SLOVAKIA'S SMALL AIR OPERATORS OFFER A RANGE OF SIGHTSEEING FLIGHTS ACROSS THE COUNTRY

Slovakia from a birds-eye view

PILOT Jozef Pristach began flying gliders in 1972. Later, he switched to small, one- and two-engine airplanes. Today, faithful to the same machines, he shows the ground from the air also to others.
"When I flew over Austria, Switzerland or Italy, basically all you could see there were the Alps. In Croatia you can see the sea. America, apart from California, is mostly flat. Yeah, all that is beautiful, but any variances soon disappear and you watch the same thing over and over," he says. "But here, the sight changes from the moment you lift off the ground."


AERIAL view of Devín castle, outside Bratislava.
photo: Ján Svrček

PILOT Jozef Pristach began flying gliders in 1972. Later, he switched to small, one- and two-engine airplanes. Today, faithful to the same machines, he shows the ground from the air also to others.

"When I flew over Austria, Switzerland or Italy, basically all you could see there were the Alps. In Croatia you can see the sea. America, apart from California, is mostly flat. Yeah, all that is beautiful, but any variances soon disappear and you watch the same thing over and over," he says. "But here, the sight changes from the moment you lift off the ground."

One does not have to go immediately to the air to see the proof. Just when you take a train from Bratislava to Košice, you might have difficulty keeping track of things that flash by the window. The outskirts of the metropolis soon fade into vast vineyards, followed by water reservoirs, changing into hills often covered with castle ruins, and growing every couple of kilometres until culminating in the High Tatras mountain range.

But how does all this look as an overall picture? Or how do, for instance, the largest castle ruins in central Europe - the breathtaking ruins of Spiš castle, look from a plane that flies above the ground high enough so one can still easily distinguish the site's structure?

"Slovakia is beautiful from about 300 metres above the ground because you cannot see the ugly details you can see when on the ground. All you see is an incredible panoramic view. The enormous blocks of flats look nice and neat and I'm not talented enough to describe the image of nature," says Joseph Belák, one of the three pilots from TLS air club in Poprad.

There are a handful of air and ballooning clubs in the country providing sightseeing flights, mainly over the regions in which they are based. While Bratislava-based Air Carpatia shows the capital and its surroundings, dominated by Devín castle rising above the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers, Aeroklub Košice takes its customers over the eastern region, including the High and Low Tatras.


FLYING excursions offer an unusual perspective.
photo: Ján Svrček

People who take the sightseeing flights can be children or grandparents, locals or foreigners. Belák even remembers a 92-year old man whose family bought him the flight as a present for his birthday.

In some of the planes, especially when flying higher than 300 metres, people receive headphones to protect their hearing and allow easier intercom communications, but with or without, they can freely communicate with the pilot and ask for explanations of the area they are flying above.

"Sometimes, it's the people who explain to me what we're passing over. Germans, for instance, know our Tatras so well that I just nod my head at what they say, often leaving me shocked at how much they know about our country," says Belák.

On the other side, some of them are also open to whatever a customer might wish. Tour options can range from a fly-over of one desired site to a trip around the entire country.

However, when flying for the first time in a small plane - it does not matter how experienced a person may be with transoceanic jetliners - pilots recommend rather shorter trips.

"It all depends on how people stomach the flight. Even the most beautiful experience can be spoiled if people feel sick," says Pristach.

- with Kristína Havasová

Air Carpatia
- Pri Starom letisku 1, Bratislava. Tel: 02/4371-2139.
Aeroklub Košice - Letisko Košice. Tel: 055/6222-591.
TLS air - Letisko Poprad-Tatry, Poprad. Tel: 052/7761-626.
Aeroklub Dubnica - Letisko Slavnica, Slavnica (near Dubnica nad Váhom). Tel: 042/4493-185.
ADS ballooning - Jačmenná 10, Košice. Tel: 055/6740-935.
Para-Ballon air - G.Viesta 36, Trenčín. Tel: 0905/607-546 or 032/7440-845.

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