|Currency||Slovak koruna (SKK)|
|Area||total: 48,845 sq km |
water: 45 sq km
land: 48,800 sq km
|Population||5,422,366 (July 2002 est.)|
|Language||Slovak (official), Hungarian, Czech|
|Religion||Roman Catholic 60.3%, atheist 9.7%, Protestant 8.4%, Orthodox 4.1%, other 17.5%|
Slovakia (also known as the Slovak Republic) is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is surrounded by Austria to the west, Czech Republic to the north west, Hungary to the south, Poland to the north and Ukraine to the east.
With numerous medieval towns, high mountains, caves and a lively capital city, there's probably something for every traveller to enjoy in Slovakia. Slovakia is said to be the country with the highest number of fortified castles per capita in the world.
- Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia
- Banska Bystrica
Slovakia has a temperate climate with sunny summers and cold, cloudy, humid and snowy winters.
Much of the central and northern part of Slovakia is rugged and mountainous. Gerlachovsk� �t�t at 2,655 m in the High Tatras is the highest point. The Tatra Mountains in the north, shared with Poland, are interspersed with many scenic lakes and valleys. The lowlands are in the south with the lowest point of the Bodrog River being 94 m below sea level.
Slovakia is also a country of massive medieval castles built on the rocks, beautiful detailed ones located on plains (there is about 180 castles and ruins) as well as country of caves. Most of 12 biggest caves (traditional karst caves, ice caves, aragonite cave etc) are open for public for several hours daily only.
In 1918 the Slovaks joined the closely related Czechs to form Czechoslovakia. Following the chaos of World War II, Czechoslovakia became a communist country within Soviet-ruled Eastern Block. Soviet influence collapsed in 1989 and Czechoslovakia once more became free.
For many years overshadowed by their north-western Czech neighbors, political representations of Czech and Slovak decided to strike out on their own. The Slovaks and the Czechs agreed to separate peacefully on 1 January 1993 and Slovakia became a country in its own right.
Historic, political, and geographic factors have caused Slovakia to experience more difficulty in developing a modern market economy than some of its Central European neighbors. Finally, however, Slovakia joined the European Union and the NATO in 2004.
Czechs, Hungarians, Germans and Slovaks
There are some similarities between the Czech and Slovak cultures. However, though the Slovaks may talk and eat like the Czechs, they are not the same. One of the most striking differences is that while the Czechs are largely atheists, the Slovaks are largely Catholics.
As a Hungarian territory for so many years, there is a Hungarian-speaking minority of 9,7%, mostly in southern Slovakia. Slovak language is similar to Czech but different.
In the east, there are many Romas/Romas/Gypsies and some Rusnacs/Rusins and Ukrainians. The Gypsies usually are the poorest, worst educated members of the society. They have higher than ethnic Slovaks levels of unemployment, criminality and alcoholism. Most of the Gypsies do not give "Gypsy" as their nationality in censuses, but their true number is around 300.000.
There are also some Czechs and Germans living in Slovakia.
Since Slovakia is a EU member, citizens of EU countries do not require a visa for stays in Slovakia.
Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, Mexican and US citizens are all permitted to stay for up to 90 days without a visa.
South African citizens require a visa for entry into Slovakia, unless they have indefinite leave to remain as a resident in another EU country.
The easiest way to get to Slovakia by train from west is via Vienna, in Austria. Bratislava is a simple 50 - 70 minute trip on a express or a local train (either via Kittsee or Marchegg).
Trains also travel to Slovakia from the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and the Ukraine.
Bratislava has its own airport. Sky Europe (http://www.skyeurope.com/) provides the most convenient and cheap way to fly to Bratislava from London, Paris and other European cities, as well as regional airports within Slovakia. Vienna airport Schwechat, which is just about 35 kms from Bratislava. It provides a more convenient way of arriving to Slovakia by the major airlines, but can be more expensive. Buses leave for Bratislava hourly, optionally you can take airport shuttle.
Hitchhiking in Slovakia is best done by asking around at gas stations. It used to be that most people only speak Slovakian (and possibly understand other Slavic languages) so it was difficult for foreigners who don't speak Slavic languages. However, nowadays most of the young people speak English and a almost as many speak German.
The national language of Slovakia is Slovak, a Slavic language which is similar to and mutually intelligible with Czech (before 1993 newscasters alternated languages in nightly news reports to give fair time to each). The younger generation however already tends to have problems understanding Czech.
Slovak is written using the same Roman characters that English uses, so Western travellers won't have any trouble reading signs and maps.
