Exploring the East: Nová Sedlica & Poloniny National Park

Travelling to the east of Slovakia is, in principle, really easy and convenient if you don’t shy away from longish bus rides. However, when I looked into where I wanted to go in my week off I found that up-to-date information was tricky to come by, especially in English. Luckily, my students provided me with some ideas where to start. So this post is also a small collection of hopefully useful links should you decide to go on a journey to the East, too.

First of all: transport. To go to the National Park of Poloniny or Bukovske Vrchy, I recommend going from Humenné to Snina or Stakcin by either bus or train. You can find connections here: http://cp.atlas.sk/vlakbus/spojenie/. In Stakcin, there is also the headquarter of the National Park. From there, take the bus to Nová Sedlica. It’s less than 60km but takes almost two hours, because the scenic road is narrow and comes with lots of bends.

In general, there is actually plenty of information on the internet, but most of it is in Slovak. And even though the beech forests are a UNESCO heritage site, people seem have little interest in it. Several Slovaks I asked about it had never even heard of it before. The whole region between Humenné and the Ukrainian border is called Horny Zemplin, and their website is very good if one speaks Slovak.

Anyway, I made my way there, and my phone was really optimistic:phone

But no, I didn’t cross the border, although that could have happened without me noticing.

I arrived in Nová Sedlica in the afternoon in best hiking weather, so I strolled around the village and along the little river that flows through it. It was very pleasant.

village-signpost

nova-sedlicaIn the distance, I could already see Kremenec, the mountain where Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine share a border on the summit. In the village, however, my interest was kindled by a rather unusual exhibition. Signpost were written in Slovak and Cyrillic which turned out to be Ruthenian, the language of Rusyns. Some of it has some German connections, it seems.

language-exhibit language-exhibitionAs you can see in this last photo, there were some clouds on the horizon, and by the time it got dark it was overcast. I had been looking forward to seeing some really dark skies since the area is Slovakia’s only Dark Sky Park. It was not to be.

The next morning I took off to hike up the mountains, and about half an hour into my little adventure the rain started. Another half an hour or so later, I was – despite my South-Georgia-tested waterproof jacket – beginning to feel like I was having the second shower of the day. The water was forming little creeks under the mighty trees. So I had to think: rain – cold – slipping & hypothermia, rain – noisy – I can’t hear animals, they can’t hear me.

signAt which point I made the unadventurous but sensible decision to turn around. Totally soaked, I reached the entrance of the National Park, where there was a little museum and office for the rangers. It was dry – that was all what I wanted at that point. A young ranger there seem to be glad that I had shown up, and she showed me around the little exhibition while I was drying. This is how I met Archie the European Bison.

archie-the-bisonArchie used to be the alpha-bull in his herd in the park. He was several decades old when he broke a leg and died. But his family is increasing. There are apparently more than two dozen animals now (only a handful were re-wilded), and they roam the region of the Starina basin in the park. I was even allowed to give him a hug – his fur was much thicker than I had expected. My hands almost sank into it. It was also incredibly soft. I also admired other stuffed locals, like a lynx, a wildcat and a Little owl.

So, dry and happy I ventured back outside, where the downpour had stopped. Only for it to start again a few minutes later. I arrived wet and cold at my guesthouse, the lovely Penzion Kremenec, where I spent the afternoon drinking tea made from fresh mint, staring out of the window.

rainWhen it finally stopped raining for good, I took another evening stroll. I admired the lichens and reached the conclusion that I would have to come back.marking

From Rags to Riches to Nirvana

My project to read a book from each country & territory continues, and along the way I’m making some great discoveries. One of them is the excellent blog Biblibio, reading which has encouraged and enlightened me to include more female authors, who will appear here in due course. At the moment, I’m still working on a many-months-old pile of books. Many thanks to my friend Meg for recommending the book of choice for Bhutan.

62 Bhutan: Doji Dhratyul – Escapades Awakenings

Self-publishing might free an author of some restrictions that come with the publishing industry, but in my experience it also comes with a lack of editing. In this particular case, I think, the rags-to-riches plot would have gained a lot if some more editing had happened. Having said that, this book is a brave introduction to Bhutanese society, in particular when it comes to issues like sexual exploitation of rural girls and women or child labour both in rural and urban areas. The land of Gross National Happiness is so much more than mountains and temples, and this book shows that on every page.

63 New Zealand: Eleanor Catton – The Luminaries

This book was a totally unexpected page-turner. I completely ignored all the astrological stuff (I’m more on the astronomical side of things). Apart from that, it was a welcome challenge to travel so far in space and back in time. Quite often, I felt as if I was really there in the endless rain, searching for gold and answers.

64 Russia: Victor Pelevin – The Sacred Book of the Werewolf

A woman who is a fox who is a prostitute who … no. The best thing I can say about this book is that it was a critique of modern Russia – to which I can’t add anything because I lack the knowledge. Otherwise, I found it pseudo-philosophical or pseudo-buddhistic waffle.

Exploring the East: Humenne

Moving on from Kosice further northeast, the train went through a lovely rural landscape of fields, green hills and castle ruins on top of hills. I arrived in Humenne around sunset, found Hotel Karpatia where I had booked a room for the night and settled in. The hotel was very close to the train station and proved to be a very good choice – quiet, clean, friendly staff, good food.

The next morning, I set out to explore the little town of Humenne. Firstly, I went up a hill on top of which I found a cemetery and fabulous views of the surrounding mountains.

cemetaryThe cemetery had a civilian area, but also a military one. In one part of the latter, Slovak and German soldier were buried together. The fallen soldiers from the Red Army had their own patch.russian cemetary

Too much contemplation of death on a Sunday morning is not so much fun I thought, so I ventured back into town to have a look at the local castle and its museum, but unfortunately that was closed. In the castle park, however, I found lots of other possible options. paths

I decided to enjoy the open-air museum exhibiting traditional Slovak houses from the times when the country was more rural. Judging by the photographs in some buildings, that was around the middle of the last century. I loved strolling around the mostly wooden houses – the smell is so homely! On top of that, the museum grounds are in an old orchard. Ripe plums and apples added to the aroma; and a tiny fellow found some food. black squirrel

The highlight of the museum was without a doubt the wooden church, formerly of Nova Sedlica, Slovakia’s easternmost village. Originally, this church was built without using any metal nails, but I think during the rebuilding a few bits of metal were added. Inside, photography was forbidden, but some of the icons on show were really handsome. wooden church

Humenne is really small, but had a welcoming atmosphere, and the town is also aware of its connection to world literature: schweijk

There’s even an outdoor gallery, well, kind of.  I think it’s really worth paying a visit to Humenne, and the surrounding hills promise very good hiking.gallery

Exploring the East: Košice

During the summer, I took a week-long holiday and ventured eastward to explore more of Slovakia. The furthest I had been so far were the mountains of the Mala Fatra region and the High Tatras, which are both amazing. This made me very curious about an area of Slovakia which even some of my students haven’t been to yet – the East.

So I got on a train from Bratislava to Košice which is the second biggest city in Slovakia. I only had a couple of hours to stroll around the Old Town centre. I was welcomed by the sight of the cathedral:

cathedral KosiceThe spires reminded me a lot of Oxford, as did the gargoyles. However, the ones in Košice are decidedly more exciting than the college ones in England:

gargoyle 1 gargoyle 2It was a sunny Saturday afternoon. People were out enjoying themselves. The main square exuded a peaceful atmosphere.

Kosice main squareAnd this tells you what people are up to after nightfall: shop