And so we head off, continuing on our quest to become more familiar with other countries and cultures. We are now in Slovakia, right in the middle of Central Europe. This country of 5.5 million people is truly, geographically speaking, at the center of the European continent.
The Slovakian population is around 85 percent ethnic Slovak, with around 10 percent Hungarians and the remaining 5 percent made up of a variety of ethnic minorities. The official language is Slovakian and the majority of the people here are Christian, with around 70 percent identifying as Catholic.
Slovakia is a small and beautiful country that lies in the skirts of the Tatra Mountains, with green plains and lots of nature all around. From east to west Slovakia spans around 450 kilometers, and from north to south just 195 kilometers. Around 40 percent of Slovakia is forest, and the country has a cultural legacy that stretches back around 1,000 years.
The capital Bratislava is home to a Slavic monument that stands in memory of Russian soldiers killed in 1945. The monument looks down on the city from a high hill, offering visitors not only a chance to think about the past but also a great view of the capital. On one side, looking out from here, you can see some of the enormous apartment blocks typical of the Soviet era, while on the other side you can see modern chic buildings that reflect more recent times.
One of the words we heard most frequently while in Slovakia was the word “prosim.” Perhaps we heard it everywhere because, as it turns out, it means “yes,” “please,” “here you go,” “go ahead” and a number of other things.
The Slovakian population is slowly dwindling these days, as most people have just one or two children. In fact, this dwindling population, according to some, presents a serious problem for the country’s future. Yes, the European population in general is ageing, and the Slovakian population represents an important part of this.
A green and lush Bratislava
We next headed out of Bratislava and began our tour of Slovakia. The country is certainly very green and lush, with lots of mountains and meadows. Devin Castle is right next to the Danube River, just nine kilometers from Bratislava. This castle is a great spot from which to view the flow of the Danube River and it receives lots of tourists every year.
We continued our journey through Slovakia, becoming more and more aware as we went just how incredible the natural aspect of this country is. We encountered a ceramics workshop along our road and visited it to see some of Slovakia’s famous “Modra” ceramics up close. This workshop produces some 2,500 different kinds of ceramics, and since 1883 no less. The price of items here starts around TL 5 and goes up to anywhere between TL 1,000 and TL 1,500. These are great souvenir pieces and are very popular with tourists looking for something to remind them of Slovakia. I looked at a vase in front of me that bears Slovakian writing; it goes for some 277 euro, which is around TL 800. It sounds like a lot, but Modra ceramics are made from a very special kind of clay that is both sticky and oily. This clay is very easy to mold and holds the shapes it is given very easily.
We headed on and found the famous Trencin Castle, a medieval complex that sits on a hill overlooking a beautiful plain. We learned that there is a Turkish hamam in the castle and that its presence is a result of inspiration taken from the Ottomans a long time ago, though on closer inspection, it doesn’t resemble a Turkish hamam at all. On a similar note, Slovakia has a tremendous number of thermal springs and this form of bathing is very popular throughout the country as a relaxing pastime and a therapy for a number of ills.
The roads that cut through Slovakia tend to be narrow but somehow cars manage to make their ways around each other. We saw lots of horses freely grazing in grassy fields and meadows along the sides of the road as we traveled.
Next we arrived at a Gothic-style castle, one that boasts a 700-year-old tree in front of it. This is the famous Bojnice Castle, whose architecture is eye-catching. The castle looks like something straight out of a fairy tale and it receives visitors from all over the world. People come to admire its Ottoman-inspired décor, its incredibly fanciful ceilings and the oil paintings of Slovakia’s aristocracy.
Following this, we boarded a plane heading for the Slovakian city of Kosice. There are no direct flights from Turkey to Kosice, as it is a small city, but interestingly, Kosice itself is a spot from which countless planes take off heading to points all over Turkey. It should be noted that Turkey is a very popular destination for Slovakians in general; in fact, it is one of their top holiday spots.
Kosice is Slovakia’s second largest city. Its population is just 250,000. It is a well-ordered and beautiful city, so much so that it once bore the title of “European Capital of Culture.” Kosice boasts wide and comfortable boulevards, with lots of room for strolling and much to look at. There are many restaurants and cafes lining the streets here and lots of people walking around. There is a notable cathedral, as well as the city’s theater that was built between 1897 and 1899.
We met up with the mayor of Kosice, Richard Rasi. He is Slovakia’s former health minister and when he learns we are from Turkey, our reception is even warmer. He mentions a Turkish television series when talking to us, saying that his three daughters all love it. He says, laughingly, “My daughters grab the remote control and won’t let us watch anything else!” He adds that he has been to Turkey in the past and is heading there again this coming year, noting: “For almost all Slovakians, Turkey is one of the most popular destinations. During the summer months especially, thousands of Slovakians head for Turkey. Kosice has very close ties to Turkey. Mavnik Bey has been an honorary emissary for Turkey here since 2010. And back in 2000, Turkey became our sister country. Last year, we hosted a group of businesspeople from Bursa. We’d love to see lots of Turks come here, though! As for our Slovakian people, they love Turkey. The sea, the nature, they have incredible vacations there.”