The message was clear and simple:
“Hello 🙂 when you over the summer or fall travel through central Slovakia, you can sleep in one of two cottages in one of the most beautiful mountains of Central Europe. All nomads/couchsurfers are welcome.. just PM me :)”
This invitation had been posted to a group of travelers on July 11th: The day I arrived in Slovakia.
The day I arrived in Slovakia. With no plans.

It was a sign, and the photo’s perfection struck me as an ideal introduction to a country I knew little about.
Immediately, I responded “I’ll be messaging you …right. now. Got to Slovakia today!”
The rest was worked out through a series of notes back and forth with my soon to be host, T. We ended it with a “See you Thursday!”

Hat and Coffee - Cabin in Central Slovakia - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com
Hat and Coffee – Cabin in Central Slovakia – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps – www.MissMaps.com

 

We met in Nitra, a town just an hour east of Bratislava. From there, T drove me and his friend M another 40 minutes. We introduced ourselves, each of the boys alternating between shy and confident English levels. When we’d run out of words, T shared an Icelandic candy which he’d received from a good friend and I in-turn introduced them to another Icelandic favorite: Jonsi. We listen to “Go Do” and marveled at the man’s falsetto voice which could suddenly turn deep and sultry. They boys tried hard not to laugh at my music selection, but eventually fell into a trance from the calming soundtrack. Time moved quickly, and once we’d passed a tiny dirt road spotted with multi-level homes and perfectly manicured gardens, we turned onto a grass path and quickly stopped.

“Almost there,” T announced to his crew of two. I started to leave the car in preparation for an uphill trek to a cabin still unseen. Before I could open the door, our burnt orange Subaru was switched from two-wheel to four-wheel drive and off we went. Our shoulders sloshed from side to side as the wheels slipped and turned, grasping for firm ground. The green driveway beneath us led to a trio of cabins patiently awaiting their owner’s return. Circling around, we made a narrow U-turn and wedged our car between two broad pine trees.

Once again, I reached for the door handle. This time, I was right in thinking that we were ‘home’. We each slung our bags over-arm and bounced on tiptoes to the top of a small hill. The highest of the three homes would be our shelter for the next few days.

 

Click on an image to view life in rural Slovakia up-close:

 

The words “cabin” “Slovakia” and “mountains” had led a certain stereotypical picture to be painted in my head. I’d expected dirt, tiny beds, a wood burning stove, and slowly trickling water coming only from the kitchen faucet. I thought we’d be eating hot dogs and baked beans at night, bread and butter in the morning. I thought when nature called I’d be creeping toward it, hiding behind its trees for a smidgen of privacy.

Instead, T opened the front door to reveal a row of vinyl strings hanging down in front of us. ‘To keep the flies and moths out’ he commented, phonetically pronouncing “mo-eh-th-s”. We ducked between the strands and continued onward, letting the ends slide along our shoulders until they’d reached their full length and finally fell back in place.

In front of us was a kitchen complete with olive green backsplash, a table for four, sink and gas stove. The wood burning stove I’d imagined did exist, though it was intended only to heat the home when cold crept in. Upstairs, two bedrooms: one with its own king bed and the other with two doubles. Plastic accordion doors covered the entrance to either room. With a firm clutch of the handle and a strong sway to the left or right, the doors could fold or unfold just wide enough to squeeze through. I slid my bag through the opening of the solo room and turned my body sideways to better balance while creeping down the steep wooden stairs.

We’d picked up groceries on our way through town, and as I unpacked them I noticed the backroom was much more well-equipped than I’d realized. A more recent addition to the twenty year old cabin, it is multifunctional with fridge, sink, toilet and a shower with built-in speakers. No calls to nature would have to be taken outside, and if the urge to sing in the shower hit, I could jam out with my own background music!
After we set our belongings into respectable places, we gathered in the kitchen and began to open up a bit more.

“Coffee?” M asked.
Never turning down an opportunity for a hot cup of joe, I immediately accepted the one-word offer and set down my bags before welcoming myself to the kitchen’s bench seat. My back to an open window, light streamed against my coffee cup. casting a shadow on the linoleum table before me. A straw cowboy hat sat abandoned from last week’s visit, and a well-used lighter laid beside it. With the steaming cup of coffee beside them, I sensed nothing but relaxation was headed our way. Relaxation with plenty of layers behind it.

