Majestic mountains. The lure of the High Tatra mountains is best reached through Poprad, hopeful host of the 2006 Olympics.
Most visitors find only the train station in Poprad as they hurry to the High Tatras. Indeed, even this can be an adventure as the sometimes confusing bustle leads to different trains in different directions.
In the pale glow of a gray sky one conductor pointed to a train sitting on the far end of a track when cornered for information on how to get to the mountains. Inside this far removed train, old and dirty with broken glass and haggled wooden seats, some old people sat. It seemed to be the place the conductor had been pointing.
A few drunks were spread on the floor, their stench signalling that something wasn't quite right. After gazing longingly at the mountains a wrinkled woman with a scarf pulled tightly around her head pointed back toward the station. On a platform above the main tracks sat two shiny red electric trains aimed straight at the mountains. The message was clear.
Once aboard, a sea of paneláky rivalled only by Petražalka in Bratislava, left Poprad behind giving the feeling that nothing was missed. But outward appearances can be misleading.
Poprad and its four encompassing hamlets are actually interesting to explore for their history and variety of finds. Poprad's geography made it an important trade route between the kingdom of Hungary and Poland as well as connecting routes to the west and east.
The area was under the control of Poland between 1412 to 1772. German colonists set up shop and mined the silver and copper in the surrounding hills starting in the 14th century. In Poprad's center near the river that gave the town its name, the oldest building is the 13th century church of St. Edídius. It's currently under reconstruction searching for funds to finish restoring wall paintings from the 1400's and the old interior.
Across the street is the Podtatranské Museum which has a unique cast of a 90,000 year old skull of a Neanderthal man. The original skull is in Prague. The museum gives a short exhibition on what the environment would have been for the Neanderthal and what were some of the objects he would use.
More interesting is the hamlet of Spišská Sobota located a little north-east of the city. Surviving today are many medieval burghers' houses in Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles.
Spišská Sobota, so named because it had a market on Saturday (sobota), has the wonderful church of St. George. Inside is a late Gothic three-piece wooden altar hand carved by Master Pavol of Levoča in 1516. Renaissance influences were added in 1598 with the addition of a belfry. Spišská Sobota was also the birthplace of the Czech baroque sculptor Jan Brokoff (1652), who along with his sons crafted the statures that adorn Charles Bridge in Prague.
Back to the mountains
After checking out these sights for a full day, the mountains in the distance beckon. Trains take tourists up to the High Tatras about every 45 minutes. It takes about 40 minutes to get to Štrbské Pleso, an hour and ten minutes to get to Starý Smokevec, and an hour to get to Tatranská Lomnica.
In winter the High Tatras become a ski mecca. Often lines for the lifts are unbearable but the slopes down are the best in the country. Skiing can run even run into June. In 1970 Štrbské Pleso hosted the World Cup for skiing, and Slovakia hopes to host the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Skalnaté Pleso is considered the best of the best. It is necessary to take a gondola up from Tatranská Lomnica and then another ski lift up to the top of the High Tatras. This is the most exclusive of ski runs in the country. A one day lift pass for an adult costs 440 Sk, the most expensive in Slovakia. A smaller slope at Tatranská Lomnica is at Jamy, 260 Sk for the day for adults.
From Starý Smokovec, a funicular takes you up to Hrebienok where there is another ski lift up a hill (360 Sk, 1 day - adult. A blast ot a ride for non-skiers is a two kilometer sled run starting at the top of Hrebienok. Sleds can be rented near the Starý Smokevec train station.
Štrbské Ples,o famous for the ski jumps that can be seen for kilometers, has great skiing at Solisko. This is the other great ski attraction in the mountains causing traffic jams on the slopes. Tickets are 360 Sk for the day for adults.
S&S Poprad Travel tips
Poprad Information Center - Nám. sv. Egídia 2950, Poprad, tel: 092/ 186, 092/ 63636, fax: 092/ 65522.
By car- From Bratislava, take the highway E75 to Žilina, 198 km. Then follow the traffic circle in Žilina to E50 going east. The road gets rough especially in bad weather from Žilina to Martin crossing the Mala Fatra mountains. 40 km after the rough road the two lane highway takes you within about 30 km to Poprad. Total trip time takes about four hours, 327 km.
By train- There are 10 trains daily to Poprad from Bratislava: 5:50 IC, 8:05, 10:05, 12:05, 14:05, 16:05, 17.40 IC, 21:55 gets in at 3:37, 23:05 gets in at 3:48, and 0:05 arriving at 4:48. The reserve trains take 4 hours 45 minutes while the IC trains take 3 hours 47 minutes. One-way ticket cost 178 Sk, + 20 Sk for IC trains.
Hotel Poprad- Partizánska 678, tel.: 092/ 721 251. Prices double room: 1,930 Sk foreigners, 780 Sk Slovaks.
Hotel Satel- Mnoholova 5, tel.: 092/ 471 111. Prices double room: 1,860 Sk foreigners, 837 Sk Slovaks.
Hotel Europa- Wolkerova ul., tel.: 092/ 721 883. Prices double room: 550 Sk foreigners, 350 Sk Slovaks.
Turistická ubytovňa TIDOP- Partizánska 93, tel.: 092/ 629 65. Prices double room: 250 Sk foreigners, 150 Sk Slovaks.
Domov Stavbárov- Karpatská 11, tel.: 092/ 63877. Foreigner - 130 Sk, Slovak - 90 Sk.
16. Jan 1997 at 0:00 | Daniel J. Stoll