The second visit to Slovakia within two months was designed to round off the routine passenger track in a country I'd been fiddling about with for so long that half the branch lines had been closed! This had the merit of making the job much easier but was pretty disappointing from the railway viewpoint. At a very late stage (two days before leaving the UK) I discovered there was a depot open day in Košice the weekend we were there, but this was on nowhere near the scale of Rendez or the Zvolen Grand Prix so the plan remained unchanged. Ryanair from Birmingham to Bratislava was now a better option with the flights at sensible times in the afternoon, so no cross border bus journey this time.
Thursday 14 April
Taxi to the station as we were just too early for bus passes. Curses! Arriva’s 09:53 was on time, formed of 2x158 with a distinct shortage of seats. We did find two together in the second set luckily. Baled at New Street to marvel at the new shops - well, no, actually to get a mayo-free baguette from the relocated Gregg's outside next to McD’s. Journey to Irrational was completed on a LM Desiro.
Long fester then for a punctual Ryanair flight to Bratislava. Narrowly missed the 17:03 bus, thought the 17:18 would be easy with its 25 minute timing to hlavna stanica for the 18:01 Zvolen. Wrong - the traffic was dreadful, bus wedged and we just scraped on to the 18:01 without time to grab a beer. Pity as it turned out, since the booked buffet car didn’t materialise.
A very uninspiring run to Zvolen, up to 14 minutes late en route but eventually 10 late at Zvolen mesto for the very short walk to the Academic where at 21:20 we were in time for a very nice meal. A good day's 'work', all in all.
Friday 15 April
Serious sunshine this morning, hope it lasts. Yesterday's marathon has bought us a late start too. Reasonable breakfast at the Academic followed by a sightseeing visit to Zvolen Castle. Thence to the station for 11:13 R to Košice with 757 001. Which sat. And sat. Waiting for bustitution to arrive from Sliač seemingly. 20 minutes late in the end which became 29 and eventually 24. A very nice meal accompanied by Kozels was had in the restaurant car, Ł12 the two. We baled at Moldava nad Bodvou to do the branch to M n B mesto - to my delight this used the same track (3 from the north) as the R train. MnBm has been completely rebuilt into a modern rail/bus interchange bearing no resemblance to the scrappy platform seen on Google Earth before the trip. Back on the same kart, Mrs EG having held the door open in the well founded belief that I wouldn't get back from photting in time. Fortunately I did, and she didn't get bellowed at. The return trip used the same track again so Physcon 1 was stood down. Into Košice too late to go to the hotel so it was 16:06 OS to Michaľany which suffered a signal check (the sort that involves orange jackets shouting at trackside) not far from Košice. Reason unknown but we're currently 14 mins late for a 16 minute unbooked connection. As if that wasn't bad enough, we're on a 460 :-(
A pair of broad gauge 125s at Trebišov, 125 839 leading. Not the best of photos, but possibly my only chance of a 'Russian' gauge loco.
I needn't have fretted. 'Our' 460 turned out to be the Trebišov service as well so we just climbed back on. Obligingly it stopped on the westernmost through line so had to cross the layout to get to the Trebišov line, so the physical connection was assured. At Trebišov it stopped in the 'down' platform (just one raised island and some rail level ones) so I might even be luck going to Humenné tomorrow. Or not.
Trebišov has a small pub-cum-shop across the road. Well, it would have been rude ... Kelt. Weak, sweet, but at least cold. Back to Košice in a nice open coach with all the trimmings, accompanied by the broad gauge on the north side most of the way. It's on the south side through Trebišov station but crosses over on a bridge West of the station near the junction of the Košice and Michaľany lines.
And so to the Penzion Horse Inn. Nothing spectacular but clean and tidy and nowhere near as odd as its name. After checking in we repaired to the Hostinec Pivovar in the main square. Their unfiltered 12% got a definite A+ and the very friendly guv'nor went out of his way to make us welcome. Food was very good too.
