I have an innate distrust of guidebooks, the well-known names in the travel world. I doubt if the authors have ever even been to the places they write about. I dislike their sameness. I prefer to find bookswritten by locals, books that talk about the depth of a place rather than gloss overthe superficial elements designed for photo opportunities and postcards.
Years ago in Venice we wandered around with Tiziano Scarpa’s “Venice is a Fish”. Sadly, I lent the book to a friend whose flat was burgled; the burglar was obviously planning on taking a trip there, too, as he made off with my mate’s laptop and my copy of this brilliant little book.
I had bought it because I was struck by the blurb: “With everything from practical advice for aspiring Venetian lovers to hints at where to find the best bacaro, Scarpa waves the tourist in the right direction and, without naming a single restaurant, hotel or bar, relates the secret language needed to experience the real Venice. So ignore the street signs – why fight the labyrinth?” Excellent.
A couple of weekends ago, on the second of my Border Dashes this year, we headed to Košice, a city in eastern Slovakia known more familiarly in Hungary as Kassa. We caught the 6.30am train from Keleti Station on a Saturday and arrived around 10am.
We’d booked into the lovely Penzión Hradbová, close to the Dominican Church. Newly refurbished it has a great little spa and offers a cooked breakfast. The staff are friendly, helpful and on call 24/7. Recommended.
Bags dropped, we headed to the Tourist Information Office. With just 36 hours to see as much as possible, we thought a walking tour would be a good place to start. It was here that we found a gem: a bi-lingual guidebook. Milan Kolcun’s “Details in Košice”. A sequel to “Wanders in Košice”, it focuses on the details that are so often overlooked.
It tells story after story of the little things worth looking for. We bought both and sat for an hour over coffee at the fabulous secessionist Hotel Slavia on the town’s main street, where we picked out what we’d like to see and plotted our route. Our picks were not included in the two-hour walking tour we had later that day so we really did get to see a lot.
From the grandeur of St Elisabeth’s Cathedral to the barrenness of Miklus Prison, from the treasury of gold coins discovered in 1935 to the splendour of the botanical gardens, the city is made for walking. We tracked down the military shoe tree, the gargoyle of the ugly woman captured by the water goblin, and the stonework on the old Thalia theatre.
We wandered the backstreets tracing the footsteps of the great poet Sándor Márai. We found craftsman’s row and promised ourselves to come back when everything was open. And we lucked out and got to see the heart-wrenching inscription preserved on the wall of the synagogue.
Kosice is home of the oldest marathon outside of Greece. It has a world-renowned opera house that attracts big names (the programme is worth keeping an eye on). And it has the best pizza this side of Naples. I kid you not: the pizza at Zazza is worth the train ticket alone.
Sunday evening we were ready to head back to Budapest. According to Máv (both the website and the ticket agent) our train was to leave at 18.30. Remembering our near miss when in Subotica recently, I asked the penzión to triple-check. Máv was wrong – again. Beware. The one train of the day leaves for Budapest at 18.02. Am sure there is nothing in any guidebook about that!
Mary Murphy is a freelance writer and public speaker who has nightmares about missing trains. Read more at www.stolenchild66.wordpress.com