Slovakia Easter Tour

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At the end of March, seven of us flew to central Europe to discover if there was any truth to tales of a land where beer costs less than petrol... and to do some caving. We weren't disappointed.

We flew to Vienna, grabbed our hire cars and drove to Slovakia, picking up a fine from the Slovak traffic police three minutes after entering the country. With hindsight this shouldn't have come as a surprise as it seems Slovak traffic police are always looking for ways to suppliment their income. The drive towards Liptovský Mikuláš�was through a mixture of stunning scenery and grim industrial towns.

The hostel where we were staying for the next six nights was hidden away in the woods of Liptovský Peter. Camping in this country at this time of year is not advisable. You're likely to get eaten by bears. It didn't take long before we were introduced to the local spirit of choice - borovička. It's made from juniper, so it's somewhat similar in odour to pine fragrance JIF kitchen cleaner. 'Nasdravje!' roughly translates as 'Down in one!'.

The daylight of Sunday morning would have brought great views of Mt. Kriváň�had it not been for the constant cloud cover produced by the smoke factories of nearby Ružomberok. We drove up Demänovska Dolina (Demänovska Valley) to meet the local caving Mafia. A nudge and a wink seemed to pay for the parking. There were several feet of snow, which made getting to our first cave Pustá Jaskyňe interesting. It was marked by a huge hole in the ground, bear prints, and a rather dodgy ladder. Once down, it became clear the the theme for caves in Slovakia was bigness.

The next cave, Jaskyňe Mieru continued the theme of bigness in even more style. Huge stomping passageways did end in crawling, but it was worth it for what was on the other side.

I got to try out the Slovak health service after taking a fall in Jaskyňe Mieru and needing a couple of stitches.

Although a number of us were not skiing holiday types, we couldn't pass up the opportunity while we were in a snow covered, mountainous country which also offered a currency advantage. We had a go at both cross-country and downhill, being ably instructed by Lubo, who had also taken us down Pustá Jaskyňe. Cavers are not known for their taste in fasion clothing, and we enjoyed joining the posers on the slopes of Štrbske Pleso with our getup consisting of jeans, fleeces, combat trousers and wooly jumpers. Incompetancy being the theme of the trip, we were back to the hospital for the second time in as many days, after Colm tried out the on-piste stretcher service.

Maťo took us for a relaxation session in a nearby thermal spa pool. We certainly needed it after trying to follow him at speed down the motorway. The spa was excellent, and helped heal all those caving related bumps and bruises, although we were in serious danger of staying there forever, or dying from overrelaxation.

For the last couple of days, we went to a little village called Ostrov v Macochy, in the Czech republic. Amaterská Jeskyně�was a wonderful cave, having passages and formations on a colossal scale. Even the pub lunch the following day was of epic proportions. No effort was spared to make Amaterská comfortable. Since the entrance was blasted, it would make no sense to go wading waist deep in water, so a raft was provided. Perfect.

Considering the lardy nature of the tour so far, we couldn't have spent our last night in the Czech republic in a more fitting way. Hugh Penney took us to a delightful restaurant in Blansko where he used to be a regular...