31 July ’04 Saturday. Auschwitz….. Birkenau….. The mention of these two locations for most of us sends shivers up our spine and ask the question “Why”. For the survivors of either of these camps…..we can’t imagine their thoughts, their memories, their wounds. Who are the survivors? The Jew’s, and the non Jewish, yes, but many others as well. We think of the survivors as those with the “id number” tattooed on their body, but as time has gone on, there are many who survived the holocaust that we most likely haven’t thought about. The wounds of Jews are associated with the memory of an attempt to completely annihilate their nation. Poles suffered as a consequence of the increasing violence on the part of their enemies. Germans suffer under the burden of guilt connected with their history. For Louise and I and the others that were there Saturday, and I’m sure every day prior and after, have left with many different feelings inside us. I can only speak for myself and I felt angry, pity, lucky, mad, sick, confused, and many other feelings that will stay with me forever. It wasn’t that I wasn’t aware of what happened in Auschwitz prior to Saturday, but this was my first visit “to” Auschwitz. There IS a difference and I am a different person, I am a better person, for taking the opportunity to visit, to see, to touch, and to smell….Auschwitz - Birkenau. For those who might look for a lot of pictures, I could only take a few….there were other opportunities but I couldn’t or maybe better put, I wouldn’t.
30 July ’04, Friday. What is a Zloty? What is a Koruna (OK, it is not a beer…), what is a Forint? And the last 2, you should get right away…what are Euros ? What are the Egyptian Pounds? They are all money and we have just been introduced to the “Zloty or Zlote” as we crossed in to Poland. It is always interesting when you cross the borders. You realize that you don’t have “any” money that will pay for anything. Now this is really nuts, it is at that moment, that you would just die for a cup of coffee and a sweet treat of some type. Between the monies of Poland and Slovakia, the Zloty is about 3.54 to $1.00 US, where as the Koruna was about 32 to $1.00 US. All these figures will keep you on your toes, but at the end of the day you have spent just about the same for meals and other expenses. Also, it seems that all the travel books that we have read, give you conflicting information in regards to border crossings and what is required. Going into Poland was no different. One of the books ( and this one was supposed to be up to date ), said that we would have to get visa’s for about $50 US and most likely would have to increase our car insurance prior to going on. We gathered all the papers together and approached the border. Our hands got sweaty just thinking of all the potential problems that might occur. I passed our Passports to the officer on duty just as a car approached from the Poland side. He looked slightly at ours and took the other cars Passports at the same time. Apparently, the other car didn’t have enough passports for the passengers. At that time, the officer just said quite firmly “NIE” to them and “Thank You” to us and gave us our go ahead…..No visa, no additional anything, just Thank You…. We Love this country… Continuing on, about the information the “books” give…the roads are supposed to be much improved over other Eastern European countries….Double WRONG !!! Those that know the Pedregal in Cabo San Lucas know the road construction material….there are spots, when you least expect them, that are made of the same stone, but have ruts and tire indentations all through them that make it “The” most impossible road I have ever driven or ridden on. The roads are very narrow, winding and twisting, climbing (STEEP CLIMBING), and packed with cars and trucks that are ALL at a stand still….I’m guessing road construction. It has been quite a day and one to write home about (and that’s exactly what I’m doing). After stopping for lunch in Bielsko Biala, we headed off to find a campground in the small village of Wilkowice. We are paying about $7 US per night. It is within 25 yards of a lake formed by a dam and in the village of Wilkowice, were we found Dorota (Dorothy). She was introduced to us at our table by the waiter. It seemed that he didn’t speak English (not that we spoke any Polish…), but knew that Dorota did….She is wonderful, and a big help in translating the menu for us. Our meal was exceptional and I would have to give her all the credit, for us making the right choices. Oh yes, she will be getting married here to a young man from Germany in October…..Congratulations !!!!
