Travel

Life moves at leisurely pace in Slovakia

David Lutz, 38, is a product manager for Collette ( www.gocollette.com), an international guided-tour company. Lutz, originally from Houston, has lived or worked on six continents. For the last four years, he has lived in Slovakia.

Q. How did you end up in Slovakia, and where’s home there?

A. My wife is Slovak; that’s the main driver for living here. I’m working right in the middle of the territory I handle for Collette – Europe – so it also makes sense professionally.

We live in Bratislava, the capital, most of the year. In the summer, we have a house about an hour away, in a town called Prievidza.

Q. Kind of a getaway place?

A. That’s basically correct. We’re quite lucky. We have a house and a yard that backs up into the forest so there’s lots of green. Living in town is not exactly pretty. In communist days, they tore down Bratislava’s city square and old buildings were removed. It’s like in Prague, where you have all these communist-type apartments. But the surrounding area is woodsy and quite nice.

Q. With you being from Houston, is living in Slovakia much of a culture shock? Bratislava is a little smaller in population than El Paso, Texas.

A. I’ve had the benefit of 20 years of traveling around the world – I was backpacking when I was 19 – and I’ve lived all over. You have to have an open mind and be flexible. That said, there’s a definite culture shock here.

You can’t pop down and get something from the shops when everything is closed on Sunday. There’s no Internet banking. While things are changing, you can’t order things online and have them delivered to your door. You learn to live at a slower pace.

Q. How far are you from the Danube?

A. From the house, it’s about an hour and a half; from our apartment in Bratislava, we can walk down to where the river is.

At Bratislava, the Danube is a huge and mighty river – like the Mississippi. It’s deep, brown and flows fast. In Bratislava, it’s about a quarter-mile wide; a little to the south it turns into a lake, so there it’s 2 or 3 miles across. By the time the Danube reaches Hungary, it’s a big monster, with coal freighters going to Germany and passenger ships all along it. There’s a hydrofoil service that goes from Vienna to Budapest (Hungary) to Bratislava.

You can sit at one of the cafes and watch the river flow. There’s always something going on on the river.

Q. What is Bratislava like?

A. It’s an old town. I’ve been to many around the world, and this is one of the nicest. It’s just that it’s incredibly small. You can do a loop around the old part of Bratislava in about 45 minutes.

It’s like a miniature Prague, which is actually a compliment. Restaurants on the Danube waterfront are being redeveloped, so it’s becoming modern.

Q. Is it a stop for Danube River cruises?

A. They tend to stop for a half day, or for six hours. They don’t tend to overnight. Bratislava is sort of an “other” destination: a walking tour plus a walk up to the castle to enjoy its views. That’s standard these days. A lot of tours have bus excursions that go into the Carpathian Mountains to see wooden churches made without nails. And there’s Modra, a town near here that’s known for pottery.

Q. How’s the local food?

A. They’ve got like 14 or 15 national dishes. One is haluski – potato dumplings with sheep cheese put over it; you add little chunks of fried bacon. It’s incredibly hearty. You love it or hate it; I love it. It’s not the healthiest of foods, but it’s the dish everyone wants you to try.

Q. How’s the climate?

A. This is a continental climate; they don’t have any coast to mitigate temperatures. Summer can be hot. For three years we had 3 feet of snow for the entire winter, and it was really cold. But last winter was mild, with temperatures hoovering around freezing and only one snow, which is quite unusual.

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