‘Social’ has been a buzzword for a few years now! And there are quite a number of tools that assist social enablement. It has, let’s face it, become the key ingredient in information exchange, in sharing thoughts, ideas, stories.
But we are not talking about social enablement on this blog!
Instead, we are going on a journey of discovery. A journey deep into a land of rolling hills, jagged peaks, flowing rivers and fairy tale castles……err…..more castles per capita than any other country in the world!!
A penny for your guesses? (And I am Donald Trump!!)
No, I am just yanking your chain!
When we were growing up, we were kept abreast of the communist hot spots around the world, by our parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts (almost the entire extended family!). So family get-together would include discussions on the state of affairs in our home state as well as Russia, Cuba and…Czechoslovakia.
So when work beckoned venturing into the Unknown, it was difficult to resist the temptation to experience this mystical place shrouded in covert history.
Well I am not a fancy history buff but I will tell you this…Czechoslovakia parted ways during the ‘Velvet Revolution’ of 1989 and formed two separate countries, Czech Republic and Slovakia. It was a Non Violent transition of power and it effectively brought an end to the Communist rule in both states. Czech Republic was the older brother and Slovakia set about finding itself and taking its first baby steps.
That is all the history you will get from me on this blog (you wish!).
So it’s to this country of Slovakia, more specifically the capital Bratislava that work beckoned.
We all experience a few familiar emotions when we visit a place for the first time. That feeling of joy, wonderment, excitement and sense of awe in anticipation of witnessing its splendors and its best kept secrets! Right?
The first couple of days here were more of a feeling of confusion, dread and “Un-Oh, where am I?”!!
Let me elaborate.
I went into a small store to buy a sim card on Day 1. Well, when you are in a new place, you need a local sim card to stay ‘connected’. I asked for one and was met with a blank expression and a shrug. I asked again, more shrugs. My skills with ‘dumb charades’ kicked in and in an animated way I attempted another explanation. More blank looks. Luckily, I got through just when I was about to lose all hope! I had my sim! But that left me thinking…..
Then I decided to try out the public transport as I had seen some swanky buses and trams on the road…yes trams! I bought a ticket and boarded a bus……You ever get a feeling you are being watched?
Like really watched by someone? Now imagine being stared at by the occupants of an entire bus!!
Yes… Hello Alien!!
You eventually get used to it though and actually start feeling ‘special’!
So those were my first couple of days…we are so used to ‘English’ that communication any other way seems well, nonsensical. Not so much here!
Baby steps… Slovakia is taking baby steps into the future and English is yet to catch up like it has in the other European cities. The good part is you HAVE TO learn some basic Slovak (and it’s not ‘Slovakian’ mind you!) to ensure you can progress from gesturing and arm flailing to requesting for what you need using the art of speech. The challenging part is it’s one of the most difficult languages in the world, a part of the Slavic class of languages!
And oh yes! ‘No’ (Ano) in Slovak literally means ‘Yes’!
The solution: Befriend the locals. I guess this works well anywhere you are at. My colleagues reached out with assistance on certain basics and the ‘settling in’ period began!
Slovakia is a landlocked country. You have Austria to the West, Poland and Czech Republic to the North, Hungary to the South and a bit of Ukraine to the East. The capital, Bratislava, is almost at the Austrian border and about an hour’s drive from Vienna. Hence, location wise, it is smack in the middle of Eastern and Western Europe. It used to be the coronation capital for the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is located on the banks of the Danube, not unlike quite a few other European cities and capitals.
Delving a bit more into history, ‘Czechoslovakia’ gained Independence from the Austro- Hungarian empire in 1918, while as I mentioned before, Slovakia officially became ‘Slovakia or the Slovak Republic or Slovensko’ in 1993, after the Velvet revolution of ’89. It became a part of the EU and the Schengen in 2004.
Remember I was talking about the highest number of castles per capita? Well… it’s true!
The whole country has a population of 5 million only… but has close to 200 medieval castles and around 500 chateaux!! Some, like the Bratislava Castle are highly publicized, of course, but some others like Bojnice (pronounced Boie-niccey) a.k.a the Fairytale Castle or Spiš Castle, one of the largest in Europe, have a lot more going for them. And who doesn’t remember the Bathory Castle (known as Čachtice locally) where Lady Bathory spent her dying days! Lady Bathory, a Hungarian Countess, was renowned for mass murdering young girls and bathing in their blood to retain her youth, by the way! The other really interesting and ‘dark’ castle is where the movie ‘Nosferatu’ was shot, the Orava Castle, which is quite a journey in itself, more so as it’s supposed to be haunted by the proverbial woman in white!
