Slovakia, You Young’in You

D83F5FF8-DF6D-441A-A180-8656EC76017FSince I was working in Austria, I did what any stereotypical traveling addict does and played the “Where else can I visit” as I browsed a world map for places near Austria. Sprinkling a little of my old Girl Takes Mundo ways with a work trip in Austria felt like a bit of the ying I needed for my yang. As a former full-time traveling nomad, you quickly realize that once you’ve become said traveling nomad you always seem to be chasing that next adventure even if you are no longer doing this full-time. (Which means this Girl Takes Mundo journey isn’t stopping but simply slowing down.)

How did I decide on Slovakia you wonder? It’s hard not to resist visiting a country that is younger than you are and that didn’t even exist when you were born. At a tender age of 26 years, Slovakia is full of history being formerly part of what was once Czechoslovakia, having a communist background and aligning with Hitler during his Nazi era. Due to this and what has been seen time and time again with countries that have troublesome pasts like Colombia with Pablo Escobar and Egypt once being a conflict zone, only as of recently has Slovakia also begun to see the surge of tourists finally coming to experience the marvels of such a beautiful culturally and naturally condensed country.

(FYI: I’ve had the pleasure of visiting both Colombia and Egypt and would highly recommend as they too are perfectly safe places to visit as long as you practice common traveler safety. Click on the country links to see my travel guides for each.)

So, as I journeyed around Austria and Slovakia carrying my #lifeinabag backpack instead of my now standard luggage used for work travel, I felt complete again, I felt like myself.

Admittedly, many travelers like myself agree that they visited Slovakia as an add on to other destinations they were traveling to during their Europe holidays such as Austria, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungry since they heard you don’t need many days to visit and it is economical. Since I had already visited all the countries mentioned above, Slovakia was the last one standing and I am very glad I did.

While exploring Slovakia for 8 days, a theme that kept emerging was the rich and unique culture found here despite its size and historical past. Visiting Slovakia truly felt like I was emerging myself into a different world than I had experienced from its neighboring countries of Austria, Hungry and Poland which was a misconception I had before visiting. Contrary to my belief, Slovakia is filled with unique gastronomy, attractions like castles, caves, national parks and filled with Unesco World Heritage sites.

A second theme that seemed reasonable given its history was its lack of tourist industry outside of Bratislava and English language comprehension. I found that English is rare for people to know if they are older than their late 20’s. The self-proclaimed travel guru that I am basks in a language challenge but can assure you that you don’t need to be a travel guru to easily overcome this while traveling here. (Just find someone young.) Additionally, lacking a tourism industry doesn’t mean seeing and experiencing beautiful things isn’t possible. It simply means you will get a more authentic taste of a country. So, go ahead, don’t skip Slovakia while you are traveling through Central Europe.

Getting Around

Cabs – Cabs are available in Slovakia

UBER – Uber does operate in Bratislava but it may be hard to catch a ride if requesting outside of Bratislava so consider yourself warned.

Need to download UBER? Use my $5 promo code for a free ride on your first trip: “r83uv”. Download the app HERE and enter the promo code to redeem.

Bus – Busses are available for both local and longer travel to other cities in Slovakia.

  • Bratislava city busses charge based on the amount of time your journey will be and most places you’ll visit are no more than 15 minutes by bus. A 15 min bus ticket is only .70 EUR ($.80 USD). If you think you will be using the bus multiple times in the day, the 24-hour ticket is 3.50 EUR ($3.95 USD). Do note that bus drivers are unable to sell you tickets. Tickets may be purchased using the small ticket boxes located at most bus stops and only accept cash. Additionally, be warned that some bus stops don’t have ticket boxes and if you get a rubbish bus driver, they may not let you on without a ticket even if you attempt to give him money. (Lesson I learned the hard way.)

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  • Busses to other cities in Slovakia from Bratislava are available but unfortunately bus routes are more difficult to find using google search. Your best bet if wanting to travel outside of Bratislava is to head to the main bus station and ask for a ticket to get you to “X” city. Ticket sales staff will know which is the best bus/route to get you there.

