5 Things I Learnt in Slovakia
My recent visit to Prague was only the first half of a two-part adventure. The second instalment of this European escapade was a trip to a sleepy regional town of Liptovský Mikuláš in Slovakia. When I say sleepy, I mean very, very sleepy. After the hustle and bustle of Prague, I was struck by the quiet atmosphere here.
The great thing about going somewhere completely new, somewhere you have no knowledge about, is that you have no expectations. I went to Slovakia with my snowboarding fanatic boyfriend to experience the ski resort of Jasná, a short drive from the town. We ended up spending about half our time just walking around the town, enjoying the surroundings and marvelling at the lack of goings-on. We downloaded a city guide and took to the streets of Liptovský Mikuláš to see the sights. In the process, we barely passed a single person and turned up to find most places on our list closed . Like I said, very sleepy! We tried so hard to be tourists, but turns out some places just aren’t made for ‘em! Here I am “seeing the sights”, visiting the outside of the Jewish Synagogue and trying not LOL at the slight fail our typical tourist experience was.
This was definitely unlike any overseas holiday I have had before, but the lack of typical tourist activity made it one that was actually pretty wicked. I ended up having a blast and I also learnt a few things along the way (hard not to, when you don’t know a thing going in)...
Slovakian winter scenery is all kinds of stunning.
A walk down to the lake shore on which Liptovský Mikuláš sits led us to two discoveries. One: lake access does not seem to be a priority here... I cannot begin to tell you how muddy we got trying to find a way to the frozen lake’s edge. My boots are still recovering. Two: the winter here is so otherworldly, so empty and quiet and grey, it was stunning. There were moments I felt like we were North of the Wall (if you don’t get that reference, please go and get hooked on Game of Thrones, stat.) And I’m no expert in ski resorts, but Jasná was one of breathtaking beauty. For someone unfamiliar with ski fields, this was just how I imagined it would be... alpine trees, thick powdery snow, vast rolling slopes and jagged peaks high above you. This place was magnificent and the alpine environment makes it unlike any of the slopes we have at home.
Expecting a White Walker to appear any moment now...
The Slovakian ski resort of Jasná is what a snowboarder's dreams are made of!
I cannot ski.
When I said I’m no expert when it comes to ski resorts, I meant it. To be precise, I meant I had never skied before this trip and I can confidently say I still have not skied. What I did up there cannot be called anything that even closely resembles skiing. What I did was pay €70 for a two-hour private ski lesson, before proceeding to fail dismally in every sense of the word. I understood perfectly what I needed to do, but I could not for the life of me actually do it. And believe me when I say it wasn’t for lack of trying. I’m not sure quite when I realised the hopelessness of my endeavour... I know it was at some point after my instructor said, rather exasperatedly, “I don’t know how I can tell you any clearer. Why can’t you just do it?!” Oh that’s right, then I broke the transporter which carries learners up the baby slope. Oh, and then I fell over and couldn’t get back up because my skis were all crossed over themselves and my leg started cramping hella bad and my instructor was laughing too hard to be able to pull me up so I was awkwardly dangling from his arms in pain. That was fun. Oh, wait no, I remember now. I think it was the moment a LITERAL TODDLER whizzed past me on her baby skis chuckling with excitement that I said “Fuck this, I’m out.” You might say it went rather badly. And yes, it bought out the defeatist in me. So the idea that this would be the first of many awesome couple ski-breaks kind of died before it even started living. Poor Jesse will have to find someone else to go with. Cool snow-sports chick I ain’t. On the bright side though, there was a restaurant up the slopes with mulled wine to fill the rest of my days. I was just fine.
What a natural. Between the sweat and tears I didn't get a chance to photograph me in my ski gear
looking like the world's biggest noob, so here's me looking awkward holding Jesse's board
When all else fails, let there be mulled wine.
Warming, high-alcohol shots in the middle of the day are standard fare
Staying on the property of a local couple meant we were lucky enough to get rides up to Jasná each day with our host Jozef, who took it upon himself to be the most hospitable man I have ever met. As well as driving and feeding us, he would look at us with eager eyes each time we walked in the ski-resort kitchen and say, “aperitif??” Each time we would chuckle and say no thank you, thinking 9 in the morning was a tad too early to drink. We soon realised though that it wasn’t just Jozef’s generosity offering us a drink. it is the norm for skiers here to have a shot of Jägermeister or a local spirit before heading up the mountain, at their lunch break, and before heading down at the end of the day. We eventually could decline no longer, and accepted a shot of 52% Original Tatratea. The Tatra Mountains are what make up the stunning mountain range forming a natural border between Slovakia and Poland, and is where Jasná is located. This spirit originates here, in lodges set in the high altitudes of these mountains, and it is Slovak custom to welcome people indoors from the cold with hot herbal tea doused in alcohol. Wait a minute... herbal tea plus alcohol? Two of my favourite things! We may have even brought some back with us.
The delicious Tatratea range includes 22% Coconut, 32% Citrus, 42% Peach, 52% Original Tea, 62% Forest Fruit and 72% Outlaw. Phoar.
Sheep's cheese should be in everything.
If you ever get to Liptovský Mikuláš (not sure what the chances are) and have one meal out, let it be at Liptovska Izba. This place has a very cosy cabin in the woods feel, and serves up a great range of food, though you’d be daft not to order one of their traditional Slovak dishes. We don’t even entirely know what we ordered but they’re big on sheep’s cheese with a gnocchi-like concoction here, and crispy, indescribably delicious meat bits (again, can’t say with certainty quite what it was) on the top. Turns out, sheep cheese pasta = A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.
I don't know exactly what it was, but my god, was is it good. Slovakian food for the win.
I highly recommend going to the super-cosy, super cute Liptovska Izbal. Note the bottle of Tatratea Original on the shelf!
There are still corners of the world untouched by English.
I don’t know why this surprised me so much... Of course I realise there are parts of the planet where English isn’t a goer. I think it just struck me because I have been to places so far away, so in the middle of nowhere that English was the last thing I expected or even wanted, and yet I got it. Unlike rural inland Kenya though, Slovakia has never been a British colony. As far as I am aware (and I’ll admit that’s not much here) the two countries haven’t had a heck of a lot to do with each other, so English has just never really had the chance to seep in. From the lovely local couple hosting us to the local bar staff and checkout chicks in the supermarket, for the first time in all my years, English wasn’t an option. It made for lots of fun if not slightly awkward hand-gestures – I felt like we were in a 5-day long game of charades! It was undoubtedly one of the most refreshing travel experiences I have ever had. I loved that I couldn’t fall back on what's comfortable and easy - my mother tongue - and know I’d get by. I loved that I was in a country I knew little about... it felt intrepid. I loved that lost-and-loving-it feeling of not understanding a word of what was being said around me, but being embraced and kissed on either cheek regardless by a great big Slovakian man whose only word I could say was “aperitif”. It reminded me how big the world is. How much there is to see and do, and how much diversity there is in this crazy beautiful planet we are so lucky to live on. It made me want to go on another adventure. Soon.
I never stay put for long.
Snowy Slovakian selfie to finish!