Soldiers and Semtex in Slovakia

By Roscoepico on 14 August 2008

The dust has certainly had time to settle now we've reached Pohoda festival, near to the town of Trencin in Slovakia, for the third and final stop of our eastern Europe festival tour. Instead of the wondrous sunshine of Serbia and Croatia experienced over the last two weeks, we’ve been greeted with two days of solid Glastonbury-like rain travelling north to Slovakia. Hungary was a bit of a hurdle but easily overcome as we slept off the excesses of EXIT, arriving Thursday evening.

After a plate of mystery meat for dinner on our first night, we got up fresh for Pohoda (the name Pohoda means ‘fresh’ in Slovakian funnily enough.) The site is situated just outside the town and getting there proves to be a bit tricky due to a lack of cabs and knowledge of the Slovakian language. Sited on a working airport means that no one can actually fly to Trencin and instead foreigners enter the country via the capital, Bratislavia, which is about an hours drive.

Fans entering in their hoards are welcomed by two large signs declaring 'Stop Genocide', featuring pictures of dead, still born babies. We're also given stickers with the same images on and manage to collect three different ones. No Panini album though. We’re not sure whether it’s an anti-abortion thing, an anti war message or what, but it’s really not the best livener to get you in the festival mood. At least we've got some presents sorted for our return, though.

Another Slovakian-ism is buying beer by SMS at the festival. You text a number and they text you back with a code to collect your beer. It means you can skip the queue, except that there aren’t really any queues to cause a headache all weekend. It seems quite a clever idea for say a major festival, but then again so did communism.

The festival is sponsored by the local beer, which means that there’s no other form of alcohol available... anywhere. While this is ok for a day (it is nice beer after all), by day two we’re beered out so we opt to smuggle in some vodka to mix with the local energy drink, Semtex, sold from a huge tent complete with its own climbing wall. Semtex is quite powerful stuff and we now know its connection with climbing, after someone we met scaled a water lorry on the final night with the specific intention of being sick on it.

We’re guessing it was the booze and not the food that caused it, as the eating element of Pohoda is excellent. Instead of dodgy burgers, they cook up fresh chicken breasts and steaks, you choose the size you fancy and then they weigh it and price accordingly. It usually comes to about £3 which isn’t bad for something that’s actually real food at a festival. On that note, pretty much everything in Slovakia is amazingly cheap.

Another unique element to Pohoda is the presence of the army, who have a barracks stationed in the town. I’ve tried not to get too drunk over the last two days for fear of signing up. Just like in the UK, the Slovakian army have been busy making soldiering look like fun in a bid to attract young recruits, so at Pohoda they’ve constructed a climbing wall (bigger than the Semtex one) and a huge game of human table football. Yes, that's 'human table football', an oxymoron perhaps, but one that this moron would quite easily sign his life away to play for half an hour. Fortunately, the army boys are still sawing bits of metal to complete the construction when we discover it, so we escape to text ourselves another beer and watch a band. We’ll encounter the army again later, when we commando crawl through their temporary barracks taking a short cut like we’re in ‘Nam. “This isn’t lost property?" we ask innocently when we get caught by an irate looking general.

Yes, it probably is time to be getting home. It’s been a great three weeks; three back to back festivals of varying characters, sizes and scopes. Garden, EXIT and Pohoda have ticked completely different boxes and opened our eyes to how our eastern European friends do things. It isn’t worth comparing the three as they are totally different events (read the reviews on VF), but suffice to say the things they all hold in common are being cheap, hot, a lot of fun and extremely friendly. We’ve met some great people along the way, many of them admittedly from the UK, but what we’ll perhaps remember best are the conversations on buses, boats and at the festivals themselves with the people of Croatia, Serbia and Slovakia, people who because of the politics of Europe are not permitted to move as freely as we are, but people who are welcoming and proud and the kind of hosts whom we should aspire to be.

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