By Miranda Metheny
Our second day in Slovakia promised to be kinder than the first. We were well rested and the weather forecast called for only scattered showers. Getting wiser all the time, we headed down to the Poprad bus station for breakfast so that we would have something to do while waiting an unpredictable length of time for the bus to show up. The agenda of the day was a castle — and something inside of me said it was going to be unlike any castle I’d ever seen.
We felt more confident than we had the day before, but the way was not easy. The Internet promised an hour-long, uphill hike from the bus stop, but I imagine they weren’t counting on a week of rain turning the hillside into sludge, or for two girls to try to crawl and stumble their way up it with umbrellas, SLR cameras, and, in In’s case, flip flops. As if we weren’t having enough fun already, we started being tailed by two gypsies who would advance on us, zombie-like, every time we paused… until they got sick of the rain and mud themselves. We didn’t bother to look at the clock, though we both privately discarded any notions of trying to get anything else done that day.
But we never once thought of stopping, not with this in our sights, urging us higher and farther.
The silhouette on the hillside was fantastic enough, but the real magic began when we started up the castle’s causeway…
In and I spent close to five hours wandering the ruins of Spissky Hrad. It is, quite simply, the most amazing castle I’ve ever been to — and I’m starting to rack up quite a list. It’s the perfect mix of intact and ruined, old even for Europe, sprawling and enormous. In and I both agreed that the little challenge of getting up to the castle (at least with inappropriate footwear and bad weather) only adds to the magic of the place — in a way like Slovakia as a whole.
We were relaxed as we left Spissky Hrad, immensely satisfied by what we had seen and proud of ourselves for fighting through everything to accomplish what we’d set out to do. We may have spoken a bit too soon, as catching the night train on to Bratislava and Budapest proved almost as challenging. The platform wasn’t marked until the train was pulling into the station, we had to make a run for our compartment trailing our luggage, we were separated by the conductor as soon as we stopped on the train, and I, not realizing that there was a ladder hidden behind the curtain, climbed up to my top bunk using whatever hand and footholds I could find. Still, as I collapsed onto my bunk, sweating in the steamy sleeper car, my heart felt full to pouring over.
I find myself absolutely smitten with Slovakia. It may have a few rough edges — doesn’t it know that rainy weather, inaccurate bus schedules, zombie-gypsies and streamy-hot sleeper trains are no way to greet a first time guest? — but the magnificent Spis castle, the transcendentally delicious potatoes and, most of all, the sense of mystery and adventure enchanted me perhaps more than any other country I visited during my year abroad.