A big small country is how the people of Slovakia like to introduce it to tourists. A landlocked 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 partners continue to be friends and work together on many things.
It did exist as an independent nation for a small time during World War II but was under Nazi Germany. During its better-known history, it had been a part of the Celts, Roman Empire, Great Moravian Empire, and Austro-Hungarian or Habsburg Empire. There is evidence of continuous habitation of this area from pre-historic times. The Slavic tribe that migrated here in the 5th CE gives the country its name. Language Slovak also comes from the same origins.
I traveled from the North of the country where it shares its borders with Poland to the Southwestern tip where its capital Bratislava lies. This nation has its own place and space in the history and culture of the region. To me what stood out was its natural beauty. High peaks of the Tatra Mountains cover most of the Northern region of the country. 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. 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, the population of the country 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 for the small population is the heavy migration of Slovaks to the US in the 19th Century.
They have a tribal culture that they still maintain and celebrate, maybe 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 on a scenic river, stayed next to a lake in the Tatra mountains, and ate local Slovak food. Yes, they did give us vegetarian food, saw a typical village, went inside a cave, and stopped to admire a castle on a narrow tall hill. Roamed the streets of Bratislava, and took a sneak peek at the windmills 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 this nation. But this can definitely be a travel idea for an all-inclusive holiday to the 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 the context of Tatra Trucks in India.
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