The reason I’ve been blogging about visiting France last week and being in Slovakia this week is three-fold. Firstly it gets me back into the travel writing mode and I’ll need to be be in that mode as from the 1st July for this summer’s big cycle along the Eurovelo 8. Secondly I’m testing the technology that I’ve invested in to make the blogging a bit easier. When I cycled to southern Italy in 2010 I blogged everything via my iPhone. It was, at times, a little difficult sitting in my tent tapping away on the tiny keyboard an account of what had happened during the day, so the first thing is that I have upgraded to an iPad mini. I’m sitting here in my friend’s flat in Slovakia typing away on the on screen keyboard in almost the same way that I type when sitting at a computer, using two fingers rather than just the forefinger of my right hand. It is a miracle that on finishing the ride to Puglia that I had a forefinger left to use as it had tapped out no fewer than 30,000 words on the iPhone. I can now spread the load to more than just one finger. Thirdly, I am now connecting to the Internet using a ‘personal hotspot’ via my iPhone. Again, this is working very well indeed and as long as my phone has a decent 3G signal, I can use my iPad with what appears to be the same speed as I would use it sitting in my own flat back in the UK using my WiFi connection. It is not costing me an absolute fortune as I have now changed to using Vodafone and I have signed up to something called Eurotraveller which, for a modest cost of £3per day, allows me to use my data allowance from the UK in almost all countries in Europe. I’ve been monitoring this carefully by the Vodafone app on my phone and so far my data usage isn’t particularly high and I haven’t incurred any additional costs. This all bodes well for my cycle from Greece to Portugal this summer.
Back to today. Well, it does now feel that we are in the final few days of our trip to the Tatra mountains of Slovakia which shouldn’t come as a surprise to me as we are indeed in those final few days. The return flight is on Monday so we just have the weekend left to explore. I’m not sure what we are doing tomorrow but we are considering spending Sunday night in Bratislava to give us a little time to discover the delights of the Slovakian capital. Whether we stay in budget hostel kind of accommodation or a cheap hotel (my preference) is as yet undecided. If you know of anyone good to stay, please let me know soon!
I said back to today but haven’t told you anything about it. No messing around this morning. We set off at 9am and the moment we stepped out onto the street we were on our trek. The plan was to walk to the ‘chata’ (mountain refuge / chalet) at Zelenom Plese. If this chata were a train station, it would be a terminus as it sits at the very end of a high valley which is blocked on three sides by mountains. The setting is spectacular but the walk to get there was a long and arduous one. In the summer months when the snow has long since disappeared it is an 8 km uphill jaunt through deeply wooded forests that gradually fade away like the curtains at the London Palladium to reveal the theatrical scene of mountains and a beautifully-positioned chalet at their feet. Today in the snow it was a case of one step forward and about a quarter of a step back as each time our boots hit the snow they would slide back down the hill. My own strategy was to simply plod on relentlessly, occasionally pausing to watch and listen to the almost silent forest while I caught my breath. That said, it has become apparent over the last few days that compared to my two friends (who in terms of their age sit either side of my own by about three years), I’m the fittest of the bunch. My breath catching was not quite as significant as that required by the other two so I had to be a little patient at times. Visibility wasn’t great for most of the climb but as we neared the end of the valley I glanced up and much to my surprise, out of the mist of the sky, a mountain had suddenly appeared. It is slightly unnerving when something so large appears so quickly, so closely. It’s a bit like when you are at school and all of a sudden you realise that for the past two minutes your big, fat teacher (I’m thinking of you Mrs Beard from Southend Junior in the 1970s) has been watching everything you do. From then on the clouds were kind and the further we climbed, the more they revealed until we arrived at the chalet itself at which point the magnificence of the mountain backdrop was revealed. I really did expect the safety curtain to descend from the gods and for an announcement to squawk out that we needed to be back in our seats two minutes after the bell rang.
We ate in the chata – soup again and three fatty sausages of but I could have eaten six – before the much easier descent back onto the plain below the Tatra mountains and the less dramatic setting of Tatranská Lomnica. I’m actually sitting here in the flat alone as my two friends have both gone to the local sauna for, well, whatever they do in saunas. My own naked body is reserved only for the select bathers of the Arthur Hill pool in Reading every Sunday morning (between 8:30 and 9:30 should you want to view it), not for the random clientele of a Slovakian steam house…