A puzzle of old treasures and new ideas
In Slovakia, the traces of communism are still felt: Cement-block buildings seem to appear out of nothing in the middle of forests, hotels along the steep Tatra mountain range are reminders of the time when they served as mandatory vacation spots for workers or a summer escape for party fatcats. Slovakia initially had difficulties incorporating into the European Union but is now rapidly catching up. With its pedestrian zone, the imposing castle, and the brand-new, shiny facades of the new National Theater and the surrounding office buildings, the capital, Bratislava, located all in the far west of the country, along the Austrian border, is a puzzle whose pieces don't quite fit together yet. In the poorer east, cultural monuments were ignored for decades and, precisely for this reason, have survived fairly well. The white ruins of the Zipser Castle and the little city Levoca, whose church houses the highest gothic altar in the world, are among the region's must-sees. In the tiny town of Medzilaborce, a Museum dedicated to Andy Warhol reminds one that the pop artist's parents were from the area. The interior is most easily accessible by car; the country is working ambitiously on a direct highway leading from Bratislava to the regional center, Kosice.