The “Lazy” of Central Slovakia
Last fall our family went for a weekend to a chata, a cottage, in the middle of Slovakia. It was amazingly gorgeous: rolling hills with swaths of meadows, brilliant fall colours and bell ringing herds.
In most of Slovakia, houses are clustered together surrounded by fields. When she was a child, my mother-in-law had to walk 3 km to the family’s field. In some parts of central Slovakia however, family farms are spread out, sometimes solitary, sometimes in a group of two or three houses. These solitary farms in the hills are called lazy (la-zee), although other dialects have their own names.
The chata we went to was a lazy, about 3 km outside of the nearest town, a hamlet called Ďubákovo in the Poltár District. At the end of the road, the small village boasts 85 residents and a large sheep farm. Following faint lines through meadows and turning at a pine tree of a certain shape, we came down the other side of the hills to the cottage, flanked on two sides by barn/outbuildings.
This area was once full of people living in small self-sufficient farms. Life was hard, and when communists took away family cows to join the collective farm, it was harder to be self-sufficient. Thus began the bleed to larger urban areas for work. Once homes, these building have become empty weekend getaways.
The cottage, as many homes once were, had two rooms, a kitchen/eating room and an ‘everything else’. The stove is far from airtight, but cozy to cuddle up to. Even with a small rocket stove in the other room, being the end of October it took a whole day of fires to take off our jackets. I slept next to the rocket stove and set an alarm for every couple hours to feed the fire.
I got up early Saturday morning to catch the sunrise. After a glimpse of the sun, in rolled the clouds and fog thicker than ever.
By afternoon the fog burned off, and we took a walk to the west of the cottage.
Looking back eastish, you can see a few roofs tucked in the trees. Our cottage is at the left side of the field near the top of the hill, and there are three houses in close proximity. As my family’s nearest neighbour while I was growing up was a least 1.5 km away, this hardly seems completely isolated.
Can you see the buildings? Ours is the red roof peaking from the trees on the right. As I walked, I couldn’t help imagining what this would have been like when people were living here. Far from the village, it is true, but not far from being able to borrow the characteristic cup of flour from a neighbour. At the height of residence, there was even a school. Especially in the winter, when there was less farm work, did they get together to strip feathers or embroider? Did they gather to play music and celebrate?
In the late afternoon we picked the apples behind the cottage. The most efficient way to pick is for an uncle to climb the tree and shake all the apples down. In the golden light, my oldest said this was the best part of the trip.
The next morning I got up early again, and this time knew where I wanted to explore. I went back where we had walked the day before, west. I wish my photography (and post-processing) skills were better so that I could really capture what it was like.
The day before we had met a man bringing his elderly mother to the cemetery. As it was the last days of October, people were already coming to decorate graves according to the tradition of All Saints’ Day (read about the Nov. 1 tradition). A small chapel was tucked in among some evergreen trees; the dark brooding trees seemed fitting.
Some graves are still kept up, some long forgotten.
Testimony to the hard times – without cars, these lazy were a long way from the doctor. These five babies lasted no more than a few months each.
It’s common here to buy a plot together as a couple and put your name on it even before you’re dead. Even though very few people live here, I imagine that a number of older people wish to be laid to rest in the area of their childhood home.
Unfortunately, not all is roses and traditions. There was a fair amount of plastic garbage, mildewed flowers and garish wreaths, in the ditch surrounding one side of cemetery that will be there for almost ever.
In front of the cemetery is this view…you would never guess that just below those trees is a house, hidden from view on three sides. I wasn’t able to capture it, but this house has the one of the most gorgeous views I’ve seen a house have .
I turned around and headed back to the tall oaks with the cross underneath. On the north side of the trees, cow bells rang their own music.
I was tempted to erase the electric lines to make a prettier picture, but a) it would take too much time because my post-processing abilities are pretty limited and b) that’s how reality is. I couldn’t get both the view and the cows without the lines, so there they are.
On the way we passed sheep grazing in the meadow. The twins started running towards them full tilt and my heart stopped when I remembered that there was probably a guard dog. They either ignored or didn’t hear my calls, which got increasingly angry and I ended up sprinting after them. There was not one, but four dogs who started trotting towards the kids- fortunately with a shepherd who called them back. With two guard dogs and two herd dogs, the shepherd was out in the field with the sheep for all the hours inbetween our passing. I was too self-conscious to play the tourist and get a closer shot of him, which I very much regret.
He was making a fire when we went in one direction, and still enjoying it when we returned.
The church at Ďubákovo and a few roofs peaking out of the valley.
As we got closer, there were a number of cows grazing, no fences, ropes, or chains. I commented on it and my husband asked, “Where are they going to go?”
The possibly handmade bell and communist light together kind of sum up Slovakia.
And my second daughter, who is a pro at sidling out of any chores, was all gung-ho to wash the dishes. What a little novelty will do. The wash basins were placed in holes in a tabletop that slid inside a cupboard (you can see it closed in the second interior picture of the chata).
Looking over these photos, I’m already looking forward to returning. I love these hidden gems that you won’t find in any tourist brochure.
That was our trip! Which are your favourite photos? More photos follow but with little commentary, in about the same timeline as above.
Any farm kid will know what this pile of rocks is – a whole lot of work. The land picked of rocks is now feral and growing in.
Every Slovak child knows not to eat the pretty mushrooms.
Tea made with foraged herbs.
On the way home, we stopped at a place that had an very very steep slope down to this farm. The grass had somehow been cut.