FYI: Busses back to Bratislava from other cities may not be as easy as going to a bus station if they don’t have a bus station as it was the case in Banska Stiavnica.

My advice:

  • Read bus time routes at the bus stop you get dropped off.
  • Don’t assume busses will come at the time the sign says they will or stop where the sign is. In Banska Stiavnica I stood at a bus stop with other locals who were also heading to Bratislava for 3 hours after the bus time I attempted to get on. I decided to put my pro traveler hat on and began asking bus drivers if they were heading to Bratislava and even started asking younger people if they too were traveling to Bratislava since the likelihood of them speaking English was far higher. Naturally, I latched on to those who said they were and thankfully for me got on the last bus of the day to Bratislava from Banska Stiavnica.
  • Have enough cash for the bus ticket which should roughly be the same price as the original ticket purchased to said city.

Trains – Easily available for travel to many cities outside of Bratislava with multiple available times. Search google for best travel options as these are very up to date.

Languages

Slovak is the language spoken in Slovakia and only younger people under the age of 30 really speak English even in tourist cities/places so you certainly resort to pointing at things, hoping for the best when you order food, looking for young people to help translate or answer questions for you, etc. TIP: Download the Google Translate App and be sure to take it even a step further and download the offline Slovak translation to ensure you can translate without using your data or when you find yourself in places with “No Service” which is common when you begin exploring beyond Bratislava.

Here is an easy cheat sheet to help you get started in your Slovak lessons.

Basic Phrases

Hello! Ahoj
Good day! Dobry den
Yes Ano
No Ziadny
Thank you Dakujem
Thank you very much Dakujem mnohokrat
I don’t speak Slovak Nehovorim Slovensky

What To Eat & Drink

  • Potato dumplings – Bryndzove Halusky
  • Pirogy with sheep cheese – Bryndzove Pirohy
  • Potato pancakes – Zemiakove Placky
  • Creamy garlic soup served in a bread bowl – Cesnacka
  • Poppy seed (Sulance s makom) or Plum (Slivkove Knedle/Gule) dumplings
  • Plum (Slivovica) or Pear (Hruskovica) spirit
  • Tatra tea – Tatransky caj
  • Honey made wine – Medovina
  • Blackcurrant wine – Ribezlove

 

Where I Went

Bratislava – The capital of Slovakia is a great place to start your travels in Slovakia. With its old town, lively bars, cafes and castle overlooking the city and you can easily spend 2-3 days exploring here.

Don’t Miss:

  • Old Town – Be sure to catch one of the free tours which meet in front of the statue of Pavol Orszagh Hviezdoslav at either 11am and 3pm to get better understanding of the history and must see sites within the old town.
  • Devin Castel – You can visit this by catching the #29 bus but remember to purchase two tickets at .90 as you won’t find a bus ticket box in Devin.
  • Stroll along the Dunube River
  • Blue church
  • UFO observation deck
  • Bratislava Castle
  • Slavin Memorial – Largest war memorial in central Europe and an great place to get a view of the city and castle if you don’t want to shell out the money to get on top of the UFO observation deck and considered by locals the better place for an overview of the city.
  • Bratislava statues – including Schone Naci, Christian Andersen and the Man on work statue all in the old town.
  • Grassalkovich Palace + its gardens – You are able to roam for free.
  • Slovak Radio – also known as “The Ugly Building” by many locals.
  • Trinitarian church
  • Old town hall
  • Michael’s gate – only preserved gate of the city fortification system.

