When we woke up this morning we were relieved to see that the light coming through the bedroom window looked a bit brighter than it had on the previous two days. Sure enough, when we stepped outside the apartment we were greeted by a brilliant blue sky
Our plan for today was to visit Spišský hrad (Spiš castle) but the train we needed wasn't until 10.42, so we were able to have a leisurely stroll around the suburb of Poprad where we are staying first.
And best of all, as we headed off in the direction of the main train station we were finally able to get a view of the mountains behind us
From the train station itself there was an even better view.
I had seen pictures of Spiš castle on the internet and it looked like an absolutely amazing place, but a little bit difficult to get to. The castle is located on a hill above the town of Spišské Podhradie, but Spišské Podhradie doesn't have a rail service. The guidebook said implied that there were numerous buses directly from Poprad to Spišské Podhradie, but when I looked at bus timetables online I could only find a couple of buses a day, none of which seemed to be at appropriate times for a day trip. After a lot of research, I decided to easiest way to get there would be to take a regional train to the town of Spišská Nová Ves and a bus from there.
The train ticket to Spišská Nová Ves cost us a mere €1.50 each and the journey took around half an hour. Spišská Nová Ves is supposed to be a pretty town to visit in its own right, but we didn't have time to explore because we were on a mission to find the bus station, on time for our bus at 11.40. Luckily the bus station isn't too far from the train station so that part of the journey didn't take long. What did take a while was trying to locate the correct bus stop within the bus station! There were about twenty different bus stops, all with different timetables plastered on them and little signs indicating the destinations they served. We walked round about half of them, peering at the signs, until we discovered the stop for Spišské Podhradie was the one that had a queue of people at it. I guess we should have tried that one first!
The bus arrived promptly and the fare turned out to be a mere €1.70 each. Spišské Podhradie was the terminus station, so we were able to relax and not worry about keeping track of where we were. The bus driver drove at a tremendous speed down winding country roads, stopping every now and again to let a couple of people on and off in tiny villages. It was around 12.20 when we eventually arrived in the main square of Spišské Podhradie.
Spišské Podhradie might not seem like a very catchy name, but "pod" means "under" and "hrad" means "castle", while Spiš is the historical name for the region. The Spiš towns were originally part of the Kingdom of Hungary, then pawned to Poland by one of the Hungarian kings in 1412 to finance a war against Venice. The Hungarians struggled to repay the debt, with the result that the area belonged to Poland for 360 years, until it was annexed by Austria in 1772 and finally became part of Czechoslovakia in 1918. As we walked across the main square we got our first glimpse of Spiš castle and it was clear why the village had got its name.
The castle looked fantastic. It also looked quite a long way away!
Reports I'd read had been conflicting about how long it would take to walk from the village to the castle. The guidebook said 45 minutes, some websites suggested an hour, something I read on Tripadvisor sounded like it had taken some people several hours to get up. I needn't have been worried that it wouldn't have been obvious which direction to walk in, in any case.
We started the uphill trek, soon leaving the village far behind us.
The path was quite steep but it was worth it for the views we had as we got nearer to the castle.
There were also some lovely views of the surrounding countryside as we got higher.
It costs €6 to get in to the castle which is more than we paid earlier in the week in Trenčín, but this castle is definitely more impressive.
The castle was originally built in 12th century and was owned by the kings of Hungary for some time.
It burned down in unknown circumstances in 1780 and has remained a ruin every since.
Of course, there has been some restoration work done to make sure that the walls aren't about to fall down and to create paths for the tourists to walk on. You do have to be careful in some places though because the stones used for the paths are quite shiny and would definitely be slippery on a rainy day.
We explored the upper part of the castle first and had some fantastic views back down to the lower walls.
The higher you got the more you could appreciate the enormous scale of the castle.
It's possible to climb the tower, which you can make out in the centre of the castle here.
We decided to give it a go, although I'm not sure I would have done if I'd seen the staircases in advance!
As you can see from the photos (taken on the way down) they were extremely narrow. Luckily each staircase is relatively short and so people were waiting at the bottom for others to come down before making their own way to the top, meaning that at least no one was trying to pass anyone on the stairs.
The views from the top were definitely worth it though; both of the castle...
...and of the countryside.
Having made it down in one piece, it was time to explore the lower walls of the castle.
You can walk around a lot of the walls...
...which gives you some great views back up towards the castle.
After a couple of hours of walking around it was time to head back down...
...periodically turning round, of course, for more castle views
Ahead of us we could now see not only the village of Spišské Podhradie which we had come from this morning, but also the little village of Spišská Kapitula (slightly higher on the hill with the two spires).
We had some spare time before our bus home, so we decided to walk towards it.
Spišská Kapitula is a tiny medieval village.
The village is centred around the cathedral of St Martin, which is the head of the diocese of Spiš.
The guidebook had said that Spišská Kapitula was only a ten minute walk away from Spišské Podhradie. This is true, but what it had neglected to mention was that it was 10 minutes uphill, and uphill wasn't what we particularly felt like doing after our climb to the castle! The bonus though was that we did have some more great views of the castle from the main street.
We headed back to the main village square to try and catch a bus back to Poprad. The directions I'd written down from the internet suggested that there was going to be one at 15.45, but a bus (that wasn't mentioned on any of the timetables!) turned up at 15.30 with a "Poprad" sign on the front so we decided to jump onto that instead. The tickets cost us €2.50, but this one took us all the way back to the main bus station in Poprad without having travel via Spišská Nová Ves. Perhaps there are more buses in this part of the world than the internet lets on!
It was a dry evening when we got back to Poprad so we decided to have another stroll around the town centre. It looked better when it wasn't quite so wet
We stopped for refreshments, but Tim wasn't terribly happy with the size of the head on his beer
Before we went back to the apartment, we wanted to see another "Spiš" town - Spišská Sobota.
Spišská Sobota is technically a suburb of Poprad, but it used to be a medieval town in its own right.
If the guidebook hadn't mentioned it then there would be no way of knowing that it exists, because there are zero signs pointing to it from the centre of Poprad. It's only a ten or fifteen minute walk though once you figure out which direction it is, and there are some really beautiful buildings.
These ones looked like they might be the oldest.
The most impressive building is the church of St George.
Particularly the bell tower, which looks like it might be more at home in Italy rather than the middle of Slovakia.
The entire village was really pretty and definitely worth a visit.
We headed back to the apartment after that and in search of some food. We've had a brilliant day today and Spiš castle is absolutely stunning. I have a feeling that this won't be the last holiday we plan to Slovakia