The pretty green car? A Tatra from the Tatras. These were only available to the most important people in society (in the Communist system where everyone was equal), so even if you had the money you couldn’t buy one unless you were the right sort. Surprisingly when communism collapsed so did their market. Shame really, some of them were seriously wacky. The company still exists, making rugged trucks.
Caught out by the beautiful sunset.
“Make sure you’re home before it gets dark.” warned Vladimir, my host.
He’d been telling me about the wildlife he regularly sees in the woods behind his home. They include the innocent and fluffy like marmots and various sizes of deer, but also wild boar and bears.
Although I’ve yet to see a bear, I have seen bee hives that have been pulled out of trees with plenty of bear prints nearby. I didn’t doubt him.
Van friends who are ahead of us in Greece managed to catch film of a bear scurrying along.
So there I was at the café on the top of the world (again). Lipa in the hilltop village of Uloza is just a simple bar with a straightforward menu, but it’s a truly stunning location with excellent views of both the High and Low Tatras. It’s spectacular at any time of year, and probably at its best right now as the autumn colours explode across the hillsides.
I was deeply moved by the scene as the sun finally dipped behind the high mountains.
The chill. The summer shirt.
Immediately the temperature began to drop.
Hang on. The sun has just gone down.
That means I have about 15 minutes of light.
And an hour and 15 minutes of walking through the woods to get back.
On a clear night, with but a sliver of moon.
I set off straight away. Not panicked, but walking a bit faster than usual nonetheless.
In the falling light the woods were even more beautiful, the stillness more intense.
But bloody hell it was cold.
The temperature quickly falls from the daytime mid twenties to around five degrees at night. And Mr Dreamer was in his favourite shirt (final wearing, it split when I took it off) and shorts. Well that was another reason to get a move on.
Conflicting those calls for speed was the knowledge that the path is both steep and very uneven, whatever the light.
I didn’t see a bear, I was glad about that, but I didn’t see any other creatures either and I was disappointed about that.
The scary bit was still to come.
I was on the outskirts of the village.
Thinking that I was in the clear I was already reflecting on a rather foolish stank through the dark, but I enjoyed it and would do it again.
Then a car pulled up alongside of me on the narrow lane. Window already winding down.
That in itself is unusual, there aren’t many cars around here.
More unusual was that the couple inside wanted to interrogate me.
First in Slovak, then in rough English.
“Who are you?”
“What are you doing here?”
“Where are you from?”
“When are you leaving?”
“Where are your friends?”
It soon became clear that they didn’t want a friendly chat. I started to walk off, but matey slammed his car into reverse, cutting off the little gap between car and a deep ditch.
Ah, we’re back in Soviet times I wanted to quip.
The questions were repeated, with more venom, time and time again.
I kept a smile, but I wasn’t enjoying this. Eventually I decided the deep ditch was still the best way out, and as I scrabbled down it they moved off.
At the time I wasn’t delighted, but neither was I that bothered. Thinking back on it later in the evening I was deeply unimpressed.
I guess that vigilante policing is the closest they come to law and order so far from any centre, but if this shows the villagers’ welcome towards strangers then there won’t be many more visitors coming through.
Back in the Van.
The house was booked from Tuesday 16thOctober, and by then I was looking forward to packing up and getting my first van sleep in a fortnight.
Polly and I are now back here.
Tatranska Lomnica. A month after we first stayed here.
It’s still beautifully sunny by day, but blinking heck the temperature plummets as soon as the sun goes down. There’s a readout in the car park. It shows the temperature here, and at the two lift points on the mountain. It suggests that it is minus nine at the top, even though the sun is still on it.
We’ve been in and around Poprad, a city of about 55,000 people for a month, but we’ve only seen the various roads we’ve taken to the vets.
It was time to change that.
On our way from the Dol’any house to our Lomnica car park we stopped off for a couple of hours to visit the main gallery, and town. Tatranska Galeria is set in the restored building of a steam power generation station giving lofty rooms filled with softened light.
Although there was an exhibition of Goya’s drawings I was most attracted to the modern interpretations of traditional costume.
In Eastern Europe until part way through the last century each region had its own distinct dress style in particular women, but men too. These altered when a woman married, and were always bright affairs. Patrick Leigh Fermour’s writing of his travels in the 1930s makes much of these variations of dress.
The exhibition took the costumes further by applying the designs in make up too.
Town was, well, town. But more like we’d recognise with a decent range of shops on the high streets. Many places over the past ten countries don’t have shops any more – everything is contained within shopping centres, their high streets are mostly cafes and financial services (recognise a pattern?).
Polly is working hard at healing her wound. It’s still gaping. I can still see her knee and muscles. It’s still gross. But I do believe she’s making progress.
And me? A two and a half hour hard stank meant that I was hungry enough for anything when I got back to the van on my first night.
