We crossed the border over water, using the bridge over the Duna at Esztergom. The midway point of the river is the border between the two countries – an interesting notion. The bridge however was wholly Slovakian-owned, but free to use.
Bouncing around the border town of Štúrovo and onto the route 76 north, a minor road and coloured yellow on our map, it proved to be a good tarmac surface allowing us to sail through open, agricultural countryside.
Although not a major route it was busy with Slovakian freight travelling at alarming speeds. We were overtaken several times by lorries far bigger than Bertha.
It was concerning too that on the opposite side of the road, other vehicles would swing out wildly from behind lorries travelling towards us. Standards didn’t improve on the national route 66 which we joined to head north to Zvolen.
Slovakian driving seemed lawless and without regard for safety or even, hazard. We saw speeding cars overtake vehicles on blind bends into oncoming traffic.
It was hair-raising. Inevitably we drew comparison with Italian drivers, equally heedless of danger. Italians have a deeply fatalistic streak which perhaps justifies their ‘if I crash, I crash’ attitude but we weren’t sure about Slovakians.
The road network is the arterial route through the country for anyone and everyone who wants to get anywhere, no matter what mode of transport. Along with cars and lorries we saw packed busses, motor bikers, scooters, cyclists and pedestrians all weaving along the roadsides which are without pavements.
In the small villages, it was common to see babies and young children being wheeled in tricycle-come-shopping-trolley contraptions amongst the speeding traffic. At times, it felt as if we were all travelling a hot and dusty road in Africa.
Unable to stay at Zvolen as the advertised campsite was closed we headed further north and into the Orava region. To reach it we climbed up over 1,000 meters and through a quiet ski resort.
The views of endless green fir-clad mountains was stirring. Unlike a German, Austrian, French or Italian ski resort out of season there was no evidence of summer hiking or aerial high jinks activity. It was a first taste of the emptiness of the Slovakian hillsides, and their natural wildness once you stray off the road.