When I was growing up it was Czechoslovakia. There were enough immigrants in the middle Canada town I lived in to have their own church. Back then it wasn’t very sexy to be Czech although it likely should have been 🙂 Unfortunately, the Soviet rulers weren’t keen on any of their satellites developing an open relationship with the west. I was on my way for a second visit to Prague because one of my best friends had been invited to speak at a conference there and I had irresponsibly cashed in some airline points and decided to join him.
The best deal, though, was to arrive in Vienna and take the train to Prague. Since two of my destinations were second visits, I decided that I should also check out Bratislava as it was enroute. October is a tricky time in Europe. It can be ideal but you can also arrive to an early taste of winter as I learned in Bratislava. I would certainly encourage you to go but visit in the summer when you can take a boat up the Danube, which would be the perfect way to arrive.
You should stay at Marrol’s Boutique Hotel. You can find cheaper options but it is great value if you appreciate design and the minibar is free 🙂 It was one of the best hotel experiences of my life. Since I was underdressed for the Arctic conditions outdoors, I spent more time at the hotel than planned and was happy it was such a pleasant place to hang out. There is even a restaurant.
I did steel myself and make enough brave forays into the elements to see the main sights. There’s certainly enough to see to fill a day but you can stay longer and soak up the ambience and enjoy the emerging food and wine scene. If you like nature, you can travel into the countryside.
Slovakia has a fascinating history of migration, conquerors and empires like all of Europe. The first recorded history shows the Celts settling near the Danube. The Celts definitely got around! As did the Romans and Germanic tribes. Then it was time for Attila the Hun to make his mark. Attila’s sons were a hot mess so that provided an opening for the Slavs to arrive. Things were very messy in the early days with lots of different groups intermixing and claiming territory. Then it was time for the Hungarians to stake their claim. The Mongols followed, mostly causing havoc. The Mongols retreated and it became a place of kings, castles and medieval towns.
In the Middle Ages, the territory that is present day Slovakia was part of the Kingdom of Hungary and an important economic and cultural region, partly because it was teeming in natural resources and had a thriving mining industry. Since it was prosperous, it was traded and dominated by all sorts of powerbrokers for several centuries until the Ottomans took over. Of course, the Ottomans and Habsburgs duked it out until the Habsburgs won. In the 18th century, a Slovak identity started to emerge. They still had to deal with the Hungarian and Austrian kingdoms and that made life complicated.
In 1896, the concept of Czecho-Slovak Mutuality was established in Prague to strengthen Czecho-Slovak cooperation and support the secession of Slovaks from the Kingdom of Hungary. The Magyars did not go down easy. Franz Ferdinand is not just the name of an English band but one of the key players in World War I. Things didn’t go well for him but it did allow Czechs and Slovaks within the country and abroad to push for a new state named Czechoslovakia. The kingdom of Austria-Hungary dissolved as a result of the war and in 1918 Czechoslovakia became a country. The merger was never wholly successful. There were also significant German and Hungarians populations within its official boundaries so that just made everything even more unstable.
The first attempt at establishing a Slovakian state doesn’t have the best provenance. They went with an authoritarian government aligned with the Nazis. They caught on and in 1944 there was an uprising against the Nazis. Apparently it was the Czechs who elected a Communist government following the reestablishment of Czechoslovakia after World War II. All regretted it and life was tough until 1990, the next time people actually got to elect the government. The issue of a separate Slovak state was already an issue. On 1 January 1993, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic each simultaneously and peacefully proclaimed their existence.
Slovakia in 2017 is still an emerging place but it’s pretty modern and very easy to visit. As noted, Bratislava has a long and colourful history but it doesn’t have the architecture of Vienna or Prague so there are fewer tourists. The Chinese have already arrived though so I would go sooner than later.
It is a 21st century mix of old and new. There is a charming Old Town. There is an intriguing blue church worth seeking out. There is a bridge over the Danube called the UFO Bridge, which also features a bar and restaurant. People are friendly. You can navigate most of it on foot. Naturally, there’s a castle, which provides a great viewpoint to look out at the city and the Danube.
It’s definitely a place to check out if you are in the ‘hood – and everyone should see Prague at least once 😉