Day 31 - Now THAT'S a Castle

Saturday 26th July 2014

There are two tiny red tell-tail lights in our room, one on the TV and one on an adjacent light switch. Next morning Mick tells how he woke up in the night, needing the loo. The lights were spinning around so much that he decided to stay put for a while.

We're somewhat lethargic when we arise. Breakfast is picked at, coffee consumed with great care.
Finally we are packed and bid farewell to our wonderful hosts. No sign of Anghel or his lady. Goodbye guys, great to have met you.

Wedding party spills into the road
We climb up and over the hill and down into the valley to the border with Ukraine. Our planned route was to stay in the high Carpathians, taking us in an arc through Ukraine before looping into Slovakia.
Recent events, especially the horrific bringing down of a Malaysian civilian airliner by a surface-to-air missile, have changed our minds. The war in this part of the world is getting a lttle too close and reports vary about whether the Ukrainian border will be open. So we decide to veer west into the lowlands and cross back into Hungary, traversing the eastern corner of The Hungarian plain.

On the way we hit a major snarl up in a small village. Filtering through the traffic we find the cause. A wedding party has spilled into the street and the guests are singing and dancing in the middle of the road. I get a quick snap. 

But before leaving Romania we visit a remarkable place I found in a Google search for 'weird things in Romania', the Merry Cemetery. Look it up. Essentially a local woodcarver in the Romanian village of Sapanta decided to liven up his local cemetery with colourful and ironic wooden grave markers that create a living chronicle of the lives and deaths of the local parishioners. The work continues through his apprentices.

Entering the Merry Cemetery
Every grave marker is different

Describing a life in comic verse
Abandoned border crossing

The church is undergoing major restoration but the graveyard is open and is a fascinating walk through one man's artistic vision. I read that many of the poems and rhymes on the crosses are comical, poking gentle fun at the interred. Sadly there are no translations so I just have to imagine what they say.

From Sepanta we continue on through Sate Mare to the border with Hungary.
There is another document check but we are waved through quite quickly. The Hungarians don't seem to have shaken off old security habits yet.

The day is cloudless and probably the hottest we have encountered yet on the dusty plains of Hungary. Not so good with a dull hangover from last night. I silently curse the palinka.

We soon leave Hungary behind and ride into Slovakia at Kosice. The border crossing is abandoned here. Slovakia is another new country for both of us.

There is a modern fast dual carriageway up and over viaducts and bridges and we soon leave Kosice behind. There was no sign of a border crossing and I didn't see the usual EU nation sign at all. But the gas station prices change to euro so I know we are in a new country.

 We are pretty knackered now and cannot really appreciate the fabulous road through the Tatra foothills to Spisske Podhradie and our first glimpse of Spis Castle.
And my God, what a castle it is. High on a ridge commanding the valleys below it stretches a long, long way across the heights.
A big castle, a very serious castle. No fairy tales here, it's all about the clash of iron on swords, the tramping of troops and the clatter of knights on horseback.

View of Spis Castle from the garden at Penzion Podzamok

Floodlit at night
We find the Penzion Podzamok, mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide, in the village of Spisske Podhradie, with it's stunning view of the castle rising from the fields behind. At night it is beautifully floodlit.

 The pension obviously has few English-speaking guests but my lousy German gets us in. We grab some dinner and get our heads down. Tomorrow is another day and we're going to the greatest castle on earth! 


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