During the reign of communism in Eastern Europe, Slovakia was the only chance for East Germans, Czechs, Hungarians etc. to see some sort of alpine environment. Therefore, Slovakia, especially the High Tatras, were a very popular destination. As a result, I visited Slovakia a couple of times as well, though still a child. Slovakia is still a very rewarding destination. Unfortunately, I only have pictures and detailed information from my last visit there in 2003, and so Kosice is the only place I can fully introduce on this website - at least for now. This doesn't mean that there are no other interesting spots in the country.
All Central and West Europeans, as well as many other nationalities, do not require a visa for short-term visits. For some nationalities, not even a passport is necessary (but this is worth checking with the embassy beforehand). Thanks to Slovakia joining the European Union, time-consuming entry procedures are history - except for entries at the border to the →Ukraine (see below for more details).
Slovakia's currency is called Slovenská Koruna (Slovak Koruna), commonly abbreviated Sk. One Koruna is divided into 100 halier (h).
|50 Slovak Koruna|
Since 2005, the Slovak Koruna is part of the so-called European Exchange Rate Mechanism, making it a stable candidate for joining the Euro-Zone. The exchange rate doesn't fluctuate much - the average rate is around 1 Euro = 35 Sk.
Coins come in 10, 20, 50 h and 1, 2, 5 and 10 sk. Paper money includes 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000 and 5,000 Sk denominations.
Slovakia offers international standard when it comes to its financial systems. There are ATM's everywhere and they usually accept the most common credit and debit cards, including Cirrus- and Maestro cash cards. The minimum fee per transaction is mostly around € 4. Of course many banks can change money, too. Needless to say that ATM's are a rarity in rural areas, so it's worth taking with enough money when travelling the countryside. At the Ukrainian border, it's possible to exchange Koruna and Ukrainian Hrivna.
Not only geographically but also price-wise, Slovakia lies between the Czech Republic and the Ukraine. It's no big problem to find a simple double room for around 400 sk, and to have a decent dinner for some 200 sk - depending on one's preferences. Of course, Bratislava, the capital, is more expensive then the rest of the country. Crossing the country using public transport is rather cheap, too - a train ride from Bratislava in the west to →Košice in the example costs around 360 sk. International trains are much more expensive.
It's possible to get by with as less as 800 sk per day, even less when sleeping in a tent and buying food on the market or in supermarkets. But it's also easy to spend a substantially higher amount when staying in more upmarket hotels and eating out in better restaurants.
There are direct flights from almost all European capitals and some other major cities to Bratislava. Else it's a ride on the train or the bus. Austria is very close - Vienna is only 60 km away from Bratislava, with frequent busses, trains and river boats commuting between the two capitals. Bratislava is halfway on the international train line from Berlin to →Budapest (however, note that the night train doesn't pass Bratislava but runs via Passau to Vienna).
Direct trains from Bratislava hl. st. (main train station) run to Hamburg via Berlin (9½ hrs), →Prague (4¼ hrs) via →Brno, →Bucharest (18 hrs) via →Budapest (2½ hrs), →Warschau (7½ hrs) and of course many local and express trains to the various train stations of Vienna (less than one hour). From →Košice in the east runs a direct train to →Kyiv (Kiev) (21 hrs) via →L'viv (Lvov) (10½ hrs) and another international train to Kraków (Krakow) in 6 hrs. Besides those express trains, there are many local trains passing the border at minor crossing points. Additionally, the country has an extensive network of overland bus routes.
Slovakia borders →Poland in the north, the →Ukraine in the east, →Hungary in the south, Austria in the south-west and the →Czech Republic in the west. There is a vast number of border crossings, so it doesn't take long to find a crossing nearby.
Usual EU custom rules apply to Slovakia. Entering and leaving the country is mostly unproblematic and a matter of a few minutes. Only the eastern border to the Ukraine is different, since it is not just Slovakia's border but also the border of the European Union. Note that many nationalities still require a visa for the →Ukraine - if you still require a visa, it's necessary to obtain the visa beforehand. Crossing the border in your own car might involve waiting in long queues and strict controls - at least in 2003, many drivers tried to avoid too much hassle by paying bribes (this might have changed already). In my experience, crossing the border on foot, by bicycle or on a train is rather quick and hassle-free.
Food and drinks
A certain influence on Slovak cuisine from its Czech, Hungarian and Austrian neighbours can't be denied. This guarantees a nice blend and no need to worry about getting good food. Dishes such as knedle (dumplings) and Guláš (goulash, Hungarian stew-like dish heavily based on paprika) can be found everywhere - from cheap train station canteens to upmarket restaurants. Slovak cuise uses lots of meat, lots of cheese but also potatoes for example. One of the most distinctive dishes - at least I couldn't find it somewhere else, except one time in Hungary - is called Bryndžové Halušky (Sheep's cheese gnocchi). That's fresh gnocchi, topped with a heavy sheep's cheese sauce and fried beacon. It's a cheap dish that definitely fills everyone up. And it's very tasty, provided that you like sheep's cheese. Getting around in the countryside is no problem, too - Slovak groceries offer good cheese, sausages, bread etc.
Slovakia, as the Czech Republic, definitely doesn't lack a large variety of alcoholic drinks. The country produces wine - though not much and not very famous - and several brands of its own pivo (beer). slivovice (Plum brandy) is also famous in Slovakia - as it is in the Czech Republic, Hungary etc. Other fruit brandies, herb liquors and the like are also very popular. Not to talk about coffee, tea and the usual soft drinks.