Welcome to Slovakia - Heart of Europe

Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookVisit Us On GooglePlusVisit Us On PinterestVisit Us On YoutubeVisit Us On Linkedin

The Heart of Europe is an in-depth look at Slovakia, from the eyes of an ex-pat, David James Ault, who has lived here for over a decade. David looks at the history, traditions, language and culture of Slovakia, as well as the best places to go in this wonderful little country in the heart of Europe.

.

Get the most out of the site and subscribe to the Slovakia Heart of Europe mailing list in the box below.

(*Subscribe today and find out how and when you can get your hands on a FREE copy of Issue One of the upcoming Slovakia Magazine).

.

Favorite Fairy Tales Told in Czechoslovakia

Slovak Literature

Book 10 of the “Favorite Fairy Tales” series tells five wonderful tales from Czechoslovakia. The five stories are “The Twelve Months”, “Kuratko the Terrible”, “The Wood Fairy”, “The Shepherd’s Nosegay” and “The Three Golden Hairs of Grandfather Know All”. These fairy tales are enchanting, dramatic stories, suitable for eight years and up.

The Twelve Months – An interesting variation on the wicked stepmother and stepsister theme, where the twelve months of the years are personified by twelve men who help out the beautiful young, heroine, Marushka.

Kuratko the Terrible – Kuratko, a horrible chicken that is always hungary, sets about swallowing whole anyone who comes along his path. Finally, he meets his match in Kostor, the cat.

The Wood Fairy – Batushka, a young girl who spins flaxen each day for her mother, a poor widow, loves to dance. One day, a wood fairy appears and tempts Batushka to dance all day long, resulting in none of the flax getting spun. What will poor Batushka tell her mother?

The Shepherd’s Nosegay – Disguised as a shepherd, a prince gives a nosegay of flowers to a beautiful princess, who is seeking a suitor. On his travels the prince gives out four loaves of bread to four beggars, and in return is given four curious gifts for showing such kindness. These gifts will help the prince in his efforts to win over his princess bride.

The Three Golden Hairs of Grandfather Know All – A fisherman’s son is to marry a princess, but first he must undertake a seemingly impossible task set by the king – to pluck three hairs from the head of Grandfather Know All.

Click here to find out more information about this book

The “Favorite Fairy Tales told in Czechoslovakia” will make a perfect gift for a young child, with a good imagination.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Making Pirohy

Slovak Recipes

Pirohy is a traditional Eastern Slovak dish, which resemble large ravioli with a potato filling.

Below are some photos showing each stage when making pirohy:

Step 1 – Rolling of the pastry

Pirohy Step 1The first step of this recipe is to prepare the pastry from which we create the pirohy. Mix flour, egg and water, together with a pinch of salt, to form the pastry.

Then roll the pastry out until it is half a centimetre thick.

Pirohy - Step 2Step 2 – Creating circle shapes

Once you have done the rolling, take a cup or a glass and cut out circles from the pastry.

Step 3 – Filling the circles

Pirohy Step 3After creating the circles, we fill them with a potato mixture, which is made of mashed potatoes and onions.

Before this we had fried the onions in oil and then mixed them together with the potatoes.

Step 4 – Shaping up the pirohy

Pirohy - Step 3Once we have filled a circle of pastry with the potato mixture, we close the circle creating a crescent moon shape.

We then close up the edges, in a lace pattern.

Step 5 – Pirohy before cooking

Pirohy - Step 4So now the pirohy are ready to be placed into a pot of boiling water. We put them into the boiling water and mix them occasionally. We have to be very careful when we are mixing them that we don’t break them.

And when do we know that they have been cooked? It is easy, when they float to the top we know they are ready to come back out again.

Pirohy - Step 5Step 6 – Serve with cream!

Once the pirohy are back out of the water, they are ready to be served.

They taste best when they are garnished with fried onions and served with sour cream.

I hope you enjoy this special meal.

Dobrú chuť!

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Voľby 2002 – Slovak General Election

Slovak History

With the Presidential Elections fast approaching, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at the very first election that Robert Fico took part in, back in 2002. There now follows an excerpt from ‘Voľby 2002′, taken from my book Letters from Slovakia, now available as a paperback, from Amazon, or as an ebook, on the Kindle or via iTunes.

Friday, early evening, on the 20th September 2002, and all across the country the people of Slovakia were arriving at polling stations to vote for their next government. Voters casting their votes before 14:00 on the Saturday, did so with the knowledge that this particular election would have a huge impact on their country’s future.