I’ve got to mention the weather, for it has been “mostly sunny” and in the mid to high 70’s….we loved it and look for more tomorrow. Speaking of …
Tomorrow…..I don’t know yet !!!
29 July “04, Thursday. Yes, I was a little grumpy this morning, but after all it was still raining. We broke camp (kind of sounds like I’m writing a western monolog or something) before 10am and just pointed the van “South”….. Well, we did have an idea as to where we wanted to go and it turned out to be just the place (well, maybe not, you see I went through 2 signs that said not to enter and parked in a spot that looked OK to park in….it only cost me $30 US, I wanted to fight it, but my partner (wife) said “YOU WILL NOT !!!”). As we rounded the corner into Bojnice the Bojnice Castle came into view and about knocks your socks off. It has moved into number 1 on my list of “Best Castle’s” in Europe. It will most likely fall from favor as we are only into our 5 month out of our expected 24 month journey. The Bojnice Castle is one of the oldest in Slovakia and has written records showing it’s existence in 1113. Now what we saw today wasn’t as it was in 1113, but it is pretty much as it was in 1889. The Castle and it’s environment has always been in the hands of Kings. Another item worth noting is the natural travertine cave…it was here that the Neanderthal man had lived from about 250,000 to 40,000 yrs. B.C., and the cave was used during the stone age as well. The cave is directly under
the castle and next to the natural spring well, that was the water source for the castle for many centuries. All this was enjoyed in a bright and sunny environment as the sun shone throughout the day….Thank You Lord !!! Well all that finished, we head again due North to our next campground before going into Poland tomorrow. We traveled from Prievidza (Bojnice), north to Rajecke Teplice and pulled into the campsite. To describe this site, it sits circled by mountains on all sides, a small but nice river flows beside it, and you are met by 2 goats and 2 sheep grazing the campgrounds and a horse tied next to the reception building. There are 2 Indian TP’s, about 6 western style bungalow’s, a Beer Garden “Bar”, and 8 “Out Houses” with separate “Out House Showers”. Hikers and horseback riders have been coming out of the hills every since we arrived and this is looking like “One Heck Of A Good Time Can Be Had” type of camp. They play a game here that I’ve never seen before. They take a Volley Ball Court, lower the net to the height of a tennis net, take a soccer ball, and play Volley Ball “Kicking and Head Butting” the ball back and forth. The ball can bounce once each time and can be passed 3 times before it must go over the net to the other team. Score is kept as it is in Volley Ball. They were having a great time and it also entertained us while we were at the “Bar” for dinner.
28 July ’04, Wednesday. Throttle to the floor and maintain speed….ya, high head winds, rain that stings, and me driving a VW Van in the high altitude of the High Tatras….. Boy, the wind was howling last night and we were hoping that it would blow it’s self out before we had to get up and head for the showers. That was wishful thinking at it’s best.
When I stepped out of the van this morning the ground was like stepping into a wet sponge …it squirted water in every direction all at once. The young man at the reception center asked if it was because of the rain that we were leaving….”Yessss !!!!”.
Our first goal for the day was to find (or not find) a student of Bonnie Rohrer. His name was Peter Pitonak and we knew, that he used to or still did work for Whirlpool in Poprad.
As we headed out of town we drove to the plant and went to the reception gate to ask if he might be in. When the receptionist told Peter over the phone that he had 2 people (that he didn’t know) from America asking for him, he thought there was a mistake until we mentioned Bonnie and then he was down in a flash. Peter is married now and has a family of 2 young girls that he cherishes . It was a pleasure to have personally met him and I hope that we will see him again before we leave Europe.
