Difference between revisions of "Slovakia"
Revision as of 09:47, 8 January 2011
Slovakia  or Slovak Republic (Slovak: Slovensko or Slovenská republika, both names are officially recognized), is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is surrounded by Austria to the west, Czech Republic to the northwest, Hungary to the south, Poland to the north and Ukraine to the east.
With numerous medieval gothic and baroque towns, nine national parks, plenty of caves, well preserved folk architecture and traditions, lively and cosmopolitan capital city and probably the highest number of castles and chateaux per capita in the world, there's something for every traveler to enjoy in Slovakia.
Much of the central and northern part of Slovakia is rugged and mountainous. Gerlachovský štít 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 above 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. Only a small number of the over 3000 caves (12) is open to the public, however.
These mostly consist of traditional karst caves,but there's also an ice cave, and one of the world's few aragonite cave open to the public.
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 again 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, and finally became part of the Eurozone on January 1st 2009.
There are some similarities between the Czech and Slovak cultures but the two nationalities remain distinct. One of the most striking differences is that while Czechs are largely atheists, Slovaks are largely Catholics, like their Polish neighbours.
Slovakia was a part of the Hungarian empire for almost a millenium, and a strong Hungarian-speaking minority of 9.7% remains, concentrated mostly in southern Slovakia. Historic German populations were uprooted and expelled after WWII but their historical influence remains.
In the eastern part of the country, there are many Romas/Gypsies and some Rusnacs/Rusins and Ukrainians. There are also some Czechs, Poles and still some Germans living in Slovakia.
Slovakia has a temperate climate with sunny hot summers and cold, cloudy, humid and snowy winters. The climate is continental, with four seasons, and while the overall climate is mild, there is a considerable temperature difference between summer and winter months.
It is generally warmer in southern regions and the lowlands, where summer temperatures can climb above 30 degrees Celsius on hotter days, and where rain is more common in winters than snow, which usually melts in a few days.
Northern, and especially mountaineous regions have a colder climate, with summer temperatures not exceeding 25 degrees Celsius. Especially in the mountains, snow is common in winters and it can get quite cold.
If you are planning on visiting the mountains, please note that, as in any mountaineous region, the weather can change dramatically in a matter of minutes and it can rain (or snow!) even in summer. Take appropriate equipment and don't underestimate the weather.
Slovakia is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).
Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information about how the scheme works and what entry requirements are.
If you need a visa, always apply at an embassy beforehand. There are zero chances you will get a visa at a Slovak border, no matter how you enter or what your nationality is.
The easiest way to get to Bratislava by train from west is via Vienna, in Austria. The trip takes 50 - 70 minutes depending on whether the train is an express or a local train. There are two routes, either via Kittsee or Marchegg, and every direct ticket is valid for any of them. EuroCity trains to Bratislava depart from Prague Main Station every two hours, the journey takes slightly less than 4 hours. For the north and east of Slovakia, international trains leave from Prague in the Czech Republic to Žilina with some continuing to Košice.
Trains also travel to Slovakia from Poland, Hungary and Ukraine. As of 2011 railway timetable, all personal trains crossing to/from Poland are only regional trains and do not operate every day, buses are a better option. Crossing to and from Ukraine is a lengthy process due to bogie changing (different gauge in Ukraine) and security measures.
Direct international trains may be expensive: the best option is to buy a ticket to a station just on the other side of the border, and buy another one for onward travel there. You'll avoid the surcharge that way. Alternately, buy a return ticket if you can; it costs much less than price of two one-way international tickets combined (doesn't apply for domestic tickets).
Among many others, there are regular services from Vienna, Prague and Budapest to Bratislava; and from Uzhhorod, Ukraine to the eastern Slovak town of Michalovce and from Krakow, Poland through Zakopane, Poland to Poprad.
Please note that taking a bus from Prague to Bratislava is both cheaper and faster than train, but you should buy in advance, e.g. at Student Agency, Slovak Lines, or using the common bus reservation system AMSBus.