The Slovak General Election (Voľby) is slightly more complicated than elections back home. The Slovak voter doesn’t just have to decide whether to vote for a left-wing, centre, or right-wing party, instead they must choose between an incredible 25 political parties. With so many different parties, splitting so many of the votes, an outsider may be forgiven for thinking that it’s all a bit of a lottery.

Voľby 2002 is of particular importance to Slovakia. Membership to NATO and the European Union is not that far off for this small central European country, with a population of less than 6 million. However, it has been made crystal clear to Slovakia that she will not be allowed to join either organisation if former Prime Minister, Vladimír Mečiar, is to play any part whatsoever in the new government.

It was Mečiar’s HZDS party that led the various opinion polls leading up to the elections, extremely popular with pensioners throughout the country. In second place, not far behind HZDS was the young, populist lawyer, Robert Fico, and his SMER (direction) party. SMER had carried out an extensive election campaign, and the opinion polls showed that the youthful Fico was extremely popular amongst the country’s first time voters.

However, if the opinion polls were to be believed, neither of these left wing parties would secure the 51% of votes needed to form a government. It looked odds on that Slovakia would have another coalition government ruling the country, and as it was unlikely that any party would side with the Mečiar-led HZDS, Fico was perhaps the favourite to be Slovakia’s next Prime Minister.

The current Prime Minister was Mikuláš Dzurinda, the leader of the SDK government, a coalition of a number of parties from throughout the political spectrum. Responsible for lifting Slovakia from the position of the black sheep of Central Europe, to a country on the brink of EU membership, Dzurinda is very well respected in the West. However, the tough economic measures that were needed to transform Slovakia have come at a price, and at home Dzurinda is largely seen as the man who has brought mass unemployment and rising prices to the country.

Indeed, leading up to the election the opinion polls showed Dzurinda’s new party, the SDKÚ, lying in third place, and a long way behind HZDS and SMER. But then opinion polls rarely get these things spot on, and so on Friday afternoon, as we went to a nearby school to cast our votes, I had a feeling that Voľby 2002 was going to be a close run thing…

If you would like to read the rest of Voľby 2002 – Slovak General Election and many other great stories about a British ex-pat living in Slovakia, then why not purchase my book, Letters From Slovakia, available as a paperback, from Amazon, or as an ebook, on the Kindle or via iTunes.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Flower Sunday (Palm Sunday)

Slovak Traditions

The first day of the Slovakia Easter was Flower Sunday (Palm Sunday). On this day, the villagers would bring green twigs and branches called “bahniatka” to the church. The priest would bless the twigs and branches with water and a prayer.

Palm Sunday Cross by RogueSun Media

Palm Sunday Cross by RogueSun Media

When the villagers returned home from the church they would then place them behind pictures hanging in their house or on the framework of the attic. The villagers believed that the hanging twigs would protect the house from storms. During an actual storm, they would attach the twigs to the windows.

Also on Flower Sunday, when the gospel was read at church, it was believed that all hidden treasures on earth would become uncovered. According to the legend, the treasure would be found at the spot where little flames burned on the ground. However, the treasure hunters would have to hurry to uncover the treasure, because it was also believed that once the priest had finished reading the gospel the flames would disappear.

Many traditions were associated with meal times on Flower Sunday. The farmers were supposed to eat long strands of noodles, so that their crops would do well that year. It was also believed that whichever product the farmer ate first on this day would be the crop that flowered first.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

7 Important Slovak Churches and Cathedrals

Slovak Tourist Attractions

Slovakia is an extremely religious country, with Catholicism being the majority religion. Below is a look at seven Slovak churches and Slovak cathedrals, which are very interesting and worthy of a visit during your stay in the country.

1). St. Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava

Saint Martin's CathedralThe biggest, oldest and finest church in Bratislava, St. Martin’s Cathedral was built in the gothic style in the C14th and C15th.

It was here, during the time when Bratislava was the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary, that a series of Hungarian Kings and Queens, including Marie Theresa, were crowned.

2). Evangelical Wooden Church, Kezmarok

This little wooden church was built in the times of religious oppression of the Protestants.

Evangelical Church KezmarokThis is why it is out of the town centre and made of wood – the cheapest of materials.

The church is in a Baroque style, and has a beautifully ornate pulpit, font and altar (built by Jan Lerch, between 1718 – 1727).

3). Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is built on top of a steep hill over looking Levoča.

Marianske LevocaEvery year, thousands of pilgrims from all around Slovakia make the journey up the hill, to demonstrate their love for God. This pilgrimage is known as the Marianske Pilgrimage.