As a Hungarian territory for so many years, there is a significant Hungarian-speaking minority of 9,7%. Most of the Hungarians live in southern regions of the country. Other Slovaks however normally do not speak or understand the Hungarian language.
While you can make do with English and German in Bratislava, in smaller towns and villages your only chance is trying to approach younger people that speak some English. Older residents may know some German. People born before 1980 and after 1935 will have learned Russian in school. Sometimes, especially in the North and the East of Slovakia, you may try Polish. Other Slavic languages, especially Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian, may also work.
The official currency of Slovakia is the Slovak Crown (Slovensk� koruna, symbol Sk or SKK). The exchange rate is 1€ = 39SKK. The Euro is expected to replace the Slovak Crown around 2009; Euros are currently accepted in major shop chains. Be careful, sometimes you'd better take your Euros into Slovakia. Changing up there may be cheaper than at your bank!
Automatic teller machines (ATM) are widely available in Slovakia except in smaller villages, and obtaining money there should not present a problem. Credit cards and debit cards such as Visa, Mastercard, Visa Electron, Cirrus Maestro are widely accepted both in shops and restaurants in bigger cities.
Bryndzove halusky is Slovak national meal made with potato dumplings and special kind of sheep cheese (that is not actually the cheese) called "bryndza". You will get pieces of fried meaty bacon on top of Bryndzove halusky. Very tasty and delicious.
For non-alcoholic drinks try Vinea, a soft drink made from grapes, in both red and white and also without CO2. Kofola, another soft drink, is similar to Cola, is also very popular among locals and is available both on tap and bottled.
Mineral waters are some of the best in the World and can offer positive affects, such as helping get rid of heart burn. There are many types available from shops and supermarkets, fo example Budis, Baldovska, Salvator, Slatina, Klastorna etc. Others are only available directly from the many spas that naturally spring up all over the place.
For beers, there are a great variety of local brews that are similar in style to Czech beers. Try out the local Zlaty Bazant, Smadny Mnich, Topvar and Saris. Saris is also available in a dark version that is thicker and heavier on your stomach. If the local tastes do not satisfy, "Western" beers are sold in the bigger restaurants and pubs.
Slovakia has also some great local wines, many similar to Germanic Reisling styles. There are also sweeter wines from the Southern border regions called Tokaj. Slovak wine might not be widely known outside the region but certainly worth a try.
Slovaks have good Vodkas. Excellent is Plum brandy, Pear brandy or liquer Demanovka. But the most popular alcolol is Borovicka. It is Slovak Gin. In some shops you may try a 25 or 50 ml paying small money, and you don't risk buying big bottle of not-known taste. You may decide: buy or not to buy ;)
Surprisingly many hotels in Slovakia still charge differently based on the origin of their guests (foreign guests are expected to pay more).
The 2nd biggest unemployment in EU, about 12 or 13 %. But low in the capital, Bratislava. Country recently developing. Payments - like in postcommunist countries in Central Europe. Prices are coming close to those of Western Europe, or USA for goods such as electronics, or brand clothing. Services, such as hotel rooms, or eating in restaurants, are cheap in comparison for Western Europe, or the USA. In Bratislava similar to Warsaw or Prague, lower especially in Central Slovakia, and lowest in Eastern Slovakia. These parts are poorer, and have big unemployment, which may reach for examle 25 % somewhere.
In case of an emergency, call 112 - universal emergency number. For police especially, call 158, ambulance 155 and firefighters 150. When visiting mountain areas of Slovakia, it is advisable to inform hotel personnel of your trip plans. Also, when visiting High Tatras, contact local mountain rescue service of your intent, they may even provide you with a safety guidelines. BEWARE, weather in High Tatras is prone to sudden changes, especially during spring and autumn.
No vaccination is necessary to visit or stay in Slovakia although if you plan to visit countryside areas, tick vaccination is recommended. Also Hepathitis "A" and "B" vaccination is advisable as with all European countries. Public health care is mediocre by Western European standards. Tap water is drinkable everywhere - according to one study, water used as tap water in the Bratislava-Vienna region is the cleanest in the world. If you prefer mineral waters, you can choose from multitude of marks, since Slovakia has probably highest numbers of natural mineral water springs per capita.
Remember that Slovaks are a separate nation that have their independence for several years only. As with all "young" nations, some people can be oversensitive on nationality issues.
- Slovak Television (http://www.stv.sk/)
- Official Slovak Tourist Board (http://www.sacr.sk/)
- Slovak Government (http://www.government.gov.sk/)