New Years is always difficult. Do we pay a fortune to go out to the places we always go to or do we convince a friend to hold a house party again? Neither took my fancy this year, so my friends and me decided that we should take a trip somewhere new and exciting that we could fly to. Unfortunately flying isn’t cheap, and despite what EasyJet tells you, you cannot get anywhere for the money we were looking at, especially around the New Year period. I also figured if we were to be away during winter, why not do a bit of snowboarding? Before I knew it I had bust out the spread sheet and was ringing up the cost of driving to Slovakia, getting accommodation, hiring boards and sorting a lift pass. Three days snowboarding for just 350 pounds. Find that in the Alps.
Fifteen hours into our drive I discovered why people usually fly to their destination. I’d navigated over 700 miles of Europe so far, missed a ferry and drank more energy drinks than ever recommended. We were all shattered and driving on fumes. Despite all that, we loved it. There is nothing quite like the sense of freedom that comes with taking your own form of transport abroad, no longer are you restricted by schedules of buses and planes, there is no booking and finding your seat and making polite conversation about the life of the person sitting next to you. It’s your own little world, complete with sound system and rolling backdrop of Europe.
Twenty six hours after leaving Devon, we rolled up into our street in Liptov Mikulas, Slovakia. The street didn’t promise good things, it was a building site with not a builder in sight. I made some calls and arranged for our agent to come and meet us with the keys. I did feel pretty bad when she turned up 15 minutes later with two small children in tow all because we couldn’t find the place we were supposed to pick the key up from (must try harder next time). Our apartment was a one bed six sleeper, although more like a four really, but in the theme of on a shoestring, it was just 200 pounds for the four nights, 50 per person in a ski town seemed a steal considering I’ve paid as much in Bangkok for a room which came with its own wildlife.
Slovakia and Liptov Mikulas in particular is a strange mix of communist architecture and infrastructure and the blossoming tourism trade. It has a traditional feel to the town, the bars and restaurants are hidden away down alleyways and side streets. If you don’t commit to trying doors and alleyways you could walk around the town in the evening and assume it is all closed. As a local pointed out to us, “if you hear music down an alleyway, it is definitely worth having a look”. We spent the evening watching the locals go absolutely nuts (at one point there were several people swinging from the lighting rig) in the local American Bar, so its more than a quaint ski town. If you like your travel a little more explorative then Slovakia is likely to be for you; though it does of course come with its difficulties, the locals generally have a lower level of English than we are used to and to put it bluntly, service is not overly friendly initially. We did get a few smiles out of them by trying out our limited Slovakian, however it’s much the same as many countries you may visit, you get out what you put in.
After introducing ourselves to the nightlife of Liptov we hit the slopes early the next morning. The bus runs hourly in the high season but there are a few issues with this, firstly the first bus is at 8:30 which is exactly the time of the first lift up on the mountain. Secondly it will be full, so aim to get on at the main bus station where you may well have to trip other bus users over in order to climb over them. The bus will cost you a measly 1.10 Euros and take around half an hour. Your best bet would be to drive up there, but get there early and be prepared for some dancing on ice impressions whilst parking. Lift passes are the most expensive element of the trip and are comparable to the Alps, at around 96 Euros for three days.