Warming up in snowy Slovakia

It’s minus six today in Piestany, and few people are out on the snow packed pavements. The town’s “fashion” shops are so plentiful that proprietors are competing for custom; wriggling their garments of the day over mismatched mannequins–who are then manhandled outside to be headless, hapless greeters. One’s jacketed nonchalantly in understated beige. Steps away, a similarly decapitated competitor makes a louder statement, resplendent in a boastfully red ballgown. In the window displays behind them, sequinned slips suggest that Piestany knows how to  party. Alongside them, the drab dole of turtle necks demurs.

1020212If Slovakian fashion’s not your thing, there are pretty arts and crafts shops here too; restaurants with optimistically al fresco dining  areas, and coffee shops displaying mouthwatering pastries. Look above the merchandise, though, and there’s confirmation that Piestany’s clearly proud of itself; its painted shopfronts well maintained; decorous pastels giving way to flourishes of white, icing sugar soffit-swirls, out-gleaming the now greying covering on today’s wintry streets.

1020217We crunch through the snow to the Glass Bridge over the River Vah on the town’s eastern side. It’s busier here..if you count the battalions of birds gathering in a show of force against the freezing weather. We spot shivering pigeons on the front line first, their chests puffed out against the chill wind– so close to the edge, you’d think they might be deciding whether or not to jump.

Metres below them, ducks dip, dive, and dart in random zigzags, their watery parade- ground boxed in by hard slabs of ice. Swans have settled awkwardly on these, some so motionless that they look stuck; like fingers on an ice-cube tray. Nearby, a less patient queue of cormorants forms on the frozen water like feathered fighter jets on a carrier, contemplating their sortie. Seconds later, on some silent colonial command, they take off, one by one above our heads, into iron grey Slovakian skies.

The bridge was, according to a sign at its start, built originally in 1932, before being destroyed  thirteen years later “by the fascist army”. It took on its current structure just over sixty years ago, renovated “for the benefit and health of the working class”. We cross it on this icy, wintry, Wednesday, to what’s become known as Spa Island, in search of the hot mud wraps and thermal waters the area’s famous for, to warm our cold bones.

Come spring, Piestany will be bustling again. Its spas are popular with guests from all over the world these days–from all “classes”. White will give way to green. The snow covering the pool deck will be replaced by sunloungers. Guests will wander into town in cotton, not wool. Browse the shops, pick a pastry and have coffee with ice…. then walk it off with a stroll by the river. They might lean across the Glass Bridge, maybe, in time to spot a baby cormorant flex its new wings…and…tentatively.. fly the nest.

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