Lessons in the "CentralEurope" Category

Ski in Slovakia in style

There are many places in the world to go and ski - like the Alps, Bulgaria or North America. But have you ever considered skiing in Slovakia? The country that is in the heart of Central Europe has an abundance of ski slopes in the Tatra Mountains. In fact the country has a long skiing tradition.

Coming to Slovakia won’t even break the bank, as the cost of living makes it one of the cheapest places to currently visit in the eurozone. The euro is another major plus point for visitors when they visit the country now. Slovakia lies within the Carpathian mountain system, which after the Alps is the second largest and longest in Europe. The huge arc of the Carpathians begins beside the Danube, close to Bratislava, and stretches through the length of Slovakia, Ukraine and Romania.

Category: Europe / Slovakia / Skiing

Central Europe’s Glorious Ball Season Starts

Long cold winter nights in Central Europe can be brightened up by receiving an invitation to a Ball. The annual Ball season in the region has now commenced and will continue until Ash Wednesday. The most famous Ball in the world has to be the Opera Ball in Vienna. Many call it the jewel in the crown of Balls.

There are however hundreds of other Balls in the Austrian capital. Other famous Balls in Central Europe include the Prague Ball, the Czechoslovakian Ball and Budapest’s Opera Ball. In Slovakia the Ball season sees two big Balls, the Bratislava Ball and the Opera Ball.

The Ball season follows on from the 18th and 19th century traditions when Balls were highly popular, especially during the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. The idea of the Ball is to honour the traditional values of the city.

The Ball itself is frequented by many artists, bankers and entrepreneurs, together with other local people, for whom the participation in a city Ball becomes a social prestige. The Ball is used as an occasion for the introduction of young ladies and gentlemen to society. The impressive cultural event is where many prominent people meet.

Category: Central Europe / Events / Balls

‘Tis the season of Christmas markets!

‘Tis the season of the year to be jolly. Christmas is on its way. So why not get into the swing of Christmas and visit a traditional Christmas market? The magic of them will soon put you under their spell.

All over continental Europe you’ll find them. In recent years they have become more and more popular, probably because of the festive seasonal atmosphere they evoke. Their traditional wooden chalets are full of everything you’ll need to prepare for the perfect Christmas.

Christmas markets originate from what is Germany today. Here they are unique. They offer visitors the chance to buy many different forms of merchandise including wooden carvings, toys, candles, decorated mugs and Christmas decorations.

Visitors can enjoy roast chestnuts and grilled bratwurst sausages or munch some gingerbread biscuits (Lebkuchen), marzipan figures and other such sweets. One can even try some German hot mulled wine (Glühwein).

Category: Lifestyle / Christmas / Christmas Markets

Rusyns survive time in Central & Eastern Europe

One of the joys of living in Central Europe is to discover more about its history. On a trip over from Luxembourg, a while back, I came across an interesting article in Time Magazine about ‘Lost Tribes in Old Europe’. One of these ‘lost tribes’ is that of the Rusyns who are located in eight countries spread over Central and Eastern Europe. Most live in Eastern Slovakia and Western Ukraine.

Rusyns are also known as Ruthenians. They are members of a Slavic tribe that settled in this area in the 6th century. Rusyns speak a distinct language. They are renowned for their exquisite wooden churches, often built without nails. They were mainly a poor farming community yet their culture and tradition were very vibrant and widespread.

Rusyns have resisted assimilation for centuries. They have endured hardship. The Hungarians suppressed them by forcing them to learn Hungarian. The Austrians stole their land and taxed them to the hilt by demanding more animals and crops. This severe hardship forced thousands and thousands of Rusyns to emigrate after 1880 to the industrial regions of north-east America.

Category: History / Central & Eastern Europe / Rusyn

The things that make Slovakia great

So what do Slovaks think that make their country great? Well, many love its nature. The beautiful forests and mountains that are in its national parks. The Tatra Mountains are perhaps the country’s greatest asset. They form part of the Carpathian Mountain range.

Another great thing in Slovakia is the national park Slovak Paradise (Slovenský Raj). Slovakia also has many beautiful lakes to see including Štrbské Pleso in the High Tatras. Slovakia has a lot of interesting castles to visit including Spišský castle and Bratislava Castle.

Spas are pretty popular, especially those at Piešťany and Bardejov. There are some interesting caves to explore including those at Dobšinská l’adová and Demänovská. There is some great folk architecture to see including many traditional villages.

On the eastern side of Slovakia there are many wooden churches to visit. Folk music and dancers wearing traditional costumes are also great things to enjoy. Slovakia is also famous for its pretty girls. It is said they are the most beautiful women in the world. It thus boasts some top models. It also has some incredibly nice people.

