Letters From Lockdown: Life in Slovakia During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Brano in Slovakia

Slovakia is no stranger to difficult times.

For four decades, Bratislava, the capital of the land locked nation in Central Europe, lay behind the Iron Curtain, closed off from the West and ruled by the Soviets under a strict and oppressive Communist government. What is today known as Slovakia had yet to stand as its own, rather forming part of the larger Czechoslovakia.

After the fall of Communism in 1989, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into two separate nations in what was known as the Velvet Revolution and Slovakia became an independent country in 2003. Though 25 years have passed since the Velvet Revolution and Communism has become part of the country’s past, Slovakia has undergone rapid transformations in recent years, becoming a hotspot for adventurous travelers and artists.

Like most countries in Europe, the COVID-19 has brought a series of strict lockdowns and heart-breaking headlines to Slovakia. In 2020 the country suffered it’s worst death toll since the end of World War II and far-right extremism is on the rise.

This Week We’re Talking To:
Braňo Chrenka, Slovakia

A native of Bratislava, Braňo is the Co-founder and CEO of Authentic Slovakia. Over the course of his life he has experienced many changes in his home country from the collapse of the communist regime in 1983 and Velvet Revolution of 1989 to a post-communist dictatorship lasting through 1998 and recent years of early capitalism. 

I first learned about Authentic Slovakia when I was planning my own trip to Bratislava several years ago. Their guided private and small group tours include the Post-Communist Bratislava Tour with classic Škoda cars, bike tours, wine tours and more. Read on for our letter from lockdown conversation to learn what life has been like in Slovakia during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

How would you describe your life before the pandemic hit?

2019 was a great year regarding our tour business. My fiancé and I visited Cambodia in February and very soon after we came back, the first lockdown came. Also, there were the main parliamentary elections in Slovakia just a week before the lockdown, so it was rather dynamic. 😊

What has life been like in Slovakia during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

People behaved very responsibly during the first Spring wave of the pandemic and were some of the pioneers in wearing the masks fashion. Slovaks are flexible and creative, therefore very soon grannies started to sew home-made masks from any material they found in their wardrobes. Summer was rather fine, we had possibilities to travel around our own country and explore its hidden beauties. Some people travelled to Croatia to enjoy sea as well, but in general people visited local domestic attractions, mostly natural.

At what moment did you realize we would be in this for the long haul?

The understanding came gradually. I guess we still do not exactly when this will end.

Nature has been very healing to me during the pandemic. What is your favorite natural attraction in Slovakia?

Definitely. I think many of us started to appreciate nature around us this year. I spent several months at our summer house surrounded with apple tree orchards and rolling hills. There are plenty of great natural spots in Slovakia, but if I should choose one, it would be the High Tatra Mountains ridge. These alpine peaks with its valleys and mountain lakes are the highest parts of the whole Carpathians and they are splendid.

I’ve also been spending more time in the kitchen. If there’s one recipe or dish from your country that you’d recommend others try to feel like they are traveling what would it be?

I will keep it easy. Buy bryndza, a typical Slovak sheep cheese, and mix it with fresh onion, red pepper. Eat with a slice of fresh bread. Yummy! 😊

Are there any aspects from your culture that have helped you cope with this pandemic?

Slovaks like their privacy, so it wasn’t that difficult for us to keep social distancing. Also, Slovaks are more likely to listen to authorities than people in Western Europe with longer democratic traditions, therefore introduction of the rules during the first wave was more efficient. And as I mentioned earlier, Slovaks are rather innovative and were one of the first to introduce mask fashion thanks to their home-made products.

When it’s safe to travel what are the top things you recommend someone do in Slovakia?

I would definitely recommend to visit Northern Slovakia. Take a hike in the High Tatra National Park, explore the medieval UNESCO towns of Levoča and Bardejov. Come to the Slovak capital Bratislava to enjoy its vibe and contrasts between old and new. Visit also the second largest city of Košice in eastern Slovakia with its laid-back atmosphere. For more off-the-beaten-track destinations, visit Gemer region with its unique Gothic route and industrial heritage.

Until that time, how can curious travelers learn more about Slovakia?

Watch our Bratislava Communism Virtual Tour we have prepared with my brother Peter during the summer time. It is a fascinating journey into the turbulent 20th century history of Central Europe with plenty of local stories and fun facts. Great introduction before your actual visit of our city and country. Hope to see you soon! 😊

About Letters from Lockdown

Though the coronavirus pandemic is a global issue I’ve found my worldview shrinking as local news dominates headlines and travel is limited. To help me and my readers reconnect with the broader world I present Letters from Lockdown, a series of interviews with people from places who impacted me in my earlier travels.

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