The day started out brilliantly. We eased ourselves into it, taking our time over breakfast and packing up from our two bedroomed apartment at the Vila Grand in Nova Lesna. We lazed around in the sunny outdoor area, until finally making a move just after lunch. We were killing time until the 4.30pm train to Miskolc in Hungary. The only other train for that destination had been through around four a.m. We had no intention of catching that one.
We allowed ourselves a few hours to look around Poprad, the main town on the Slovakian side of the Tatra mountains, but we didn’t find much to look at. It still held on to some of its Soviet background, militaristic monuments and murals depicting the glorious liberation of the Russian army troops after WWII.
We walked past two policewomen dressed in a blue t-shirt and shorts, each leaning against a bicycle. I did a double take and backed up.
” Are you police?” I asked the younger one.
She nodded her confirmation.
” May I take your photograph?” I indicated the camera and pointed in her direction. She looked ready to straighten up and pose, but a glance to the face of her older companion stopped her. The elder one frowned and shook her head no.
As we walked away, we heard the younger one ask her superior:
– ” Why?”
Well may she ask. Because stupid tourists will splash her photo all over the Internet and goodness knows what that will lead to – that’s why. Smart call on the part of the more experienced woman. All the same, it would have been interesting to illustrate the look – I have never seen such casually dressed police before. It was only the lapel badges that gave it away.
We couldn’t string out our visit to Poprad any longer, so we returned to the railway station earlier than we needed to. What a good job we did too! The 4.30pm train was running half an hour late. That meant we would miss our connection at Kosice on the Slovakian border, and not be able to get to Hungary until the next morning. Luckily, we were still in time for the train before.
That train came on time. Everything was going well. Modern trains, quiet ride, smooth connections, on time arrival in Miskolc a few hours later around 7.30pm. And then everything fell off the rails, if you will excuse the pun.
We knew Miskolc was an industrial city in eastern Hungary. We had decided to stay there three nights to break the journey to Budapest, and to have the opportunity to do some day trips around that part of Hungary. Waddy had difficulty finding a two bedroomed apartment, but eventually found one in a city hotel, and booked it over the internet, the same as all our other accommodation. The whole plan seemed reasonable on paper – wrong, wrong, wrong.
The taxi ride was a short hop from the station, past grimy slummy buildings, and finishing at a nondescript hotel on a busy main road. We had no Hungarian money, so Waddy paid the driver in the smallest Euro note we had on hand. With what we handed over the taxi driver probably took his wife out for a three course meal complete with wine.
We trundled our suitcases into an equally nondescript hotel lobby. One lone young man sat behind the counter in semi-darkness. He booked us in without much interest.
“Do you have any tourist brochures?” I asked. Waddy laughs at me for gathering up brochures. But we needed ideas on what to do in town.
“No brochures,” he replied.
“Okay. Could you tell me where the nearest ATM is please? Bankomat?” (In case he didn’t know what I meant).
He screwed his face. “Not here. In town, about one and half kilometre.”
Ouch! A long walk in the approaching darkness in stifling heat. But we were going to need money, and soon.
We got up to our apartment. It was so awful that you could only laugh – later. That is, days later. For the moment we were in shock. It was one-bedroom with a lounge area containing two single beds. The bathroom was at the entrance, so that if Wadddy and Jay wanted it through the night, they had to walk past our sleeping bodies. Meantime the kitchen was off the bedroom, so if wanted anything there, we had to go past them. Not that there was any reason to go to the kitchen. It had a small refrigerator and a sink and that was it. Not a glass, cup, piece of cutlery- nothing that might suggest it was a food preparation area. Even the fridge had not been turned on in readiness for our arrival, and we had some things that needed the freezer, or at least cold storage. The cleanliness was suspect, everything in the rooms had a grungy appearance. Not that there was much in any of the rooms.
But the worst was the heat. It was stifling inside, and no air conditioning. At least we could open the windows, but it was as hot outside, and barely a breeze. I returned to the receptionist.
“Do you have any fans?” Pointing to the antique model that was doing a slow shuffle behind him.
“No,” He shook his head, resignedly. “This is the only one in the hotel.”
A few minutes later he watched the four of us leave to head towards the town centre. He didn’t offer any advice. We set off along the main road. Many of the other cities we had visited offered a communist tour, a look back in time to grim, dark days of neglect. We hadn’t taken any of those. We got this tour for free. Dark streets, dimly lit, grimy grey buildings, falling down in disrepair. Many of them had signs of leading automotive companies, but no money had been spent on the exterior or grounds. Possibly those buildings manufactured some obscure part that didn’t need took look as if it came from a classy establishment.
By some bizarre dressing twist, Waddy was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned “Slovakia” across his chest, Bill had one from Krakow, and I was advertising Prague. Only Jay was not blatantly showing off that we were tourists. We walked along the grey road, past occasional groups of young people hanging around. They looked homeless or high. Other than them and the passing traffic and buses, the whole area looked deserted, dismal and dangerous. The road lifted to pass over the railway line, but there was no place for pedestrians. As we searched underneath for a way across, two Alsatians came bounding up to a wire fence, snarling and salivating. At least that caught the attention of an old man on that site.
“Hello!” He yelled out to us – pointing out to us a way through a gap in the fence-line that would join us up on the other side of the main road.
When we found the centre of town, it was actually quite pleasant. Several wide main streets with tramlines, some cafes and restaurants, (although dinner service had finished), and major supermarkets and shops. We didn’t find the bank at first. Instead we found ourselves in an underground pass, offering several exits. We were unsure which to take, and stopped an older couple to ask for help. It turned out that they were from Poland, and we could make some conversation out of twisted Slavic language. He was a huge man, “Manila Gorilla” Waddy nick-named him, and we thought no-one would give us any trouble if we stuck close to him. Actually, we didn’t mean to stick with him, but over the next twenty minutes we bumped into them several times, until his wife suggested that they walk us to the bank themselves. We thanked them profusely, said our good-byes, got our money, tried to get something to eat without any luck, and then headed for the nearest outdoor cafe for a de-stress drink. Who should be sitting at the next table but our Polish couple 🙂
Jay was prepared to give Miskolc the benefit of the doubt, but for the rest of us the damage had been done. Even though our walk back to the hotel was without incident, and perhaps our feeling of intimidation was more in our heads than based on reality, as soon as we walked in the door we told the receptionist we would cut our stay short and check out in the morning. There was no argument on his part. We were probably the only tourists they had seen all year.
The night was as awful as we had imagined. We tried to open the windows wide to get some air, only to discover that there was a bar area underneath, and cigarette smoke was drifting up into our room, so we had to shut up again. Waddy and Jay were a bit further away, so they were able to leave their window open. Jay tried to amuse herself with a game on the iPad, but the light was attracting every insect in town. Eventually we all got to sleep. I woke up part way through the night, sure I was choking to death, and struggled across the room to open a window. Even so when Waddy got up through the night, he said it was like a blast from an oven when he walked through our room.
Well, we have been in Europe for more than two months now, and that is the only true disaster. Something we can share a laugh about for years to come – it is just that we were not in a laughing mood on this particular night 🙂
Monday 5th August 2013 , Garrulous Gwendoline, Miskolc Hungary