From Budapest the travel is 4 hours, the bus stop for 5 minutes at Györ and in a small restaurant in the road.
Full service carriers providing service to Bratislava BTS  are Czech Airlines and Lufthansa . Czech Airlines (CSA) provides several flights a day to/from its Prague hub. Czech Airlines connects its Praha hub also with Slovak airports in Kosice, Sliac and Zilina. One can also fly between Kosice and Vienna (OS) and between Kosice and Bratislava (NE). Similarly Lufthansa (LH) provides several flights a day to/from its Munich hub. There is also nonstop connection to Moscow and several other cities to the east.
The other alternative is 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 the airport shuttle.
Poprad - Tatry Airport  is also connected with Bratislava, Bologna and Basel thanks to scheduled routes operated by Danube Wings.
You can also fly to Krakow if you want to go to the Tatra Mountains. Buses from Krakow run to several Slovak towns around the Tatra mountains and Orava.
This section contains detailed information about local cross-border travel that might be of very little use to most tourists and therefore is out of scope of this article. It should be either redesigned or deleted. Please express your ideas in the respective section of the Talk page.
From Czech Republic
CP offers an exceptionally useful website with integrated timetables for all trains and buses in Slovakia, including all intra-city and inter-city transports.
Train is by far the best option to travel across Slovakia, provided you don't have a private vehicle. Rail network is extensive, the only exception is central southern Slovakia, where buses are more efficient. Trains are fairly priced, reliable and clean. Opt for an InterCity service if you want Western-style comfort; IC trains link Bratislava, Žilina, The High Tatras and Košice and have compulsory reservations. These can save you from the crowds: ordinary trains do get crowded, usually on Fridays and Sundays or around holidays. Watch out for pickpockets at major stations and steer clear of money scams. Also, sporadic robberies occur to sleeping passengers travelling the overnight longliners.
Domestic tickets can be bought over Internet at SlovakRail. Tickets bought over Internet are only valid in specified trains. Tickets bought at stations are valid for one journey with any applicable train, within a specified time period (usually one or two days, depending on the distance). International tickets, as of 2011, can only be bought at stations.
Bus connections are usually slower than trains, but can get you where trains cannot, and some private companies also offer discounts for travellers with a foreign ISIC card (state-run companies do not, unless you're a Slovak citizen). Tickets for long-haul routes (including to/from the Czech Republic or within the Czech Republic) can be bought from AMSBus after compulsory registration (english version is also available). The travel from Bratislava to Nitra is a rare example of a route where buses are significantly faster and cheaper than trains.
Hitchhiking in Slovakia is best done by asking around at gas stations. It used to be that most people only speak Slovak (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 almost as many speak German.
Keep in mind that trains and buses in Slovakia are cheap for Westerners, and (apart from extremely rural areas where people are generally less wary of hitchhikers) it might take a while for someone to pick you up. You can find some offers if you travel from Slovakia and into Slovakia as well on specialized web pages. The biggest hitchhikers page in Slovakia is stopar.sk . There you can find offers in English, German, French, Polish, Czech and Hungarian language and it is free.
If one intends to drive on the motorways it is required to pay a road toll. This is done by buying a sticker (vignette) which is valid for a week (4,90 €) or longer. The sticker is fastened in the upper right corner on the car's windshield. Getting caught driving on the motorway without a valid vignette means that one has to pay a fine.
The official and most widely-spoken language is Slovak. Slovaks are very proud of their language, and thus, even in Bratislava you will not find many signs written in English (outside of the main tourist areas). Also, most older people except some in Bratislava are unable to converse in English; however, most young people speak at least some English, as it has been taught in most schools since 1990. Czech and Slovak are mutually intelligible, yet distinctive languages (at first, one might think they are dialects of each other).
Slovak is written using the same Roman characters that English uses (with some added accents or diacritics), so Western travellers won't have any trouble reading signs and maps.
