In this guest post by Vodník author Bryce Moore, Bryce shares his favorite things to see, do, and eat when visiting Slovakia.
When I was asked to write a brief guest blog post about traveling to Slovakia, the first question that popped into my head was, “How do I keep it brief?” I’ve been to the country many times, and I absolutely adore it. There’s so much to see and do—although there are some things you have to watch out for if you’re not accompanied by a native Slovak speaker.
First off, let me say that this is just really for western Slovakia. I have yet to be over to the eastern half of the country, and I don’t know much about it. In many ways (from what I’ve been told, at least) the eastern and western sides are like two different places. Eastern Slovakia has a much bigger influence from Hungary. Western Slovakia is influenced by Austria and the Czech Republic. Surprising, in a country that’s significantly smaller than West Virginia. But then again, it’s Europe. Things work differently over there.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let me dig right into the meat of the topic: why should someone want to go to Slovakia? A better question would be why wouldn’t someone want to go to Slovakia? It’s a beautiful country, filled with mountains in the north, plains in the south, and rolling hillsides in between. It’s got dense forests, wild rivers, and some of the most awesome castles you can think of. The food is fantastic, the people are friendly, and it’s an area most Americans haven’t even heard of. (Seriously. Try writing a book that takes place in Slovakia, and see how many people ask you where that is again.)
(Oh–and one final note before I begin. A lot of these Slovak words should have diacritic marks in them to be spelled properly. I’m leaving them out for ease of typing and web browser compatibility. Click through to the links to see the proper spelling.)
First up, let’s take a look at some of the castles:
Hands down, the most elegant one is Bojnice. It’s a gorgeous, completely restored castle, inside and out. From what I was told when I toured it the first time, it was used by some of Disney’s Imagineers as part of the basis for Cinderella’s castle, and I believe it. The town also has a zoo, if you’re looking to spend the day.
Orava Castle is much more along the lines of a fortress. Towering over the Orava river, it’s built in three distinct levels, each with their own fortifications. It’s also fully restored, and was even used as the shooting site for some of Nosferatu, one of the most famous vampire movies ever made. Really impressive, although a bit of a drive to see it. Did I mention it’s rumored to be haunted?
Cachtice is the ruins of the old home of Elizabeth Bathory, the Countess of Blood. She was found guilty of killing local villagers (some claim hundreds) and bathing in their blood or torturing them. Real pleasant woman. And she was walled into her castle chambers as punishment for her crimes. She was the basis for some of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the castle ruins themselves were used in some of the movie Dragonheart, with Dennis Quaid. Creepy place, but beautiful views.
Finally, I have to put in a huge plug for Trencin Castle, although I suppose the entirety of Vodník is really a great ad for the castle and city, too. It’s one of the best castles I’ve ever been to, and they have regular events in the evening over the summers, as well as week-long festivals in the city and up at the castle, recreating everything from medieval jousts to Roman gladiator matches. And my brother-in-law stars in a few of them! One of the advantages of having a brother-in-law who’s part of a historical reenactment group is you get to play dress up at the castle when you come to visit. Here I am in a lord’s outfit, complete with sword:
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part II of Bryce’s Guide to Slovakia where he talks about the most important part of travel – the food!