Shannon Wolf | December 23, 2015 9:00 PM ET
Tramprennen Part 2: Poland to Hungary via Slovakia
PHOTO: Slovakia is typically off the travel radar but this hidden gem should not be missed!
Four rides, 345 kilometers (215 miles) and sometimes veering off course can still land you first.
We had woken up in the early chill of Krakow’s morning mist.
Layering up in everything we owned, we methodically packed our belongings without having to speak a word to each other. If you are any sort of caffeine/nicotine addict, here is where you would give a standing ovation in honor of our non-morning people/no-caffeine efforts.
But we did it, each and every time — somehow managing to drag our next-to-lifeless bodies out of our one-man tent, getting packed and ready to go in less than 15 minutes. We carried our backpacks in silence as our minds woke up.
Then as our energy picked up, we could put forth the moxie required to catch our first ride of the day.
It was by our second ride that we truly lucked out as we passed through Slovakia on the way to our second stage in Tiszafured, Hungary. A man in his late 40s who didn’t speak much English picked us up. But we didn’t let the language barrier hinder our conversation.
We found out he was born and raised in beautiful Slovakia, he loved his country and I told him how it had been a dream of mine to see the mountains there. This led to a completely unexpected in-depth look at the nation, courtesy of the friendly driver.
We spent over six hours driving with him where he went out of his way to take us on a scenic tour around the picturesque mountains, castles and a famous bridge.
He even took us for a traditional Slovakian meal consisting of their famously rich and mouthwatering sheep cheese dumplings, sheep cheese potatoes and an array of meats accompanied by an ice-cold pint of beer at a local restaurant in the hills.
PHOTO: Our driver taking us for a traditional Slovakian meal and beer worth every calorie.
When we stopped for photographs of the mountains, I felt that familiar surge of euphoria as I had sitting atop of Jungfrau mountain three years prior. It left me breathless and reminded me of how happy you can be — feeling utterly free, encompassed by nature.
By the time night fell, we managed to catch the last ride to our meeting point in Tiszafured: A camping spot (aka: empty lot) basically in the middle of nowhere. Jonathan and I could only assume after our unplanned, long day that many teams had passed us, but as we pulled up around 8:30 p.m., we were flabbergasted to see that we were the only team there.
We looked at each other and the driver in disbelief, grinning from ear to ear and jumping out of the car with joy. “WE DID IT! WE’RE FIRST!” we shouted in the darkness.
After waving goodbye to our lift, we dragged our bags over to the only spot illuminated by a single street lamp on the eerily quiet dirt road. We sat there for hours on our makeshift sleeping mat, waiting for the others to arrive.
Susu and his teammate were second to pull up, piling out of a beat-up white car. Their driver hung out the window in a clearly inebriated state, still holding a beer as smoke billowed out of the windows. We cheered and hugged them as they exited, and they whispered how happy they were to arrive alive after the crazy drive.
By the time everyone had reached the second stage, it was past midnight and we collectively decided to set up camp at the first spot available. Minutes down the road, we found an area surrounded by pine trees and a picnic table near the lake.
We crawled into our tents, falling asleep as fast as we had put them up in pure exhaustion.
In the morning, even before our instant coffee, we had ran to the river, swimming in the calm waters and our afternoon was left to relax, sprawling across hammocks, drinking crates of beers and having a communal dinner the length of five picnic tables.
PHOTO: Norah and the crew hanging out after a long day of hitchhiking to Hungary.
In the short while of knowing each other, we had somehow created a strong bond, feeling as though we had known each other for ages. And as I swung back and forth in the hammock I shared with my new friend Alex, I couldn’t help but smile every time I looked around, seeing how happy everyone was in its simplicity.
Really, what more do you need?
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