CASTLES AND MORE CASTLES

My cousin and I had exchanged E-mail for several months prior to my visiting him in June of 1995. Things had happened so fast by using Internet. I had so little time to learn about Slovakia. Most of my time prior to my visit had been spent getting things ready to go. There was an urgency within me to go to Slovakia. Once I knew I had relatives living there, I was compelled to visit them. I wanted to find out what their condition was and something more. Up to that time, these people were names, dates, towns and images on a few pictures they had sent me, but until I touched them I wouldn't be satisfied.

Lubomir lived in Piestany and drove his Skoda to Schwechat airport in Vienna to pick my wife, Evelyn, and I up. It had been a long journey for me, not just eleven and a half hours of air time from O'Hare airport in Chicago, but twenty three years since I began my family genealogy in 1972. My cousin and I had spent several months writing mail to one another. Now I was here, only moments away from meeting my cousin. "What was I doing here?", I kept thinking. I am a complete novice about Slovakia, hell this was my first flight on a plane. I must be crazy for doing this. Lubomir Tuchscher, I kept thinking and I had his photograph in my pocket to help me recognize him in the crowd waiting for passengers. When we left the terminal, there were the many people waiting for passengers and above this group was this bouqet of bright red flowers. For holding onto those flowers was my cousin. He didn't want us to miss him and upon meeting him he handed the flowers to my wife and then kissed me on both cheeks. Even this sign of affection was unexpected by me. I would have figured Eve would have been kissed and I would have a hand shake. Then I noticed something about Lubo's eyes, there were tears flowing down from them. He kept looking away from us as he took our heaviest bag and bounded off for his car. Slowly, I began learning about my cousin. This first lesson showed me just how sincere he was at finally meeting us and of his ability to express his feelings.

Another lesson was coming, I had written to Lubo of my desire to visit some castles in Slovakia. That I had never seen a castle before and if I knew anything about Slovakia, it was on an old map that I saw all these symbols for castles dotting the mountain ranges there. Little did I know that when I asked something of my cousin to what degree he would make sure my request was answered.

During the same time that I was writing with Lubo, I also wrote to Maria Durisova of the Institute of Experimental Pharmacology, Slovak Academy of Sciences in Bratislava. I shared with Maria my inner desire to see castles also and she suggested arranging a short stay at Smolenice hrad (castle), which is used by the Academy for conferences. Smolenice lies within the lower Southeastern slopes of the Male Karpaty mountains, a short distance North of Bratislava. Though not a true Medieval castle, it is of modern construction completed after World War II. Maria made all the arrangements for our stay there and mailed to me the reservation sheet to present at the castle.

The first castle I saw was Austrian, that being the ruins of castle Hainburg sitting atop a small hill above the city of the same name. It wasn't much to look at, but it was the first. As we left Hainburg, I saw some of the ruins of Devin hrad across the Danube river as we made our way to the border crossing of Slovakia just outside of Bratislava and South of the Danube. Then Bratislava hrad came into view rising above the 'old city' section of the capital. We spent the next two days staying with relatives in Kralova pri Senci, a small town about 15 miles East of Bratislava. Then with great excitement it was time to check into our room at Smolenice.

From Kralova my cousin drove us across the plains East of Bratislava till we followed along the Southeastern slopes of the Male Karpity mountains making our way to Smolenice hrad and town. Some miles before arriving, Lubo excitedly blurted out, "Smolenice" and pointed to the mountains before us. There it was, so large looming above it's surroundings with it's massive square tower jetting above the castle walls. I could hardly believe that things were going so well for our visit. One thing after another was just perfect. Placing my trust in my cousins and friend in Slovakia was one of the best things I had ever done. Now my cousin was reacting with as much enthusiasm as I with staying at Smolence castle. Here I was learning to what degree my happiness was shared by my cousin Lubo and all my other cousins and friends I was making in Slovakia. Like a treasure that had been waiting for me to discover, they were sharing it with me during my visit.

