It is an indisputable fact that Slovakia is still very much unknown among most people on this green earth. Too often I need to correct people’s knowledge about this country and tell them that what they think they know is completely wrong. To make everyone’s life easier, I compiled a list of 8 things you need to know about Slovakia, which will make you for sure the first person to be chosen for the next pub-quiz team.
Recently I was asked what Bratislava should improve to sell itself better to the outside world as a great holiday or city-trip destination. I did not have to think hard about that, because the one thing it must improve is something we, both tourists and locals alike, need to deal with every single day - crappy customer service.
Christmas is approaching fast! In a few days time, the world will gorge themselves on delicious food, loads of gifts and buckets full of happiness. We did our Christmas dinner shopping yesterday, so we are all prepared for the big evening. Creating the shopping list, it brought me back to my first Slovak Christmas dinner, 8 years ago by now. How did that look like, you ask? Let me give you a glimpse into Christmas at my Slovak in-laws.
Over the past years I have visited most corners of Slovakia. Surprisingly enough, however, the High Tatras remains still very elusive to me. I have visited the obvious places like Štrbské Pleso and some of the bigger cities the foot of the mountains, but other than that I haven't seen much of this gorgeous region. I therefore got very enthousiastic when my in-laws proposed to spend a long weekend in the north of Slovakia, with visits to the Chodník korunami stromov in Bachledova Dolina, the castle of Stará Ľubovňa and its skanzen museum and the small village of Lučivná.
As a foreigner living in Slovakia, how much should I actually care about what is going on in this country, whether it is a political crisis as seen in the last months or something altogether different? Do I bare any responsibility for the future of this country, or is this rather a fight reserved for Slovaks alone?
I have visited good friends in Bratislava for a number of years, always learning more and deepening my understanding of Slovaks and their country. My feeling for Slovakia grew out of friendship and carried its quality of pleasure and connection So it was a shock when I read about the deaths of Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová.
Slovakia is by some (including myself) affectionately described as the “Hidden Gem in the Heart of Europe”. But how hidden should this gem really remain from the rest of the world? Ever since I moved to Slovakia and discovered how beautiful a country it is, I have struggled with the realisation that back home no one really seems to know anything about Slovakia.
In Slovakia traditions still hold a very important place in people’s lives. In fact, the year round, the calendar is filled to the brim with traditional habits, happenings that seem to go back centuries, folk festivals, village feasts, Church feasts, very local celebrations and country-wide festivities.
I firmly believe in the idea that you are responsible for making your own success – whether it is success you seek in your career, in your personal life, in your hobbies, or anywhere else. Nothing in life simply comes flying into your lap. You need to work hard, exercise discipline, make yourself visible and, let’s not deny it, hope for a fair amount of luck.
Most of you know by now that I absolutely enjoy living in Slovakia and that I found my home here. However, there has been one major dirty spot on this country’s beauty that I have refrained from writing about, so far – any foreigner’s absolutely involuntary dealing with the so-called “Foreign Police”.
Being born Dutch means being born to ride. Some may say we are born with a bike in our hands. We bike a lot, it’s a simple truth. We learn how to ride a bike from an early age. Our level of self-confidence, self-conscienceness and, to some degree, plain arrogance rises the moment we get on that bicycle. We know how to ride on one wheel, how to ride with five bags of groceries and a crate of beer, with three kids (one on the back, two on the front), without hands, during storms, and hand-in-hand with your loved one (riding a bike right next to you).
So far, I have been able to live my life in Bratislava pretty comfortably, using a mixture of English and the few words/sentences I know in Slovak. However, boys eventually become men, and important things in your life will need to be arranged at some point….in Slovak of course. So, after four years living in Slovakia, I finally made the decision to start to learn Slovak.
As far as I know, there are only two holidays in the Slovak calendar that make people to willingly drive tens, even hundreds of miles across the country to be with their family: Christmas and All Saints’ Day. The only difference being that the former is to be with the living, while the latter is to be with the dead.
A couple of years ago, my wife and I visited the Slovak National Gallery to see the exhibition of Medieval and Baroque art. When we arrived at the cash desk of the gallery, the lady behind the counter enthusiastically informed us that with the entrance ticket, we get free entrance to the other temporary exhibitions currently on display in the gallery. Her advice was: go and see the photography exhibition of Karol Kállay. And so we did.
Snugly tucked in between two hills at the foot of the Strážovské vrchy mountains, along the river Teplička, one can find a small city called Trenčianske Teplice. Only one and a half hour from Bratislava, my wife and I decided to take a little trip and visit this city, once famous for its Spa hotels and the annual Art Film Fest. Walking through the streets of Teplice, I somehow got a distinct feeling of nostalgia and yearning for the past. To me, what made the visit memorable, were the many buildings that have not stood the test of time.
It is Easter! That means bunnies, finding hidden Easter eggs and watching the 500th rerun of Jesus Christ Superstar or the like. That is, of course, if you are not living in Slovakia. In Slovakia, Easter Monday is host to one of the most fascinating traditions you will ever find in this country. Sure, people go to Church and some may even want to search for eggs, but it is the tradition of boys going out into the village, armed with a bucket of water, a bottle of cheap perfume and a whip made from willow branches, and, awaiting rewards like chocolate eggs and even money, to search out the female population of said village, drag them outside, soak them in water, spray them with perfume and hit them with the whip, that makes Easter Monday a true spectacle to behold.
When you live in a different country for a couple of years, you unavoidably will adopt certain local habits and cultural aspects. I cheer for the Slovak national ice hockey team, I love the national dish “bryndzové halušky so slaninkou”, and I automatically take my shoes off when I enter someone else’s home. However, there is one thing I have a very hard time adopting, which always brings up one simple question in me: “What is your problem with zebra crossings?!”
You can say whatever you want about the Slovak people but one thing no one will ever be able to deny is the importance of traditions. Be it political achievements (like beating the Communists or the birth of the Slovak nation state in 1993) or Catholic feast days (like pretty much all major ones, including Three Kings, Easter, All Saints and Christmas), Slovaks love to celebrate these moments (as they should). More importantly, however, they love to celebrate these moments with each other. Because directly connected to the importance of tradition is the inherent importance of family.