This will be a long one. I normally pick and choose photos but I’m including almost all of the photos I took so my parents will see them. This post will be about a travel adventure but also a genealogy tracking for me and for my Dad as it’s his bloodline.
The first year in Italy we traveled to Sicily to the town and area my mother’s lineage hails from and finally last week I made the journey to Slovakia to the four villages I have tracked my father’s lineage to. This is as far back as I’ve been able to go but I am hoping at some point to reach further back to see how many generations they were in these villages and where they came from prior.
Wednesday I flew in to Krakow, Poland and picked up my rental car. A little mint green Fiat, could I stand out more? haha Oh well. My adventure began with the TomTom turning me aroundround but I eventually got on the highway heading to the Slovakian border. A tip for anyone heading this direction, take the alternate route not the toll roads. It might be an extra 30 minutes or so but it was an amazing ride through the hills and mountains. It was raining that day and the clouds were low on the mountains I ended up driving through. It was like a fairytale.
The entire 3 1/2 days was a visual fairytale land in fact. The sad truth though is there aren’t a lot of pull offs or even shoulders to pull over to take photos. So this post will be sorely lacking in landscape and scenery photos. I’m hoping I can return with my husband another time so I can take photos from the passenger seat and so he can experience it.
I stopped at a gas station to get a water and a few photos about half way into the mountains. Was hoping to get a photo of the border crossing into Slovakia but it was at an area with nowhere to stop really. With the bends in the road I was afraid to stop on the road for photos.
So, after three hours of driving through a dream I curved around and over farmland hills and through tiny towns and landed in Levoča where my hotel is situated. I chose this small town because it is in the middle of the four villages I would be traveling to over the next two days and it has its own charm and historic presence. In fact it is on the Unesco World Heritage list. A very cute area with a lot to see but I think it was during a very quiet off season as it was not overly crowded and the shops closed early to me. What is on season? I’m guessing winter is their biggest time as the ski resorts and lifts are close by. Also, there is a pilgrimage to the Catholic church on the hill every July 1. I linked the town site so check it out if you’re interested.
Inserting a map to give an idea of Krakow (the yellow stars in the top left of the map) to the red pointer where the hotel is If you can see Nowy Targ, that is the route I went towards Poprad. The yellow stars above and below the Red marker are the villages I would be visiting. Poprad and Presov to the East and West are larger towns I would go to for shopping for souvenirs and such. ( I will annotate a map further down for the surnames)
My first meal in Slovakia had to be pirohy. A favorite of mine and I thank my mother for sending me Grandma’s recipe. Definitely giving that a try now. If you’re not familiar, they are potato and cheese filled pockets and they are very Slovakian. Here they are filled with sheep’s milk cheese and potato. They were soft and absolutely beautiful. I also ordered a sheep’s milk soup and of course an Urpiner beer! I was in heaven.
The food was amazing and I’m still in sticker shock over the low prices in Slovakia. I never paid more than 10 euro for an entire meal including drinks at restaurants. 10 Euro is about 12 U.S. dollars.
Thursday morning I set out for Tichý Potok (I have linked to a site which goes into detail about the history of this village.) but when our ancestors were there it was Stel’bach. This was the birth place of Albert Paul Valkosak Sr. who is my dad’s grandfather.
After Tichý Potok I stopped in Prešov as it was just down the road 30 minutes. I found the shopping area and walked around a bit, grabbed lunch and decided it was still early enough so I’d make my way to Village #2, Gelnica. Albert’s father Mathias Valkossak born 1851 in Gelnica. This is a larger village and felt more tourist/outsider friendly so I parked and wandered around.
At this point it was late afternoon so I headed back to the hotel. I wanted to explore Levoča before things started closing down. The city center area was nice to wander around and had some interesting stories to it. One being the big cage that was used to publicly shame people who had done wrong. We should absolutely start this again. haha YES!
Friday morning I decided to head to Poprad first to do some shopping and lunch then off to the last two villages on my list. Poprad mall was good for my needs and the restaurant choices were great. I ended up at a wonderful spot with friendly staff and a beautiful decor.
