These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.



The Basics

Population: (December, 2000) 5,402,547.

Nationalities: Slovak: 86%, Hungarian: 10%, Roma: 10% (estimated), other: 4% (Czech, German, Ukrainian, Ruthene, Polish).

Religions: Roman Catholics (60% of population), Lutherans and Evangelists of the Augsburg Confession (6%), Jews, Atheists, Orthodox Catholics, Calvinists, Bahá'í.

Geography

Area: 49,035 square kilometres.

Land Use: Forest: 40.61%. Arable land: 30.24%. Meadows and pastures: 17.02%. Urban areas: 2.62%. Water: 1.91%. Gardens: 1.59%. Other agricultural land: 1.03%. Other: 4.98%. (Statistics from the Environment Ministry, as of 1994) z

Highest point: Gerlachovský Štít (2,655 m)

Longest river: Váh River (403 km)

Towns: 136 (settlements with more than 5,000 inhabitants)

Villages: 2,717 (settlements with less than 5,000 inhabitants)

National Parks: 7 - High Tatras, Low Tatras, Pieniny, Slovenský Raj, Malá Fatra, Muránska Planina, Poloniny.

Caves: 660

Castles and castle ruins: 300 - the largest is Spišský Hrad (Spiš Castle).

Major Cities: Bratislava (population 452,053), Košice (240,915), Banská Bystrica (84,919).

Climate

Slovakia has a continental climate with hot summers and cold winters. Average summer temperatures are over 200C, but can be as warm as the mid-30s. Winter temperatures usually hover around O0C, but can plummet to 15 degrees below zero.

General phone numbers:

Information1181

Emergency numbers:

General emergency112
Police158
Ambulance155 or 02/394 949
Fire150
Emergency Road Service18124

Getting here

Vienna International Airport

Most visitors to Slovakia fly into Vienna's Schwechat International Airport (60 kilometres away), which is larger than Bratislava's M.R. Štefánik International Airport. Taxis from Vienna Airport (if Slovak) start at Sk1,500, but could be three times as expensive if they're Austrian.

Buses are a more ideal way of getting to Bratislava from Vienna Airport. They run several times a day, cost about €14, and the journey lasts between 60 and 90 minutes.

Bratislava International Airport

M.R. Štefánik International is located 15 kilometres from the Bratislava Old Town. A taxi into town costs about Sk200 to Sk300, depending on where in the centre you want to go. By bus, take number 61 to Hlavná Železničná Stanica (Main Railway Station).

Getting around

Travelling by car

If you drive in Slovakia, be careful. There are few major highways, so driving here often means jockeying for space on crowded two-lane roads with large lorries, sputtering Škodas and zooming BMWs. Many drivers attempt to pass even on blind curves. So please be careful. If you do drive, here are a few rules, as told by The Slovak Autoturist Club - or, SATC.

Driver Requirements: All foreign national driving licences are recognised. Visitors riding mopeds must be at least 15 years of age, and must hold a driving licence even if such a licence is not required in their country of residence. Visitors riding motorcycles over 50 cc must be at least 17 years of age, and visitors driving private cars or lorries at least 18 years of age. International driving permits are recognised.

Traffic regulations: There are 17,794 kilometres of roads in Slovakia, including 370 kilometres of highway. The current traffic regulations are the same as in other European countries. Some important differences: The use of mobile phones is forbidden while driving. Speed is limited at railway crossings to 30 km/h. Trams turning right have the right away. All accidents must be reported to the police. It is prohibited to drink any amount of alcohol before or while driving. No degree of alcohol in the blood is tolerated.

Motorway stickers: Vehicles using certain sections of motorway and selected highways must purchase a motorway sticker and place it on the right-hand side of the windscreen. Any sticker not fixed is invalid.

Breakdown service: SATC road assistance service can be reached at 18124. The service operates 24 hours a day.

Taking the train

Trains in Slovakia are the safest and most agreeable way to travel in this country. To begin with, it's cheap. The most frequented line in the country, the Bratislava-Košice route, costs less than €14 (Sk560), a meagre sum by Western standards.

For travellers, two web sites are crucial: www.zsr.sk and www.busy.sk. The former is the official site of the national railway company, where you can find when your desired train is leaving, from where, how much it will cost, whether you have to switch trains at any point, and how long the journey will take. The latter is run by the bus company and is more helpful in that it will list a travel itinerary combining trains and buses to come up with the shortest journey.

