Tag: countryside

Life in Zdiar

 The High Tatras in the Fall

With a week left on the road, I went in the opposite direction I should’ve been going in and headed east to revisit the Ginger Monkey for two days. By the time I got to the Poprad bus station, twilight was encroaching, it was cold, the gypsies were emerging, and I had another hour to wait alone for the bus. At least it’s not raining, I thought to myself. Sure enough, by the time the bus pulled up beside Zdiar’s petrol station, the biggest rainstorm I’d yet hit was pouring down buckets and I tumbled into the Ginger Monkey’s bright kitchen dripping, shivering, and sporting soaked shoes.

I again met (Czech) Dan the manager, Ivan, and a dance party in the kitchen. We drank through a bottle of something clear with a worm sinking at the bottom that Kevin had left behind, possibly the best drink I’ve ever had. Under its mysterious influence I made the split decision to extend my trip after all and volunteer at the Ginger Monkey for the next three weeks, Vegas wedding style.

Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled

My itinerary was blank again, when someone in Budapest recommended Lake Bled in Slovenia. The first thing I saw off the Bled station was the Julian Alps, a smaller mountain range in northern Slovenia. Bled itself is a tiny, very popular tourist town built around a small but beautiful glacial lake of the same name, for which it is famous.

Lake Bled is an almost unbelievable shade of turquoise, so jewel bright I thought they must be throwing chemicals into it. But no, it’s the result of a high algae concentration. In the middle sits a little island, lush with trees and just big enough to stably hold an old church. People swim there or row across on canoes or pletnas, romantic little rentable boats lining the lake’s shore. Along the lake’s almost perfect perimeter is a cliff on one side, atop of which sits Bled Castle. This view – the castle, the island and its church, is a postcard, and likely one you’ve already seen.

Zdiar, Slovakia and the Ginger Monkey Hostel

Zdiar and the Tatra Mountains

After Olomouc, I went to the Ginger Monkey Hostel in a mountain village called Zdiar, right in the Tatra Mountains on the Polish-Slovak border. I hadn’t planned to visit Slovakia at all, but there was a flier in the bathroom door of Poets’ for this place, and the time seemed ripe to get away from towns and spend some time in nature. Plus, I was told I had to go there.

It was an all day trip, with a 4.5 hour ride on a slow train to the city of Poprad, then an hour-long bus ride to Zdiar. From the bus stop it was a short hike past the petrol station, the white, crumbling village church, and, just behind that, the hostel, a colorful cabin attached to another colorful cabin belonging to the Ginger Monkey’s Slovak neighbors. The first thing that happened when I came up to the porch was that I was attacked (lovingly) by two dogs, one being Wally, the hostel dog, and the other a black lab belonging to the local gardener. A bunch of people were sitting on the porch under the wooden monkey plaque, talking, and staring out at the row of mountains directly facing the hostel. It had taken me a good five minutes to walk up the Ginger Monkey’s driveway in the first place because I stopped a dozen times to turn around for that very view and take photos from every possible angle, capturing all the minute changes that suddenly jump out when you move five paces.

Left My Heart on a Rocky Shore

Doolin's coast. Keep walking that way and you'll reach the Cliffs of Moher.

On my second day in Doolin after returning from the Cliffs of Moher and parting with Johanna, I was looking for things to do on such a rare, beautiful afternoon. The coast was just a twenty minute walk away, so I walked down there alone to check it out.

This was the most beautiful, personal lone walk I’ve ever taken. Just myself, the rocky coast, the wind blowing my scarf around everywhere, the crashing waves, the group of guys fishing from the ledge that I passed there and back. After a while of scrambling over boulders and staring at the sea, I came to the end of the path and saw cliffs beaten by the waves. Meters above at the top of those smaller cliffs, the path continued, but I turned back at that point after having stumbled over those boulders for an hour. An hour is so short. I passed still pools of algae that formed in the rocky plateau.

Llanberis, Wales

Llanberis in the morning

Llanberis, Wales, was one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to and one of the most memorable parts of my trip, even though, or especially because, it was a little out-of-the-way mountain town nestled in a valley with so much to do in a comfortable setting. Had I not had a ferry to Ireland to catch the next day, I would have stayed there longer.

As I said, on the way I passed by Porthmadog, which looked like a posh ski and lake resort town from the bus window. It was fairly large and had a nice everything, with a nice amount of the nice everything. Llanberis, on the other hand, was a tiny town with one Main Street located on the edge of Snowdonia National Park, but this Main Street had everything you need: an Indian restaurant, an ATM, a pub, and the Snowdonia Bakery, which I learned the hard way was only a sign with no functioning bakery. At least it added to the quaint ambience. I will always almost taste those mountainside pastries that could have been….

Open Misery

Machynlleth's clock tower

Leaving Brecon was a relief. I could only be going to better places. (Please nobody from Brecon ever read this). But there was half a day and two bus transfers before my next destination, Llanberis. Do you know what that meant? Or what I thought it meant? More quaint little towns and beautiful countryside.

Armed with the knowledge of “bws safle,” I continued on, reaching a town whose name I forget. All I do remember is hoping there would be a cafe there so I could get some coffee and being disappointed, either because it wasn’t there or I didn’t have enough time. We passed more of the same countryside until we got to Machynlleth (pronounced Mahynheth), a tiny town that the hostel worker told me was really cute. Well, it had a nice tower.

Brecon, Wales

A snapshot from the town of Brecon

Wales was the first turning point for me. I had only booked two nights there, the first in a little town called Brecon in the middle of the country, and the second in a town called Llanberis to the north not far from the coast. I basically booked the hostels that were available and well reviewed. In retrospect, I should have booked both nights in Llanberis and just enjoyed myself there, but I wanted to see the country, and see the country I did, via bus. Tedious, tedious bus transfers in the rain. True backpacking. I swapped the cities I had thus far been in for countryside, and for the first time on my trip was thrown into the state of constant travel. I would end up in some little town with a tiny bus station, waiting for the next bus, and whenever I had an hour or more to kill, would go hike around the town.