Dinner was a risotto to finish the frozen spinach and peas that we had in the freezer of the house. Heavy on garlic, heavier on pepper, lots of parmesan. Blimey it was good.
It’s only eight pm but Pollster and I are ready for sleep.
Wednesday. A little set back.
I had an exciting plan.
I wanted to suggest to Minty that we meet at Thessaloniki a few days after her mum’s funeral.
I would have eight days to get there – it’s about a thousand miles away. That’s a lot more than my original 50 miles a day limit, but hey, we’ve averaged 75 a day up until now, so the distance limit was long out of the window.
125 miles a day, every day. It doesn’t sound too challenging, but to do the drive, the dog care, the big walk my head needs, and to avoid the temptation of eating out every day will be enough to keep me occupied.
Alas it wasn’t to be anyway.
It all depended on the vet giving me the go ahead to travel.
He thinks that Polly is doing well, but that it’s too soon to risk hitting the road again.
Her wound still looks grim, but there’s meat growing back where there was just hole. At certain angles you can’t even see the hole now. It might still take six weeks to heal properly.
And then there’s the fact that she’s a dog.
She doesn’t help herself.
She learned how to bend her soft protective collar so that she could lick her wound (dogs’ tongues are not pleasant, you don’t want them anywhere near any wound).
That meant she had to have a stiff collar on. She doesn’t like it. But at least the vet had given me a fairly small one that she could cope with easily.
Then this morning I caught her digging the edge of the collar into the wound.
Oh God, blood everywhere, wound looks horrible again.
The stupidity of a supposedly clever dog.
She is now confined to wearing a huge collar. All the time. The collar of shame.
Shame for her. And shame for me because it means I wake every time she moves at night. Dogs move a lot in the night.
When the vet said I needed to stay put I was pretty despondent. I was excited by the prospect of the drive south, the four new countries, picking up my girl in a new place, and going to the sea.
I consoled myself with the idea of a local adventure. A new stop every night. But keeping within an acceptable radius of the vet.
Then I decided that that wasn’t local enough. Instead I’d stay at the ski station car park at Tatranska Lomnica and explore the huge network of trails on foot.
So here I am.
Challenging my knackered knees each day in the High Tatras.
Trying to remember to keep the little bit of bend that saves them from (too much) damage.
The High Tatras, part of the Carpathians, is the world’s smallest big mountain range. It has 29 peaks over 2500 metres high. But the range is only 25km wide, and 78km long. To give that perspective, Scafell Pike, England’s tallest mountain, is a modest 978m, Ben Nevis is 1345m.
You need a map.
Slovak maps, in fact most country’s maps, help you to appreciate the Ordnance Survey more than you ever have before.
The lack of detail means there’s less to worry about I guess.
On my Slovak map I was particularly pleased to see trails marked in blue. So what colour are the rivers? Well, blue of course. Watch that trail, you’ll get wet feet.
I’ve been knocking off ten miles or more on each stank for a few days.
And getting some serious height – 1442m is the highest marker I’ve seen so far.
I’ve seen almost no one. Once away from the centre I’ll pass perhaps five people on a three hour walk. Perhaps a logging truck. And a lot of birds. I’ve heard deer crashing away through the trees, but I haven’t seen one in days.
Today the rain lashed down for a while, that left the skies even more beautiful once the clouds had dispersed. And an hour later I was dry again.
I have a big walk in mind for Monday. Further. Higher. One that’ll need map, compass, and provisions. I’m looking forward to it already. After four months on the flat it wouldn’t have been wise to take straight to the hills, but I’ve now had a month back on major slopes and finally I’m feeling moderately strong.
Princess Polly Tregiffian is back at the vet on Tuesday – and she’d best look after herself between now and then, we need to be signed off to restart our wonderings.
Then hopefully we can go find our Minty somewhere. Yay!
Come on Polly, you can do it.
Next week’s post – I need your help!
I plan to write a six month report. I think I’ll call it “Work life v van life”.
And I’d love to know what you’d like to read about.
This won’t be about locations, it’ll be about the preparation and the journey, its impacts, its issues. I hope it’ll be a point of reference for others breaking out.
So I’ll be delighted if anyone pops in a question, by email, text or in the comments section (I love getting comments, do keep them coming).
Questions might be as varied as “What if you argue?”, “How much do you spend?” to “How often do you clean the van?”. Obscure is good!
I thought I should point out that setting the strange interrogative incident aside, I have not felt threatened here, or in any of the other Eastern European countries we’ve been through, anywhere, at any time. OK. Maybe on Polish roads, but that’s different.
Thank you to so many people.
Last week we lost Judith, our friend and Minty’s mum.
Minty was touched by the lovely comments from people on text, Facebook, calls and blog comments, with so many offers of help.
Great comments from people we’ve met on the road, friends from home, friends from work, and people we’ve yet to meet, thank you all.
Judith’s funeral is on Monday.