The High Tatras. Slovakia. Part 5.

    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.

    Who wouldn’t want to watch the sunset?

    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.

    Ray Mears wears favourite shirt to the front.

    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.

    Close to dark in the woods.


    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.

    Back at our favourite base camp.

    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.

    Power station. Art powerhouse.

    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.

    Costume design extended to make up. That’ll take a while in the morning!


    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?).

    Dog Leg.

    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.

    Dad. It’s embarrassing. That shirt is older than me!

    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 didn’t.

    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.

    The cone of shame. What are you laughing at?

    Big Walks.

    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.

    The view from about 1400m.

    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.

    After the rain.

    What’s coming?

    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.

    19 Replies to “The High Tatras. Slovakia. Part 5.”

    1. Hi Kelvin,I’ve been reading your last few posts with a mixture of sadness and anxiety for the pain you’re going through, and huge respect for your courage and optimism in coping with it all. Simple platitudes, which are all I can offer, don’t seem enough. Stay strong.
      But if you want to talk about vans and equipment…….. the geek in me could ask a hundred questions. What sort of gas mileage are you getting? Are 12 volt compressor fridges the best option (my vote would be Yes!) What solar control/charging system did you fit? Is the furniture hardware standing up to constant use?

      Here’s to a happy reunion for you soon, and a fully recovered pup

      All the best

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thanks for your note and good wishes Andy.

        I know that if we’d had this month’s incidents a few months ago we’d have been in pieces. It has taken some time, but we are both finally calmer and stronger than we were when we were in ridiculous jobs.

        I’ll be sure to include all those points in the next post. Just one for now – the fridge has just failed for the first time after lots of stationary days and the last couple being foggy. But all it needs is a little drive, or sunshine tomorrow (I hope).

        Thank you.

        Best wishes. Kelvin.

    2. Lovely sunset pictures KC, but but you really should listen when your host (Vladimir) tells you to be home before dark, just like your mum and dad used to, but I suppose….
      Poor Polly is having a hard time, hope it gets better soon.

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        I’m sure Peggy will have something so say when the paper version of this finally gets to her!

    3. Gillian Fawkes says: Reply

      Oh Kelvin be careful! I don’t want to stifle your adventurous spirit but Polly & Minty need you even more now. Interesting you mention Leigh Fermor, I have just finished reading ‘The Ariadne Objective’ which features his exploits on Crete during WW2. I’m now inspired to read his work.
      Will be thinking of you on Monday.

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        G. Don’t worry, it’s just a big walk, but it is high and it is long. I’ll only go if the weather is good and promises to stay that way.

        PLF is amazing. Start with A Time Of Gifts. The first of his big walk trilogy. The narrative is quite special, if I could write like him I’d do nothing else.

        I know the story of the Crete exploits but I haven’t read that yet. I will do, hopefully when we’re in Greece to help with context.

        Thanks for commenting on the blog. I’d be disappointed if no one did so.

        KC. Stuck up a hill.

    4. Ah, brother mine – still the adventurer as ever, I’m so glad you have managed to get in a few hikes to keep your head above the mire this week, even if you did end up suspect in a ditch!! I trust the Princess was asleep and didn’t miss you too much.

      I would say you certainly have sufficient material to create some worthwhile short stories. I picked up a writing challenge for you this afternoon and it’s for a good cause.

      No matter who you were I bet you didn’t get your car in this verdant shade of green in the C era! What fun.

      The vet setback is a bother but just gives you another opportunity to put your scheming brain to work again, on one of your early nights, to come up with a new plan to bring your Minty back to the Wanderers’ snail shell. Happy planning towards being the Adventurous Three again!

    5. Ah, brother mine – still the adventurer as ever, I’m so glad you have managed to get in a few hikes to keep your head above the mire this week, even if you did end up suspect in a ditch!! I trust the Princess was asleep and didn’t miss you too much.

      I would say you certainly have sufficient material to create some worthwhile short stories. I picked up a writing challenge for you this afternoon and it’s for a good cause.

