Bystrica, You Bastard

By Stephen Ewashkiw | June 2, 2013

2537 km so far.

We left the beautiful, mountainside town of Banská Stiavnica this morning, and I was a bit sad to leave it so quickly. It has a quirky vibe and seems to have good people living there, helping make it more than just a UNESCO World Heritage site, but also a living, breathing, modern town as well.

The bike ride to Banská Bystrica was fairly uneventful.

farmer sharpening a scythe in slovakia

Man sharpening his scythe.

At one point we got to ride our bikes on the freeway, which is always a bit daunting. However, as soon as we got on the R1, I saw another cyclist going to opposite direction, so I didn’t think it would be too much trouble. We did get off it though, as soon as we could.

Banská Bystrica is not a UNESCO site, but it is the sixth largest city in Slovakia and has a professional hockey team with a handful of Canadians on the team. It has also lost more than a tenth of its population in the past decade. This last fact prepared me for what we found as we rode into town: empty factories, closed hotels, and poorly maintained roads.

Nowhere To Stay, Nowhere To Go

After visiting Tesco for the second time today, we headed to the main square, which is made up of an impressive collection of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque buildings. There are five church steeples that tower over the square.

We had agreed the night before to ask at the tourist office to secure accommodation for the night, instead of planning online like we normally do. The tourist office staff were not exactly helpful, but Jane finally managed to find out that all the campsites nearby were closed, and that the only hotels in town cost around €50 a night. On further investigation, she got the names of two places that were in our price range.

One was a room in a private home, but no one was there. The other was at Hotel Centrum, which was an ex-army barracks turned hostel. It was about as depressing and unappealing as this sounds. A third place we rode by was a pension in the middle of an industrial park alongside the highway. No thanks.

It is amazing to me that this town is a tourist stop along the Amber Trail, and it saddens me to think we could have spent an extra day in Stiavnica instead.

Both of wanted to find somewhere to free camp tonight but with the rain threatening and the mercury hovering at around 14C mid-afternoon, we were also open to alternative solutions. We headed to Tesco for a third time to buy supplies for cooking tonight in case we ended up in our tent. Around 4pm we set off with the intention of leaving sad old Bystrica behind.

First I routed us down a road that ended up as a one way street going the other way, and while normally we will bike down these, this one was a kilometre-long off-ramp from the highway, so it was a no go even for us. Next we tried a road that seemed to head to a bike path, which we assumed would be a muddy mess, but we thought we’d give it a shot as the other option was the highway. Dead end at a factory and farmer’s field. It seemed like Bystrica had it in for us.

There was nowhere for us to stay, but there was no way to leave.

Wild Life

Next we decided to try and find one of the campgrounds marked on Pocket Earth, but when we got there it was nothing but a construction site. A few signs pointed to various bike routes and we decided to take one. It took us along a slightly mucky levee where there seemed to be potential for free camping. Until we came to the parking lot filled with cars. What the…?

The path ended at a popular local fishing hole. We considered camping there, but it appeared some fishermen were set to stay well into the night, with solar-powered lights and tents. And we assumed more fishermen would come in at dawn.

fishing hole in slovakia

The fishing hole as night descended.

Staying might have meant making some new friends, but the atmosphere wasn’t that friendly, so we chose to press on. Or back, as it were, because the only way out was back along the levee towards Bystrica.

We decided to try and find one of the other campgrounds on our map. This took us to a depressing little town that had not seen roadworks for decades, with many houses derelict and a few sad looking people wandering around. No campsite though. They do have an impressive castle on the hill though.

Castle on the hill in Slovenska Lupca.

Castle on the hill in Slovenska Lupca.

A few minutes later, Jane spotted a disused road that led up into a little meadow. We decided it was pretty perfect for wild camping, so we waited until the coast was clear and pushed our bikes up the hill.

Following the rainbow to our camping spot.

Following the rainbow to our camping spot.

So far, it has been great, if a bit chilly. I made a dinner of soba noodles, tofu, and stir-fried vegetables while Jane set up the tent. Even though it was still light out, we were in such a secluded spot we weren’t at all worried we’d be spotted. After dinner we still had light to wash the dishes and get ourselves clean before climbing into our sleeping bags. We fell asleep to the chorus of crickets in the field and traffic zooming by on the highway.

Hours later I was awoken by a noise right outside our tent…  

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  1. Comment by mauricio

    mauricio June 4, 2013 at 8:37 am

    LOL….. this entry makes all of those beautiful places even better. Stay dry, we’ve heard that there’s lots of rain in the area.

  2. Comment by Kimberly

    Kimberly June 4, 2013 at 8:31 am

    The suspense is killing me!

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