The Marianske Pilgrimage played an important role for Slovak Catholics during the Communist era, and in 1995 the Basilica was honoured by a visit from Pope John Paul II.

4). St. James’ Cathedral, Levoča

In any visit to Levoča, the guided tour around the beautiful St. James’ Cathedral is a must.

Saint James LevocaThe centre piece of the Cathedral is the late Gothic main altar, which has been preserved in its original magnificence.

A height of 18.62 meters and a width of 6.27 meters makes it the largest altar piece of its kind in the world. The gothic altar is the work of Master Pavol of Levoca, who finished the altar in 1517.

5). Spišská Kapitula

The tiny city of Spišská Kapitula, situated on top of a hill a few miles west of Spiš Castle, is known locally as the Slovak Vatican.

Spisska KapitularAs well as a Seminary, there is also the impressive twin towered St. Martin’s Cathedral, which dates back to the 13th Century.

Inside St. Martin’s are a collection of colourful frescoes showing the coronation of the Hungarian monarch, King Karol Robert.

6). St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral

Saint Elisabeth KosiceSt. Elizabeth’s Cathedral, in Košice, is the most beautiful church in the whole of Slovakia.

The gothic cathedral was built at the end of the 14th Century, and is dedicated to the daughter of Charles of Anjou, St. Elizabeth.

7). Church of St. Egidius

Saint Egidius BardejovYou could be forgiven for mistaking the beautiful Church of St. Egidius for a cathedral, such is its vastness and spleandor.

Inside the church are eleven wooden altars, including an altar carved by Master Pavol of Levoca.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Bojnice Zoo

Slovak Tourist Attractions

Bojnice Zoo BearBojnice is a wonderful little town in Central Slovakia, just west of Banská Bystrica, which is famous for both its fairytale castle and zoo. The town also boasts a falconry, Slovakia’s oldest tree and a Spa, but it is Bojnice Zoo that our children are usually most excited about.

There is enough in Bojnice to keep the kids occupied for nearly a full day. It is best to arrive just before lunchtime and then make your way to the Stare Kino (Old Cinema) Restaurant for lunch. I have been to Bojnice on numerous occasions and this restaurant, on the left of the boulevard leading up to the castle, is definitely the place to go when in Bojnice.

Having enjoyed your lunch, make sure that you walk up past the castle, took some photos of the Oldest Tree in Slovakia, steer the kids past the tacky souvenir stalls, and head for the zoo.

Bojnice Zoo ElephantI really like Bojnice Zoo. There is a wonderful bear enclosure there and you can enjoy a relaxing walk around the zoo, which leads round to a petting zoo and wooden playpark. It is priced well too, only a few Euro for adults.

The last leg of your walk around the zoo, leads you up to some stunning views of Bojnice Castle and the countryside beyond.

Bojnice Castle

It really is photo op time and there is even a little wooden podium over the Llama enclosure for just that!

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Slovak Inventors

Famous Slovaks

Despite her small size, Slovakia has provided the world with some important inventors throughout the years. Here we take a look at some of the more well-known Slovak inventors.

JÁN BAHÝĹ

Ján Bahýľ, born in Zvolenská Slatina, in 1845, is probably the greatest of all the Slovak inventors.

In 1869, Bahýľ graduated from the Banská Štiavnica Mining Academy with a diploma in technical drawing. During his year long army service, he was noticed by his superiors, having made some technical improvements for the Hungarian army, and was enrolled into the technical staff.

As well as being entrusted with complex building tasks while in the army, Bahýľ was also able to study at the Vienna Military Academy, where he graduated in 1879 and was made a lieutenant.

During his time in the army Bahýľ was able to work on a number of inventions, many of which involved hydraulics. His first notable invention, which he actually financed with his own money, was the Steam Tank. This was bought by the Russian army, the money from which enabled Bahýľ to dedicate the rest of his life to inventing.

Bahýľ was granted 7 patents in all, including the invention of the tank pump, air balloons combined with an air turbine, the first petrol engine car in Slovakia (with Anton Marschall) and a lift up to Bratislava castle.

Perhaps, he is best remembered though for constructing a petrol motor-driven helicopter, which he himself flew up to 4 meters high and for over 1500 meters, in 1905.

REV. JOZEF MURGAŠ

Jozef Murgaš was born in Tajov, in Slovakia, and at the age of 18 joined the priesthood. As well as his religion, both science and art also played an important part in his life.

In 1889, Rev. Jozef Murgaš attended the Academy of Art in Munich, where he had a lot of success. Meanwhile, his fascination for science continued, and he enrolled at the Electrical College of Vienna, where he studied the field of wireless telegraphy.

