Slovakia. No it’s not near Kazakhstan. Nor is it in the Middle East. If your geography is failing you, does Czechoslovakia ring a bell? Actually, Czechoslovakia dissolved almost twenty years ago and if you look at a map of Central Europe, right next to the Czech Republic is Slovakia. Although American films such as “Hostel” and “Eurotrip” portray Slovakia as a backwards, dirty country, this is untrue. I fortunately had the opportunity to spend a year in Slovakia and traveled all throughout the country. Here are my recommendations to see in Slovakia.
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Start in the capital, Bratislava. An hour from Vienna, Bratislava is the largest city in Slovakia and has plenty to do. Stop at Bratislava Castle and head over to the UFO Café in the middle of Bratislava’s New Bridge for beautiful views across the city.
Next, travel to the heart of the country, Banska Bystrica. When you arrive in Banska, you may be surprised that I recommend it. It’s a tiny town in the middle of the country, but appearances are deceptive. The history behind the town is fascinating. Head over to the Memorial of the Slovak National Uprising. During World War II, Banska was the heart of the Slovak National Resistance against the Nazis. The town and surrounding villages were heavily punished for helping the Resistance. Many villages were completely razed for collaborating.
Finally, keep going west until you arrive in Kosice. Kosice is a beautiful city and the second largest in Slovakia. Many say Bratislava is better, but for me, Kosice was the best city in Slovakia. Apparently, I’m not alone because Kosice along with Marsielle, France, will be the European Capital of Culture in 2013. Make sure you stop in St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral. Also stop in Aupark for a variety of shops and cafes where you can order a cappuccino and people watch for hours.
What can you take away from your trip to Slovakia? I went to Slovakia with no real understanding of the culture or people, and in retrospect I was very naïve. But the trip also allowed me to grow in so many ways. Standing in the middle of the Slovak National Uprising Monument was one of the most impacting moments for me. To realize that not only did the Nazis occupy this country, but mass murdered entire villages. As an American, I learned about World War II from an American perspective. My great-grandparents worked hard for the war effort and I knew America heavily contributed to the war effort. However, World War II for the Slovaks was completely different. Their country signed away by foreign powers, under the rule of the Nazis, with food shortages and death from starvation and mistreatment were common for years. To learn about World War II through the eyes of an occupied country was an impacting moment and reminded me why I went on exchange: to promote understanding throughout the world.
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