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Must be something in the Slovakian air...
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Getting sweaty in Slovakia
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Haystacks in the fields
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Filtered light in the forest

Either at dinner last night or at breakfast this morning, or probably both, we again saw the group of German bikers (not of the hairy leather-clad type, more likely to be work colleagues). Today we headed for another Slovakian highlight, the Slovenský raj (“paradise”), a little way west from Levoča. Rough Guide describes it as a “karstic terrain with gentle limestone hills whittled away in places to form deep, hairline ravines and providing a dank, almost tropical escape from the dry summer heat of the Poprad plain” (to the north). We drove first to the village of Hrabušice, where we stopped at the friendly tourist information and got a map with trails. The roads were lined with apple trees, laden with small green and red fruit, and the roadsides were full of summer colours of blue, purple, yellow and white flowers. At Podlesok, the entrance to the Slovenský raj, there was a small car park, and lots of cars as well as some tour buses. Same as in Poland, the Slovakians just seem to love getting out into the countryside for the solitude, preferably in large groups!

We paid to get into the park and started our walk. First it was a long flat walk along the Hornad river. This led us to a metal footbridge and then the fun began. From here we made our way up the river gorge. In places we had to use the metal rods, chains and footsteps that had been driven into the rocks. The first bit was probably the hairiest. The footsteps and chain provided were stable, but the rock curved out a lot so you had to crouch and balance yourself carefully, trying to keep as much of your weight as possible close to the rocks (which was hard to do as most of your body was actually suspended over the drop into the river far below). There were lots of other people, all slowly edging their way along, and this actually made it easier, gaining confidence from the fact that so many others were all quite happy to clamber along. There followed many more chains and hairy bits up and over the rocks, and further along we came across the first of many steep metal ladders to climb.

It was good fun, definitely hiking with a difference. Just as well it was dry. The river and waterfalls still flowed, but were probably just a trickle compared to autumn or spring. There was a bit of a party atmosphere with so many people around, good natured and high-spirited. We successfully managed the steep metal ladders and metal walkways screwed into the rocks and climbed up and up through the pretty gorge. We reached what seemed like a plateau, but my GPS told me we still had a climb of 160 metres to go and weren’t even halfway up yet.

The woods made it impossible to judge, but then my GPS suddenly caught up and informed us we had reached the height of the plateau, phew! A bit further on we walked into a large meadow that stretched up the hill, Kláštorisko, with colourful flowers and typical haystacks (draped over wooden contraptions) and lots of tired hikers who had found themselves a nice spot and were taking a break, a nap or pic-nicking. At the top of the sloping meadow, surrounded by pine trees, there was a cafeteria in a large wooden house with a large balcony of decking at its front, overlooking the meadow. The balcony was full of tired hikers downing cold beers and plates of Slovak nosh, such as goulash with bread dumplings, and bryndzove halusky, a dish of potato gnocchi with a heavy sheep’s cheese sauce and topped with a bit of fried pork fat. We did likewise, on the food front, but stuck to non-alcoholic drinks, a refreshing “grep”, grapefruit lemonade, for Ness.

We felt pretty knackered after the steep climb but it was good fun, a bit scary in parts! The way down was much easier! It was a nice long walk down through the forest and this led us back down to the point where the metal bridge was. Some way before this we had a nice stopping point just above the river where we stopped for a while. For the final part of the hike we carried on the same way as we had come, on the blue trail along the river and towards the car park at Podlesok. All in all a very enjoyable, thoroughly knackering and long hike.

We drove back to Levoča, back through the country lanes lined with apple trees and flowers. At the hotel we parked Eddie and then first went for a nice cold beer sat on the small terrace at the front of the hotel, feeling very self-righteous. It was late in the afternoon by now and there were more people about, mostly locals on their errands. A “normal” atmosphere in a provincial town, rather than the tourist-engulfed pavement cafés. In a corner of the square a stage was being erected for the festival. First we went up to our cosy room at the top. We look out the back of the hotel towards a green hill at the back of the town on which a picturesque church stands. Ness took a soothing bath while I tinkered.

Later we came down for dinner in the hotel again, not because it was so good but more because it was convenient and we had already paid for it, and the other options round the square didn’t seem to offer much different, plus it was quite atmospheric. Dinner was washed down with the local plonk and finished with a glass of the local spirit, borovicka. Afterwards we went for a stroll on the main square, in the hope of watching the concert or whatever was on for the festival, but – at 9pm – we were already too late and they were packing everything up. There were still plenty of locals out, just sitting, chatting, and the main focus was the beer tent, a mock “log” (mdf) cabin were there was still a bit of drinking going on, but also falling off and we just returned to the hotel and headed for bed. Great day!