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Seeking the real Slovakia

Updated on February 22, 2015

Seeking the real Slovakia

We flew into Bratislava not really knowing what to expect. Slovakia is a country that we had never been to before and we knew only a little of what we might expect to see and do here. We determined that we would take our time to explore, and get to know the real Slovakia. First, the city of Bratislava, the part of Slovakia most commonly visited by tourists.

itinerary

A
Bratislava:
Bratislava, Slovakia

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B
Trnava and Trencin:
Trnava District, Slovakia

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C
Trencin:
Trenčín, Slovakia

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D
Tatra Mountains:
Tatra Mountains, 062 01 Vysoké Tatry, Slovakia

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E
Kosice:
Košice, Slovakia

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F
Banksa Bystrica:
Banská Bystrica, Slovakia

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G
Nitra:
Nitra, Slovakia

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Quick Facts

 
 
Official Country Name
Slovenska Republika
Abbreviations
SK (2 letter ISO official )
Area
49 030 square kilometres
Maximum length:
428 km (Zahorska Ves - Nova Sedlica)
Maximum width:
195 km (Sturovo - Skalite))
Population
5 268 935 (1995)
Nationalities
Slovak (85.6%), Hungarian (10.8%),
Religion
Roman-Catholic (60.3%), Greek-Catholic (3.4%),
Capital
Bratislava
Independence
January 1, 1993
Constitution
January 1, 1993

Seeking the real Slovakia – Part One, Bratislava

We flew into Bratislava not really knowing what to expect. Slovakia is a country that we had never been to before and we knew only a little of what we might expect to see and do here. We determined that we would take our time to explore, and get to know the real Slovakia. First, the city of Bratislava, the part of Slovakia most commonly visited by tourists.


Exploring the old town, we knew that we were still on the well-beaten track but it was fascinating none the less to wander the grand, baroque streets and through a mediaeval gateway, whose tower we climbed for a lovely view. Nearby, we visited Mozart house, where the baby prodigy performed, and the Rococo confection, the Mirbach Palace, to see the collection of Baroque art.


On the edge of the old town, we found the Cathedral of St. Martin. This was where the kings and queens of Hungary between 1563 and 1830 were coronated. We saw people coming and going to pray and to venerate the remains of the 7th Century saint, Joan the Merciful. This was a living church, suitably grand and solemn, clearly an important place for the people who worship or visit here. More than two thirds of Slovaks identify as Roman Catholics and whether they are practising or not, the religion clearly plays and has played a huge role in the creation of the country's culture.


Another church we visited while in the city was the pretty fairytale confection that is called, appositely, the Blue Church. This church was built in the early 20th Century and is a strange mish-mash of styles, Hungarian influence mingles with features of oriental design, whimsical romanticism and classical architectural forms. We loved it. The mosaics inside were particularly vivid and interesting, depicting the Princess and saint of the middle ages to whom the church is concecrated.


Wherever we went in the town, we were strongly aware of Bratislava's Castle, the boxy and imposing structure, built in the 1950s in a reconstruction of the 15th Century Castle which previously stood on the spot and was burned down in 1811. Eventually, we wound our way up through the Jewish quarter, up the hill to the see the Castle more closely. Inside, the castle housed two museums, one devoted to history and the other to music. We came out again feeling that we had learned much about Slovakia's past and its culture, though the Museum of Clocks, a little way down the hill, seemed somehow much more authentic and less staged. It was a real highlight of our visit to the city.


Other highlights included the English tapestries at the neo-classical Primate's Palace, and the magnificent collections of art in the Slovak National Gallery. Better avoided, in our opinions, were the tacky fakery of the man-made beach on the Danube, and the overpriced restaurant in the sci-fi tower of the Nový most road bridge. The views were good, but the foood was only so-so and feeling like we were in Star Trek was a bit of a surreal experience.


Overall though, we loved Bratislava, and were sorry not to have more time to explore it. Still, the rest of Slovakia awaited, and we were excited to hit the road once more.


