Dolný Kubín: Slovakia’s Mirror of Erised

Perhaps it is my near daily routine of listening to Hogwarts Instrumental on YouTube while working, or my desire to be spellbound in a year particularly devoid of magic, but lately I have managed to turn almost everything into a Harry Potter metaphor. I simply can’t be tamed when it comes to using figurative language, and when times get tough, I instinctively crawl into the enchanting burrow of childhood. 

So when I ventured to the north-central town of Dolný Kubín a few weeks ago with my boyfriend and some friends, it almost felt like I was staring into the Mirror in Erised, through which a young Harry Potter saw what he desired most in the world. But the fickle mirror that has driven many a wizard mad with longing symbolizes something much less troublesome to me. I see it as an endearing symbol of childhood naivety, something we too often admonish and underestimate during difficult times. 

In Dolný Kubín, it just felt so right to act and think like a child. 

The historic capital of the mountainous region of Orava, Dolný Kubín is just the place for a displaced New Englander such as myself. Equipped with cosy cottages (ours was sweetly named Adela), swish cafes and many forested trails slithering up small mountains (or large hills) it’s a scenic reprieve to be relished.

A precious puff of smoke

During our long weekend in Dolný Kubín, my Slovak cohort and I spent a majority of the time outside. Though the weather forecast was saturated in threats of heavy rain and thunderstorms, we lucked out. The nights were rainy, the days pleasant, albeit slightly overcast. Day one was reserved for hiking and downhill dirt biking for the braver souls of the group (aka not me). Days two and three were spent castle- and cafe-hopping, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that my third visit to the famous Orava Castle was just as interesting as the first two.

I realize I’m glossing over the details, but what I remember most about our domestic getaway was not the gorgeous scenery or Slovak-centric activities, as fun as they were, but rather the lingering smell of smoke. 

During my early morning runs, it was chimney smoke that flavored my shallow breaths. That youthful perfume is so entangled with my favorite childhood memories that everytime I smell it, I am flooded with feelings of security, comfort and bliss. That smell is one of the few things I remember of my childhood in Bratislava and it is the characteristic scent of New Hampshire winters, something my heart has been aching for recently.   

When we grilled at night, the scent of toasting charcoal and fly-away embers took precedence, and I thought of the careless summer nights I used to spend on our porch swing in my New Hampshire home as my dad slapped liberally seasoned meat on our barbeque. It also brought me back to Bratislava’s hilly borough of Koliba, where I toddled and toppled without a care in the world during my first few years of life. 

So, I am officially deeming Dolný Kubín the Slovak embodiment of the Mirror of Erised. It injected me with a much needed dose of childhood innocence, and though I may have felt sad at times thinking about my family, longing to be a child once more, remembering the best of times could never drive me mad. 2020 has been such an emotional, strange and scary year for all of us, and personally I need a little boost from my imaginative younger self from time to time to muster up the courage and tenacity to face it head on.

So, I think it’s about time we indulge a little more in the magical, hide in the cosy confines of childhood memories, and shed a few of those adulthood pounds. Let’s put some light back into this universe.

Swish and flick,

Anna

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