Murgaš emigrated from Slovakia to Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, where he achieved his first scientific breakthrough: Murgaš devised a system which greatly improved Morse code.

Murgaš’ “Rotary-spark-system” allowed for much faster communication, through the use of musical tones. He patented his new invention, which is now listed as the “Wireless Telegraphy Apparatus”, as well as 16 more inventions in this field. These patents would go on to form the foundations for the invention of the radio.

A lack of money, and a number of financial setbacks, led the humble Murgaš to give the younger, and more prosperous Marconi, the rights to all his patents. Murgaš did not seek recognition for his work, and indeed history remembers only Marconi as the inventor of the radio.

ŠTEFAN BANIČ

Štefan Banič was born in Nestic, part of Smolenice, in Slovakia. At the age of 37, Banič emigrated to America, where he found work as a coal miner in Pennsylvania.

A tragic accident, that he witnessed in 1912, led Banič to build a prototype of a parachute and then register it with the U.S. Patent Office. On the 3rd June 1914, he demonstrated how his parachute worked in the most daring style, by jumping from a building in Washington. He later went on to jump from an army aircraft.

Banič kindly gave away his patent rights to the U.S. Army. Although the parachute proved to be extremely important during WWI, he received little fame or fortune for his invention.

WOLFGANG VON KEMPELEN

Wolfgang von Kempelen was born in Bratislava, and spent most of his life in Vienna, where he worked in the service of Maria Theresa, ruler of the Habsburg Empire.

Von Kempelen was quite simply a genius. Among his many achievements was the invention of a speaking machine (in 1791) and a special typewriter for the blind.

His most famous invention, however, was the construction of The Turk, a chess-playing automaton, which was later found out to be a hoax.

JOZEF KAROL HELL

The invention of the water pillar, water pump machine, by Jozef Karol Hell in 1749, played a big part in Banská Štiavnica becoming one of the biggest centres of silver mining in Europe, during the latter half of the C18th.

His first machine could pump water up from the depth of 212 metres. Hell then continued to build a serious of pumping machines, between 1749-1768, which were among the best technology in this field, worldwide.

JOZEF MAXIMILIAN PETZVAL

Jozef Maximilian Petzval, born in Spišská Belá, in 1807, is considered by many to be the founder of modern photography.

Having spent his early years studying in Levoča and Košice, Petzval joined the University of Pest, at the age of 19, where he studied Mathematics and Philosophy. During this time, he enjoyed notable success, becoming an assistant at the University in 1835. This then led to a chair of Mathematics at the University of Vienna, two years later.

Petzval is most renowned for his work on optical lenses in the 1840’s, which was instrumental in the construction of modern cameras. He is also remembered for greatly improving the telescope and designing the opera glass.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Book Review – Czech and Slovak Republics Guide

Slovak Tourism

A review of the Czech and Slovak Republics Guide by Ted Brewer:

Usually travel guides about the two republics tend to concentrate fully on the Czech Republic (and then mainly Prague), with a chapter about Slovakia tagged on to the end. You often find yourself wondering if these guys actually set foot in Slovakia at all, or just wrote the book from the Czech capital.


Brewer’s travel guide, although again heavily weighted in favour of the Czech Republic, is different. There are three chapters in the Slovak section of the book, one each for Western, Central and Eastern. Most of the major towns and attractions in Slovakia are covered, with the notable exception of Kremnica.

There is also some useful information about Slovakia in the opening chapters of the book, including a short history of the country and a superb piece about the differences between Czechs and Slovaks.

Brewer presents a fair account of Slovakia, and mostly gets it right when recommending hotels and places to eat. If you are going to visit both republics then this book is a must have. If you are only going to visit Slovakia, then it is probably still worth your while getting this travel guide, even though you might end up only reading a third of it.

Click here to read more about the Czech and Slovak Republic Guide

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Slovak Folk Dances

Slovak Folk Music

In Slovakia, tradition is also kept alive in the form of music and dance. Slovak folk music is popular throughout Slovakia, with different regions performing their own unique dances. When Slovak folk groups perform a dance from a particular region, they wear the traditional costumes typical of that region.

Slovak folk dances are especially popular in the Orava, Liptov, Šaris and Horehronie regions of Slovakia.

ORAVA DANCES

Ovava Dance CepovyThere are many different Slovak dances typical of the Orava region. These beautiful traditional dances include:

Cepovy

This is a folk dance full of energy and quite typical for the Low Orava Region. The dance represents the old traditional way of threshing cereals with flails.

