the woods, paying little attention to direction, instead following the colours and views. And oh what colours.
The often mentioned Spis Castle appeared now and then in the distance before I crested a hill and plunged towards Zavada, a picture perfect ski village.
Zavada isn’t just a tourist destination that’s closed for most of the year. There were people out cleaning up gardens, placing their pumpkin and other squash displays, and lapping up the sunshine.
Mostly they were out cutting logs.
For anyone who spends most of their life in Britain, the log culture is fascinating.
Lets’ face it, it hardly ever gets properly cold at home, and while we might have wood burners, few people go for logs like they do in continental interior countries. My host was telling me last night that temperatures can drop to -30 degrees here (with +35 degrees in summer).
Ah yes. My host. There’s a story there, but hang on for a bit.
The Great Roads of Slovakia.
After a tough two hour stank through the woods and up some serious hills I decided on a road adventure to top off the day. A quick look at the map showed an alternative route home via the village of Pavl’any.
Great, let’s go Polly.
After a short period of riding on the bench seat with Minty, Polly’s back to riding in the van footwell again. She’s possibly less comfortable, but nowhere near as scared by the action drama played out on the windscreen!
The drop into Pavl’any is as steep and windy as anything Cornwall throws at us, and supremely picturesque. In the village the already narrow road divides either side of the stream. Then the church is in the middle, with both road and stream splitting around it. An island of pious life, with little old ladies shuffling along for Friday prayers, hands wrapped by their rosaries.
A scene from a different age.
Shortly after the churchyard the road started breaking up, but an ancient Lada bombed past so I assumed it would be driveable if challenging. Half a mile later I decided that this road wasn’t for ArchieVan. I carefully reversed the big beast back up much of the road I’d just descended. With a light sweat breaking on my brow.
There was more adventure to come. The next ten miles looked amazing on the navigation screen – it was as if a child had run wild with a blue pen creating the most switchback laden stretch I’ve driven in the van.
I was pleased to be able to enjoy it alone.
Any passenger would have been holding on and holding in!
Just as suddenly as they started the bends finished and I was on a smooth, arrow straight avenue, with Spis Castle crowning the view. Home was just a few miles away.
Vladimir is a lovely guy, about my age, as obsessed with this corner of Slovakia as I am with the far west of Cornwall.
He too has been preparing for winter, coming to chop wood after work each day.
It’s surprising to have the host turn up quite as often, but it’s OK as we like him and there’s always some chat to be enjoyed.
However in an unconventional move on Thursday he announced that he would be staying the night. And then he did so again last night.
I can’t imagine that going down too well when we were running The Cornish Way!
I was pretty unimpressed the first night, I wanted to be alone.
Last night I was more relaxed and we had a good banter on all things natural, and an interesting conversation about his growing up under communist rule.
I’m massively grateful for the generous rate he’s charging me, and for letting me stay on much longer than we’d booked. I couldn’t upset him by shooing him out.
I do think he thought I might be lonely – it’s hard to explain that I need time on my own.
I’ll have that again from this afternoon.
On my own?
This is hard.
On Monday, Judith, Amanda’s mum, went into hospital for some tests.
She wasn’t well.
How unwell she was shocked us all.
Judith died on Wednesday.
Much more than Amanda’s mother, Judith was our friend.
She pushed us, encouraged us, and had a seemingly limitless interest in what we were doing.
She was also The Cornish Wanderer’s greatest fan!
Judith was a young 72, working on medical research projects with Newcastle University until the last few months, and always organising, always planning.
Judith. We’ll miss you. More than you can know.
Rick – we’re (generally) a long way away, but nonetheless here if you need us. We’re thinking of you and wish you all the strength you’ll need.
Minty’s in Ripon now with her other great friend, her sister Becky.
KC’s now nurse, driver and navigator – that means we’re allowed to get lost now and then, but Polly won’t know so it doesn’t matter.
Sometime next week we hope to get The Wanderer back on the road, heading south to collect Minty in some new and exciting place.