Clockwise from Top Left: Bratislava Castle over the Danube, Bojnice Castle, Cachtice Castle, Orava Castle where the movie Nosferatu was shot and Spis Castle with the Tatra ranges in the backdrop.
Slovakia, being land locked, may miss out on the oceans, but its hills, mountains, lakes and rivers more than make up for it. It has some of the best hiking trails, ski slopes, kayaking and caving opportunities in Europe and a lot of it is still untouched, uncluttered.
Remember that YouTube video of people walking gingerly on a frozen transparent lake?
Well that was in Slovakia, one of the numerous lakes within the High Tatras (as their tallest Ranges are called)!
Also the name given to their famous tea liquor… Tatra Tea!
Some of the most beautiful, UNESCO world heritage towns, caves, castles, churches and a forest can be encountered on your travels through the country. Banská Štiavnica, on the UNESCO list, is an especially wonderful little town which is built within a volcanic crater and settled as far back as the Neolithic Ages! Getting there is a bit challenging but it’s worth the effort!
All that exploration does tend to make one hungry doesn’t it! And for those of us whose ‘joie de vivre’ lies in satiating this calling… Slovakia does not disappoint! In fact, the variety and flavor of cuisines from Eastern Europe do leave you begging for more!
The Bryndzové halušky, which is their national dish, it is a tempting combination of potato and sheep cheese (Bryndza) dumplings topped with fried mini bacon cubes and sour cream.
Oh! The things they can do with cabbage, milk and potatoes!
Then there is the goulash, essentially a traditional Hungarian meat stew but the Slovaks have perfected it. In fact a regular weekend getaway has goulash at the heart of it.
You rent a cottage up in the mountains, get your friends/family together and cook goulash over a pit fire! Good times… good times!!
The Slovaks themselves are pretty friendly… once they get to know you, that is!! Not surprising since the entire country has about a hundred resident Indians, so they are not quite used to chatting up or even looking at an Indian. It perhaps is an instance of less is more!!
But I digress!
The typical Slovak loves his/her exercise – they run a lot, compete in a lot of marathons – host a lot of marathons, in fact the oldest marathon in Europe originated in Slovakia – bet you did not know that, huh? The Kosice Peace Marathon is also the second oldest in the world, after the Boston Marathon!
Ice hockey and football are competitive sports they are good at, at the international level, as also in cycling – Peter Sagan is God, period!
The weather can get pretty warm during the summer months, almost breaching the 40 deg C mark, but the winters are generally pretty chilly and snowy in most parts with temperatures hitting the -20 mark at times…the best times for some traditional sour cabbage soup (Kapustnica) served with… you guessed it… sour cream!
Oh, Bratislava is also nicknamed ‘Partyslava’ and one of the favored party destinations by many!
There are some notable industries here as well, auto manufacturing being a predominant one at that. VW, KIA, Peugeot are in existence already and we hear Jaguar Land Rover is going to make this country its new manufacturing hub. That brings me to KIA Motor’s USP here… ‘Made in SlovaKIA’!
Saved a lot of money on advertising concepts for sure!
So here we are, at the end of our journey through this unique country! There is a lot more happening here, of course, culturally, socially… but we leave those stories for another time… another blog, perhaps?
For now though, it’s time to get lost again…in this land of castles, mountains and fairy-tales…
– The Meditating Monkey
All below images are sole copyright of their creators/designers and respective websites. They are used here solely to compliment the write-up.
http://www.ttstudio.sk/photos/bratislava-panorama-2685.jpg – Bratislava
http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/03133/ice_lake__3133243c.jpg – Tatra frozen lake
http://i247.photobucket.com/albums/gg148/ibnfahlan/spis2.jpg – Spis Castle
http://mw2.google.com/mw-panoramio/photos/medium/15399029.jpg – Slovensky Raj
http://images.photowall.com/products/45057/sun-rise-in-high-tatras.jpg?h=650&q=90 – High Tatras
http://i.sme.sk/cdata/9/59/5912659/TATRATEA_52_DETAIL_CMYK_res.jpg – Tatra tea
http://i.sme.sk/cdata/9/59/5912659/TATRATEA_52_DETAIL_CMYK_res.jpg – Halušky
http://images.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/Kia-Slovak-plant-welcome-Picture-courtesy-Kia.jpg – KIA motors