Once at the train station, tickets can be purchased under the window reading KVC (Komplexné Vybavenie Cestujúcich). Simply state your destination. If applicable, the teller may ask if you'd prefer a fast train (rýchlik) or slow train (osobný). Take the rýchlik. It costs a few more crowns, but the osobný stops at every station on the line and can take hours longer than the rýchlik.

International trains to Bratislava run from Vienna (1 hour), Budapest (3 hours), and Prague (4-5 hours) several times a day, and from Krakow (6 to 7 hours) two or three times a day. International tickets can be bought at the international ticket office (Medzinárodná Pokladňa).

Trains from Vienna often arrive at the Bratislava-Petržalka station, south of the Old Town and across the Danube. To get into town, take bus no. 91 (to Nový Most), 93 (to Hodžovo Námestie), or 94 (to Kollárovo Námestie). Taxis can also be found out front; expect to pay Sk100 to Sk150 for a ride into town.

The Bratislava Main Railway Station is a 10-minute walk from the centre. To get to the Old Town by bus, take no. 93 or 82 and get off at Hodžovo Námestie (the second stop), or at Zochová (the third stop - the next stops are all across the river, so be sure to get off in time). A 14-crown ticket, valid for 10 minutes, will suffice. To take the tram into town, take no. 1 and get off after passing the Tesco department store or at Hotel Danube along the river. This trip requires a Sk16 ticket good for 30 minutes.

Beware of crowded trains, especially on Friday and Sunday evenings when swarms of university students travel to and from school. On those lines, it can be nearly impossible to find a seat in the regular cars. To assure a seat, buy a miestenka (seat reservation). Or bypass the crowds altogether by sitting in first class, where plenty of personal space is a virtual guarantee. First class naturally costs more, but the extra crowns are well worth it.

Taking the bus

While trains are more comfortable, buses are sometimes more direct. The first thing to do is check out www.busy.sk for your travel plans.

Bratislava's Main Bus Station (Hlavná Autobusová Stanica) is in the Mlynské Nivy section of town, a 15 minute walk from the centre. You can buy international bus tickets either at the ticket office (zahraničná pokladňa) or with Eurolines, which provides service to 21 European towns and whose offices (located on the ground floor of the bus station) are open Mon-Thu from 8:00 to 18:00 (Fri till 20:00). Tel: 02/ 5542-1667, 5542-4870, 5541-4438. Fax: 02/ 5542-3222.

When travelling by bus domestically, buy tickets as you board after telling the driver your destination (smer jazdy). On crowded routes, drivers will sell tickets to as many people as can be squeezed on, even if it means standing for five hours.

Taxis

Taxi service is still cheap by Western standards. Some drivers may try to rip off foreigners by not turning the meter on and then claiming an outrageous total, so make sure it's running before he takes off. Otherwise, if you have a problem with the bill, there's not much you can do except avoid using that company again.

In Bratislava, avoid taking cabs from the Main Railway Station and from in front of the Hotel Forum. At the Main Bus Station, take one of the taxis waiting inside by the terminals; the taxis out front are far more expensive. For a tip, just round up to the nearest Sk10 figure.

Keeping in touch

The Post Office

At a Slovak post office (Slovenská pošta), you can make phone calls and buy phone cards, pay your utility bills, send a telegram, get film developed, buy lottery tickets, and, of course, send mail. Often, the simplest thing to do with outgoing mail (odosielanie listov) is hand it to the person behind the counter; they will stamp it and send it off for you. For incoming packages, many post offices have a poste restante window - bring your passport.

Telecommunications

Most pay phones are card operated. Buy phone cards (telefónna karta) at news-stands, petrol stations or at the post office. International calling cards also work.

To place an international call, dial 00, the country code, city code and number. Example: to call San Francisco, dial 00 + 01 (country) + 415 (city) + number.

Embassies

Most countries recommend that their citizens register with the local embassy when visiting a foreign country.

Slovak money

Slovakia's basic currency unit is the crown (koruna), with smaller sums denominated in hellers (halier). Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5 and 10 crowns and 10, 20 and 50 hellers; bills in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000 and 5,000 crowns.

When changing money, look for signs saying zmenáreň, or "change," and steer clear of strangers (i.e. crooks who will either stick you with worthless bills or snatch yours outright) offering to exchange money on the street. In Bratislava, there is an exchange office on Rybárska Brána near Hviezdoslav Square that is open till 20:00. Another honest exchange office can be found up the street at Antik Café near Hlavné Námestie (Main Square).

International accounts can be drawn from at an automatic teller machine (ATM), usually marked Bankomat. Travellers' cheques can be cashed at most banks and some exchange offices. Credit cards are gaining acceptance, especially in tourist areas and bigger towns.


These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2003.

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