We left Zakopane in Poland and quickly crossed the border into Slovakia. Our route was to take us through the Low Tatras to Bojnice . Avoiding the major routes we wound our way through forests that stretched as far as the eye could see. The trees covered all the hills and mountains and looked truly stunning. We passed through quite a few unremarkable villages interspersed with some quaint, well kept places. But, the thought that I couldn't get out of my head was that the communists must have been really soulless.
What sort of bureaucrats, planners, architects, politicians and builders,conspired together, to take a village that at one time must have looked nice and turn it into something out of George Orwell's 1984. It probably contained a number of houses and farms,similar in style to Austria or Germany ,until the afore mentioned had the idea that industry is good, no matter where it is sighted. Let's build a big factory to make non existent tractors. Let's build a big chimney to dominate the skyline for miles around. That way, if we do make something, the pollution will have maximum impact on our forests. Let's build square boxes of flats to house our workers. Need I go on. I'm sure you get the picture. Now I know, they thought they were doing the best for the country. Yes, I'm sure it was an attempt to get the country producing. But, as an outsider looking in, it is soulless, unimaginative and grey. And yes, I do realise this sounds like a rant!
Then we came to Bojnice. What a beautiful place. Slovakia is certainly a country of contrasts.
Have you ever wondered how people get taught to drive in other countries. Probably not, but it’s a thought that’s been circulating in my head since we entered Slovakia for the first time.
As we passed through Germany there were obvious driving school type cars and in the Czech Republic even more obvious driving school cars. The poor learners there drive a car with a sign the size of a small billboard on top of the car consisting of a blue “L”. There is no mistaking the inexperienced driver. However, it’s the motorcycle learner I felt sorry for. No need for a radio from the Instructor to the nervous first time rider. No need for the Instructor to ride their bike close to the learners to observe their every move. No, they are much more hands on than that. Yes, you guessed it. The poor learner has to pillion the Instructor around the roads. On one occasion I actually saw the Instructor controlling the bike from behind while the learner sat helplessly observing. Talk about giving a demonstration ride!
Anyway, you’re letting me babble on again. The point I was going to make is that there is only one school of driving in Slovakia. That’s the “Kamakazi School for Reckless Drivers”. Their motto is “Pass or Die”.
There are a number of driving techniques employed. All involve passing the vehicle in front as quickly and as recklessly as possible.
This is a translation of an excerpt from the Slovakian Highway Code.
Chapter Three “Guidance on Overtaking Vehicles”
1. The sneak approach. Not as popular as many of the others, but hang back as long as possible until there is a dangerous bend ahead or large on coming vehicle. As it get’s closer wait, wait….then rush onto the vehicle you want to overtake. The aim should be to achieve a near death experience with whatever vehicle/hazard is coming towards you.
2. The rush and swerve approach. This involves keeping you’re accelerator foot flat to the floor. Waiting until the last possible moment, before swerving round the vehicle you want to pass. Close your eyes. Do not worry about on coming vehicles.
3. The stay in the opposite lane approach. Similar to two, but without the swerve.
4. The tail gate approach. Imagine you are the vehicle in front.
I Googled the Slovakian Institute of advanced motorists and found this helpful system of car control on their website.
Drivers should consider the following at the approach to any hazard:
I Information Close your eyes. It’s better not to know what else is out there.
P Position As close to anything else on the road, as you can get.
S Speed As fast as you can go. At all times.
G Gear Any will do, providing it achieves the above.
A Acceleration Yes.
Anyway take care if you are driving or riding in Slovakia. Remember they’re all out to get you!
Public Address System
There are many good things in Slovakia. There are also many things that appear strange and eccentric.
We had noticed the speakers hanging off telegraph poles, in most of the villages we had passed through. Although unusual to see we thought little more about them. It wasn't until, I heard loud music blaring that the mystery was solved. At first, I thought it was April blasting out her " Now 22" compilation of all time great Slovakian folk tunes,again. I had warned her last time, to turn the volume down for fear annoying the locals. Then I realised the music was coming from the speakers.
Apparently they are another hangover from the Communist days. They used to be to blurt out propaganda to the workers. At the demise of the Communist era many villages decided they liked public music and kept them. ( I doubt however,that anyone who lives directly next to a speaker voted for this). They now have local broadcasts of music and public announcements. Natty idea ? Or. maybe not....I swear one of the announcers sounded remarkably like Terry Wogan. (so that's where he went to)