A Train Journey to Levoca, Slovakia
Levoca today is a sleepy little town nestled up close to the high Tatras mountains. The old town center has retained all of its medieval charm and shines like a jewel in the crystal clear mountain air. But this quiet hamlet hasn’t always been such a backwater destination. In the thirteenth century the town was a thriving trade center on the routes between Hungary, Poland, and Germany. It was granted special privileges from the Hungarian king to collect tolls and and have first rights on all goods passing through the city. As the wealth of the townspeople grew so did the splendor of its buildings. Luckily, the town has survived wars and battles throughout the ages and no longer is a major political force in the area. Indeed, for a city that once sat at one of the busiest crossroads of international trade, today it is a difficult place to travel to.
When we started planning our 21 day Eastern Europe by Eurail trip, we knew early on that we wanted to visit as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible. Some would be easy to visit as they were in cities or lcations accesible on the rail lines. Others were further off from the beaten track and would need some alternative modes of transportation. In Greece and Romania we rented a small car to drive around for a few days and that added mobility was great. But for a visit to Levoca we didn’t need that much time as it was going to be more of an overnight stopover on the way between Krakow and Budapest.
Pin Levoca for future trip planning!
Looking at a map, Krakow lies just north of Levoca, about a 4 hour drive by car. I’m sure the roads follow a similar route the old trade caravans would have taken; but, alas, Levoca’s days of power and glory must have ended by the time train lines were built. We would have to go west out of Krakow toward Katowice then south into Czech, and then back east to Spišská Nová Ves. From there it wasn’t clear how to proceed. There is a train line that connects to Levoca and I found schedules on the internet so was pretty sure we could get a 19:07 connection after arriving in Spišská Nová Ves at 18:58.
We arrived only a few minutes late so we had time to run in and buy our tickets for the continued journey the next day and ask about tickets to Levoca. Usually with Eurail passes you don’t need a reservation for smaller connecting lines like the train to Levoca , so I wasn’t surprised when the ticket agent sold me the reservation for the next day but then said “no ticket” for the Levoca train that should have been coming in 5 minutes. We went back out on the platform and checked the departures time-table poster on the wall, again, and verified the Levoca train was due in any minute now. When a train did pull up it was crowded and several people got on and off. Way too many for what I imagined the tiny Levoca route would be carrying. So we asked the station master who was out on the platform.
“Levoca ?” he asked? He smiled and asked us to wait while he finished up the motions of clearing the tracks and sending the current train on its way. “Come, come,” he took us back towards the poster. “Levoca ,” now he was pointing at the departure information for our ultimate destination, “see, only three times…per year!” He thought this was funny, and I have to admit, it seemed oddly funny to only have a train run three times each year. I followed his finger from the obscure little symbol next to the departure time and saw, at the bottom of the poster in tiny letters, in a long legend filled with obscure symbols, the specific dates for the Levoca train. None of which were that day, naturally.
With this knowledge, we thanked the still chuckling station master, and headed for the taxi ranks. A short 15 minute ride and we were in the beautiful medieval town square of Levoča . Our driver had obviously made the inexpensive trip many, many times before and even knew where to find our hotel, U Lewa, directly across from the town hall. Checking in to the hotel I made a little joke with the desk clerk about taking the train to Levoča and he got a good laugh out of it. We checked in and were out and exploring in the cool evening air. We made a plan to get up early with the sun and go on a photo walk. For tonight, it was all about the food.
We’d made some Slovakian friends on the long train ride between Krakow and Spišská Nová Vesand they had given us enough food tips to last more than the night we were spending, but they were insistent that we try at least the two most important Slovakian dishes, Bryndzové halušky and Zemiakové šúč¾ance. I’m not sure why, but for some reason we both have some strange aversion to eating in hotel restaurants. I suppose it comes about because so many of the hotels in the US have such cruddy restaurants. Still, we should know better by now, some of the best restaurants we’ve been to were in hotels. At any rate, we had made up our minds to go out and enjoy the solitude of the town and find a good restaurant where we could sample some fantastic local cuisine. When we asked the desk clerk for any dinner suggestions we were expecting him to recommend the hotel restaurant, and he did. But he was very friendly and also recommended one or two other places in town though he wasn’t sure if they’d be open or not. Well, we did peek in at our hotel restaurant and it looked pretty good, but we went out on the street and it was very quiet. The only light spilling out on the sidewalk was trickling out of the U Lewa and the sounds of clinking glasses, and piano music followed us as we wandered down the road.
We didn’t get very far on our walk. It was way too dark for photos and there really was nothing else going on anywhere. We turned around and got the last table in the U Lewa. We’re glad we did, the food was delicious and they had several Slovakian traditional dishes to try. We ordered and ate way too much but what an enjoyable evening! The journey to Levoca took us away from the tracks of our Eurail adventure but it was a good detour.