BootsnAll Travel Network

Košice: Ghost Town

From Eger, Bec and I planned to head north, across the Slovakian border, and to the city of Košice. Unsure whether to get a train or a bus, we sussed out the options for both. We tracked down a train time table at the tourist information centre, but none of the departure times were particularly suitable, and each inolved a couple of transfers over what should have only been a four hour journey. At the bus station, we wrote down ´Košice´ and the next days date on a scrap of paper, and showed it to the Hungarian speaking attendant. She shook her head, ´No Košice. Miskolc.´

Miskolc was a city only an hour away from Eger, on the way to the border. So we figured we could simply get a bus to Miskolc, and, given that it was a much larger place and close to the Slovakian border, then buy a ticket for a connecting bus that would take us across the border and onto Košice. Not always that easy though, is it?

Our 10am bus from Eger to Miskolc took us through the dreary looking back country of Hungary, and stopped at every little park bench and shelter that sat beside the small road. Despite the drab scenery, it was quite enthralling passing through small, seemingly rundown old communist towns, and overtaking numerous grey-haired men riding down the flat main streets on horse drawn carts. With all the stops to pick up and drop off passengers, our expected one hour trip took just over two. Arriving at the bustling Miskolc bus station with no information, other than knowing we wanted to get to Kosice in Slovakia, we found a ticket booth, and spoke to a friendly man, one of the first since leaving Budapest who spoke English. I held up the scrap of paper with Košice written on it.

“No bus.” He replied, with an apologetic frown and shake of the head.

“No bus. None at all?”

“No bus. You must take train.”

Stupid bus. “Where is the train station?” I asked.

The helpful man stepped from his ticket booth and pointed, “Bus number one, from green building.”

“Koszonom,” we thanked him, and began walking in the direction he´d pointed. It was about then that I realised I hadn´t actually heard much of what he´d said, I was so focussed on following the direction of his outstretched hand.

“Did he say that train station is in that green building?” I asked Bec.

“Uh, maybe, but what was that about the number one bus?”

“The what now? Shit, oh well, lets just head over and see what we can find, eh?”

Out the front of the green building was a bus stop, which did indeed have bus number one listed. We found a magazine stand nearby and bought ourselves a ticket after contemplating for just the briefest second riding without one. 10 minutes later, and our bus pulled up and we jumped on board. Of course, we had absolutely no idea how far away the train station might be, or if we´d even recognise when to get off. But somehow, I think we both sort of knew that we´d be ok, things always seem to work out for us. And you know what, they did. Of course they did. Five minutes of nervously watching out the front window of the bus, and we saw what was unmistakably the train station; a long red building with undesirables lingering round the entrance. And there were the train tracks, and the trains, they sort of gave it away too. (Can´t get anything past these nifty eyes)

We soon learned we had a 3 hour wait for the train, but went to buy our tickets straight away anyway. I approached a ticket window, and held up my now well worn, but still trusty scarp of paper bearing our hopeful destination. The lady behind the counter shook her head, and nodded towards the booth next to her, the Internationl Ticket window, I learned when I craned my neck back to read the sign. The other sign I took note of was the one in front of the window, Closed. Hmmm, ok then. Bec and I waited for abou 15 minutes, but no-one came to take our money. It wasn´t until about an hour later that someone appeeared and we had our tickets.

Our departure time rolled around and we jumped on the train. Soon the ticket inspector came and I proudly produced our tickets and showed him. He looked at the tickets, a little puzzled. He looked at Bec, ´English?´ She nodded, and he rolled his eyes and turned his back. He began speaking quickly in Hungarian to no-one in particular, before the woman opposite us responded. They exchanged words and then she leant forward to speak to us. She was a largish lady, perhaps in her late 30´s, and was a dead ringer for Kathy Bates when she was in Misery with James Caan, in very limited English, but eager to help us out, she conveyed that we needed to be in one of the front two train carriages, that this particular carriage would be left at the border. Had she not been there, I hate to think what would have happened. I can see it clearly, most people would´ve gotten off, and the train would´ve began moving back the way it had come, “ah, this old trick” I would´ve said, “I´m not falling for that one again”, then an hour later we would´ve arrived back at Miskolc, and I would´ve felt like a right wanker.

