Day: 202 & 203
Towns / Cities Visited: 133
Countries Visited: 21
Steps Taken Today: 24,398
Steps Taken Around the World: 3,350,936
Once more, the first of these two days was spent simply moving from one place to another. Not because they were particularly far apart, but because the following day was to be one in which we crammed an adventure into the daytime and travelled to our next stop in the evening. As such, the details of the day are somewhat boring and inconsequential, thus I will simply give you the brief synopsis.
After waking up, ever so slightly hungover, forcing down some food, cramming our things back into their respective spots in our bags, and bidding farewell to our American room mates, we trekked to the train station. Jumping onto our locomotive we found ourselves loitering in the corridor of a cramped, stuffy, old compartment train. Unable to find free seats, we conceded to having to stand for the forty-five minute trip to our destination. Just as the journey was venturing into the realm of unbearable hot and unsteady for our current seediness, we arrived and alighted into the fresh air of Liptovský.
A short walk through this seemingly deserted town, including lugging our bags over some currently under construction road, we arrived at the closed gate of our hotel. After ringing the bell several times, and subsequently calling the hotels owner, the tiny Slovakian cleaning lady tottered out to let us in. Despite not speaking a single word of English, through the medium of scribbled pictures, times, and amounts, we successfully checked in and were shown to our generously spacious and yet wildly affordable apartment for the night. It was one of those kinds of rooms you wish you were staying int for a week, not one singular night. Although it had a fully decked kitchen, we had no supplies to cook nor any will to source some, and thus we settled for a relaxed afternoon of solid napping, followed by surprisingly good pizza sold essentially from someone’s garage round the corner. The night was rounded off with a chilled session of watching our TV show of the moment; The Bastard Executioner. Nothing like junk food and medieval torture to round off a laid back travel day.
The following morning began with a hearty hotel breakfast in the dining room downstairs, before we left them in charge of our bags and headed out for the day’s adventure. Arriving at the bus stop, we sighed simultaneously at the sparse Sunday timetable, and waited patiently for our bus to whisk us away. Eventually it trundled up, and after half an hour spewed us back out on the side of the road in the middle of God knows where. The only sign of life in this neck of the woods is a small souvenir stand, a restaurant built up against the mountainside, and, in front of the path snaking up the incline, a massive billboard for the attraction we’d come all of this way to see; Demänovská Cave of Liberty.
Scurrying up as fast as our travel weary legs would carry us, we managed to make it to the ticket office just in time to secure a spot on the 11am tour, along with a rather expensive photo pass. Lucky, as the next tour wasn’t for 90 minutes. Being handed information sheets in English, it was immediately clear that the tour would be delivered purely in Slovak, which suited us just fine; after all, we were here more to see than to hear. And with that we stood and waited for the tour to begin.
Now, for a little background, this area is home to a number of caves in the Low Tatras which make up the longest cave system in Slovakia, and through which flows part of the Demänovská River. The system does include ice caves, but we were here to see the Cave of Liberty. This karst cave was discovered in 1921, and by 1924 part of it was open to the public. It is more than 11km long, although only a small section is traversable during the tour, and was formed by the flow of the river cutting away the soft limestone that forms it. Like most caves it was and is home to many species of subterranean creatures, and the remains of a cave bear were even found here, a species which went extinct some 24,000 years ago.
Finally, it was our turn to enter, and in doing so it felt as though we were descending into another world. Our tour lasted around an hour, and in that time it seemed that not a single cavern or hall in this place was the same: a perfect example of how time and circumstance affects all things differently. Some were donned with the slow drip of glossy stalactites and stalagmites making their glacial journey to form pillars; others bore flowstone so delicate it hung in wafer-thin curtains, tainted pink or orange by the mineral rich dissolved stone which formed them; some sported millions of years worth of stalactites, jolted from their place by tremors, and blanketing the floor like haphazardly discarded skeletal remains; others still were home to stacks of stone which seemed more like the soft wax of a candle than the hard rock of their reality.
The features held within are dubbed both with obvious and fitting names like ‘The Pink Hall’ or ‘The Emerald Lake’, and more fantastical titles like ‘The Tree Of Life’. In places, the cave is home to the gentle flow of the river still. Collecting quietly in crystal clear, turquoise lakes, so transparent that the gentle ripples in the sand on the river bed would rival the clarity of even the best HDTV, and so precise in their mirroring of the formations above that you would swear a whole world existed just below the surface. These are the kind of pools you would expect stray coins to legitimately buy wishes in, and beside which mermaids could happily make their homes.
As we emerged back into the glaring light of day it was with the same despondency of someone turning the final page of an all-encompassing fantasy novel, or watching the credits roll on a movie you wish more than anything would continue. It was coming back to reality, when we wanted, more than anything, to stay somewhere wildly unrealistic.
After buying a few trinkets for our collection, and scoping out the restaurant only to discover it was closed for a private function, we hopped back onto the bus and returned to town. Hoping to move our later train reservation to earlier, but finding the earlier one full, we decided to head back into Liptovský to source some lunch. This ended up being a harder feat than expected as it was a Sunday and this rather religious part of the world tends to shut down completely for the Sabbath. Luckily, after much wandering, we stumbled upon a square across which we found a little burger shack and bar open for business. It must have been meant to be, because the cocktails were good, the decor reminded us of Melbourne, and the burgers… well let’s just say they have something called the Alex burger which is pretty much made for me; three kinds of cheese, two kinds of meat, an egg, onion rings, and a decent bun.
Fat and happy, we collected out bags, trundled back to the station, and settled uncomfortably into our compartment seats on the train, clearly not made for tall or broad people, as we travelled to the country’s capital; Bratislava. A rather tiresome walk, and we bundled in through the door of our hostel with just enough time to rush off to the nearest tiny supermarket to grab supplies with which to whip up vegetable gnocchi in one of the most under-equipped kitchens we’d found ourselves faced with. Still, the common room had a dining table to splay out at, and free biscuits to nibble on with tea while we whiled away some time with blogs between well earned showers and sleep.
As I lay in the bed of our private room and listened to the bustle of the city outside the window, mingling with the sound of the thunderstorm soundtrack I use to lull myself to sleep each night, I took the liberty to ponder the cave once more. In my head, I saw millennia pass in an instant. A time lapse of the river cutting away stone like butter swirling in the vivid imaginings of my semi-conscious brain. Stalactites which took centuries to grow but a metre, stretched out easily before me, like an arm reaching for a fallen object, not the hand of a time tethered lover reaching for its other half. A single jolt of the earth saw me watching stalactites topple to the floor and tumble away like skittles. I saw caverns open up like lungs inhaling, and flowstone trickle into sheets of formation with the flick of windswept curtains; Father Time fast tracking eons into nanoseconds for my entertainment.
As sleep took my hand ever so tenderly, and lured me into the Land of Nod, I saw mermaids pull themselves gracefully onto the stony shores of the pools, and pixies pop out from behind the pillars with childlike laughter and mischievous grins. It was within this joyous world that I found sanctuary for the evening; a gift from my travels to comfort me during the uncertainty of the night.