Category: Central Europe / Slovakia / Places to Visit

The Great Hungarian Toxic Disaster

Hungary’s recent toxic sludge spill is the country’s worst ever environmental disaster. On the 4th October a reservoir holding deadly waste burst after heavy rains, releasing at least a million cubic metres of toxic red muddy water. It was like a mini tsunami and devastated three nearby villages.

The Hungarian government immediately declared a state of emergency in three counties. Seven people were killed; 150 were injured, with hundreds suffering toxic burns. The deadly sludge came from an aluminium plant reservoir. The toxic muddy waste is a waste product from the refinement of bauxite to alumina, the material used to manufacture aluminium.

The red mud contained an oxide that gave it a red colour. It also contained heavy metals, such as lead, that have a caustic affect on the skin and was slightly radioactive. The toxic water killed fish, and many other life forms. It made the immediate area look like the red planet Mars. The smell from the spill was also pretty bad.

Category: Europe / Hungary / Toxic Leak

A visit to Prague

Hands up those of you that have been to Prague. I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t - such is its popularity with visiting tourists. So why do people go there?

There are undoubtedly a 101 reasons why you should visit Prague - such is its charm. For those who haven’t, it might just be worth booking a trip there. For those not exactly sure where Prague is - let me inform you that it is in the Czech Republic, which is in ‘Central Europe – The Heart of Europe!’ It is the capital city.

Without further ado let me take you on a leisurely stroll around Prague… Known as ‘the Paris of the East’ and as ‘the city of 100 steeples’, its crowded old cobblestone streets serve tourists 365 days a year. It constantly tops other top European cities to visit - like London, Paris, Budapest and Vienna.

Dozens of airlines fly to Prague, often with cheap airfares, making it a bargain place to visit. From children to old age pensioners, the city is a huge hit with all ages. Prague offers tourists so much more than people expect.

Category: Holidays / Czech Republic / Prague

Centre-right opposition ‘wins’ Slovak election

Slovakia - A coalition of four centre-right opposition parties has won enough seats to unseat Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico’s coalition government. With most of the votes now counted opposition supporters across the country were partying the night away knowing the results will bring about a change of government in the small Central European country.

Mr Fico’s leftist Smer-SD party beat each of the opposition parties in the countries parliamentary elections - capturing 34.79% of the vote, enough to gain 62 seats in the 150-seat parliament. But the four centre-right opposition parties picked up 79 seats. Smer-SD actually increased its share of the vote. It will have the largest number of seats in parliament by far, but will fall short of an overall majority. Mr Fico has said he was willing to try to form a government or to lead the opposition TASR reported.

Slovak President Ivan Gašparovic has said he will ask the winner of the general election Smer-SD to form the next government. He said it is the moral thing to do. Opposition parties have however united against forming any form of coalition with Fico. SDKU-DS opposition leader Iveta Radicova: “I am ready to be the first female Slovak Prime Minister.”

Category: Central Europe / Slovakia / General Election 2010

Eurovea Galleria opens in Bratislava

A brand new state-of-the-art multi-functional shopping mall opened in Bratislava recently. The new Eurovea Galleria opened its doors to the public for the first time during the last weekend in March. Located in a prime location on the Danube riverfront Eurovea has already become a major draw.

In fact, many would say it is the new centre of entertainment, leisure and high street shopping in the Slovak capital. With more than 150 shops the three-level complex, which has a glass domed roof, is cleverly designed. Over the opening weekend shoppers were treated to many introductory offers.

Shops include many top brand names for one to nose around. These include British stores like Next, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer. The latter having real British food, which in central Europe is a godsend for any expat’s living there! Other famous brand names include Tommy Hilfiger, Peek & Cloppenburg, New Yorker, Penny Black and H&M.

Bratislava old and new

Today we are looking at the Slovak capital Bratislava. Let’s start with its Old Town. Dating from the 15th century, its centre has largely been preserved and is a positive delight to see. It has charm!

Since the collapse of communism and gradually since independence the Old Town has seen much reconstruction. Today it has many highly popular coffee shops and bars to visit. During the summer months the streets are packed with bar terraces, which bring the Old Town alive. One can sit, relax and enjoy a cup of coffee or have a beer and watch the world go by.

There is also the Bratislava Summer Festival where one can see street entertainers, exhibitions, open air opera, orchestras and music festivals. In wintertime when it snows the Old Town becomes a winter wonderland. The narrow streets give one a glimpse into the past right here in the present. December sees the Christmas market in the Old Town. It offers visitors a multitude of unusual gifts to buy, hot wine and excellent foods.

Category: Central Europe / Slovakia / Bratislava