It’s amazing more people haven’t discovered this lovely country! My son and I spent a week in the Prešov region last September, walking in the footsteps of our ancestors. We flew into Košice (a nice small airport), stayed 4 nights in Prešov, and then moved north to spend another 4 nights in Starý Smokovec up in the High Tatras. We had an excellent guide/historian/genealogist to drive, translate, and find relatives for us: Michal Razus of Slovak Ancestry .
In Prešov, we stayed at Penzion Trattoria, a friendly, family-owned lodging with an excellent restaurant. (I recommend the “roe with root vegetables and rice” and the poppy seed ice cream.) The owner, Julius, is a gentle soul who made us feel very welcome. It was only a few blocks from the main street of the old town center, which was nice to stroll through, with lots of historic buildings and alleyways; a couple of theaters; and lots of little restaurants, cafes, and shops. One evening we took a pleasant walk up to and along the old city wall among the crisp fallen leaves.
Because we were generally out of town during the day and several places had limited hours, we primarily saw outdoor Prešov: the city wall and its Florian gate; the old hydropower station, water distribution system, and water tower (Kumšt); Bosák Bank; the gothic St. Nicholas, Greek Catholic, and Franciscan St. Joseph churches; the 49° Latitude monument; the town hall with the Prešov coat of arms; and the Neptune Fountain, in the park that runs between the two arms of the main street. Outside the lovely old synagogue is a memorial tablet, behind bars, for those who died in the Holocaust; the broad path to the monument represents the pre-war Jewish population, and the narrow path to the synagogue beyond those who survived.
We leapt at the chance to try the national dish, bryndzové halušky (potato dumplings with sheep cheese and bacon), at a restaurant in the old town, Šarišská chiža, that serves traditional Slovak food. Very good, but very filling. And that dark Šariš beer (brewed in the Prešov area) was sure tasty.
We spent the morning of our first full day on an English-language tour of the Slovak Opal Mine southeast of Prešov, reached via a winding road through lightly forested countryside. Recently reopened, it was the only opal mine in the world until Australian opals were discovered in the 1800s; the first written mention of opal mining here was 1597. A famous opal called “Fire of Troy,” which Napoléon’s Empress Josephine wore, came from here. There are 17 levels in the mine, the lower ones underwater—some people scuba dive there—and in places, 200-year-old beams of Kokošovce oak still provide support. It was completely safe, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous. When the door to the mine clanged shut, I thought Moria. Paths of the Dead.
In the afternoon, just outside of town, we toured the numerous buildings that comprise the museum of the saltworks (Solivar); these were much more interesting than I had anticipated. Originally solid salt was mined, but when the mines flooded they took to extraction of salt from the brine, a system which was in operation until 1970. I felt we had stepped back into the past in a huge creaky wooden building, wooden pipes and great wooden storage tanks illuminated in filtered sunlight, a thick layer of dust over all. The tour was in Slovak, but the English-language documentation provided was excellent and the tour guide spoke fluent English.
to be continued...