I arrive in Slovakia sooner than anticipated. I had hoped to stop a few times in the Tatras and admire the changing colors, but everything is covered in fog, and getting out of the car means standing in a cold drizzle. It’s impossible to know if the sheep hillsides are white or grey or black, so caked are they in mud. They enter the fog again quickly, as if forced out against their will.
I meet a friend of mine from Vienna at the station in Zvolen, and after making three involuntary circles around Zvolen’s city center, we drive up the mountain to Kralova.
In Kralova, the animal population far outnumbers the human ones. Among its animal citizens: cows with large, wet eyes, sheep that sniff at the car, cats that scratch at the window at night, and horses that growl like dogs and pace at fences. Among its human citizens; a few old shepards, a small family, and our next door neighbors (friendly but preoccupied). They tend to their cows and shake apple trees full of dark, shiny apples. A black dog with a red cast hops after each falling apple and tries to catch it in her mouth.
On Saturday we make our way slowly down the mountain, which has been cut up by the rain and covered in flattened, speckled frogs. Banska Stiavinica, a medieval mining town, is a Heritage Site. We venture deep into the earth in Kaiser Franz Joseph’s mine. Then we find a little white windowless restaurant where we eat halusky and cabbage soup and flip through Slovak tabloid magazines. Look at this, I say, pointing to the cover.
Kráľovná Alžbeta, mŕtva! Queen Elizabeth, dead!