Wikimedia CEE Meeting 2013/Slovakia & Modra
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For more information see Slovakia on Wikivoyage (source for this presentation)
Slovakia or Slovak Republic (Slovak: Slovensko or Slovenská republika, both names are officially recognized), is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is surrounded by Austria to the west, Czech Republic to the northwest, Hungary to the south, Poland to the north and Ukraine to the east. Slovakia is a modern democratic country and is a member of the European Union. Slovakia is now a member of the Schengen agreement, and the country has adopted the Euro on 1 January 2009.
Slovakia has a temperate climate with sunny hot summers and cold, cloudy, humid and snowy winters. The climate is continental, with four seasons, and while the overall climate is mild, there is a considerable temperature difference between summer and winter months.
It is generally warmer in southern regions and the lowlands, where summer temperatures can climb above 30°C (86°F) on hotter days, and where rain is more common in winters than snow, which usually melts in a few days.
- Bratislava — capital and the largest city of Slovakia with a beautifully restored historical centre full of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance churches, houses and palaces, cobblestone streets, fountains, pleasant cafes and lively and cosmopolitan atmosphere
- see Slovak phrasebook on Wikivoyage
- learn Slovak on slovake.eu (in 9 languages)
The official and most widely-spoken language is Slovak. Even in Bratislava you will not find many signs written in English (outside of the main tourist areas). Also, most older people except some in Bratislava are unable to converse in English, but most of them knows Russian; most young people speak at least some English, as it has been taught in most schools since 1990. Czech and Slovak are mutually intelligible, yet distinctive languages (at first, one might think they are dialects of each other).
Slovak is written using the same Roman characters that English uses (with some added accents or diacritics), so Western travellers won't have any trouble reading signs and maps.
Since the territory of Slovakia was under Hungarian influence for centuries, there is a significant Hungarian-speaking minority of 9.7%. Most of the Hungarians live in southern regions of the country and some of them speak no Slovak. Other Slovaks however normally do not speak or understand the Hungarian language.
While you can make do with English and German in Bratislava, in smaller towns and villages your only chance is trying to approach younger people that speak some English. Older residents may know some German. People born between 1935 and 1980 will have learned Russian in school, though few Slovaks will appreciate being spoken to in Russian as this language has some negative connotations due to the Communist era. Due to the significant tourism growth in the North and the East of Slovakia, English is becoming more widely used and you may try Polish. Other Slavic languages, especially Russian, Serbian, Croatian, and Slovene may also work. In the east Rusyn, language close to Ukrainian and Polish is spoken. It is also intelligible with Russian to some extent. Attempts to speak Slovak will be very appreciated.
If you speak the international language Esperanto, you can take advantage of the network of Esperanto delegates scattered across Slovakia.
Until January 1, 2009, the official currency was the koruna ("crown", sk) which can still be found and accepted by the central bank until 2017 at a rate of 30.126sk to €1.
Automatic teller machines (ATM, "bankomat" in Slovak, pl. "bankomaty") are widely available in Slovakia except in smaller villages, and obtaining money there should not present a problem. In most of small villages you can gain money at local postal offices (cashback). Credit cards and debit cards such as Visa, MasterCard, Visa Electron, Cirrus Maestro are widely accepted both in shops and restaurants in bigger cities.
If you are a vegetarian, the variety of food in the cities should be decent. However, when venturing out into the countryside, the offer may be limited as vegetables are mostly considered a side and/or eaten mostly raw or in salads. Also, be aware that even though some dishes will be in the vegetarian section of the menu, this merely means that they're not predominanty meat-based and still might be prepared using animal fats or even contain small pieces of meat, so make your requirements clear. Also fish is widely considered non-meat in Slovakia. Seeking out the nearest pizzeria is also a good and accessible option mostly everywhere.
Slovakia has also some great local wines, many similar to Germanic Riesling styles. There is a number of wine-growing regions in the south with centuries worth of tradition, including the area just outside Bratislava. If you can, try to visit one of the local producer's wine cellars, as many are historical and it is a cultural experience as of itself. You might also be offered home-made wine if you are visiting these areas, as many locals ferment their own wines. The quality obviously varies. Every year at the end of May and beginning of November, an event called Small Carpathian Wine Road takes place in Small Carpathian Wine Region (between Bratislava and Trnava), where all the local producers open their cellars to the public. This even will start at the same time as our conference.
There are also sweeter wines grown in South-Eastern border regions called Tokaj. Tokaj is fermented out of the special Tokaj grape variety endemic to the region (part of which is in Hungary and part in Slovakia) and it is a sweet dessert wine. Tokaj is considered a premium brand with a world-wide reputation and is arguably some of the best Central Europe has to offer. Other Slovak wines might not be widely known outside the region but they are certainly worth a try. The best recent wine years in Slovakia were 1997, 2000, 2003 and 2006. Around the harvest time in the autumn, in the wine-producing regions, young wine called burčiak is often sold and popular among the locals. As burčiak strengthens with fermentation (as it becomes actual wine), its alcohol content can vary quite wildly.
Slovakia is generally safe, even by European standards, and as a visitor you are unlikely to encounter any problems whatsoever. Violent crime is especially uncommon, and Slovakia sees less violent crime per capita than many European countries.
In case of an emergency, call 112, the universal emergency number. For police you can call 158, ambulance 155, and firefighters 150.
It shouldn't be necessary to mention that the 2006 film Hostel, whose plot takes place in 'Slovakia' is a complete work of fiction, and the probability of tourists being kidnapped and tortured is the same in Slovakia as in any developed city in the USA or Western Europe - astronomically low. Slovakia is considered a safe travel destination for all tourists, as is much of Europe. Similarly, the American movie Eurotrip (2004) might prove a sensitive topic, because it portrayed Slovakia as a terrifyingly undeveloped country, which is also false.
When visiting cities, exercise the same caution as you would in any other European city - use common sense, be extra careful after the dark, stay aware of your surroundings, keep your belongings in sight and avoid drunks and groups of young men. Pickpockets sometimes can be found in bigger crowds and at major train/bus stations.
Most of the food and drink is perfectly safe, the hygiene standards in Slovakia are the same as elsewhere in Western/Central Europe.
Tap water is drinkable everywhere. If you prefer mineral waters, you can choose from a multitude of brands, since Slovakia has quite possibly the highest number of natural mineral water springs per capita.
The international calling code for Slovakia is +421.
In case of an emergency, call the universal number 112. You can also call directly on 150 for fire brigade, 155 in a medical emergency or 158 for the police.
Wifi and broadband can be found more or less everywhere in bigger cities , and there will be an internet cafe/gaming room available somewhere even in smaller towns. Also, hostels, pubs, cafes, and some public institutions such as libraries or government buildings offer (free) wifi.