The day concluded at the Luxor brewpub just round the corner (ish). Nice pub, not as food-oriented. I only had a taster of the 12% but it didn't strike me as quite as nice as the Hostinec. I had their Weizenlux which was a pleasant A but with every respect for the Luxor's initiative, I'd still say many German brewpubs are better at it! Nothing wrong though, and streets better than British attempts, Everard's (strangely) excepted.
Saturday 16 April
Somewhat unexceptional breakfast at PHI, then a pleasant walk to the station for 10:06 to Čierná nad Tisou, a motley collection of kippers, couchettes and run down compartments,with a couple of Ukrainian kippers on the back. It goes to Kiev (well, they do) but the board just says Čierna.
Surprisingly, our run down compartment coach had mains sockets in the corridor, but unsurprisingly, they didn't work. Neither did the very pleasant Ada who only gripped H's ticket and not mine, and at each station seemed content to amble along the platform with no great sense of urgency. As a result we were soon 18 down for a 13 minute leap at Čierna nad Tisou. Fortunately a sense of urgency was eventually instilled and we arrived at Čierná nad Tisou 8 late with 5 minutes to go. By the tíme I'd visited the booking office, discovered the train was in a west end bay half way back to Michaľany, found Mrs EG and got us there, we had all of 30 seconds left.
Another pleasant lady, who'd lived in Liverpool for a decade, was far more positive on the station stops and kept us on time all the way to Košice apart from one minor out of course stop.
An hour to wait at Košice, so Kozel was taken at the posh station buffet with its wall-size photo of Waterloo International in its heyday. Sandwiches and a Zlatý Bažant carry-oot obtained, we made our way to cloth seated, air conditioned, power-socketed, wi-fi'd comfort on REx 905. A bit of time was lost en route but with the connection pretty much guaranteed that wasn't a problem. A 460 was standing in the 'down' platform at Trebišov - looks like this is fairly standard practice with the two sides of the Island effectively two single lines and a through Michaľany-Humenné required to get the physical connection.
The unstaffed and boarded up Medzilaborce mesto, with rusty rails in the foreground leading towards the Polish border.
Both the Stakčín and Medzilaborce trains were modern low floor units (861) with WiFi and 230v sockets - excellent. The time lost by the REx was regained by padding in the timings so we were on time at the semi derelict Medzilaborce mesto where the only photos of the day were managed. Back to Humenné without incident. Accommodation was at Hotel Karpatia almost opposite the station. A nice enough place, shame about the wedding (with band) and another function. The staff were excellent, rallied round and produced a nice meal, eaten in the hotel lobby. They really should have warned us, though...
Sunday 17 April
They really, really should. And were told so in the morning. The day the music died, it did so at around 02:45...
Nice hotel, super staff, rather average breakfast with particularly acute Sunday Bread Syndrome. Away at 08:25 for 08:37 to Stakčín, my last Slovak branch, done in style on an 861 though the WiFi wasn't working. An hour to wait at Stakčín, partly occupied by walking up to the village where the petrol station had a coffee machine (and beer, though it was too early even for me). There appears to be substantial timber traffic to keep the branch alive, and quite a few passengers on the return to Humenné. On the way back we passed 10:35 ex Humenné, which was a wheelie bin. Good call...
We alighted at H-mesto by way of a change and walked up to the pulsating heart of Humenné (this was Sunday in Slovakia, remember) where we were able to while away a pleasant hour or so on the 'terrace' (decking) of a pub, Mestská Piváren, in the main square, or rectangle. It sold Kozel and coffee, so that was fine. Back to the station in good time for a sandwich procurement visit to the adjacent Tesco before the 13:44 to Bratislava, hauled by 757 011. Our reserved seats turned out to be forward facing, shady and window side of an air con coach, which was a pretty good result.
Loco was changed to an unknown electric at Prešov and we continued to the trip highlight, as the train lurched to the right approaching Kysov and took the avoider to join the Kysov-Margecany-Žilina line. As the buffet car had gone on with the electric at Prešov, Kozel was taken to celebrate. We decamped at Spišská Nová Ves to await R 607 back to Košice. Seats had been reserved Humenné-SNV and SNV-Košice, and a very good thing too, this being Sunday afternoon.