But we eventually made it to Košice, and our planned 2 nights there turned into 3. We simply couldn´t leave the place – not because it was amazingly beautiful or had a plethora of activities to keep us occupied, we just couldn´t leave. We arrived on a Friday night, when the city had a bit of a bustle to it; the pretty main street was filled with people, shoppers, buskers, and widened out along its length to accomodate a grand old church. We strolled around Saturday morning to a similar beat, but at 1pm, everything shut and the people disappeared. Sunday was a similar story, hardly a single thing was open, and the place was like a ghost town, trains and buses out of town were extremely limited, and so we decided to kill a day reading and writing.

This was as far East as we planned to come on our travels, and it showed. When we spoke to each other in the street, our English words would draw looks from passers by. No-one here spoke English, and outside of the main street, the city looked I guess how you would expect a rundown old communist city to look. Capitalism doesn´t look to have taken such a straglehold here, save for the McDonalds near the bus station; dusty looking old trams rattle through the streets and ugly identical looking apartment buildings cover the surrounding hills. In the main street, next to the domineering church, was an enthusiastic modern fountain, lit at night by colourful lights, and dancing to a continuous soundtrack blasting from speakers hidden in the bushes. Unfortunately, the soundtrack of choice was limited to just a few songs, horrible instrumental versions of songs using just one instrument; a sound like that of a synthesiser or a clarinet or a saxophone, or perhaps all three rolled into one (forgive my complete lack of a musical ear, the only thing I can play are the drums, so I desereve a little slack), versions of George Michael’s ‘Are we never gonna dance again’ and some horrible Christmas song that Bec knew the words to. It seemed an effectively brilliant ploy to keep the tourists at bay.

The lack of English in the town hit our collective senses like a freight train on our second night in town. The first night, we had played it safe and gone to a restaurant listed in our guidebook and which we knew had an international menu. The second night we felt a little more adventurous, found a local restautant off the main street, and were handed menus listed totally in Slovakian. I found myself agonising over which dish to choose – a totally senseless process, given I had no possible way of distinguishing between them. We ordered one entree to share, “I’m not so worried about the mains for some reason, it’s the entree that scares me,” Bec said, even though we had skipped on the single item on the menu in English, ‘cow balls’. I don’t even want to know what that was. But as Bec finished speaking, the waitress bought us a plate each of ham, chesse, tomato, and cucumber. Phew, dodged a bullet there.

Our mains were equally tasty, mine a beef goulash with dumplings, and Bec’s consisting of dumplings, sourkraut, and two forms of meat products we believe were related to the pig. But it all tasted good, and we’re still alive.

I´m sure that, much like we did in Budapest, we will have times where we hang out with other travellers, doing the things backpackers do, so it was a welcome few days in boring old Košice, days I will certainly not regret.

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One Response to “Košice: Ghost Town”

  1. Ruffin Says:

    I have visited Slovakia many times during 2006, because of business, so I know the country fairly well.nrnrFirst of all there is not much to see, apart from the old centre of Bratislava (you can see that in 1 hour); in any case is nothing compared to Prague or Budapest. The other cities (Kosice, Nitra, Zilina etc). are rather gloomy.nrnrPeople in general tend to be very cold, and in some cases even rude. They are not bad, they just don’t know how to be friendly.nrnrOf course a lot of people have nice experiences in Slovakia and they will say how excellent the country is; normally they like Slovakia because food and beer in general are very cheap, and girls usually are very good looking.nrnrHowever the main problem has always been, at least for me, driving around with a foreign plate number: no matter what, the police was always stopping me and here I give some examples:nrnr- near the border with Hungary (just around Bratislava, the capital) I had to pay about 50 euros to (JOSEP VASKO, number 10098)nrnr- inside the parking lot of a big supermarket (in Bratislava) I was chased and stopped to have an alcohol test (at 2 PM) and because my test was negative the 2 cops (number 11125 and 11920) wanted to fine me because I had no seat belt (the parking inside a supermarket!!!!).nrnr- near a roundabout (in Nitra) I was stopped because, according to the police, I did not have the indicator on time. They asked me: ” get inside our car because it is raining”????. When I refused and told them we could go together to the police station, they warned me and decided to let me go.nrnrI could go on and on, but these are some examples just to give you an idea. Of course corruption is very common in Eastern Europe, but in Slovakia for me it was like a nightmare, since they stopped me so many

  2. Ruffin Says:

    I have received many messages saying that the name Vasko does not exist or is not from Slovakia.

    JOSEP VASKO (number 10098) does exist; is a corrupted cop working in Slovakia on the border with Hungary.

    Vasko (or Wasko) is a real surname from Slovakia (there is even a village with such a name).

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