Slovakian Bus Sabotage and Mountaintop Castles Ahead!

As is customary on days when our group does excursions, the morning began very early — the earliest yet, in fact. We had to be on the bus and going by 6:30AM, which was totally fine with me. Not so much with the other, more “typical” college students.

Anyway, we were going to get on a bus at 0630 with a driver who spoke no English in order to go pick the Feenstras up at Batthyany ter. Which meant that the students were in charge of leading themselves for half an hour. *GASP*

I kept an eye on the number of people in the bus, and Bekah and I kept informing the driver in Hungarian of how many people we were still missing. When everyone was on, I did a final passport call, Bekah called for student IDs, and we were off with no problems. Strategic seating arrangements on my part left the invisibly quiet Kelly as the only person in the seats behind me and no one to my right. Maybe, for once, I could have a nice bus ride.

Indeed, it was to be so.

After we picked up the Feenstras, it wasn’t long before we crossed the northern border of Hungary (no passport check involved because of the Schengen borders — yay!) into Slovakia.

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It didn’t take more than about fifteen minutes after crossing the border before we started to run into problems, as usual. A police car was zooming past all of the other cars at a pretty rapid pace, and I thought to myself, Hmm, wouldn’t it be funny if that cop stopped and turned around to pull us over for no apparent reason. I’m not joking. I was seriously thinking exactly that.

And that’s exactly what happened. I need to learn to control my influential psychic abilities, obviously.

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Thankfully, it was just a routine registration check and we were in the clear after about thirty seconds. Not too much “sabotage,” all things considered.

Our tour guide, who happens to be traveling with us the whole way this time, had prepared for us to make a quick pit stop for about an hour in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia’s sixth largest city, just to wander around and get a feel for the country. Unfortunately, aside from some pretty buildings and avenues, there really wasn’t much to see and we found an hour to be more time than we needed.

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We cruised down narrow roads, and I savored the autumn scenery decorating the rolling hills as we approached the more mountainous Slovak regions.

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Then, it was back on the road again for another hour and half until we reached Oravský. In the meantime, our tour guide put Schindler’s List on our bus’ DVD player (we had a newer, more re-vamped bus this time). Perfect! I thought to myself. I was just going to watch Schindler’s List the other day anwyay. 

We only got a little into the movie before we arrived at our next stopping point, which thoroughly excited me — Oravský Hrad, known in English as Orava Castle, the 13th century castle perched precariously on the top of a mountain.

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I tell you what, I was in my element in that castle — particularly in the armory. The castle itself, whose legend dates back to the 13th century (did anyone get that reference?), was so old that it had stalactites growing from its railings.

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Oh, and there was a dragon on the door. Yep, my day was set.

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(For those of you who don’t know, I like dragons. A lot. I collect dragons — statues, posters, clocks, tables, you name it. Any artwork of mine which has won awards or been requested for print? Dragons. You get the picture.)

Anyway, we weren’t allowed to take pictures while inside, but we explored all kinds of rooms including bedchambers, knight dining halls, servants’ quarters, and of course the armory that I mentioned earlier, which was my favorite part. As I sell functional medieval arms and armor every summer in order to pay for next semester’s textbooks, I naturally have a bit of acquired knowledge about the topic. That, and as I kid I always wanted to (and still would love to) be that person in a documentary who pops up with the title “Medieval Arms and Armor Specialist.” Mmmm….happiness.

Sooo….I went through the armory naming every type of sword and weapon, helping out the other students who didn’t know what they were called. Mmmm…happiness. Again.

They had everything there, accumulated over centuries of collecting — shamshirs (which seemed out of place), hand-and-a-half swords, barbarian blades, two-handed claymores, arming swords, estocs, sabinas, flammards (flamberges), broadswords…the list goes on. They also had an impressive collection of tower shields and bucklers stretched tightly with thick leather layers. Racks upon racks of maces, morning stars, halberds, poleaxes, spears, pikes, voulges, bardiches, fauchards, and glaives lined room after cold stone room.

I was in heaven.

In this way of passing through countless rooms and corridors, we gradually made our way toward the top of the towering castle, where we got a bird’s eye view of the town down below.

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It was a nice place, but the frigid cold (less than 30 degrees Fahrenheit!) made me eager to get back in the bus despite how much I enjoyed the castle. We all bid it a fond farewell and made quick work of the rest of the journey by finishing Schindler’s List.

It was already dark when Krakow came into view, but it wasn’t hard to find our hotel and get our rooms (which have awesome magnetic keys, by the way) before making our way to dinner at our lodging, the Hotel Batory.

Dinner consisted of a fantastic three-course meal which was perfectly portioned and deliciously appetizing. It started with a smooth vegetable soup flavored with dill.

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After that, we got a kind of Polish pork chop in a cooked mushroom sauce with roasted red peppers and onions, and the sides were two lumps of very creamy potatoes and grated apple walnut salad. I expected the pork chop to be dry, as many restaurant meats are, but it was barely noticeable. I wouldn’t call it juicy, but it certainly wasn’t dry, which was nice.

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Finally, we finished our meal with a warm apple tart with cool vanilla bean ice cream and a lemon leaf (yes, it’s lemon, not mint. I ate it).

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The dinner was thoroughly fantastic, and I’m looking forward to breakfast from the same place tomorrow! For now, though, it’s time to rest. 28 degrees and 100% humidity during the morning hours when we’ll be wandering around Auschwitz — gotta be prepared for that.

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