We continued with the rental car, driving from Berlin down through southern Germany, Austria, and into Slovakia. We stopped in Prievidza to visit and spend the night with Juraj Bubnas and his family. Juraj is a distant cousin of Suzanne's and their family was so welcoming. Prievidza is a nice city in central Slovakia, and Juraj's family lived in a nice home. We toured the nearby Bonice castle with them and enjoyed a pleasant dinner and singing on their backyard patio.
Juraj Bubnas and family.
We continued eastward and enjoyed hiking up to Spis castle, an impressive edifice, though a bit mismanaged and not quite tourist friendly. For example, there was loud pop music playing in a concession area in the center of the castle, and we found the gate locked as we attempted to exit the castle on the path back down.
While there were no expressways in the eastern half of the country, we did find the roads decent and well paved. However, the Slovaks are dangerous drivers, routinely passing in curves and other blind spots. Several times we came upon accident scenes. It was rather unnerving. One strategy was to follow behind another vehicle so at least you wouldn't be the one in the head-on collision.
We took a chance and checked into the Hotel Chemes upon arrival in Humenne in the far east of Slovakia. It had a few rough edges but was quite satisfactory, given the very reasonable price. In fact, prices seemed depressed for everything in Slovakia. Unlike, say Prague, Slovakia is a very low key and economical destination for tourists.
Once again we were welcomed with opened arms by many of Suzanne's cousins in the Humenne and Poruba areas. What gracious and friendly people. They held an outdoor party for us and numerous cousins came by. Bridget and Jeremy were particularly popular speaking Russian to those of our generation and older (who learned Russian rather than English).
It had been five years since our first trip to Slovakia, and we felt like the country was definitely moving up in the world. Still off the beaten path but a more pleasant, upbeat feel to it.
Here is a blog post by Bridget describing experiences from this trip.
And last year we returned for a quick drive through Hungary and Slovakia, again visiting the same cousins. I wrote several blog posts (here, here, and here) about that, as did Suzanne.
There is a lot to like about Slovakia, and the other former Eastern Bloc countries. Some day we'd like to go back and spend more time hiking and sightseeing.