Bratislava

Seeking the real Slovakia – Part 2, Trnava and Trencin

A
Trnava:
Trnava, Slovakia

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B
Trencin:
Trenčín, Slovakia

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Seeking the real Slovakia – Part 2, Trnava and Trencin

Leaving Bratislava behind, we were travelling into the unknown. Acting on the tip of a local, we first made our way to the historic city of Trnava. We wandered the streets of this, one of the oldest cities in Slovakia, taking in the university buildings and churches and fortifications. We had a coffee on a peaceful, quiet square and could see why this serene baroque gem is oft called 'little Rome' – though it shared none of that cities bustling crowds. The other side to this town, we were told by a friendly waiter, is the automotive industry, in which many citizens of the city are employed.


We did not stay in Trvava for the night, but instead travelled around half an hour to the north east to the spa town of Piestany. We had decided to treat ourselves to a dip in the restorative waters claimed to be on offer there. Piestany is a popular destination for those seeking a 'cure' and people come here from all over Europe to bathe and recuperate. We heard accents from all over as we splashed about in thermal mineral water and wallowed in stinky sulphuric mud. It was very luxurious and relaxing. It was interesting, though, to note the strong difference between the tourist-destination spas and the surrounding town in which people were getting on with their ordinary, every day lives. It seemed like a different world inside the classy spa complexes. It was clear to see that this is a town dedicated to pleasing visitors – not just those who come to the spas, but those who come from around Slovakia for conferences and for various sporting pursuits.


After our treatments, we left feeling very relaxed and took the one hour drive to the former Roman military colony, the city of Trencin. It was here that we were spending the night at the home of some accommodating strangers that we had met through the Couchsurfer website and who had invited us to stay in their home in the historic centre of the city. Our hosts were very welcoming and from the window of the bedroom they had given us, we could see the castle perched scenically atop the hill. Our hosts told us a lot about the town and gave us many tips about what we should see and do the following day – perhaps meeting locals in this way is the best way to really get to know the real country.


Unfortunately, though there are many wonderful things about this city, and the country as a whole, the place is currently experiencing many setbacks. Our hosts told us that there is high unemployment in the town, and though Trencin has historically been considered one of Slovakia's wealthiest and best provided cities, things have been tough in the past couple of years. Public services are underfunded and there has been some disapproval of the way things have been run. There was much talk of a swimming pool half-finished and burning through money.


Still, the following day, it was difficult to see any evidence of the financial strain as we wandered through the historic centre of the town. We loved our visit to Trencin, and will surely return one day to revisit our new friends.


Seeking the real Slovakia – Part 2, Trnava and Trencin

Seeking the Real Slovakia – Part Three – The Mountains

A
Tatra Mountains:
Tatra Mountains, 062 01 Vysoké Tatry, Slovakia

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Seeking the Real Slovakia – Part Three – The Mountains

Leaving Trencin behind, we made our way a little to the north and east and wound on back roads through densely wooded hills and valleys on a picturesque route that took us towards the world famous Tatra Mountains.


First, we stopped off in another historic city – Zilina, the third most populous in Slovakia. We paid a visit to Budatin Castle, located just north of the town where the rivers the Vah and the Kysuca converge. Another fascinating old town to explore yielded a pleasing Renaissance belfry and some pretty town houses, while the outskirts looked a little more run down.


Moving on, we went to Martin, nearby which a traditional Slovakian village has been made into a museum which sheds a lot of light on the lives of ordinary Slovakians in days gone past. We spent a happy hour or so wandering around and looking at the old houses and so on.

Malá Fatra National Park provided our first proper look at the High Tatras. This stunning and dramatic landscape opened up before our eyes, providing one imposing vista after another. Rocky grey crags thrust upwards from thickly forested slopes looking practically impossible. We saw waterfalls cascading in shimmering ribbons, and gorges plunging down between sheer cliffs that gave us vertiginous chills. This was in a sense the real Slovakia, not the people and the buildings and infrastructure they had created but the landscape of this amazing country.


We continued on through breathtaking scenery, leaving the Malá Fatra National Park behind us and traversing the northern districts of Slovakia, eventually making our way to the almost unbelievable beauty of the mountainous region of Presov, and The Tatra National Park.


