Earlier this October I was able to travel with my husband to the Košice Peace Marathon, the oldest marathon in Europe. Inspired by the marathon at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, a Košice native returned home to organize a marathon run by 8 men. Today, over 10,000 people take part in the event with runs of various lengths, as well as inline skating and wheelchair/handbike disciplines.
We arrived on late Saturday afternoon, the city center abuzz. Tents set up displayed and/or sold various wares, the streets were lined with barrier fences, and the streets were busy with athletes, their supporters, and spectators. Small packs of Roma children ran through the crowd. By evening, more people were walking the main roads and the youth of Košice weren’t about to miss out, making me feel like an old stogy parent (some of them just looked so young to be roaming the night streets).
After getting settled in and a quick run for my husband, we headed to the unmissable attraction in the centre: Dóm svätej Alžbety. The St. Elizabeth Cathedral is the largest place of worship in Slovakia and the eastrenmost Gothic cathedral in Europe. The setting sun set the upper reaches aglow, an immovable solidity towering over the rushing ants below. Inside, the bare walls and column rise in typical Gothic fashion, which I much prefer over the ostentatious Baroque. After Mass, I only managed to snap a few photos with my phone, but of note is the youngest alter made of bullets and helmets to commemorate victims of WWI.
I got up early in the morning to prowl around the city in the morning light. Just down the street from our pension I was surprised to hear loud voices and a fist thumping a table. “Open to around 6 am” proclaimed a chalkboard sign outside a small bar. It was 6:15. On the same square, another bar was still open, orange lights glowing in the still dark morning. The occupants of this bar, “Hospitality at Lenka’s”, were more refined, one shaking the hands of others as he left.
In the centre, preparations for the marathon were already underway. First aid tents popped up, cameramen prepped their equipment, somebody ziptied together barrier fences. The fences weren’t here a few years ago, my husband told me, until the bomb at the Boston marathon. Despite the marathon activity, early churchgoers still poured out of the cathedral after Mass.
All too soon it was time to head back to eat. As I made my way back, the first sellers were setting up in the market square (the same as the bars). One lady laid out fresh mushrooms, a man tied together rose hips for decorations. The church spires, of which Košice has many, were glowing as I ran back. The ‘panalaky’, communist-era apartment buildings, were glowing too.
Before the race we had to put my husbands’ gear in the city swimming centre, set up for runners to put their stuff in lockers and have showers. The streets were swarming with people – runners jogging to warm up, spectators heading to find a good watching spot. One runner spotted my camera and asked me to take a picture to send by email.
Laughter is, of course, the best way to get ready for anything.
The race started, first the disciplines with wheels, then the runners, with lively Vivaldi blaring from the speakers (which had ended by the time I got this video).
After the first wave of people, I had a map and was going to go to another spot to see if I could see my husband pass by. But I got totally confused at which way the marathon was running and which side I should go to. So I took a little wander.
In front of the museum was a stage for performers. It was an poorly planned spot, as there was no room in front of the stage for anybody to watch. Of what I saw, first a folk group performed, spurs jingling, and then a drum group.
A young lady pairs her old fashioned dress and violin with a Metallica jacket.
My husband was running the half-marathon, so I headed down the main thoroughfare hoping to see him as he passed and then meet him at the end.
My husband says the best part of the marathon is that the last kilometer or so is lined with people watching, clapping, and encouraging runners to pull through the last bit. Somehow, even though I stayed put, I missed him yet again, and so I belatedly made my way to the end of the race to find him.
Evidence of a marathon – lots of bananas, plastic coverings, and some water and beer.
Not all of the race takes place in among beautiful historic buildings. We headed back to the swimming centre, in front of which marathoners were still running. I’m sure the designer of the communist-era building wouldn’t consider it ironic that their work is plastered in advertisements.
And with that ended our time in Košice. I didn’t have time to explore much of the city, but I’m looking forward to going back to learn more about a place that was at the crossroads of so many cultures.