Back to the Penzion Horse Inn for the night, with supper taken at Luxor as Golem was found to be closed on Sundays. Noses will be presses to the door at 11:00 tomorrow, but meanwhile both the beef goulash and the 12% at Luxor were excellent. They did seem quite anxious for the few punters remaining at 20:30 on Sunday to leave so that they could close, but that's Slovakia for you. In fairness it's a friendly place and well worth a visit.
Monday 18 April
A more leisurely start this morning with a breakfast every bit as unexceptional as Saturday's. Off to do a bit of sightseeing, or at least a look at St Elizabeth's Cathedral, which is seriously impressive, followed by a coffee and sachertorte at a café in hlavná. Coffee fine; disappointingly the least said about the factory-made sachertorte, the better. I'd always been under the stupid impression there was chocolate in such things. Silly me. Then to Golem, which appeared to be shut but wasn't. The 11% svetlé was absolutely excellent. The sandwich shop down the street made me a baguette without mayo, bless 'em, and Lidl at the station provided Zlatý Bažant fór the afternoon's ramblings.
Said ramblings commenced with 13:27 Poprad, an OS service but blessed with new a/c stock with mains sockets, USB sockets, seats opposite the windows and who knows what else.
With 40 minutes at Margecany we felt bound to locate a pub, which we did without difficulty. Turn left out of the station, 200 metres tops. Beer was Šariš, but there's always a snag...
Then the marathon 225 minúte haul to Banská Bystrica with a 757 and three terrible old coaches, one first class. A fine scenic line, and of course celebration required on regaining last month's route, to finish Slovakian passenger track other than the cross border line from Čierna nad Tisou to Čop.
The sun came out to join us for the last hour to Banská Bystrica, making for a pleasant walk from the station to Hotel Lux, a 1970s edifice of a fairly traditional kind but renovated and in the process of another one ('only between 08:00 and 17:00'). After luggage disposal we walked up the road, and indeed round the corner, to Perla, reputedly Slovakia's first new wave brew pub, opened in 1992. A gloomy place, thick with smoke and not too exceptional beer. Friendly non-English speaking staff but more importantly no food so after a half litre we returned to the hotel before it too hadn't any food (21:00) and had some supper.
Before bed I belatedly thought to check tomorrow's moleworks, only to find there was a block between Zvolen and Levice, affecting our train and one other. Further investigation revealed it wasn't too serious, looking like about a half hour delay. A bit of cursing sufficed.
Tuesday 19 April
Another pretty average breakfast, but we liked hotel Lux and their receptionist with her highly developed sense of humour! It goes on the 'would stay again list', with the Academic, through with all the track done it's unlikely to happen. A walk down to the station on a beautiful morning got us to the station in good time for R834, whence we were evicted at Nová Baňa fór a 10 km bus ride and a short wait for 240 132 to collect us at Hronský Beňedik. The total delay was about 28 minutes, and stayed that way to Bratislava, so no harm done.
It remained only to make our way by bus to Bratislavský meštiansky pivovar's second pub in Dunajská for some lunch (beer good, service good, food poor at least in my case), and then on to the airport for the usual two hour fester. Ryanair got us away a bit early - arrival time in Birmingham is yet to be seen as we're halfway there at the time of typing this. Well, you do need something to do on the flight!
Slightly early arrival at BHX (fanfare, applause) at least got us to the 19:04 ATW to Telford without any unseemly haste. Go-Carz did the rest.
So that was Slovakia. The fiddling about with getting Ukrainian money, being cross examined as to why we're only spending an hour there, etc., etc., didn't and doesn't seem worth it for the 4 km to the Ukraine border. So unless there's eventually a decision to do Hungary, which might make it more worthwhile getting into Ukraine, that's probably about it. Never say never, though, and if they were to reopen some more branch lines, or run trains round the Zvolen avoider, or... Meanwhile, what does the future hold? Watch this space!
All text and images © Media Software Services Ltd 2006-2016