Here, we decided to find a little of the outdoors adventure that Slovakia offers in abundance. We left the car for the time being and took to the peaks for three days of hiking in this, the highest mountain range in the Carpathians. Do not make the mistake of thinking that we were hiking in splendid isolation. This is a popular tourist area and the paths we were on were fairly well-travelled. We met many a fellow walker on the fairly arduous trails between the small villages in which we stayed, though the presence of other people was pleasant and not at all intrusive. Most of the other walkers we met were either Slovakian, or were from the neighbouring countries of Poland, the Czech Republic and Ukraine.


Near the summit of one of the fine peaks, as we sat down to rest and to take in the staggering spectacle of the vista before us, we spoke to a friendly old Slovakian man who told us that he came here to see his country – the country that somehow, in the modern world, with modern cities becoming more and more homogenized, with political posturing etc. and economic unrest, had been pushing to the background and was difficult to see. 'This is my land' he said, pointing out at the view. 'Everything changes, but this' he made a wide gesture, 'reminds me that some things are more permanent than others. This is the real Slovakia.'


Seeking the Real Slovakia – Part Three – The Mountains

Seeking the Real Slovakia – Part Four, Kosice

A
Kosice:
Košice, Slovakia

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Seeking the Real Slovakia – Part Four, Kosice

We had a real sense that we were beginning to find what we had come to Slovakia to look for. We were liking what we had found, both the landscape and the wonderful, welcoming people it had helped to forge. But there was more to see, and soon, our three day hike in the High Tatras was over, and we got back on the road.


In this next stage of our Slovakian road trip we descended from the high mountains and made our way first to the atmospheric hilltop ruins of Spis Castle. This 12th Century castle with later additions and amendments has been used in various films and one can see why it has been popular as a location with its proud outlook over the mountains and the plains. The gruesome display of torture devices in the museum within the part of the castle reconstructed in the 20thCentury held, we found, a certain gruesome fascination.


Leaving Spis castle and the foothills behind, we found our way to Slovakia's second city, Kosice. It was something of a shock to get back to a large city after our days spent in the countryside and small villages and towns, but Kosice proved to be a vibrant and interesting place, with plenty of cultural and art historical sites to explore. As usual, we took to the streets on foot for a perambulation around the centre of the city – the best way to get to know a new place is undoubtedly to pound the pavements.


Kosice was an important regional hub during the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the influences of that empire are evident in the architecture of the city. There is much interesting architecture in the city, dating from a range of different eras. Dominating the town centre is the gothic masterpiece of the Cathedral of St. Elizabeth, and other highlights include the old university, the Chapel of St. Michael, the old town hall, Liberation Square, the State Theatre and the Captain's Palace. The ancient fortifications of the town are also scenic and scintillating – we visited The Katova Citadel and also the Mlynska Citadel during our brief time in the city.


The following day we left Kosice behind and headed south west. Slovak Paradise National Park is yet another of the nine unbelievably beautiful national parks in the country. This park had a different feel to the High Tatras, but was no less wonderful, with a very wide range of scenic attractions, some of which have to be seen to be believed.


The landscape of the park is immensely varied, from sweet meadows and forests to dramatic plateaus, chasms, canyons and gorges. This area is also well known for its many caves and cavern systems, foremost amongst which must surely be the Dobsinska Ice Cave – one of the largest and most magnificent ice caves in the world. We wandered in awe through its halls, corridors and domes looking at the eerie and gorgeous ice formations all around us.


Slovakia is such a varied country, we thought. Just when we think we have it pinned down, its essence slips elusively out of our grasp.


Seeking the Real Slovakia – Part Four, Kosice

Seeking the Real Slovakia – Part Five, Banksa Bystrica & Nitra

A
Banksa Bystrica:
Banská Bystrica, Slovakia

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B
Nitra:
Nitra, Slovakia

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Seeking the Real Slovakia – Part Five, Banksa Bystrica & Nitra

After leaving the Kosice region we journeyed once more into more mountainous terrain, entering the Low Tatras National Park. So much of Slovakia is National Park or stunning scenery that we almost felt we were just staggering, blinking, from one blinding delight to another. We were definitely getting a sense of the country now though, as we finally wound our way slowly back towards Bratislava – its mountains and plains, its people and its historic towns and cities.


