Infrastructure wasn’t an issue at all along here. Petrol (gas) stations were available when we needed one. Roads were much better than I had expected and driving along the country roads was actually a pleasurable experience. Suggestion: Buy a map of Slovakia at a petrol station once you arrive in Slovakia. We purchased a Freytag and Berndt map of Slovkia and the Czech Republic (ISBN 80-7316-026-9). Not only did it help us on the highways, but it helped us in cities, too, as it has several city maps for both countries. Getting lost wasn’t an issue and we didn’t have to spend too much time looking for one before we arrived. We used a general Europe map we had purchased at home to guide us along the obvious major routes.
**Note on petrol stations**: At each of the petrol stations you visit you will be given the opportunity to have your windscreen washed. This is usually done by young, good-looking women wearing tight clothes that show a bit of skin whilst working. Your husbands and boyfriends will thoroughly enjoy this and will want to have the windscreen washed several times. Ladies, don’t let them wash the windscreen each time, your significant other will not stop talking about it for a month or longer and may proclaim they want to marry a Slovakian woman! These ladies don’t have a set price and don’t really care what currency you give them. Tom gave one girl a Euro and she was perfectly happy.
Since we were visiting Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic we were going to need four difference currencies. Once over the border into Slovakia we stopped at a cash machine to retrieve some cash. The first cash machine was out of order. The second one worked, but not with our US debit card with a magnetic strip. We had to use our British bank account card, the card with the security chip on the front. As Tom is still paid in dollars even though we live in the UK it is much more convenient for us to pay in $US. For nearly all of our holiday we had to use the British card because the US card did not work in cash machines. I would imagine if you were to visit more “on-the-beaten-track” you may find this not an issue at all. Another issue with so many currencies is trying to predict how much cash you will need to minimise needing another stop for cash and balancing that with not taking too much home with you. We failed miserably. I have loads of Slovakian Koruny if anyone is going there soon. Eventually most of these European countries that have joined the EU will use the Euro and this will not be an issue anymore (and I will still be stuck with my koruny!)
It seems that parking is a roaring business in this country. We found that much of the parking you do here will not be free. In fact, you may find a place to park to have someone appear out of nowhere with a bright orange or yellow vest. My suggestion: pay to park once and walk unless you need to go a fair distance. Even hotels will charge you to park…many of them with outsourced parking companies.
One thing that struck us as interesting in Slovakia was the farming. To us it seemed like such an old-style way of doing things. Most fields were worked by manual means rather than mechanical means. We saw horses pulling huge wagons full of hay and families travelling together using horse and wagon transportation. Yes, we saw a few tractors, but we also saw horses being used to plough fields. You could see families working in the fields together, often times dressed in traditional dress (dresses and scarves for women). Hay was raked into piles and then put up on wooden frames by hand to dry.
During our time in the High Tatras there were many groups of Roma/gypsies selling berries and mushrooms on the side of the road...sometimes ten or more lined up down the road all selling the same thing. They always seemed very happy when a car would approach, jumping up and running to the side of the road to get your attention. High populations of gypsies live in Eastern Slovakia. Romas or Gypsies are a people without a state, no place to call “home”and there are approximately 1 million living within Slovkia and the Czech Republic. They tend to live in very poor conditions in small rudimentary housing in villages. As in other Eastern European countries, there is much prejudice against the Roma people. They did us no harm and I felt terrible for them just waiting for a car to pass in hopes that they could make just a bit of money.
Cuisine in Slovakia seems to be heavily influenced by German, Hungarian and Austrian tastes. It tends to be heavy and full of carbohydrates. I remember thinking “Where are the vegetables?” The side dish menu leaned towards potatoes, dumplings, sauerkraut and other forms of potatoes. Always expect a heavy meal when dining. It is no problem to counteract this with plenty of walking in such a beautiful place!