Our destination was only 40+ km but we were hoping that it might be in the sun belt or something crazy….Nope, rain and high winds. Levoèa is one of Slovakia’s finest examples of “Walled Towns”. The central area is also quite striking with all the Renaissance buildings. This town dates back to the 13th century. It also has an absolutely beautiful St. James Church. It is amazing how well some of these churches have maintained their beautiful collections since the 13th century, or even much later for all that matters. The central square also houses a “Cage of Shame”, were those of need (or not) were housed so that all could see. Not a good idea to be given an invitation to the “Cage”…. The wall that surrounds the town is really something it’s self. The size and the architecture of the wall is amazing and it still stands as it did from the 13th and 14th centuries. Unfortunately, it was an awful day to be out in the weather, so we missed a lot of the town as we headed on to find a new home for the night, and hopes of out-running the storm. Our day ends at the Turlec Campgrounds just outside of Martin, Slovakia. We were met by the owners and after check in were given tour of the grounds and shown a number of sites that might fit our needs. Nice job !!! It also was very surprising to us that we are the 1st Americans to have camped here. What can I say….
Tomorrow…..I just couldn’t say for sure
27 July ’04, Tuesday. Rain, what else can I say except…Rain. We have had 2 full days now of rain and it is also quite cool as well. Just about 10 km outside of Poprad it started and has continued. This morning we broke all records and stayed in bed until just after 10am. After a lazy breakfast, a shower, a quick pick up of the van, we headed into town to hit the internet café again and have a late lunch. Last night I had pre-written about 8 emails so I wanted to get them off before they became old news. On the way back to the campgrounds we went up into the High Tatra. The clouds were right down on us so we weren’t able to see the mountains, but we did see the reason that so many find this “the” place to hike and play all year around. The facilities were just fantastic. Wonderful hotels, pension’s, restaurants, and everything you could ever want while on the mountain, hiking or in the winter, skiing. Oh yes, and it is really reasonable.
Well, I’ve got to mention something about our lunch today. We decided to take in a Mexican (yes, Mexican) restaurant. Now, here we are right in the middle of Slovakia and the sound of a hot and spicy Enchilada Verde, a cold beer (Piva), and chips just sounded soooo good. It was good. The only thing that was really out of the ordinary, was the filling of the Enchilada “Verde”…. Spinach. No rice, no beans, and no meat, but Spinach. I also missed the refried beans as well. All this said, I must admit, it was all very good. Tonight we are going to pass on “dinner” and just veg on snacks while we are each on our laptops. Louise is passing her time tonight in a heated game of “solitaire” and I am doing my usual journal. Tomorrow…..moving on (hopefully to find some warmer weather, or if only dryer
25 July ’04, Sunday. Andy had to make a phone call to his sister in Australia, to say Happy Birthday before we put in at the riverbank. We arrived about 11:30 and found a raft waiting for us. It was to be a ride of 2 hours or so and then have a bite to eat before hoofing it back to the van. We teamed up with a family of 4 from Utrecht, were we bought “Bumble Bee”, a young lady and her mother from here in Slovakia, and the 3 Australians (now living in England). It was a great bunch of people to be with and we enjoyed the 2 guys that handled to boat as well. This float was a slow and simple ride through some beautiful circling and twisting rock formations for about 9km. At the end we had a choice of transportation back to our car….bus, bike, or walk….we walked. It was an easy walk on a pathway following the river bank right back to the starting point. The walk was about 2 hours as well. We’ll sleep well tonight !!! When we got back to camp, we started to get ourselves ready for an early morning departure. Down with the tent and repack everything else that was used over the last 5 days. We noticed that Marco and Joze were doing the same. We met Marco, Joze, and their daughters Fenny and Lili the first afternoon we arrived. They are from the Netherlands and have had a wonderful vacation here in Slovakia this year. Fenny is 8 and Lili 4. Cute young girls just doesn’t do their description justice…. They are that and more (actually infectious).
This is one of the areas here in Slovakia, that hiking and climbing are just a part of nature for this time of year. You could take a phrase from the song “The Hills Are Alive” and that would describe the hills and mountains here. You can look just about anywhere on the hill sides and find someone out there…..it is really neat and inviting.
