These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.

Trek across Slovakia

 photo: Chris Togneri

On a chilly, rain-soaked day in July 2001, American expat David McLean stood among the Devín castle ruin outside Bratislava on the brink of an epic journey.

Some three months later, he shed his pack and sat down, triumphant and weary, at the country’s easternmost point, Kremenec. McLean had just completed the final leg of a 1,400 kilometre hike across the country.

“It’s been an amazing trip. But you know what? I am so happy I don’t have to walk anywhere tomorrow. Or the next day. Or until I feel like it again,” he said before taking a swig of celebratory slivovica (plum brandy).

“I’m tired. The last couple of weeks have been pretty grim at times and I’ve sort of lost the will to really push myself. In the beginning I could hike 35 kilometres in a day no problem. Now I’m just ready to finish,” he said.

McLean walked as far north as Orava, as far south as Štúrovo, and as far east as the 1,221 metre-high hill Kremenec, where the borders of Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine converge.

The final numbers: 1,420 kilometres tramped, 1,200 US dollars spent, 89 days on the road, three T-shirts, three pairs of socks and three sets of underwear lost or destroyed from use, and one battle with shin splints that threatened to prematurely end the hike.

“I thought I might have to give up in Bojnice [in western Slovakia], my shins were really hurting me. I had them treated with massage, ultra-sound and electrolyses, but when I started walking again, it still hurt. And then three days later, the problem miraculously cleared up,” he said.

With the hike behind him and a cold beer in front of him in the village Nová Sedlica, McLean conjured up some of the highlights and ‘low-lights’ from his long haul.

Biggest surprise: Cheap accommodation. “The most expensive place I stayed in the whole trip cost 22 bucks. I planned on spending a lot of nights in my tent, but in the end I didn’t have to because hotel rooms were so cheap.”

Friendliest locals: Spiš region. “The people there were very willing to just chat with me, they were quite friendly... certainly not like in southern Slovakia.”

Worst Meal: Gnocchi in Nové Zámky. “It was disgusting, not really edible. By far the worst meal of the trip.”

Best meal: Halušky in Humenné. “This girl I met, Zora, her mom made it from scratch and it was magnificent.”

Prettiest scene: North of Blatnice in the Turiec region. “There were rolling green hills with grazing sheep and cows by small villages. I’m partial to that kind of landscape as opposed to high mountains.”

Most memorable moment (good): Talking with some Roma kids outside Mníšek nad Hnilcom. “I took their picture with my digital camera and showed them the image on the camera’s viewing screen. They were amazed! I promised to send them five copies of the photo.”

Most memorable moment (bad): Vomiting at a host’s home. “In the village of Slovinky, I was invited to stay at this guy’s house, but I felt really sick. So I was sitting there while his mom yelled at him, I think for bringing a stranger home, and I just had to get up and go to the toilet while she was screaming because I felt so ill.”

Biggest disappointment: “Being stood up by Jana in Modra.” Jana worked in the western Slovak town’s tourist information centre and had promised to meet McLean at a wine bar. She did not show.

Having seen more of the country than most Slovaks and having talked with more locals than your standard ex-pat, McLean said that his Slovak trek had given him a better understanding of the country he first visited in 1992.

“One interesting thing I discovered is that there is an overriding identity with the rural side of the country. Slovakia is not just rural physically, but also in its mentality. And this rural mentality is maybe more powerful than any lingering communist mentality or the new western-influenced mentality.

“This is one thing which makes the country so attractive. But it’s not all positive. Perhaps it explains Slovakia’s apparent passive acceptance of things like corruption,” he said.

McLean now wants to write a book about his Slovak journey. But he won’t start right away. Instead, he says, it’s time to rest.

“I’m so tired. For the next two weeks, I am going to just lie around and relax. Tonight I get to sleep in my own flat in Prešov, in my own bed. And I can’t wait for tomorrow morning - I’ll make coffee. Then I’ll just think about how I have absolutely nowhere to go.”

Fact File:
David Lee McLean
Born: 24 March 1964, in Granite City, Illinois, USA
Occupation: Writer
First visited Slovakia: 1992
Has lived in Slovakia: since July 2000
Favourite Slovak food: držková polievka (tripe soup)
Future Plans: “Finish book about the walk, sell it, and just keep writing. Perhaps another walk through another country in a few years.”

Chris Togneri

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2002.

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