 

Click on an image to view life in rural Slovakia up-close:

 

The Fun
We were able to take a jaunt through T’s next door neighbor’s field, disrupting the sheep sent to graze on overgrown pastures. Afterward, we invited ourselves over for a peak at several abandoned buildings that made up the property. Each belonged to his neighbor – his mother’s brother. Down the way, a cousin had his own home. A long-haired man in his mid-thirties, he came to visit both evenings. He spoke no English, but was fluent in Slovakian and knew a little bit of German. Apparently he spoke Russian as well, but the only word we could get from him was “horocho” and when I said “da” in response to something, he immediately reacted by reciting “Da da da” to the tune of a Volkswagen commercial dating back twenty years. Nevertheless, the four of us played, dran k and ate our way through the night.

The Work
“What do you usually do here?” I asked when cracking open the first can of rattler as we waited for dinner to cook. “This.” T and M said in unison, locking eyes and nodding heads to show a true brotherhood and bringing with it both satisfaction and relaxation.
“This” meant, “Not a God damned thing.” They didn’t lift a finger, didn’t blink an eye, didn’t care one iota what was happening in the world. Their motto: “Relax and enjoy.”
They mostly stuck to their word, but boys will be boys, and they made sure to break some things during our time there. By break, I actually mean fix, but it was clear they enjoyed the ability to strike an axe against all things wooden. They started by chopping down a tall cluster of young trees.
“Overgrown,” they said. To me, it looked perfect, growing healthily alongside an outhouse which can still be used if desire strikes. As they chopped, I took the discarded growth and stomped, cracked, and tore my way through each one. It was, to me, the quickest way to turn it into firewood. To them, it was comical.
After they got the extra brush cleared away, they began to take the axe to the outhouse. Ripping the roof off gave them yet another excuse to chop 4x4s into equal lengths as a replacement. For this, I had no practical use, so walked back to the house and enjoyed cup after steaming cup of ginger tea as they rebuilt the roof. I even tried to build a fire in the wood burning stove, but M walked in as I was lighting the first match and deemed me “a pyrotechnic’s opposite.” In other words, I was fired from the fire.

 

Click on an image to view life in rural Slovakia up-close:

 

The Food
The first day, the boys showed me how to make a traditional Slovakian meal: Bryndzové Halušky! By peeling, shredding, and kneading potatoes with flour, we formed a paste. That paste was then scraped along a metal sheet with circular openings roughly two centimeters in diameter. Piece by piece, the tiny potato dumplings fell into a pot of boiling water and were cooked to al dente perfection. Meanwhile, T prepared a cheese sauce by combining Slovakian sheep’s cheese ‘Bryndza’ with buttermilk, and M sliced bacon into tiny cubes to be fried.
All was mixed together, with the bacon bits placed on top and green onions cut with a scissors as the final garnishment, and we enjoyed wholeheartedly. With a similar idea as macaroni and cheese, it  has a more mild taste and more hearty appeal.
The chefs also prepared for us a mushroom soup and vegetable omelet, both with ‘hubas’ found in the forest. One day, we had a late lunch of Kapustnica, a sauerkraut and meat soup, and followed it with an even later dinner of sausages and halloumi grilled over the fire. To say we ate well is an understatement, especially in comparison to the imagined baked beans and dogs.

 

The Cabin in an Ultra Saturated Sunset - Slovakia - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com
The Cabin in an Ultra Saturated Sunset – Slovakia – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps – www.MissMaps.com

 

Games, truths, silences, conversations. Late nights and later mornings. Homemade meals, store-bought pivos. Field-picked huby.  Trips to nearby thermal baths and agro tours. Chopping away at overgrown trees and rebuilding unkept outhouses.

This is what you get when you respond to a message sent to no specific audience; when you listen to your instinct and go with the flow.
It’s what you get in the hills of Slovakia over a cool July weekend.

7 Comments

  1. I see you got to try the typical dishes at their best! 🙂 Yum, I could go for some halusky, not right now as I´ve already eaten, but my mouth is still watering when I imagine it 😀

  2. What an awesome experience! I love experiencing local life when I travel to new places, and you could not have had a more “local” experience. When I visited Bratislava, I was pleasantly surprised as well, and after reading your post, I’d love to visit the outskirts of Slovakia as well!

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