Monday, February 11, 2013

Winter traveling--Zdiar, Slovakia

What a difference a break in routine makes--one of the huge benefits of travel, for those of us who are lucky enough to get to do it. Here I am, a few days back in Crimea after my 2 ½ weeks trip, and I feel so much better about my life here and the upcoming months. Perhaps it won’t last but it feels good to be thinking in more positive ways.

So, a few highlights of my sojourn. My PCV pal Cheryl and I took off on a 25-hour train to Lviv in northwestern Ukraine on a snowy Sunday afternoon. I had woke up that morning feeling pretty sick—wanting to throw up kind of sick—and as the morning went on and it didn’t go away, wondering how exactly I was going to be able to get on a train and travel for 25 hours. But with help from mystery meds provided by Lenura, it eventually went away shortly before I took off and I got on the train with lots of anticipation of our upcoming journey. 

We had a 10-hour layover in Lviv before catching a midnight train to Krakow, Poland. Lviv is a beautiful old historic city that we had both visited before and we were looking forward to seeing more of its lovely buildings, plus hangout with a PCV who lives there. But the weather began its trip-long plague of our plans with an ice storm that made it difficult to walk around and prevented our PCV friend from flying in that day. We did manage to slowly shuffle our way to one museum but then spent the rest of the day hanging out in cafes until time to go to the train station.

Train travel in Ukraine is very cheap--$18 for our 25 hour trip from Simferopol to Lviv—but cross border travel gets much more expensive--$60 for our 6 hour trip to Krakow. But the train was much more luxurious with a wash basin in each compartment! Quite amazing. We didn’t get a lot of sleep however, with a 1am border crossing that seemed to go on forever and our forgetting the time change and getting up an hour before we needed to. But we got to Krakow early in the morning and had a whole day to once again explore the city we both had visited on separate trips the previous year. The following day we took two buses across the Polish border to the town of Zdiar in the High Tatras of Slovakia, where we spent the next three days in a hostel called the “Ginger Monkey” (never found out why, I’m sorry to say).

We had come there with the intention of me doing cross country skiing and Cheryl snow shoeing—which were available according to our email correspondence with the owner of the hostel—but he, unfortunately, was gone to Prague during that time and his fill-ins really didn’t have a clue. Mostly people come there to downhill ski, as there are local resorts nearby and larger resorts higher up in the mountains. But we didn’t really care—it was a beautiful little Slovakian village nestled in the mountains and just so peaceful to be there. We spent the first day just walking around, asking at every ski shop we saw about cc skiing and snowshoeing and enjoying the views of the spectacular jagged peaks of the High Tatras--when the weather lifted enough to see them.  Eventually we did find a place that rented snowshoes and made a plan for the next day to hike to the ridge behind us and follow a trail through the forest and down the other side of the mountain. It turned out to be a struggle to get up the ridge on our not great snowshoes with the wind blowing, but the climb was worth it as the tall spruce trees on top of the ridge were covered in a flox of white snow, and the occasional views of the distant peaks magnificent. My snowshoes fell apart on the way down and I had to return using only one snowshoe, but it was worth it.
View of the High Tatras from our hostel
Ginger Monkey hostel. We were in the upstairs right room.

Down hill ski resort in the Tatras.

One of the lodgings there.

The lake where I found some peaceful cross country skiing.

The forest on the ridge behind our hostel.
High up on the ridge.

The following day I was determined to get some cross country skiing in—that being the main reason I wanted to go there in the first place—and Cheryl decided to come along for the ride. We caught an early morning bus that took us to a village higher in the mountains, and then from there an electric train to a downhill ski resort that had advertised cross country skiing. It was a beautiful place, with the jagged snow covered peaks so close, and indeed, they did have cc ski rental and a few trails. So off I took, first on the flat trail around the lake, and then beckoned by a trail that climbed up a hillside. Without a map and no knowledge of the trails, I found myself on a very difficult trail that at home I might not have attempted. I kept asking myself what the hell I was doing, out here on this trail alone, constantly wiping out, and even occasionally taking off my skis to get up a hill. Eventually I did make it back down to the lake, managing not to embarrass myself by falling in front of all the people who were standing around. After that, I spent a peaceful half hour striding around the soft snow of the lake, and enjoying those hills from a distance. Ah, cross country skiing in the Slovakian mountains. I’m sure it has more to offer somewhere!

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