I had to try some potato pancakes on this trip and this looked like the perfect time for it! So delicious, they are thin and crispy cakes that were very much like hashbrowns or tator tots and a chicken and beef stir fry kind of.
Heading off for the hills to Rudňany which is the birthplace of Helen Margetko in 1882 (dad’s paternal grandmother), her mother Katalin Stanislav(ova) 1853 and her grandfather Michael Stanislav date unknown. Then down the road to the very small village of Poráč which is down a dirt road and there is very little information for but is where Stephen Fiffick (dad’s maternal great grandfather) was born 1872.
Poráč and some views:
I didn’t feel comfortable going down the dirt road into this very small village and was completely fine with getting out of the car and walking on the dirt my ancestors walked on, getting a few pictures and returning to Rudňany where I stopped at the post office which was near the town sign for photos. I also drove to the church and stopped for photos and a look around. It’s a sweet little mining village tucked into a mountain side. I noticed the cemetery which had easy access and someone walking out of so I walked around looking at the tombstones. Quite a few Stanislavs but none dated prior to 1900 so there must have been an older plot somewhere. I was satisfied with what I found and decided to head back to the hotel.
Hopefully the map below shows decent representation.
The sun sticker is where I was staying.
Every time I left the hotel it was around an hour drive and that much to return or go to the next destination so you can imagine how much driving I did in those two days. It was rather exhausting and the entire time I was talking to myself exclaiming, “how beautiful!” and “isn’t that stunning!”. The scenery was just magical. With beautiful farmland of rich greens and bright yellows then rolling green tree lined and village inset hills and a backdrop of stunning dark green pine tree covered mountains. I am sad I couldn’t get photos to show how magnificent it was, even the photos I did get don’t do it justice.
Above shows my final Slovakian meal Friday night and a selfie I had to do for proof. haha. An amazing soup and sheep’s milk cheese dumplings and the ride out of town.
Saturday morning I checked out and drove to the gas station heading out of town towards Krakow, Poland. I arrived in Krakow around 12:00 pm and parked near what I had researched to be the best area to walk and see some of the city before I had to head to the airport. Just a few blocks from Wawel Royal Castle and the park along the river and to my great luck there was a Renaissance fair going on so I treated myself to some fun and a fantastic spicy lentil rustic Polish peirogi which you can see are quite different then Slovakian pirohy, in fact they are more like British/Scottish meat pasties and a cooling drink made of water, honey and raspberry puree. Yum!
I still had a couple of hours to kill so after checking the map I decided I could detour down to the Jewish quarter to pay my respects to the area for what they went through in WWII. It was a nice walk, a soulful journey I am super glad I took.
Then I was off to the airport and back home.
Prior to living in Italy we were in Japan and I worked part time for extra income to pay off our debts. That and the ease of traveling Europe during our time now in Italy has allowed me to take these trips to follow my roots and walk where my ancestors have, not all of the lines but quite a few so far. What an amazing few years it has been and a fantastic husband who never says no, we can’t afford that. We make it happen and we are still basically debt free (we will be again after paying off a wedding earlier this year).
The standouts and tips I would give if you plan to visit this area of Slovakia:
- Take the alternate routes, I didn’t take the toll roads and the scenic payoff was astounding, also it didn’t burn all that much more time to take the back roads, at most an extra 45 min to a 3 hour drive from Krakow.
- Prices are so low! I spent four days including a rental car, (3 nights) hotel and two meals a day where often I had more than one dish and a beer (or two hehe) and probably only spent $500 including some souvenirs and gas.
- Bring an umbrella or rain jacket and light layers, it was rainy and chilly then sunny and warm in those 4 days. I was happy I packed light but smart.
- This is not (that I saw) a party area. It’s more for outdoor rec (river rafting, fishing, ski slopes, hiking, bicycle routes, etc) and scenic drives, so if you are looking for a party maybe head to Bratislava.