I need no reasons to visit Slovakia. It is my homeland and it will always be home (though since I made a new home in Portland, Oregon, and am now considering home to be wherever my toothbrush is, I call Slovakia home-home). Everyone should visit Slovakia just because I’m from there.
Yet after seven weeks visiting Slovakia on the Where Is Your Toothbrush? RTW Tour, I realized something: though the number of tourists appears to have increased, my country deserves to get on more maps. Since you are reading this, you are the right kind of person to visit. Here are five reasons to visit Slovakia.
Reasons to visit Slovakia: Few tourists
On a Friday night a friend and I found the last available seats for a live music performance at Kávy sveta/Coffee World at a table occupied by a young couple. They turned out to be a Norwegian and a Dutchman visiting Košice for three days. Asked what motivated them to visit Slovakia, they said, “Because there are no tourists.” (They also love the Central European region and its ‘authenticity’.)
Bratislava’s historic downtown is full of tourists nowadays, but the rest of the country is where the capital was 10-15 years ago: a smattering of brave souls passes through, usually on the way between Prague and Budapest. Czechs, Poles, and Hungarians do visit in great numbers, mostly the mountains, but seeing an American is rare.
Lonely Planet (followed by The Independent) lists Slovakia among the countries to visit in 2013. That it’s taken this long for Slovakia to make it to such lists is an indication how far it has to go before it gets crowded. In fact, I am skeptical it ever will because 1) the neighboring countries have such a head start, and 2) it’s not as easy to get here.
So come on down to the middle of the European continent for mountain paths, museums and historic small towns you can have pretty much to yourself; for wonderful food and beer that’s more than affordable, especially outside Bratislava; and for the extremely hospitable people (see below). Did I mention beer?
Reasons to visit Slovakia: Accurate (if awkward) marketing slogan
No one visits countries based on their marketing slogans. But though Slovakia’s marketing slogan sounds a little awkward in English (as do many other translations on tourist information boards and the like), it is accurate. Little Big Country (see videos below) means Slovakia is small but boasts a disproportionate amount of historic and natural treasures.
As an example, consider sights. Though Slovakia covers only 0.033% of Earth’s landmass, it boasts 0.068% of all properties on the World Heritage list—five cultural and two natural (14 more are on the tentative list). As I said, small but dense.
As another example, check out this notorious Little Big Country promotional video. In my opinion, there’s too much of Bratislava and golf and too little of the rest of the country, except the High Tatra Mountains and Košice, but it’s a nice introduction nonetheless.
This next video shows more of the country beyond the capital Bratislava and wins big on the cheesiness effect. (Slovakia ain’t no fairyland. You should still visit.)
Reasons to visit Slovakia: Extreme hospitality
A Slovak saying goes, “A guest in the house is a god in the house.” Slovaks love visitors. So much so we can smother them in our hospitality. Only in Slovakia do you arrive to a private residence at night 10 pm and get offered a three-course dinner; only here do you get offered food 10 times a day lest you report back home that we didn’t feed you. Only in Slovakia do we greet you and say goodbye to you at the door with a shot of spirits; only here is your glass never empty in between. Befriend a Slovak and all the doors he can walk through open to you as well.
A common complaint among both the Slovaks and visitors is service in restaurants and the hospitality industry in general. On this trip I encountered grumpy waiters, unhelpful receptionists, and museum staff who only spoke Slovak. I won’t waste time explaining such realities (mostly they have to do with how little people make and with the cheapskate tipping culture), but I will advise to think of such encounters as cultural experiences. Isn’t perfect service boring?
Next, focus on the positive: staff at Chata pri Zelenom plese (Green Tarn Chalet), Buchvald and Egidius Minibreweries, or the aforementioned Kávy sveta/Coffee World can pride themselves in providing excellent service. And the more people follow Reason #1 to visit Slovakia, the higher the demand for better services, and the more commercial hospitality improves over time. It’s a numbers game. Help Slovakia out!
Reasons to visit Slovakia: Dynamic art scene
In 2013 my hometown Košice is a European Capital of Culture, together with Marseille, France. A ton of cultural events (concerts, exhibitions, festivals, openings) are taking place this year. But the city has been on the up and up for a few years now. Several old heat transfer stations in socialist housing developments have been converted into culture centers and a number of other world-class spaces have opened; the Street Art Communication festival enlivens blank walls with urban art… The city lives and breathes art (see the Košice 2013 Program).
The same is the case in the rest of the country. This summer alone I wished I could have gone to Trenčín (Pohoda music festival) or Banská Štiavnica (activities of the Banska St A Nica center of contemporary art). Whether this is the result of any Capital of Culture effect I can’t say, but the fact is, creativity in Slovakia is skyrocketing.
Reason #5 to visit Slovakia: Changes
Allan Stevo has pointed out that in some ways Slovakia is stuck in the 1950’s: alcohol, lard, and pig killings are appreciated; political correctness doesn’t exist; and people dress up to go out. Socialism is still present, chiefly through architecture that breaks up the monotony of historic buildings. The High Tatra Mountains are still gorgeous.
But Slovakia is changing fast. Since only repeated visits best reveal the transformation, I encourage you to visit often. I visit every 2-3 years. On this visit alone I discovered a dynamic art scene (see Reason #4), microbreweries (see here and here), and much better public transportation vehicles.
In other words, come before Slovakia looks like any other Western country.
Reasons to visit Slovakia: Coffee+Dumpling+Komiks [BONUS]
I’ll say it again: Slovakia inspires art. Marek Bennett documented his visit to the land of his ancestors with the Coffee+Dumpling+Komiks: One Rabbit’s Adventures in Slovakia comics and book (out now). A huge thanks to Marek for the permission to repost a portion of his comics “Why Go to Slovakia?” See the entire comics here.
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