Algeria – Forest of Madagh

The Forest of Madagh is roughly an hour’s drive west of Oran. It’s an area close to the coast on top of a cliff. In some places, the steep drops are a bit gentler and the forest and scrublands reach down to the sea. In the distance, one can see the Habibas Islands. Madagh itself is a tiny settlement and has problems with illegal landgrabbing as well as a non-functioning sewer system.

However, once we had left the fences and plastic rubbish behind, the forest was lovely. We greatly enjoyed being out and about. There was a decidedly autumnal feel and smell in the air. The plant life looked a bit different, but was definitely full of seasonal fruit and colours.

We went on this hike with a former student and a friend of hers. Algerians go hiking according to the principle of safety in numbers. I’m not a big fan of hiking in groups, but the four of us together worked out well. I’ve also only ever felt unsafe here when in a car (diabolic driving styles), but the locals know the situation better than I do so who am I to argue?

While many people go to the forest because of the views of the Med, I got excited about the wildlife. I saw my ever first wild chameleon! We also came across a baby tortoise (http://chinese-poems.com/blog/?p=1787), several kestrels, a Bonelli’s eagle and what might have been a False smooth snake. If your herpetology is up to scratch, please leave a comment. Thank you, Ichrak and Hossein!

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Exploring the East: Spišské Podhradie

The tiny town of Spišské Podhradie is home to some awesome attractions and also a UNESCO Worlcathedral-in-spissky-podhradied Heritage site. First of all, there is Spišská Kapitula, or Spiš Chapter House. It is really like a town within a town.

I did a tour of the cathedral. The different styles of altars were all fascinating, tacky at times, beautifully crafted and not allowed to be photographed.

From the hill with the Chapter House on one has several hiking options and some lovely views. One such view is of the other main attraction of the village, Spiš Castle.

spissky-hrad-from-afar

To get to the village, you can take one of the many busses going there. I arrived early in the morning to beat the crowds, which turned out to be a rather good idea. In fact, when I got there, it was still foggy, the dew hanging in the cobwebs and I was the only one hiking up to the castle.

Once I had reached the top, the weather played along nicely and the fog lifted. The castle is one of the largest in Europe.spissky-hrad

I was there just after they had opened, and it filled up quite quickly. Yes, the place is huge, but there’s a small museum inside which soon became overcrowded. Actors in period costumes put on plays, and craftspeople sold lovely looking merchandise. I was quite fond of pottery items, but for fear of breaking them while walking around I didn’t buy any. Rather, I managed to escape the throngs and enjoyed the quieter parts of the castle.view-of-high-tatras-from-spissky-hrad

The castle is divided in a lower and an upper part. Architecturally, the upper one is probably the more exciting. Twarningshere is just more to see and explore. One has to beware of dangerous animals though.

The lower part is basically an open space surrounded by an enormous wall. It’s open grassland, and signs point out that there can be a number of birds and other animals. I only saw the spermophiles, but plenty of them. All in all, I spent about three hours on the castle grounds, and two or so in the Chapter House. Podhradie is only about 20km from Levoca, so it makes for a nice day trip from there.spermophil-1

Exploring the East: Levoča

If you’ve been following this little series, there’s one more post to come after this. For now, let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of Levoča. This tiny town is part of Slovakia’s UNESCO heritage, and it has some splendid architecture and artworks to offer.levoca

The area has been inhabited for several thousand years. Visible now, on the other hand, are mostly structures from the Renaissance period or younger, plus a bit of gothic stuff. The museum inside the town wall will tell you much more.

The town wall is almost completely preserved. It makes for a lovely one-hour long walk to follow it around the centre, especially in the evening. There are also a handful of restaurants inside the wall, sporting their own terraces. Highly recommended.

There must have been quite a bit of reconstruction going on over the years, but there’s always something to be done.

The area around the main square looked really spick and span. I felt it was almost a bit too much to be real.archive

Levoca is well-connected to public transport as well as near to a major highway. What’s more, hiking paths do start right off the main square. The closest place to go to is a Basilica Minor on the hill north of the town.basilika

From the top of that hill one has fab views over the region of Spis. If you’re in Slovakia, this is a place not to miss.view-from-hill

Exploring the East: Hiking in Zádielska

If you want to go hiking, Slovakia has a lot to offer. The valley of Zádielska (Zádielska dolina or Zádielska tiesňava) is certainly a great place to do so. The hike can be done as a loop, in which case I’d recommend walking it anti-clockwise. This way, you’ve got the steep ascent at the beginning, followed by a leisurely stroll when you can enjoy the views.

zadielska-dolina-cliffszadielska-dolina-creekzadielska-dolina-view

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 to 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