Tomorrow….on the road to Paprad and Levoca and a new campsite
24 July ’04 Saturday. Didn’t float the river today either…. Instead we washed clothes and went for a ride into Stara Lubovna, which happens to be just around the corner from were we are camped. Sorry to say, but there wasn’t much there. We had lunch, went for a short walk around this small empty town, and then headed back to our wash. Before we got back to camp, Louise saw a sign for another town that she “just want to check-out”. “We can’t check-out every town”, “yes, I know, but I want to see this one”….. Well, right turn and up this very steep hill (19° climb) and over the mountain (it seemed like a mountain at least), and then down the other side winding and twisting all the way to the bottom and the river below. Now, I must admit, the ride was really pretty good even if “Bumble Bee” struggled on the up-side. And, once we got to the bottom and the river it turned out to be a great decision to take the directions of my loving wife and explore just “one more” small town. This is were all the rafts that make the drift or float, end up. Earlier this morning as were (hand) washing, we met Ben, Rebecca “Becky” Jane Brown, and Andy. They were just checking in and I noticed that Ben was wearing a “Aussie” shirt so I started a conversation with them. They are on vacation from Oxford England, but are all from Australia and now working in England. We are most likely going to team up with them for our river float tomorrow. We have to get this done, as we are more than likely going to move on Monday.
Tomorrow….Float the River
23 July ’04, Friday. We didn’t get to float the river, but we get to Bardejov. It has a history that starts in 1376, not 1976…. This is still a medieval town as it stands today. Almost completely surrounded by the original city walls, moat, towers, and bastions of the 14th century and the Church of St. Egidius also from the 14th century. The sloping central square is lined with Gothic – Renaissance merchants houses. This is one of the best we have seen so far. In St. Egidius we were treated to some of the most beautiful original 14th and 15th century art yet. All of the paintings, carvings, and sculptures were within a arms length and completely overwhelming with their beauty. There was also renovation going on in the plaza and on some of the buildings here, but this has become expected were ever we go today. We did find the internet café, but we were not able to up-load to our site, so had to settle for reading our always welcome emails and answering them as well. Now’s a good time to say THANK YOU to all of you that take the time to write. Today we said our goodbye’s to Johan, Monica, and Boy as they start their return home to the Netherlands….Happy Travels !!! Tomorrow…. Well we still have the river to float….will it happen?
22 July ’04, Thursday. Neither one of us got much sleep last night….don’t have any idea why but it was a tough night to say the least. We stumbled out of bed about 8 and off to the showers. I casually looked at them yesterday but had no idea just what kind of shower I would be looking for this morning (of all mornings….) There was just 2 showers for the whole campground and we had a large group of bikers (bicyclers) that seemed to arrive just at the same time as I approached the door. Each shower was in a room attached to the toilet room, and the shower head was attached to the sink with a long (not long enough for me…) hose held shower head. It was one of the shortest showers of all times because someone was always trying the door trying to get in for their turn….(I hope they felt rushed too…) Today we had a castle that is just down the road 25km or so, that we wanted to see. We saw it as we came into town yesterday and it looked really fantastic. This morning was bright and sunny and a good one to go see the castle. It is the ancient castle of Lủbovòa. It was built in the middle of the XIV century and went through three periods. The Gothic, the Renaissance and the Baroque. In 1311 there was a written passage about this castle and this was the first written acknowledgement that this castle existed. It was owned by quite a few during it’s existence but the last noble family was a Polish family by the name of Zamoyski from 1883-1944. In 1945 the state took it over and it still stands that was today. It is a beautiful structure and a joy for us to see. It took about 2 hours to make our way through it and then at the end we were treated to a aviary show. Two young girls had a Black Eagle, 3 different Falcons, an Owl, and a Raven. They really put on a good show. We then went to check out a river float that we are thinking about for tomorrow. It does look interesting. Slovakia wasn’t so pretty the first part that we visited, but here it is just outstanding. We are also really enjoying the farm lands, the way they stack their hay on these little racks for drying, the way they are “all” out in the fields with their rakes and cycle’s. The different approach to clothing from the west. Today I saw a lady (looked older than me I think…) and she was sitting on the side of the road wearing a scarf over her head, dark colored dress with a shawl, work boots, and heavy looking, long lag socks (coming down from the dress to just above her shoes….it looked HOT to me…. We have seen a number of horse or cattle pulled carts, all carrying the family into or out of the fields. We have seen the shepherd with his large flock of sheep. We have seen the family, herd their cattle down the road to the next grazing area. And, we have seen the family with the new car and the western dress looking very natural to our western eyes. It is obvious to us, that the Communist’s slowed the growth of these countries (in my eyes at least), and it seems that that growth difference is about 40 to 60 years in a lot of cases. We would like to see them able to catch up real fast, but on the other hand maybe the natural growth pattern that they have before them is still the better….who knows?
