Cutting through the fog with Tom, Lex, James and Bicky in our white utility van, we never got a good look at the countryside coming out of the city. Relying on getting there with no internet and Karen (the GPS) showing her age and understanding by going into hiding once out of Bratislava, forced us to rely on what we could remember of maps and highway signs. The driving wasn’t the easiest with limited reflectors and road markings too. Tam had looked into sights along the way, leading us to a small town and Castle in Trenčín. While it had potential to be a nice festive town, the gloom and cold of the fog did it’s best to dampen spirits. The only spirits we did manage see were those on offer to top up the mulled wine. While it was nice to stop and let the girls out for a toilet break, we had to get the show on the road. Mitch was getting several instructions in broken English by text message on how to get to our accommodation, but we had only preloaded directions to the first point…While he tried to negotiate both roads and our final destination, Tom was patient as our driver.
Arriving in the mountain town of Liptovský Mikuláš we found that years of commercialisation of both ski resorts and summer activities had this town booming. It had all the modern luxuries and comforts – a large TESCO greeted us in. Hunting for exotic variations of food is always entertaining. Here, we found most familiar western food, but the real treat was after checkout – Fireworks! The selection of fireworks hark back to a day foggy in our memory. These were probably the kind of fireworks you could have bought for a party when the Berlin Wall fell down. The boys had their eye on one particular rocket – a missile. Without exaggerating too much it was as large as a rugby ball! Well, almost…
Our accommodation turned out to sit directly opposite the Aquapark Tatralandia. If the snow was going to be bad, this place had it all – swimming lanes, hydro-slides, pools with DJ’s and laser light shows. All on our doorstep. Checking in, we still had to wait for the other 5 guests; Annabel, Reeves, Karl, Kez and Marce. With a total of 11 staying in a 10 person house we managed squeeze a bit of extra value in. The place was, compared to our small London flats, a relative mansion and besides the oddly shaped stairs and leaking septic tank, it had a log fire.
As the others were a bit later incoming from Krakow, we opted to meet them out for dinner. We found a small tavern serving a broad range of dishes. Goulash was a crowd favourite, with the potato and courgette pancake coming in close. Mitch somehow had his order confused and he struggled through his black pudding, flour sausage and kransky plate. Pivo as always was €1.50 a pint and much better quality than most.
The first day of skiing saw us first trying to find gear, which turns out to be almost impossible to hire. Luckily we were able to get ski’s and snowboards. A tip off at the local rental told us that the local field in the Low Tatras – Jasná Chopok was really busy and experiencing bad conditions. On her recommendation, we drove a further half hour to Štrbské Pleso in the High Tatras. At least there had been some natural snowfall here, with artificial snow topping up.
We found a small ski shop where the owner happily rented out his own ski jacket and pants for some to share and joined he Slovakian queue for the buses. The etiquette here is a bit different to the British, more push and shove and jostling for position. Those adept at walking fast in ski boots had an strong advantage.
Arriving on the field we found it to be relatively busy. Tam and Lexi sneaked in on an earlier bus and were already half way through their second run. Taking the chairlift to the top, Mitch was full of confidence in his ability. That was until we saw the accident. Some poor girl misjudged her ability to turn and took off down the hill, launched herself through the air and fell into a crumpled heap. As our lift moved past she hadn’t moved. It was enough to completely throw Mitch. Tam and James could only laugh as he botched his exit from the seat, crashing out on the icy snow.
The next few minutes was a bit of confidence boosting in getting his gloves back on in the cold, then negotiation on how he would get down the first steep bank. In the end James and Tam left Mitch to walk the first 100m and practice a bit on the easier slopes.
The story of the groups over the day was a series of splits, mergers and collisions, but in the end the snow was OK and the beers cold. Mitch and Tom got scammed by someone selling used lift passes. We later found that the cameras ID the person going through the gates and face recognition software can cut your day short.
Dinner was our own beef stew, made by Karl, Kez and Reeves. They had managed for €10 a head to get dinner, snacks and enough beer to fill the bathtub. We returned the favour by using all the hot water in the cylinder.
The next days skiing was going to be more ambitious than the first. We were going to brave Jasná Chopok. It was the most popular and a contender for the Winter Olympics after all. Again, we couldn’t find ski clothing for hire. Tom skiing in a black jacket and black jeans set a few fashion benchmarks, while Mitch’s late 80’s fluoro made sure everyone gave him a wide berth.
The size of the ski field was immense and modern, with heated chair lift seats (faux leather) and some impressive clubs on the slopes (the Happy End bar beside the kids section had table dancers….), Jasná looked to have the goods. However, due to the poor snowfall, much of the slopes looked like an ice rink. The narrow course was also full of skiers of various abilities taking up multiple lanes. A lot of crashes ensued, but we all seemed to avoid injury.
The highlight for most was the gondola ride all the way to the top. Up here we entered a large rotunda restaurant and found the skifield extended all the way down the other side with more black runs. Tam, James, Tom and Reeves opted to ski all the way back down, a bit of a harrowing experience for those watching from the gondola’s, but they seemed to enjoy it. Mitch joined in fr the last section, which was supposed to be an easier blue run. However, the melted ice had refrozen into the worst popsicle of narrow passage and rockfall had turned it unassailable on ski. So, for the next 20 minutes it was a slow stumble to rejoin up with the track. A little battered and bruised we made it back to a ski bar, met a few other Kiwis Mitch knew from uni, then into town for another Slovakian meal. James got the winner this night – lard on toast. The warm smoky pork fat collected from the tray was spread evenly over a couple bits of white bread with a garnish of red onion and parsley.
On the way home we stopped off at TESCO and bought what all the boys had been eyeing up for some time – THE Firework! A few protests from a few budget concious police did little to stop this €19 investment. It was the last one. The girl behind the counter kindly translated all the instructions on the packet too. Deal. It came on a big long stick that we had to dig into the ground. Tom also had to do a few modifications when we took out the base plug to get the wick and the guts fell out…
We knew that the rocket was supposed to go 200m into the air and have a blast diameter of 70m, or was it a blast radius? Either way, after shielding the wick from the cold wind, we eventually had it lit and we sprinted off in the direction of the house, in case it never left the ground. The wick was long enough, but it just burned really fast and in a few seconds it was off – climbing to a total height of about 80m and blowing one spectacular burst of €19 in green light to the air (we had stuffed more Euro notes into the rocket capsule to really add insult to injury).
Leaving early the next morning from the house we had a long 6 hour slog in the van – affectionately named Tarryn following a long story about BBW‘s. Mitch sat shotgun as navigator, chewing Tom’s ear off while he drove. A bad spell of carsickness returned Lexi to her queasy queen throne beside Tom.
We never stopped at every small town and village. We had to keep to the drop-off time at Budapest Airport in Hungary. The main delay was the queue at the gas station. Tom used his horn to press the urgency, but he was met with the coldest stare, colder than the Cold War. The man who delivered these icy daggers got out of his heated Skoda, his breath flaring in the frigid air like a raging bull, locking his bloodshot eyes with Tom as he paced around the car.
It was all a bit too much. We reversed out and moved to the next lane for a game of “guess how much diesel till the tank is full”. We were surprisingly close – within 1 litre. We poured the rest into a drink bottle, because you never know when it would come in handy during our next few days partying in Budapest
We’ve stolen a whole bunch of photos from toxiabroad – Check them out too!