Namestie Majstra Pavla, November 2002. The winter of 2002 was a memorable one for me. Among the many adventures enjoyed during those freezing cold Slovak months, was a fantastic magical mystery tour bus trip around the country with my newfound friends and teaching colleagues. The little town of Levoča, situated in the Prešov region of Eastern Slovakia, was just one of many stops we made over a three day journey. With only an hour or so to jump off and enjoy its olde-worlde feel and UNESCO-endorsed architecture, there was no time to lose! It was a chilly, grey afternoon and there was an almost unnerving feel to the deserted main square, with its ghostly trees and imposing statue of Ludovít Štúr, the nineteenth century politician, poet, journalist, teacher, philosopher and linguist.
Namestie Majstra Pavla, November 2002. Despite only having an hour, I must have spent a good ten to fifteen minutes in and around the square, marveling at the architecture with an inescapable feeling that I was walking around on the set of some Slovak historical drama. One that could perhaps, at any moment, transform into a nightmarish horror.
Baroque Church, November 2002. Levoča has a population of around fifteen thousand people, though I don’t recall seeing so much as a single local during our explorations. If I remember correctly it was a Sunday so the shops were all closed, as were the handful of churches we came upon, like this one. This desolation actually helped with the pervasive sense of history oozing from the town. Nearly a thousand Jews, a large chunk of its community, were carted off to concentration camps during The Second World War, while in the summer of 1995 a staggering six hundred and fifty thousand people descended on the area for a visit by Pope John Paul II.
Cage Of Shame, November 2002. Levoča’s wrought iron Cage of Shame was a quirky little highlight, especially as it seemed like the perfect place for an annoying member of our party. Erected in the sixteenth century, it was somewhat sadistically decorated with lilies and hearts, despite being used to publicly punish thieves and disobedient women! For those unfortunate enough to be handed cage time, it was the norm to be hit with a barrage of verbal abuse and to be spat at. And if you were really lucky, you might be treated to a face full of rocks and rotting vegetables.
Distant Castle/Church/Mansion/Other, November 2002. The last thing we caught, right on the edge of town, just before heading back for the bus, was this magnificent view up the surrounding hills. Was it a castle? Was it a church? Was it someone’s amazing personal mansion? I never did find out, but it didn’t matter, the moment has stayed with me over the years and probably always will. I was standing there just staring up at it with two others, before messing around with my camera for a while trying to get a decent shot. “This should be an album cover!” exclaimed my mate Paul, the words that will forever go hand in hand with this image. For more on my jaunt around Slovakia that winter, check out my short stories Road Trip Part I and Road Trip Part II.