Each and every country in Europe is extensively covered in guidebooks. Slovakia is no exception to that rule, but who can give better advice than the Slovaks themselves? Which places in their country do they like to visit, and which areas would they rather avoid?
With the exception of some inspired individuals, Slovaks are not the most fanatic travelers in Europe. Most of their trips link their own birth cities to those of their parents and grand parents, with Bratislava as a fourth optional pole of attraction and the High Tatra Mountains as a fifth one. Job offers are scarce in all of Slovakia, yet abundantly available in Bratislava. Many young and ambitious people exchange their birth region for the capital. Whether they settle down in Bratislava or not, they do tend to frequently travel back and fourth between the city and `the countryside`, as those who are originally from Bratislava would see it.
`Petrzalka neighbourhood doesn`t look nice from the outside but it`s quite an alright place to live`
The High Tatra mountains are the pride of every single Slovakian. During my stay in Czech Republic, I already found out that its also the one part of former Czechoslovakia that the Czechs miss most. The High Tatras have peaks of close to 3000 meters and the entire region is perfectly suitable for hiking in summer, and skiing in winter. As I have heard, a big storm recently wiped out vast areas of trees. The Tatras now temporarily look less green than before and the rocky surface makes the mountains look somewhat similar to a moon landscape.
The average Slovak is fond of nature, of castles and of small villages with old centres. Martin (24) is a big fan of castles, but equally enjoys walking around in the old centre of Bratislava: `It`s small compared to Prague, but it`s pleasant and there are not as many tourists. I am not a big fan of tourists.`
Martin (28) likes to spend his free time in the Male Karpaty. `Bratislava`s location marks the exact spot where the land stops being flat. Within 10 minutes by bus, I can be out in nature to cycle, walk or camp. I am obviously not the only one to do so, which can sometimes cause some annoyance during weekend `rush hours`. Fortunately, the further you penetrate the forest, the fewer people you will find around. It`s great for camping and we often have barbecues there. There are lakes that are very suitable for fishing and plenty of wildlife to observe.`
Martin is less charmed by Bratislava`s neighbourhood `Petrzalka`, which was constructed in the 1950s to accommodate the many people who came to Bratislava for work. `Even though it`s not on the same side of the Danube as the city centre, you can still see it when you look down from Bratislava castle. I think it`s quite ugly. All the buildings look the same and going there is a guarantee for getting lost. I try to avoid that part of town whenever I can. Beside that, I also have ambiguous feelings about the East of Slovakia. The people tend to be more warm and friendly there than they are here. On the other side, there are many gypsies, which is not a good advertisement to go there.`
Katarina (27, photo) has different thoughts about Petrzalka, which is actually the neighbourhood she lives in. `I haven`t lived there all my life, but I know that the area has become a lot more pleasant in recent years. There used to be a lot of youngsters messing up the place, robbing, selling drugs and stealing cars. It seems like that generation has now grown up. At the same time, lots of reconstruction projects have been done. The neighbourhood is a lot quiter now. It has plenty of places to relax, many green plots between the buildings. There`s even a four star hotel in the area! Sure, some places are still better to avoid, but the same is true for most cities in Europe.`
Katarina`s favourite place in Slovakia is the Janka Kral Park: `It`s big and green and it makes me think both my home town near the Hungarian border. It also makes me think of Leeds, England, where I lived for a while. Janka Kral Park is somewhat similar to Roundhay Park, even though ours is a lot smaller, does not have a cricket lawn and a football pitch. Still, there are not many places in Bratislava that are as green as this.`
Katarina`s least favourite place, like Petrzalka, has also undergone some improvement in the last couple of years. `I always hated to walk through the underground passage downtown. It was covered in graffiti and it made me feel really unwelcome. It`s a lot better as it is now: a lot cleaner than before.`
Hanka (29) has mixed feelings about ?again- Petrzalka. I used to live there when I first moved to Bratislava. Except for the one time when all my wheel covers were stolen off my car, it felt pretty much alright. Many of my friends occasionally had their cars stolen, so I could have been worse off. Anyway, I don`t think it`s the worst place in the entire country. Vrakuna is a neighbourhood of Bratislava that is already well worse than Petrzalka. I would be also be unhappy to live near Krompachy, a small yet intensively industrial city in the middle of the country. It looks terrible. It`s a place where many gypsies live in some kind of self-made houses.`
Hanka`s favourite city in Slovakia is Presov. `I was born and raised there. I think every Slovak has a soft spot for the region in which he or she was born. Presov is a beautiful city with a nice old square. Presov was located along one of the major East-West trading routes in earlier days. May people from Western Slovakia never make it as far East as Presov or Kosice. Some think that Slovakia ends 50 kilometres east of Bratislava. I had some more problems with the Bratislavian attitude. Locals seem to think that `immigrants` from the East of Slovakia are stealing their jobs and making prices of accommodation go up. It`s quite annoying how they van sometimes be very arrogant and snobby about that. I guess it`s normal for any relation between a country`s capital and the rest of the country.`
Hanka also mentions `Slovensky Raj` National Park as one of Slovakia`s most beautiful places. `I must admit that I have never actually entered the park, I`ve just seen it from the ourtside. Still, I know that there are plenty of wild animals, beautiful canyons, nice waterfalls and a number of caves that I myself still have to discover too.`
Martin (30) points me to the fact that three Slovak cities have earned UNESCO protection. He mentions `Bardjov` for the beautiful old town square, `Vlko Linec` which is a small, traditional village up on the mountains, and `Banska Stiavnica`, which for a long time supplied all of Slovakia with coins. None of these places are particularly touristy, so they are still authentic and nice to visit.`
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