Since the territory of Slovakia was under Hungarian influence for centuries, there is a significant Hungarian-speaking minority of 9.7%. Most of the Hungarians live in southern regions of the country and some of them speak no Slovak. 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 between 1935 and 1980 will have learned Russian in school, though few Slovaks will appreciate being spoken to in Russian. Due to the significant tourism growth in the North and the East of Slovakia, English is becoming more widely used and you may try Polish. Other Slavic languages, especially Russian, Serbian, Croatian, and Slovene may also work. In the east Rusyn, a Ukrainian dialect close to Polish is spoken. It is also intelligible with Russian to some extent.
If you speak the international language Esperanto, you can take advantage of the network of Esperanto delegates scattered across Slovakia.
Slovakia has the euro (€) as its sole currency along with 24 other countries that use this common European money. These 24 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. Together, these countries have a population of more than 330 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. Every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
Automatic teller machines (ATM, "bankomat" in Slovak, pl. "bankomaty") are widely available in Slovakia except in smaller villages, and obtaining money there should not present a problem. In most of small villages you can gain money at local postal offices (cashback). Credit cards and debit cards such as Visa, Mastercard, Visa Electron, Cirrus Maestro are widely accepted both in shops and restaurants in bigger cities.
'Bryndzové halušky' is Slovak national meal made with potato dumplings and special kind of unpasteurized fermented sheep cheese called 'bryndza'. You will get pieces of fried meaty bacon on top of Bryndzové halušky. Apart from being very tasty and delicious, the bryndza is also extremely healthy. Some scientists suppose it can even prevent cancer and treat allergies. Other unique varieties of cheese are also available. While this, and other traditional dishes, can be found in many restaurants, if you can, try to seek out one of the restaurants named 'Salaš', as these traditionally specialise in this dish. Order it with 'zincica' (sheep milk).
Most other dishes are regional, and their varieties can be found elsewhere in Central Europe. These include the sauerkraut soup (kapustnica, typically eaten at Christmas), plum dumplings, chicken in paprika sauce with dumplings (paprikas), Segedin goulash (with sauerkraut), Schnitzel and Svieckova (sirloin beef with special vegetable sauce, served with dumplings).
A thick fried slice of cheese served with French fries and a salad is a common Slovak dish. It is served in most restaurants, and worth trying out, especially the local variety made from smoked cheese ('udeny syr'/'ostiepok'). This is not considered a substitute for meat.
There is a good variety of bakery products, inclusing various cakes - try the local fillings of poppy seed and/or (sweet) cottage cheese ('tvaroh'). Local bread is excellent and filling, but please note that some varieties are sprinkled with caraway seeds. You may or may not like this! Some restaurants offer certain soups to be served in small loaf of bread ('v bochniku'), which can be an interesting and tasty experience.
For more information visitSlovensko.
For non-alcoholic drinks try Vinea, a soft drink made from grapes, in both red and white and also non-carbonated. Kofola, a Coke-type soft drink, is also very popular among locals and is available both on tap and bottled. Slovakia is one of three countries in the world where Coca-cola is not the number one in the market.
Mineral waters are some of the best in the World and can have positive effects, such as helping get rid of heart burn. There are many types available from shops and supermarkets, for example Budiš, Mytická, Slatina, Rajec, Dobrá Voda, Zlatá studňa, Mattoni 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 (which are also widely available). Try out the local Zlatý Bažant, Smädný Mních, Topvar and Šariš. Šariš 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. Note that quality of the tap beer may vary dramatically between different restaurants and pubs, depending on how well they can prepare the beer and how they care about the equipment (clean pipes etc.).
Slovakia has also some great local wines, many similar to Germanic Riesling styles. There are also sweeter wines from the Southern border regions called Tokaj. Slovak wine might not be widely known outside the region but it is certainly worth a try. The best recent wine years in Slovakia were 1997, 2000, 2003 and 2006. The year 2006 is expected to be the best in the last 40 years backwards.