Tomorrow…. Could be the river float down the Dunajec Gorge between the Slovac village of Cerveny Klastor and Szczawnica, Poland, about 21km long. Tonight….rain showers (drat !!!).
21 July ’04, Wednesday. First a little more on Eger…. We really enjoyed this small town for it’s history and the beauty of the ruins and still standing structures. As I had mentioned earlier, those brave 2000 men, women, and children that stood firm against 60,000 Turks that had already taken everything that had stood in their way….it had to be special. To the Valley of the Sirens…. This is a valley that has many small caves that were the hiding place for the many Egerites in battles from centuries to centuries. Today they are used as wine cellars for many different families who have farmed from a small to medium sized grape orchard. The primary wine is a stout red and has many versions of “Bull’s Blood”. Actually I found the Cab to be my vino of choice. Now for food we lucked in to a wonderful pension for dinner on our first night. Pension Bacchus is worth a mention just in case someone has fallen upon this site and is looking for a good place to have a great dinner with great wine for great prices….(I didn’t get a cent for saying this…). Ok, now back to our campsite just outside of Michalovce. As navigator, Louise has heard me say a many a thing. Some good and some not so good about her navigating expertise. Well, getting to this lake and the campsite took some really good guess work and good navigating as well. She was BRILLIANT !! We were looking for a place to soak up some sun and if possible soak it up at some lake front too. As we made it through the gates and checked in we were thinking this was going to be wooonnndddfffuull. I think we let the heat of the day, the wet of the lake, the size of the pool at lakeside, and the end of the day sway us a little on this campsite. Now not all was bad… the pool was beautiful, and the weather was HOT, HOT, HOT. The only negatives were that there was no big or small town close by so we could get any groceries, the shower water was cold or COLDER, and the lake had a mud bottom with weeds and was luke warm. Now having a lake with warm water might not be all that bad, but with the temp reaching into the mid to high 90’s….well…. I personally could take only 2 days of this and I wanted to move on. We are heading toward the mountains and a little reprieve from the heat (I hope). Today we traveled deeper into Slovacia and our goal was Gorafsky Dvor which is close to Cerveny Clastor. All this is right on the Slovakia / Poland border (Slovakia side) and the High Tetras Mountains. It is beautifully amazing…
Just after arriving, settling in, and sitting down to dinner, one of the campers beside us pulled on his Scottish Bag Pipe, Tarden Kilt, and welcomed us in (at least we felt like it was meant for directly for us). “Rena” A. van Iterson (from the Mac Dowdell clan) is a Historian Ceremonial Piper and we couldn’t have been more pleased than to have heard him play we also had the pleasure of meeting Mattanja, Rena’s wife ….Many Thanks for the evenings entertainment. We were also greeted by Peter and Ann Crofts from England. Boy, are they ever “Travelers”. They have seen more of America than we have, and have had the opportunity to travel much more of the world as well … Tomorrow….we can’t wait !!!