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Young Roma kids begging, but what you don't see here was the incredible transformation that had just preceded, in the blink of an eye, from happily playing kids to pathetic little beggars, upon the passing of the visitor.
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Inside Spišský hrad
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Made it to the top!
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Mighty, impregnable Spišský hrad

Today we drove out to visit the ruins of Spišský hrad, a short distance to the east of Levoča. We had a leisurely start, breakfast in the conservatory garden room. We drove along the main road towards Spišská Podhradié, meaning “Below the castle”, through a rural, pastoral landscape of undulating fields and fringed with taller hills, mountains almost, visible in the distance to the north and south. Spišská Podhradié was just a small quiet little town, a village really, with a mix of old and new houses, and lots of Romanie faces and complexions. We had already had some views of the ruins of Spišský hrad from the main road, just past the village of Klčov. From there we saw the chalk white (in the right sunlight) ruins spread across the bleak green hills and grey rocks in the distance. As Rough Guide put it, “an irresistibly photogenic shot”.

The ruins command the entire valley, a massive wide open area all around, and it was no surprise to learn that the castle withstood and repulsed the Tatar invasions of the somethingth century. It just looks impregnable. In Spišská Podhradié we stopped at a bend in the road, inside the village, from where we could get more stunning views and pictures. Especially picturesque was the ruined overturned car in the foreground. On our way back later I saw several Roma kids using it as their playground. Roma villagers, as well as non-Roma Slovaks, went about their business, shopping, talking, etc. The Roma faces just look so different and fascinating, although the overall impression you get is one of shiftiness, of mistrusting foreigners, and of untrustworthiness, the stereotype “dark gypsy”. We drove on through the village and missed the car park at first and had doubled back, past the crumbling railway station. Later we saw it was still in use, and people were waiting for the two-carriage wide (wider than British trains) local train.

We parked at the car park at the bottom of the hill along with several dozen other cars from all over, CZ and PL mostly but many others. From here the castle loomed high up on the hill and the top of the tower on the upper castle looked as high as a mountain from here. A cobbled path was in construction and led only a short way up along the green hill, with a meadow on one side, and fields on both, with colourful flowers, blue, purple thistles, yellow, white. Further along it was just a normal path up through the fields, leading straight up and up, towards the gate in the walls of the lower castle.

It was a steep climb. Past a couple of begging Roma boys. Smiling and playing one minute, just before we passed, and then, egged on by their older sister, as soon as they saw us coming round the corner, they instantly transformed themselves into simpering and pathetic beggars, as if a switch had been flicked. So, it was a steep climb and hard work, even just to reach the gate in the walls. Inside the walls, the hill continued to climb up steeply towards the far end, where the upper castle was situated. We walked along the top of the walls around the big green space of the lower castle, probably an area for exercising, stables, etc. Then through the next gate and up the rocky hill into the rest of the castle and more climbing. We stopped for a coffee at the bottom of the upper castle and then completed the climb up to the top.

From here we had fabulous views over the countryside far and wide. The ruins looked picturesque, with archways and window spaces providing beautiful frames for the vistas. We visited the small museum with bits of medieval stuff, armour, weapons, statues, maps. Next we did the final bit, the tower. Several steep and narrow stairs in between the walls led up, so narrow that we could only just squeeze along. Even better views were had from the top. The bit of history about the castle is basically that it dates from the 13th-15th century as the seat of the lords of Spiš and in 1781 it burned to the ground and has been left as a ruin ever since.

Down was far easier! We returned to Levoča, back to our hotel, and collected our laundry. When we said not to bother ironing this provoked a big smile and a “Santa Maria!” from the pleased housekeeper! It was still only mid-afternoon but we had reached our fill for the day. We found a little café, a local rather than a tourist job, on a street on a corner of the main square, where we spent time writing diary (me), reading and playing a few games of Tien Len and/or Escoba and having a couple of beers and a bite (“vegetable bake”). It was a nice uncomplicated little place, modern rather than traditional, playing a CD of 80’s UK chart music. We recognised most of the tunes and hummed along. In the evening we simply had dinner in the good hotel restaurant again (we had gone for half-board as they had “no breakfast-only rooms left”, yeah right). Another great day!

Rules of Tien Len and Escoba

Tien Len: