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Immediately east of Austria is the country of Slovakia, which began it’s most recent incarnation in 1993 when the former Czechoslovakia was set free from the Soviet Union and split into two separate nations.  Prague became the capital city of the Czech Republic, while Bratislava became the capital of Slovakia.  Formerly called Pressburg, Bratislava is a new name for an old city.   I forgive myself for having never heard of either.

The Bratislava population is about 500,000 while Slovakia is 5 million.  Slovakians have their own language, similar to Czech.  Currency is the Euro.  Fifteen years ago many tour books didn’t even list Bratislava as it still suffered from the dull influences of the architecturally-challenged Soviets. They did not yet have the sort of culture that could attract tourists.  That is all changing as the city now boasts three universities and is gradually improving its architecture.  It’s unspectacular, though a pleasant place to visit for a day.

Surprisingly, we are told that this country produces more cars per capita than any other country on the planet.  The Skoda brand was purchased by Volkswagen twenty years ago and they produce both Skoda for the eastern European market, plus several Audi and Volkswagen models.  Even though they have no oil, Slovakia has a major refinery that processes crude oil from Russia.  Their apple strudel is good, though a notch below Prague. I give it a 4.2.  We find cafes that serve coffee Viennese style, situated on large public squares, great for people watching.  We wander through a river-bank park and adjoining shopping center, all thoroughly modern, crowded with locals enjoying the nice Spring weather.  I notice a profusion of ultra-bright colors; in signage, in the clothing of young people, in gadgets.  I suspect this is a cultural effort to counteract the pervasive drabness of the Soviet legacy, and in keeping with the latest western European style.

We leave Slovakia and the Eurozone in the evening, continuing downstream on the Danube, enjoying a nice sunset dinner.  This evening our boat will travel through a lock, dropping about 70 feet as the river continues its journey toward the Black sea.

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