In some ways the timing of this trip was perfect–we got our car registered the day before we left and I got a call the week before telling me I will start working mid-February. Unfortunately, the snow coverage was not perfect, but it sounds like this year in general is bad. The good thing about low snow levels is that it is easy to drive through the mountains! Cameron is the better snow-driver, so he probably would have driving most of the time no matter what, but legally he had to drive. Cameron really does not like driving, especially in unknown places, but for this first year he will have to be the only person sitting behind the drivers wheel of our car unless we want to be taxed up to $5,000.
Why? There apparently is a profitable market for selling imported vehicles, especially from the US, but there are hefty taxes for cars that are imported for sale. However, if you bring a car over in a move as a personal good and don't sell it for at least a year those taxes don't apply. So of course, somewhere along the way people came up with the loophole of selling their cars but not registering the vehicles under new owners until after one year in order to avoid the import tax. To overcome that, the Polish government mandated that during that first year vehicles can only be driven by the registered owner of the car, and since the car's title is in Cameron's name, the sole owner is Cameron.
Luckily, our drive to Demanovska Dolina, Slovakia was relatively traffic-free and mostly consisted of two-lane highways that passed through agricultural land, small towns, and the occasional small one- or two-lift ski area. We stopped for lunch at a brewery and had our first taste of Slovakian food–mostly dumpling-like dough, meat, and cheese. After that first meal I should have known to be more careful about what I ordered, but it wasn't until day three that I got fed up with Slovakian cuisine always having secret meat hidden in it. Although frustrating for me, it suited Cameron perfectly well!
Our main attraction for the day was visiting the Stanisovska Jaskyna Cave- for only 10Euros total we had a private tour through a very long water-formed cave. Highlights included two hibernating bats, touching "cave cream"–a soft clay-like material that grows on the walls and apparently is harvested as a beauty product, and a shot of gin as part of a Himalayan caving ritual that has been adopted for this tour. I though the bats were going to be the wildlife highlight of the trip, but while skiing we saw a white ermine one day and over the course of the week I saw five foxes hunting in snow-covered fields.
The surrounding area was riddled with caves, most of which are closed off to the public. Later in the week Cameron and I did our own solo hike looking for caves, but the ice cave behind our hotel was closed and the other tourist-accessible cave nearby costed more than we wanted to spend.
The next three days were ski days at Jasna, the largest ski area in Slovakia and the one best suited for expert skiers. Our first day had beautiful views but was mostly a zoomer groomer day. Any slope we hadn't tried on Monday we got to on Tuesday, including a timed slalom course and some very large jumps in the freestyle zone. A little new snow opened up a patchy black run for us which we did three times in a row towards the end of the day. Day three was by far the best thanks to a replenishing supply of snow all day and the discovery of some ungroomed terrain that no one else was skiing in. We went down our new favorite run at least four times before we encountered anyone else giving it a try. Wednesday was also the best food day, as it included my childhood favorite of plum-filled dumplings covered in vanilla sauce for lunch.
We took a break from skiing on Thursday to go to Tatralandia- a water park that was heavily advertised as a fun place to ride waterslides year-round. Even though most of the water slides were outside and closed for winter, there were still five indoor ones that we frequented over the 6+ hours that we were there. There were also ten pools to rotate between, many of which had jets or water toys to keep you occupied. We opted out of the activities that had additional fees (even though I was very curious about having little fish eat the dead skin off of my feet) but did acquiesce to buying drinks at the swim-up bar. Given that the place is marketed towards loud and splashy children, it wasn't necessarily relaxing but it was a nice break from skiing.
Our last day, Friday, we opted to try a different ski area in hopes of avoiding the rainy forecast at Jasna. Rather than our typical 10 minute drive we had gotten used to, we headed out for a 50 minute drive to the Tatranska Lomnica area at Vysoke Tatry. We were excited to ski in the high Tatras and try out some new free riding terrain, but unfortunately the lift that accesses all of the advanced areas was closed. Also, there was heavy fog and rain, so we didn't really get to see the beautiful surrounding mountains that are advertised in all of the photos we'd seen. We weren't having much fun, so after lunch we returned our rental skis, drove back to the hotel to repack, and then set off for Besenova (another waterpark).
Although marketed as the relaxing adult alternative to Tatralandia, Besenova had a very similar makeup of pools, slides, and other kid attractions. There were more slides available plus a wave pool! The outdoor thermal baths were just as nice as at Tatralandia, but since we were there on a Friday evening it was overall more crowded and thus a little less enjoyable. After our three hours were up, we went out to a vegan restaurant for the best meal I had in Slovakia (finally, no fear of hidden meat!)
Our original plan for our Saturday drive home was to stop at some Polish thermal baths and maybe have lunch in Zakopane, the mountain capital of Poland. We were pretty much maxed-out on thermal baths and water parks, and Zakopane was cute but too crowded to really want to park and walk around, so we just drove through and admired the architecture from the car. The idea was that since it is only two hours from our house we will surely be there for a ski weekend at some point. We learned that the estimated two hours is without traffic, and what should have been a three hour drive in total extended to almost five hours in the car. Luckily, we had stopped for Slovakian treats before heading home so we had lavender cookies and cherry chocolate to satisfy us until we made it home.
Exploring a wooden gothic church on our drive to Slovakia.
Exporing the Gothic Wooden Church of All Saints- the oldest preserved structure in the region, dating back to the 15th century.
Another stop to check out the scenery and stretch our legs- this is the remains of an old ironworks site.
Looking out towards the mountains we were skiing in-the lower Tatras.
Interesting ice formations outside of the Stanisovska Jaskyna cave.
First lift at Jasna. This was the first time Cameron and I had seen a "critter car" at a ski lift–we ended up riding it our last day just to check it out.
Great views from the lift!
More pretty views.
Chopok peak sits above 2000 meters high.
The type of skiing Cameron and I do sometimes requires some brush navigation.
Post-skiing hike looking for caves and icicles.
More patch navigation.
Fresh tracks on Wednesday!
It's easy to get fresh tracks if you're willing to go between rocks.
That's me in the background looking for a good line.
Feet-eating fish at Tatralandia.
Some of the jet pools surrounding the swim-up bar.
A final rainy day at Vysoke Tatry.