OlaskuOlasku

This dance is performed by girls dancing over sticks, which are called ‘love’. Olasku, Orava.

This dance comes from the village of Osadka, in the Low Orava Region, and girls traditionally dance this when playing up on the meadows and also at ‘fasiang’ festivals.

‘Fasiang’ is a Slovak festival, with traditional masks, from the Low Orava Region. Typical masks include a bear, a gypsy, a soldier, half-man/half-woman, loktibrada (little bearded dwarf) and others.

SARIS DANCES

The Saris

The Saris is an energetic dance performed by a couple, which is typical for the Saris region, in Eastern Slovakia. The routines includes the following dance elements:

(i) Karicka

Saris

(ii) Bottle Dance

Saris Bottle Dance

(iii) Sarispolka

Saris polka

HOREHRON

This is another energetic folk dance, which is typical for the Horehronie Region, in Central Slovakia.

Horehronie

The dance is always very popular with the crowds thanks to the characteristic stamping rhythms.

MYJAVA

An energetic dance performed by a couple, typical for the Myjava Region, in Western Slovakia.

Myava

SLOVAK MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS

The folk music that accompanies the dancing, is played using the following musical instruments:

  • Violin
  • Viola
  • Double Bass
  • Clarinet
  • Accordion
  • Penny Whistle
  • Bagpipes
  • Cimbal
  • Fujara

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Making Slovak Sausages

Slovak Recipes

There now follows an excerpt from ‘Making Sausages’, taken from my book Letters from Slovakia, now available as a paperback, from Amazon, or as an ebook, on the Kindle or via iTunes.

I had been invited along to watch Vlado, and his team of assistants, skilfully make sausages in the traditional way. I was told that I could report on each stage of the sausage making process, on the strict understanding that I would not disclose any of the secret ingredients that are added to make, what Vlado describes as, “the best sausages in the world”.

So there I was one winter morning, in a freezing cold garage in a tiny little village somewhere in Orava, armed with notepad and pen, eagerly awaiting a lesson in how to make Slovak sausages.

The first stage, as with any recipe, was the preparation of the ingredients. The pork had been purchased earlier that morning, and the herbs and spices were packed in their individual containers, ready for weighing. A bottle of whiskey was also present, but it turned out that this would not form part of the secret ingredients that gave the sausages their distinct flavour.

Pride of place amongst all the different spices, that would eventually be added to the pork mixture, was a 1lb bag of paprika. I gathered from the oohs and ahhs that filled the room when Vlado placed it on the table that this was pretty good stuff.

Once Vlado was satisfied all the ingredients were correctly weighed, we indulged in our first whiskey of the day. Although it was only about 11 o’ clock in the morning, the whiskey was a welcome sight, as it was 14 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and to be frank it wasn’t much warmer inside the garage. Having made a toast to “Good sausages!”, I was then introduced to the mincer.

This was an electrically powered monstrosity from the 1940’s, but was still in perfect working order and the mincing began with half a pound of garlic. So with a warm feeling in my stomach, from the whiskey, and the beautiful aroma of minced garlic filling the garage, I felt really relaxed and ready to start making some sausages.

After the garlic had worked its way through the mincer it was the turn of the meat. The pork was certainly not the best cut of meat I’ve seen in my life, but then we were making sausages, not steaks. Even so, quite a bit of fat needed to be removed, so that the mincer did not get blocked. However, I noticed that the less stringy bits of fat still made they way, along with the meat, into the tub below.

Having worked its way through the mincer, the minced meat landed in a big blue bath tub. This continued until there was no meat (or usable fat) left, and the bath tub was three quarters full. At this point in the proceedings, Vlado decided that we had earned a break and so out came the whiskey bottle once more, and another toast was made.

The next stage was to mix the mince up. This was done by hand, in the same way as you would knead dough for bread. I was asked if I would like to have a go. It looked messy, but I thought I’d better show willing, so I agreed. It was messy, and surprisingly cold. After doing my bit for a few minutes I let the experts take over, and wondered how long it would be until the next whiskey.

Now things began to spice up (if you’ll pardon the pun)…

If you would like to read the rest of this story and many other great stories about a British ex-pat living in Slovakia, then why not purchase my book, Letters From Slovakia, available as a paperback, from Amazon, or as an ebook, on the Kindle or via iTunes.

In the meantime, check out the simple step-by-step guide to making Slovak sausages on Pinterest, from the photos that were taken at the time:

Follow Me on Pinterest

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail