A big small country is how the people of Slovakia like to introduce it to the tourists. A land locked country surrounded by other small European countries is one of the youngest nations in the world being born out of the dissolving of Czechoslovakia in 1993, after 70 years of their existence as one country. Our guide described it very entertainingly that it was like a divorce after a marriage of 70 years, and it happened when the wife i.e. Slovakia started demanding something for herself. It was a peaceful divorce and both the partners continue to be friends and work together on many things. It did exist as an independent nation for a small time during the World War II but was under the Nazi Germany. During the better-known history it had been a part of the Celts, Roman Empire, Great Moravian Empire and Austro Hungarian or Habsburg Empire. There is an evidence of continued habitation this area from pre-historic times. Slavic tribe that migrated here in 5th CE gives the country its name. Language Slovak also comes from the same origins.
I travelled from the North of Slovakia where it shares it borders with Poland to the Southwestern tip where it’s capital Bratislava lies. Slovakia has its own place and space in the history and the culture of the region, but to me what stood out was it’s natural beauty. High peaks of Tatra Mountains cover the most of Northern region of Slovakia, and the rest of the country has green hillocks that are home to small villages interspersed with rivers flowing across. Many lakes exist in the Tatra hills and it is a popular destination for skiing during winters when the region would wear a white cover. We could see many Ski pads and people practicing their jumps on them. Spas and hot water baths exist around the mountains. I did not get an opportunity to enjoy them and I am curious about these huge public-bathing spaces.
Economically, it is one of the fastest growing economies in the region, but I think that happens every time a small state is carved out, as it suddenly gets the prime political focus. Its main industries are Automobiles and Electrical Engineering. Most people belong to the Slovak ethnicity followed by Hungarian and their main religion would be Roman Catholic. At 5 million, population of Slovakia compares with that of Indian cities like Chennai and Kolkata or less than half of Delhi’s population. It almost feels like with those kinds of numbers everyone in the country would know everyone else. One of the reasons of the small population is heavy migration of Slovaks to US in 19th Century.
They have a tribal culture that they still maintain and celebrate, may be to boost tourism, but I enjoyed the small Goral ritual that I participated in where they inducted us into the tribe. During my short two days, I took a boat ride in a scenic river, stayed next to a lake in Tatra mountains, ate local Slovak food – yes they did give us vegetarian food, saw a typical village, went inside a cave, stopped to admire a castle on a narrow tall hill, roamed in the streets of Bratislava, took a sneak peak at the wind mills of Austria and walked by the Danube that was pulsating with people in the evening on a full moon night. Could not have asked for more in that short time. I am not sure if there are any travel agents who offer exclusive tours to Slovakia but this can be definitely be a travel idea for an all inclusive holiday to European Quartet of Czech, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary. Explore that.
PS: Now I know where the name Tatra comes from, we only hear it in context of Tatra Trucks in India.