Slovakia today is a very modern country, which, as a member of the European Union, has open borders with most of its neighbors. The capital city of Bratislava is within an hour’s drive from three of them, namely the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary, and is an incredibly easy commute from the Austrian capital of Vienna. Slovakia has seen many changes in the last few decades that have made it completely different from what it was a mere quarter century ago when it was part of the Soviet satellite state of Czechoslovakia, and while evidence of that change exists everywhere, the best place to get a sense of the country’s dramatic transformation is right on the border with Austria, in a sleepy little town called Devin.
It’s hard to believe that Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia or, indeed, of any country at all. Among the approximately 400,000 people living there, it seems that half of them are either indoors or perhaps on holiday elsewhere. There are no subways and trams seem to be more prominent than buses. Don’t get me wrong, no complaints here; it's just an observation. On arrival via boat from Vienna, it is possible to walk, without getting lost, the kilometre or so to the hostel. The staff member who checked me in on my arrival was so bursting with information and ideas that it seemed she hadn’t spoken to any tourists in weeks! And that is a good thing for the uninitiated in Bratislava.