We entered the castle through it's maingate and were met by the gatekeeper. After showing him our reservation we checked in at the managers office and proceeded to our room. Our room turned out to be a suite located within the castle walls off the maingate. Three large rooms and a fully equiped kitchen. We spent twenty four hours at the castle, walking along it's marble and limestone halls and strolling through it's courtyard and grounds, time seemed to stand still. The assistant manager opened up the tower for us and we climbed the stairs to the top. The view from the top of the tower was breathtaking, giving unobstructed views of the mountains above us, the town of Smolence below us and to the valley to the East stretching it's way before us to the mountains beyond. After taking several panaramic pictures from the tower we descended down to enjoy a feast in the main dinning room. That evening, as the sun set below the mountains, we lounged on the large castle terrace. It was one of those moments in life that you never forget.

After our stay at Smolenice hrad we stayed two days with our cousins family in Piestany before setting off on what I call our "castles day". Lubo had remembered my request to see castles.

The day began with Lubo handing me binoculars and lead me to his balcany. Pointing off to the Northeast upon the Povazsky Inovec mountain range was the ruins of Tematin hrad. Lubo said that is one.

Cachtice Hrad as featured in Dragonheart

Dragonheart is a don't miss flick now available in DVD format to view with your DVD drive as well as video tape format

Driving Northwest back towards the Male Karpaty mountains, we stopped at a magazine stand in the town of Cachtice. These small magazine stands were often found in the heart of many towns we passed through during our visit. Though similar to ones in America, they carried a wider variety of items. They were more like a miniature general store. I always asked for postcards at these stands to mail to relatives back in the States, but also I wanted to add them to my photo album I would make with the pictures I was taking. Here I purchased the map and booklet of the Castles of Slovakia. The map is a 1:750,000 scale of Slovakia showing the location of castles. The booklet has a card with 115 castle names and place for a stamp for each. When you have all 115 stamps you can return this card for a castle badge of Slovakia.

We walked up the old tree lined road to Cachtice hrad which became visible only upon nearing the crest. A large white stone wall loomed before us, with an entranceway cut in the lower right corner. Now in ruins, the castle was once the residence of Elizabeth Bathory, known as The Blood Countess. Consumed by her obession to remain young and convinced that the blood of young women would keep her youth, The Blood Countess killed many young girls to bath in their blood. Known as the greatest mass murderer of Slovakia, she was eventually confined within Cachtice hrad to perish and end her lust for blood. We walked in the courtyard and imagined the time before the castle was burned down. Only recently had we again seen this castle in the movie Dragonheart by Universal Pictures starring Dennis Quaid. The very opening scene was of Cachtice's front wall. Below the castle to the West is the town of Visnove. My cousin Lubo said this is two.

From Cachtice we drove through the city of Nove Mesto nad Vahom and crossed the Vah river to arrive at Beckov hrad. Rising above the town on a white stone outcropping, the castle dominates it's surroundings.

Work was continuing to restore the old castle. Some rooms are finished to house a museum of artifacts. Standing below the castle, under it's imposing wall of natural stone then it's own walls above that, it presented an awesome sight. This being castle number three.

We continued our journey to eventually see eight castles that day. Arriving at the town of Podhradie to the East of the city of Martin. Here my cousin, Milan Roka, loaned us the use of his cabin below the Velka Fatra mountain range. After Beckov came Trencin hrad, Povazsky hrad, Sulovsky hrad, Strecno hrad pictured below, and Stary hrad. We didn't have time to visit them all. I wouldn't say I was castled-out, but I sure was tired at the end of this day.

We would see more castles before leaving Slovakia and often I was given the choice of seeing more castles or going to visit more relatives. I choose to visit relatives. More and more I was careful about what I asked of my cousin. Not like so many cousins or friends I have in America, these Slovaks were most serious when it came to keeping promises. During my "Castles day" I must have used up three rolls of film. Most of the pictures were taken by my cousin, who took an obvious liking to my 35 mm automatic camera. When we said and kissed our goodbyes at the airport, I just took the camera off my neck and gave it to him. The gift he gave me far outweighed the value of that camera.

06 June 1996
Gilbert Geras gilvo@interaccess.com

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