Slovakia has an impressive range of what it likes to call 'technical monuments'. The curious thing about many of them is just how recently they were in use. The gápeľ in Solivar (Prešov Region), for instance, was using real horsepower until 1908. The use of horses in an industrial application this late after reliable steam, and even internal combustion, engines were available elsewhere is a powerful illustration of just how undeveloped some parts of Slovakia remained until well into the twentieth century.
While life in Slovakia could be extremely hard work, it had its charms. One of the best places to experience them is at another surprisingly youthful technical monument: the water mill in Tomášikovo.
Tomášikovo is a small village a few kilometres south of Galanta. A kilometre beyond the village is the Malý Dunaj, a slow-moving branch of the Danube.
There are signs to the mill from the village, but some are small and hand-painted, so you will need your wits about you if you are not to end up on a minor Slovak safari down rutted tracks. The area is a maze of streams and canals which separate and re-join to form a delta-like landscape with the odd house or fishing hut appearing amid copses of trees.
The mill is in an idyllic spot. Now a branch of the Homeland Museum in Galanta, it is manned by a friendly chap whose main occupation seems to be fishing from the bridge connecting the mill to the bank.
Upon payment of the small entrance fee, he explains (in Slovak) some of the mill's history. The wooden structure was built in 1893 to mill flour, harnessing the power of the stream to turn a traditional millstone. A series of pulleys, belts and conveyors sifted the milled wheat into separate grades and bagged it.
The mill operated until 1952, when the property was nationalised. After falling into disrepair it was restored and maintained by the extraordinary efforts of a local enthusiast, Ján Maticza. Maticza died, aged 87, in 2007 but the fruits of his labour can still be enjoyed.
The mill wheel is now turned by an electric motor, which is switched on for a few revolutions for visitors. The Malý Dunaj, not exactly a raging torrent at the best of the times, was once dammed to divert the flow and power the wheel: the stream now largely bypasses it.
Surprisingly, considering the size of the wheel and the late date of its construction, none of the mechanism appears to employ ball bearings or any other modern industrial technology. Instead the main wheel's axle merely rests (and turns) on a large block of greased wood.
If the weather is good, the mill makes a great spot for a picnic - there is a wooden table and benches under the trees on the bank - or to camp; or even, with some local know-how from the mill attendant, to fish.