      No matter who you were I bet you didn’t get your car in this verdant shade of green in the C era! What fun.

      The vet setback is a bother but just gives you another opportunity to put your scheming brain to work again, on one of your early nights, to come up with a new plan to bring your Minty back to the Wanderers’ snail shell. Happy planning towards being the Adventurous Three again! x

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thanks Jay.
        Although having to stay in one place is a bind, it’s so beautiful here and everyday I have seen more of the immediate area.
        I’m certainly happy, but hoping the vet sends us on our way on Tuesday.
        Best wishes. Kelvin.

    6. My mum instinct says stick to the flat but the backpacker in me says climb as high as you can. Definitely do some yoga for your knees. Try Adrienne on YouTube. She is wonderful and some sessions are only 10 minutes.
      I also have a 100 questions. But…
      Are there any items that you took for granted at home but that are now essential?
      Have you found many stops where you can light a camp fire?
      Do you ever do a ‘big shop’ or do you have to go every day?
      What’s your all time favourite driving song?

      That’s enough for now!

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thanks Sarah.
        That “took for granted” question is a particularly good one. I look forward to answering these.
        Ah yes, the lovely bonkers Adrienne.

    7. Keith Giddens says: Reply

      Just for info you may like to make a note that The World Beard and Moustache Championships 2019 are due to beheld in Antwerp on 17, 18 and 19th May. I’m sure that, given some spectacular styling, you are in with a shout!
      Great to hear that progress is being made on “the leg” front. Huge relief no doubt. You are clearly itching to get going again. I can well understand.
      Two questions which would bother me on the purely practical side. How do you deal with your paper mail whilst away? Unless you speak umpteen languages has English been adequate (apart from with your desperados last week)? Two questions on the travelling side. Who decides where you will stop for the night or is it a committee decision? Have you managed to share “bucket emptying” duties? Sorry to lower the tone somewhat!

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thank you sir.
        I shall give these due consideration!
        And the beard? It may need shearing. Now that it’s getting cold it gets caught in every zip I pull up.
        Actually, maybe I don’t need to cut it, it’ll be all pulled out soon.

        1. Hi Kelvin, Louis recommends “condensing your beard, so it keeps you warm but doesn’t get caught in the zips”. I will comment properly below, but had to respond to this. It tickled me. A bit like your beard does when you give your big bear hugs 🙂

          1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

            What a wise fellow he is.
            I need to keep it until after Christmas. You never know what work there may be!

    8. “Every journey has a secret destination of which the traveler is unaware.” Martin Buber
      The interesting bit are those experiences that bring about changes within. I would certainly agree that along this lines even “bucket emptying duties” could be a fascinating subject….

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        People were asking where Margaret has got to.
        You have a great expression for so many things!
        Ah yes, the bucket… I shall address it.

    9. Well, KC, Minty and Pollipop, what brilliant posts. Kelvin, please don’t do anything too adventurous on your own! You have two special ladies to look after!! Have amazing stomps and see wonderful stuff but save the serious kamikaze activity to the lemmings. Your accosting was terrifying and disappointing to read but so glad it came to nothing.

      I was also so saddened by Minty’s unexpected and shocking reason for a trip home. I hope she is ok and the set back of vet visits doesn’t make it too difficult to pick up continue your adventure together.

      Poor Pollipops. Cone of shame is not great for any of you. They hurt your shins if nothing else, but if it’s stopping her from the temptation of self-healing then so be it. We have a fab inflatable donut collar for Jinnie that is soft on the shins, not noisy and doesn’t get stuck. Search for dog donut collar on amazon! Which brings me to my question: How do you shop for obscure things that you don’t get in a corner shop. Is online shopping an option when you’re on the road? Does Amazon deliver to the High Tatras?

      I will keenly wait for your next post. I feel like I’m with you every step of the way. Keep them coming.

      Much love from the Marmites in the mild Midlands xxx

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        You’re on.
        The question will be in the post.
        I hope I have enough data signal tomorrow to put it live!
        Thank you. KC

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