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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Slovakia in Lonely Planet's 2013 top ten travel destinations

It was a surprise and resonated through the media countrywide. My home country Slovakia got Nr. 5 in Lonely Planet's  Best in Travel 2013 - Top 10 countries. Lonely Planet on it's website is introducing Slovakia as well as listing a few places as well as stating practical information. Interesting reading for a person living here. Mostly true.

Also voices and articles with doubts arised, that many things are painted too nice. While the reality lies as usual in between, as a native Slovak I'd like to try to give you a real picture from a (not only but mainly Saab) car driver's perspective

If you want to read about natural beauties or historical monuments in Slovakia, read one of the travel guides. This is a pure driver's guide. 

Slovakia was more than four decades behind the Iron Curtain. The change came 23 years ago, we experienced an economical boom and became EU and Eurozone member. But the red history and its consequences are to felt in many peoples minds. You will sometimes encounter a kind of roughness. Don't blame them, they aren't guilty. Hard life is.

Slovakia is sometimes called Detroit of Europe because it is among the highest per capita car producers in the world. The VW, PSA and Kia plants are the reason. One vehicle per 3.8 people was driven here in 2008.

Basics : 
Slovakia is a compact country, the longest driving distance (from west to east) is about 550 km. In the middle and north parts are mountains, the more south/southwest you drive, the flatter it is.

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Highways :
Although the highway system improved a lot, there is still no highway everywhere where it should be. For example between Bratislava and Kosice, the two largest cities are still parts missing. But the existing highways are good quality. With exception of this 50 km part.

Highway toll is mandatory in form of a windshield sticker. Available are 10-day, 1 month or 1 year, buyable on all fuel stations. Check the visual and the prices.

Country roads : 
are mostly in good condition, with exceptions. The smaller the road, the higher probability of holes in it. There are many beautiful scenic roads mainly in the hills and around rivers. Some of them are in the Saabism cabrio ride hints section. In winter conditions they are mainly well maintained but always with a delay after the snow begins to fall. When you come for skiing, have snow chains with you, there are some parts with mandatory usage of them through a certain time.

The direction marks are logical, it's normal to drive only with paper map. A GPS gadget is more comfortable.

In the Saab built-in GPS maps of Slovakia appeared firstly after the 9-3 facelift in september 2007 and are not good.

City driving : 
The amount of cars in the cities is constantly increasing. Traffic jams in the peaks are normal, but not as disastrous as in large cities around such as Prague or Budapest. The city roads are often in bad condition especially in the spring time. It's maybe better to park the car somewhere and use the public transport or taxi. There is no metro. Bicycle rental stations and bike roads in the cities are rare.

Maximum speeds are 50 / 90 / 130 kph. Try to keep these speeds, there are police radars quite frequently, mostly in civil cars or on places, where you spot them too late.

Parking :
Parking in parking garages is advisable. If not, mind the resident parking zones. There are payed parking places in the centre and still places, where you can park for free. They are often full and especially in Bratislava, they will disappear soon after changing the parking policy.

Never leave anything in the car, visible or invisible. The car theft or break-ins in Slovakia were going down in the recent years, but are still there. Brands of most thiefs interest are Skoda, VW, Audi and BMW. Saabs not really.

Fuel :
The fuel stations network is good and there are many of the major brands in place. After several reports about low quality fuel I use to mind the smaller non-branded stations. Fuel types available are similar or same as everywhere else in Europe. Petrol RON 98 is rare, but the Trionic 7 control units in our Saabs adapt themselves if you tank 95 or 100. There is no E85 ethanol / biopower to get in Slovakia. Lobby.

Police :
Police has a bad reputation and no respect here. But as Slovakia committed to the EU to lower the fatal car accidents the above mentioned radars finally mostly moved from "farming spots" to roads with higher accident rates. The fines for speeding and other violations are high, currently 10 kph over limit 20 €, 20 kph 60 €, 30 kph 130-140 €. Most policemen don't speak other language than slovak, so there is a low chance to negotiate.

The rumour, that police uses to stop cars with foreign numberplates is not true. I've been driven company cars with czech and austrian numberplates for years, there is no difference. They stop you if you break some rule, that's it.

Emergency numbers : general 112, medical help 155, police : 158, fire alarm 150.
Rather use the 150 numbers than 112.

Accommodation :
Always check very carefully before you book a hotel, f.e. at the booking sites. There are huge differences in quality of services. 

Food & drinks : 
As usual mind the tourist traps. You will miss small bars and restaurants with good food as f.e. in Prague or Vienna. You have to search a bit for good food in city centers.

Slovakia is more wine and liquor than a beer country. Be carefull especially with local liquors like borovička, hruška or slivovica. You can easily find yourself singing on the street.

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