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.