Slovakia produces good spirits. Excellent is the plum brandy (Slivovica), pear brandy (Hruškovica) or liquor Demänovka. But the most popular alcohol is Borovička, a type of gin. In some shops you may try a 25 or 50 ml shot for very little money, so as to avoid buying a big bottle of something of unknown flavour, then decide whether to buy or not to buy ;)
If you are a more adventurous type, you can try some home-made Slivovica that the locals sometimes offer to foreigners. While it is allowed to ferment alcohol at home by law, it is prohibited to distill it. The home-made liquors are very strong (up to 60% alcohol). If Slivovica is matured for 12 or more years, it can become a pleasant digestive drink.
Slovakia offers many excellent spas and water parks. If you enjoy stinking mud and are willing to pay for it, the best, most famous (and most expensive) spa is located in Piešťany. Important spas are also in Trenčianske Teplice, Rajecké Teplice, Bardejov, Dudince and Podhájska.
If it's too boring for you and you'd welcome some water slides and fun, try water parks in Bešeňová, Liptovský Mikuláš, Poprad, Turčianske Teplice, Oravice, Senec. Significantly cheaper are classical open-air pools, some of the best are in Veľký Meder and Štúrovo.
Mountain cabins offer cheap accommodation for hikers on trails in all of the national parks and a lot of the national conservation areas. An own sleeping bag is often required and a booking in advance is necessary for the most frequented places.
There are many ways to find out more about Slovakia. These can range from Government web sites through to Tourist sites.
Video to help you learn about Slovakia can be found at High Tatras TV 
There are many ways in which Europeans can research work opportunities in Slovakia. Most Embassy offices will advise European Citizens. Average salary in 2009 was 750 EURO a month. Best paid are IT experts with average salary over 1500 EURO a month (construction workers earn around 560 EURO a month and waiters 340 EURO a month).
In case of an emergency, call 112, the universal emergency number. For police you can call 158, ambulance 155, and firefighters 150.
Slovakia is generally safe, even by European standards, and as a visitor you are unlikely to encounter any problems.
When visisting cities, excercise the same caution as you would in other European cities - use common sense, especially after the dark, and keep your belongings in sight. Pickpockets sometimes can be found in bigger crowds/cities and at major train/bus stations.
When visiting mountain areas of Slovakia, especially the High Tatra, inform hotel personnel of your trip plans, so that rescuers can be sent out to find you if you don't return to the hotel. Also, when visiting High Tatras, contact local mountain rescue service of your intent, they may even provide you with a safety guidelines. Take any warnings issued by the mountain rescue service seriously.
Insurance for Mountain Rescue Service is highly recommended when attending High Tatras due to cost of rescuing when lost in the terrain. Emergency number to Mountain Rescue Service is 18300 or universal number 112 can be used.
Note that the 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 Hepatitis "A" and "B" vaccination is advisable as with all European countries.
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. Dark blue or Red label usually indicates carbonated ones ("perlivá"), a green label indicates mildly carbonated ones ("mierne perlivá") and white, pink or baby blue indicates those without carbon dioxide ("neperlivá").
Remember that Slovakia is a separate nation that has been independent independence since 1993 when Czechoslovakia split into the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic.
As with other "young" nations, some people can be sensitive on nationality issues.
Like most other countries, politics and history are delicate topics, so tread lightly on those issues, especially World War II, which cost the lives of roughly 15% of Czechoslovakia's population, a rate similar to Poland, the USSR and Yugoslavia.
It shouldn't be necessary to mention that the 2006 film Hostel, whose plot takes place in Slovakia is a work of fiction, and the probability of tourists being kidnapped and tortured is the same in Slovakia as in any developed city in the USA or Western Europe - astronomically low. It is considered a safe travel destination for all tourists, as is much of Europe.
It is advisable not to mention it in conversation with Czechs or Slovaks, unless you are sure they are not going to take offense, as the film insulted a lot of Slovaks much like Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat insulted people of Kazakhstan. Similarly, the American movie Eurotrip (2004) might prove a sensitive topic, because it portrayed Slovakia as a terrifyingly undeveloped country.