Leaving Bratislava behind on a deserted motorway we headed east into Slovakia. We didn’t really know what to expect from this country and we were surprised by both familiar and unfamiliar sights along the way. As the city gave way to countryside the flat landscape of arable farmland could easily have been Lincolnshire or Oxfordshire or pretty much anywhere in the UK. The familiarity continued when we passed through a town and were greeted by a traffic jam and a Tesco!
We continued on, our destination was a campsite in Mosovce, the weather was hot so we pulled into a quiet petrol station to take a break, the petrol station was deserted except for two elderly gents sat in the forecourt drinking beer and smoking cigarettes……maybe we’d take our break elsewhere. Our route became more and more rural with small villages spread few and far between.
After passing through one village we came to a set of traffic lights and a line of cars, the traffic lights had a countdown display to let you know how many seconds you’ll be waiting until the light changes, we’d come across these before and thought they were a great idea. However it soon became apparent that this countdown was in minutes! After sitting there for 12 minutes we finally got our green light to find that the road led us up a steep, winding mountain pass that was too narrow to meet oncoming vehicles. Sure enough, at the top there was another set of lights and a line of cars waiting for their turn to come down.
Driving through a country really gives us chance to see more of it and get a feel for the places away from the tourist destinations. Away from the capital and the popular national parks we passed through villages populated by Slovakia’s Romany people. An estimated half a million Roma people live in Slovakia where they suffer serious segregation and racial discrimination. Roma children are segregated in schools and women have faced forced sterilisation. Ethnically driven crime is high and with unemployment rates at 97%, many of these people are living in poverty. The largest of the Slovak Romany “slums” is in Jarovnice where more than 5 and a half thousand people inhabit less than a square kilometre. We didn’t drive as Far East as Jarovnice but we did pass through villages where just outside the main village a dilapidated collection of tiny ramshackle huts were home to a Roma community.
The segregation was apparent and it was eye opening to see such conditions in modern day Europe.
Feeling uneasy we continued on and finally arrived at our campsite…. only to find that it was closed. We were attracting attention in our English van so we detoured back to the main road and pulled over to form plan B. There was another campsite about half an hour away, so we set off hoping for better luck at that one.
This time our route took us on single handedly the worst road we have ever encountered. Despite being a main road and thankfully fairly straight and flat the surface of the road was laid in segmented concrete, of which none of the segments lay level with the next, the resulting effect was a large bump in the road every 5 meters or so, added to this were large areas where the concrete had badly eroded to create huge pot holes. After 30 miles of bone shaking, van shaking, thunk thunk thunk, our minds imagining bits dropping off the van inside and out we finally rejoined a ‘normal’ road surface.
We were more than a little relieved to get to Plan B campsite and find it was open and occupied, the reception was manned by 2 helpful gents and with the help of some broken English, German, Slovakian and good old google translate we booked in for one night and pulled up alongside a Dutch motorhome. It had been an exhausting day and Slovakia had certainly tested us in ways we hadn’t yet encountered on the road in Europe.