May 10, 2017 @ 00:04:43
Thank you for posting these glorious photos. October is also our favorite time to explore the out-of-the-way parts of Slovakia. You have captured its magic beautifully.
May 10, 2017 @ 08:09:40
Thank you! The weather is fairly stable and it’s not so hot as the summer, a great time to explore!
May 10, 2017 @ 00:08:49
Fabulous photos – what a beautiful place! And happy memories for your family. I couldn’t pick a favorite photo – they’re all terrific! Thank you, Naomi!
May 10, 2017 @ 08:08:53
So glad you enjoyed it, thank you!
May 10, 2017 @ 00:52:37
Thanks for the posting. My favorite photo was your husband shaking the apples out of the tree- brought back memories of me doing the very same thing years ago in Pennsylvania. Speaking of Pennsylvania, I am struck by how much your part of Slovakia looks like PA. My Slovak maternal grandparents settled in western PA and they must have felt right at home whenever they went out to the countryside. BTW, what did you do with all those apples you picked? Did you make applesauce? Carrying them 3 km back to the village would have been a bigger chore!
May 10, 2017 @ 08:08:33
I’ve never been to PA, but I think immigrants often settle in new land that looks similar to home.
We did make some applesauce, but we ended up sharing much of them, as the apples were mixed and some of them wouldn’t keep well. We couldn’t drive right up to the cottage, it was an optional choice to walk to church. Of course, back in the day that’s how people got around!
May 12, 2017 @ 15:32:26
Reese…..I THOUGHT THE SAME THING!!!…..Very similar to Western & Central PA (Especially State College)….these pictures are amazing!!!! P.S. My mothers family is from area near Bratislava but my mom grew up in Western PA
May 10, 2017 @ 01:46:13
What a dream! I also can not choose. In the early 90’s I lived in Prague and then in Hradec Kralove. We often went to visit Slovakia and those are so many of my memories that remind me of heaven. They are memories that bring warmth and comfort just like your photos.
May 10, 2017 @ 08:03:39
What lovely memories they must be.
May 10, 2017 @ 03:43:49
Beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing about this trip. Maybe someday I can see it for myself!!
May 10, 2017 @ 08:02:57
That would be lovely!
May 10, 2017 @ 03:47:50
Lovely post. I’d say that my favorite photo is the landscape photo just below the photo with all of the apples. And, let me say, that sure is a LOT of apples!
May 10, 2017 @ 08:02:21
It was a lot of apples! We shared them with friends, as many of them wouldn’t keep.
May 10, 2017 @ 04:59:58
Lovely countryside, charming photos. Thank you for sharing your views of Slovakia with us!
May 10, 2017 @ 08:01:18
Glad you enjoyed!
May 10, 2017 @ 05:35:08
Stunning photos, Naomi!
May 10, 2017 @ 08:00:52
Nancy in Alberta
May 10, 2017 @ 08:29:44
Thank you for these! What a great post, and such a novel holiday. I had two photos that jumped out at me. I decided to go with my gut, so, the first was of an adult walking in the woods with a couple of children; the second was right after your commentary. It is darker, and there’s a leaf-carpeted walk way, with the trees converging at the top in a beautiful cathedral arch…so moody!
May 10, 2017 @ 19:18:40
I’m a fan of trees arching over a path or road myself. Glad you enjoyed it! Simple but beautiful trip.
May 10, 2017 @ 11:33:04
Love the article – it looks very similar to my Western Pennsylvania grandparents and uncles’ farmland!
May 10, 2017 @ 19:17:50
Thank you, glad you enjoyed it!
May 11, 2017 @ 13:54:45
Oh my, I honestly can’t decide which pics are my favourites! So many lovely views. I enjoyed the sheep pics, but I think some of my favourites are seeing your littles, especially your oldest in her kerchief at the wash basin. What an amazing trip! You always nail it with giving us true portraits of life in Slovakia then and now.
May 16, 2017 @ 11:05:10
Aw, thank you! She’s my second, and it was so nice to see her volunteering 😉
May 15, 2017 @ 19:03:12
fabulous beautiful serene countryside wonderful full calm life to enjoy daily thank you for the photos
May 16, 2017 @ 10:50:10
May 16, 2017 @ 06:44:00
They’re all so beautiful, Naomi. My favorite was the one with the sun rising over the mountains…so evocative :). And, the family photos are all very sweet :).
May 16, 2017 @ 10:49:43
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed them!
May 16, 2017 @ 19:47:33
Such a wonderful post and amazing photos. Was the foraged herb tea made with the “materina duska” herb? I wonder how I can look up its English name equivalent.
I’m heading to Slovakia in about month and a half. It’s been 7 years since I’ve been back. I hail from Snina in the Eastern Slovakia. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to explore a little.
May 17, 2017 @ 22:28:21
Thank you! I think the tea had a mix of wild mint, maybe nettle, and ‘materina duska,’ which is wild thyme in English. Seven years, wow. I’d love to see more of Eastern Slovakia, I feel like I haven’t seen much of it. Let me know if you explore out this way!
Aug 24, 2017 @ 04:06:15
I just got to finishing reading this article and looking at all the photos. What a beautiful landscape you have photographed and given us some history on. I love the sound of the cow bells. Very intrigued by the shepherd and his lifestyle. Really lovely photos with all the fall colors and the mist. Really interesting article.
Aug 27, 2017 @ 23:42:33
Glad you liked it! I always think of you when we are around the sheep and shepherds. 🙂