Our next city stop was Banksa Bystrica, a cultural pearl at the heart of the country. The city centre, which of course we explored on foot, was filled with historical architectural gems. There was the 13th Century main square, and many examples of Renaissance and Jugendstil architectural styles. We particularly liked seeing the house of Veit Mühlstein, a massive mediaeval dwelling, and the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary with its Gothic additions.


Banksa Bystrica gave us our first real insight into more recent Slovakian history when we toured the SNP Museum, which deals with the Slovak National Uprising during the Second World War – events about which we, and we presumed many other foreigners, knew next to nothing. It was of course a difficult period in history, and the displays, if a little old and tired, show that rather well. We certainly left knowing a lot more than we did when we arrived, though the building itself was ugly and a bit bleak.


All of the area around the town was very pretty though, with plenty of dense woodland and rolling hills that made us think of fairy tales. Which is why we were almost trepidatious that we would meet some goblin or troll when we went to the Freedom Cave, part of the largest cave system in Slovakia. Its weird and wacky world of stalagmites and stalactites had us gazing around fully expecting some supernatural creature to appear.


We spent some time hiking around the Lower Tatras, and getting to know more locals before we once more got back in the car and headed back towards Bratislava, retreating once more from the mountains and finding ourselves looking out over the plains which we would have to traverse to return to the city.


Before descending to the plain, we took in the interesting wooden articular church in the little village of Hronsek, one of five articular churches that exist in Slovakia, and one of the nine wooden churches of Slovakia. Interestingly, this is a Protestant Church in a country that is predominantly Roman Catholic.


Finally, we reluctantly made our way from Hronsek over the plains of Nitra back to Bratislava, pausing only to take a look at the Renaissance Castle in Topolcianky. We returned the hire car, and took time to reflect on all we had seen or done. We were not entirely sure that we had seen the 'real Slovakia' – after all this is such a deep and richly varied country – but we had definitely seen a lot of what makes Slovakia what it is – its high mountains and flat plains, its gentle, verdant forests and dizzying gorges, its peaks, caves, villages, roads and cities, and most of all, the people who have been shaped by that land, and get much of their identity from it. It seems that whatever the political or economic hardship it may endure, Slovakia will prevail. We took comfort in that.


Seeking the Real Slovakia – Part Five, Banksa Bystrica & Nitra

Finally :)

If you enjoyed reading my hub, Please follow me as i upload daily, (and improve on excising hubs daily) I enjoy taking you around the beautiful world we live in! Any comments about my work is highly appreciated :) Also If your Looking to visit these places in Slovakia We can help you out we’re a specialist holiday company providing customers with affordable dream holidays. The team of travel experts are dedicated to providing outstanding service to customers helping them with flights, accommodation, holiday deals and Great Offers to Turkey. The company’s website http://www.traveleze.co.uk is brimming with valuable information and great deals, exceeding customers’ expectations daily.

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    • traveleze profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee John 

      3 years ago from Preston

      Hi emmaouthworth

      Wow very glad to hear that! Enjoy and write a hub when your back!

      Thanks

      Lee

    • traveleze profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee John 

      3 years ago from Preston

      Hi Thomasjames1992

      Thank you once again

      Lee

    • traveleze profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee John 

      3 years ago from Preston

      Hi emmaouthworth

      thank you once again glad you enjoy my hubs

      Thanks

      Lee

    • emmaouthworth profile image

      Emma Southworth 

      3 years ago from Manchester

      Since ive read this ive booked a trip there looks so inviting! because of you!!

    • Thomasjames1992 profile image

      Thomas James 

      3 years ago from London

      God what a long hub! some good information about Slovakia you could make a book it was that long

    • emmaouthworth profile image

      Emma Southworth 

      3 years ago from Manchester

      What a great hub on Slovakia

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