Eat + Drink:

  • Spirit of Wine – A must go for wine (and only wine) in a cool and chill cellar.
  • Steinplatz Kaviaren a bar – Formerly a public toilet this little underground bar serves up a wide range of local beers at very reasonable prices.
  • Slovak Pub – Traditional pub with rural/folk decorations and local traditional Slovak cuisine.
  • Bratislava Flagship Restaurant – Sister restaurant to Slovak pub also serving traditional food but is also one of the largest restaurants in Europe.
  • Pollito Cheesecake – Great café located in the old town if you are have a taste for delicious cheese cake. (I became a regular while I was in Bratislava since I was on “holiday eating” mode.)
  • Mondieu – Another great eatery if you are looking for non traditional Slovak cuisine. Their French onion soup with a chocolate pot was a favorite of mine for a semi-light lunch.

Stay:

  • Wild Elephants Hostel – Great hostel if you are looking to make friends as they offer daily activities, nightly pub crawls and hostel family dinners.
  • Hostel Blues – Clean, economical hostel with really informative staff who can help with figuring out what to see, eat and do in Bratislava.

 

Trnava –Trnava is also called “Slovak Rome” as the old medieval town has 11 churches within its city walls and was the capital for the Catholic church of Ungarian kingdom when Ottomans destroyed Eztergom.

This is a great day trip option from Bratislava as it is just a short 1-hour train ride. The roundtrip ticket from the main train station was 5.10 EUR ($ 5.75).

Don’t Miss:

  • Walking within and on the Fortification walls
  • Stroll to see the 11 churches within the medieval town.
  • Visit Smolenice castle which is just a few minutes away from Trnava
  • Enjoy a meal at “Wetzlerov Dom” for traditional Slovak cuisine

 

Banska Stiavnica – This is a beautiful former mining town that lies among the hills in the center of Slovakia and part of Unesco. The legend says that this region used to be so rich that it was inhabited by golden lizards first.

2 days is plenty of time to explore Banska Stiavnica and from Bratislava it is a 3-hour bus journey from the main bus station. The one-way ticket from the main bus station was 10 EUR ($11.20 USD). You may also be able to get there by train but keep in mind that the train is not direct and takes 4 hours to get there.

Don’t Miss:

  • Mines – Go underground and explore the old mining system.
  • Castles – There are 2 castles in the town. The “Old Castle” is in the city center and the “New Castle” is on the hill and will give you a feeling of the old wars during the Ottoman empire.
  • Love Bank – Famous attraction here for all love birds. This love museum is a museum of the longest love poem in the world, “Marina”. This long poem is written on love boxes and these boxes house the first safe in the world where you can store in a “Love Box”, love for either 1 year or forever (Because apparently your love may not be as long as this poem) a symbolic keepsake of your love. Of course, these tokens of love can be of people’s partners but also parents, children, paw-children, friends, food, etc. etc.
  • Kalvaria – A beautiful late Baroque Calvary on a volcanic hill formed in the years of 1744-1751.
  • Botanical Gardens – Small but free to enter botanical gardens worth strolling through if you find yourself passing by while touring the city.
  • Old Town – This is certainly one of the areas where you will really get a feel for why so many people visit Banska Stiavnica while traveling in Slovakia. It helps paint a picture of life outside of a big city like Bratislava and the nature and sounds that can be heard here certainly help seal the deal to this charming city.

Eat:

  • Divna Pani Caffe – Beautiful coffee house in the center of the town with tons of instagramable areas throughout the coffee house. Photo shoot anyone?

Stay:

  • Most small accommodations like B&B’s and lodges do not advertise online yet (Like I mentioned, the country is still playing catch up to the current times). Only major hotels and Airbnb can be found online in Banska Stiavnica. Since I was traveling solo and wanted to ensure I had accommodation upon arriving in Banska Stiavnica given my short time in Slovakia I decided to book an Airbnb as this was the cheaper option than the hotels I saw online. I knew that regardless if I picked a hotel or Airbnb, I would still be limited in meeting people since hotels aren’t solo traveling friendly. I ended up staying in a whole apartment very close to where the bus dropped me off and just a short 10-minute walk to the Old Town.

Have not had the chance to try Airbnb before? Sign up with my link HERE and you will receive up to $55 USD off your first trip.

 

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