Slovakia is a small country located in the middle of Europe not very well known in Thailand. So it was a very good news for me to learn that Kathleen Pokrud together with her husband visited my home country. My pleasure was enhanced, when she informed me that she had written an article about her short trip to Slovakia and about her impressions of our country for Expat Life in Thailand. Unfortunately, due to the lack of time she only visited the capital city Bratislava, which is one of Europe´s youngest capitals although its history goes back thousands of years.
But Slovakia has much more to offer each and every visitor. Along with the many tourist attractions and opportunities to unwind, relax or set out on an adventure, it truly is a natural meeting point. And all this is to be found concentrated in one small area.
I am convinced that as you spent more time here than Kathy and her friends and that you will inevitably succumb to our country´s charm. Please take time out to visit our breathtaking mountains and national parks. Explore at least one of our numerous large caves, dozens of picturesque, historic town centres or healing spas famed for their beneficial effects. Spend the day at one of our highly equipped ski resorts or world class golf courses. Then you can decide which appeals more to you most. The vibe of the capital city of Bratislava or the unique folk architecture of the countryside. In either case, I am sure that you will be disappointed.
Readers of Expat Life, explore the best of Slovakia, get to know her wonderful people and make sure you do not miss out on a single natural attraction… except perhaps the sea…
I hope that you enjoy reading!
H.E. Mr. Stanislav Opiela
Ambassador of Slovakia to the Kingdom of Thailand
On planning our Eastern Europe trip, Budapest and Prague were the major cities on our list. As I researched on the map, Slovakia is borderered between Hungary and the Czech Republic, with its capital “Bratislava” which I couldn’t pronounce properly the first time. It made sense to stop over for a two nights stay, and we never regretted a moment of it. Established for only a short span of 27 years, the landlocked country Slovakia is officially known as The Slovak Republic. Bratislava is a city of half a million inhabitants, often refers as the Beauty on the Danube. It lies in the north by the confluence of the Morava River with the mighty Danube, and in the south by the fertile valleys of the Rye Island. Bratislava is uniquely positioned in the immediate vicinity of the border of two neighbouring countries – Hungary and Austria.
With the historical background under the rule of the Hungarian empire, Bratislava entwines part of its history with Budapest. It also serves as a younger version of the more prominent cities like Prague and Vienna. Nevertheless, many modern travellers like me fall in love with this romantic city with its architectural grandiose, fascinating museums, and elaborate old houses.
When I walked around Bratislava, I could feel the local Slovak charm by seeing mostly local residents, which is unequivocally not the case in Budapest, Prague and Vienna, when one can encounter foreign tourists everywhere. I found the city vibrant and dynamic. I was delighted with the size of Bratislava and its allurement. Sometimes, the appeal of a city is lost when it is overcrowded with tourists.
The castle, on its hill above the old town, dominates the city of Bratislava. The site of the Bratislava Castle has a rich historical past. It is believed that to have been inhabited for over 4,500 years. Castle Hill was populated as early as the late Stone Age and its first known inhabitants were the Celts. Official records show that the castle was an important fortress during the Great Moravian period in the 9th Century. Numerous battles and changes in the seats of governments took places in the hundreds of years that followed. One of the present-day “Crown Tower”, which is the largest of the four existing towers of the structure was built around 1250. Since its independence, the castle serves the purpose of a representative venue for the Slovak Parliament and the Historical Department of the Slovak National Museum.
We spent an entire morning soaked in the rich medieval history of Devin Castle, which is mirrored in its ruins. The castle marked the glory and fall of Great Moravia and was blown up by Napoleon’s armies. It was later declared as a national cultural moment of Slovakia. Devin Castle is situated in Devin, which is a borough of Bratislava, a short drive out from the city centre. Situated on a high cliff over the Morava and Danube rivers, it offers panoramic views of the frontiers between Slovakia and Austria. Inside the castle walls, my first stop was a Christian chapel from the 4th Century. It is a one room building with the fundamentals of the chapel. I felt the tranquility of the atmosphere. The ruins of the Devin Castle were a delightful area to walk around.
A walk around the Old Town
The old town of Bratislava is definitely a place worth to visit for its romantic charm. It is very compact and easy to navigate with spectacular historical buildings, narrow corridors, clock towers and cobblestone streets. Pedestrian only areas offered a perfect leisurely stroll. For two nights, we enjoyed the walk back to our hotel under the cool autumn sky and crisp fresh air. There are plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants to explore. Do not miss the man at work bronze statue!
During our walk around the old town, we saw a long queue of people outside one particular patisserie. We were attracted by its exceptional window display. It turned out the building that housed the tearoom is 100 years old, furnished in grandeur with Parisian mirrors, ornate light fixtures and carved wood panels. We sat at marble tables and were served with antique china porcelain and silver cutlery. While indulging in the gorgeous cakes on offer, we admired the Italian Renaissance paintings on the ceiling walls. This amazing afternoon tea set cost us only 10 euros each. Simply, splendid and I highly recommend to visit this gem!
A history lesson… since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic were officially separated. As a visitor tourist, it may be worthwhile to learn about the country behind the Iron Curtain in the past. Additionally, Slovaks will often feel offended if outsiders confuse Slovakia with Slovenia (though sound very alike is in fact, unquestionably two separate countries). Multinational corporations have offices in Bratislava, which is rated as the sixth richest region in the European Union when comparing GDP per capita.
Food and wine
During our two days in Bratislava, we tasted some authentic Slovak cuisine which was only available in Slovakia itself. Slovak cuisine was greatly influenced by their two neighbouring countries, Austria and Hungary. I found the food in Slovakia wholesome. Meat, sheep cheese, dumplings and potato makethe basis of many dishes, and the desserts are sweet. Here are some of the unique Slovakian dishes:
- Potato dumplings with sheeps cheese
- Pork with dumplings and cabbage
- Fried cheese in breadcrumbs
- Potato pancake
- Cabbage soup
- Goulash soup
- Slovak pancakes
Although Slovak wines are not well known internationally, they are popular domestically and in neighbouring countries. The quality of Slovak Wines has been proved by dozens of awards from prominent international competitions and from year to year their numbers grow. Wine is produced mainly in the Bratislava region called – Small Carpathian Wine Region.
Take a bite of the Golden Apple
The Golden Apple award in the field of tourism is equivalent to the Oscar Academy awards in the film industry. The prize was “picked” by Bratislava in 2017 to salute its excellent achievements in the ‘destinations’ category from the World Federation of Travel Journalists and Writers (FIJET). It acknowledges the city’s representation of crossroads rich in history, culture and experience. There have been different nicknames for Bratislava purposely engaging such as BARtislava, PARTYslavia because of the fun in the city’s nightlife. For me, the name of Bratislava is just fine being a romantic European city!