We have been using Žilina as a base to explore some of the castles and ruins in the area before heading into the Mala Fatra mountains. It rained while we went to Strečno Castle, but we’ll get more views once the weather clears up and we go hiking on the other side of the river. Strečno Castle has an impressive location up on a steep cliff overlooking the Váh River. From the castle, we could see the ridges through the rain that we hope to hike up to see the Mala Fatra park, further to the north. Of course, we hope to do this with some nicer weather.
Afterward, we had dinner on the square in Žilina, some chicken stroganoff and chicken with “garlic pancakes”, which were fried garlicky strips of goodness. For desert, we tried potato dumplings with poppy seeds. This was delicious. There was no time to mess around with photos for silly internet blogs, this was time to live life, and make sure the other spouse didn’t eat it all. So the photo is from afterward, you’ll just have to use your imagination. They were these dense gnocchi-like potato lumps, covered with chocolate and poppy seed sauce, with a side of whipped cream. Jason thought there was a delicious layer of “custard” beneath the gnocchi and chocolate/poppy seed sauce. He was enjoying big spoonfuls of the “custard”, gnocchi, chocolate sauce and whipped cream and suggested Alexa try the same combination. But Alexa noticed the “custard” was gone, and only melted butter and chocolate remained where the “custard” had been. The “custard” Jason was enjoying by the spoonful with whipped cream and chocolate sauce seems to have been soft butter. Mmm, that was a healthy and delicious desert.
The next day we hiked off the butter by heading south to Lietavska Lucka, to hike through the hills up to a hilltop with the Lietavska castle ruins. The sun was out and the spring here has been great. We had a nice walk through some small villages, up through the fields below the cliff-top ruins, and then up through the forest to the ruins. It was Sunday as we did this hike, so there were plenty of locals out hiking. Slovaks enjoy hiking and bicycling, we see them out in droves on bikes and hiking on the extensive trail system. Maybe all the hiking and biking allows them to eat buttery deserts. We enjoyed another picnic of sandwiches, carrots, chocolates and nutella after wandering around the ruins. We really have enjoyed the hilltop ruins. There have great views, and are often on rock outcrops you would want to hike to anyway. Having ruins on the top just adds to the hiking experience.
The ruins are often more entertaining than the fixed up castles, which often can only be seen on the inside with guided tours, which don’t allow you to freely roam. At the ruins, you can go anywhere and look around on your own. You can often see remnants of the old decorative arches in the doorways and window frames, and maybe some of the original plastering and painting. Some parts are sheer drops, or places you shouldn’t go.
There isn’t a lawsuit culture here that makes the authorities put up warning signs or restrict people from going to the edge of a cliff or climbing on crumbling castle ruins. If you are climbing on ruins and fall off a cliff, it’s your responsibility. If you climb on something and fall, it’s your fault. It is called personal responsibility, they don’t waste time telling you the obvious here, i.e. “this cliff is dangerous and falling off will kill you”, or “these rickety stairs are dangerous, be careful”, etc. Unlike in the United States (where you can sue McDonalds because the hot coffee burned you), here the thinking is if you get hurt clambering around in mountains or on cliff top ruins, it because it is an inherently risky activity and you did something stupid, it is your responsibility, end of story, no lawsuits. In this sense, it is nice to be treated as adults and not told where you can and can’t go.
On the other hand, one eerie leftover remnant of the days of communism are these speakers that seem to be everywhere, even in remote villages in the country side. We have been in these small villages, and around noon, and this system of speakers has someone start talking (the sound is poor and there is much echoing) in a bland and boring voice, and then maybe some folk music, more speaking and then it goes away. In the days of communism, you can imagine they must have used these system to announce things like “Rejoice, all workers will work extra hours this weekend to meet the quotas set by the great leader. Long live the revolution and the great leader. Rations will also be reduced by one half. Report all subversives to the Committee to Search out Saboteurs and Enemies of the State. Now, return to work, happy workers.” It is a little odd to hear this bland and distant voice over the speakers, echoing around the small villages and surrounding valleys, but it is more entertaining not knowing what they are saying.
Next on our list of places to see is the Orava Castle, which is a ways away, to the north of Žilina near the border with Poland.
***click to enlarge***