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The Rough Guide to the Czech and Slovak Republics (Rough Guide Travel Guides) Paperback – 25 May 2000
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This guide gives background information on all aspects of culture and history. It discusses the politics of the area from the Hapsburg dynasty to the break-up of Czechoslovakia, as well as coverage of the countryside and critical reviews of restaurants and accommodation in every price range.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
THE BREAK-UP OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA
The sharpest division in the country before 1989 was between Party member and non-Party member; nowadays, the most acute problems are between ethnic groups Czech and Slovak, Slovak and Hungarian, Slav and Romany. The Czechs who inhabit the western provinces of Bohemia and Moravia are among the most Westernized Slavs in Europe: urbane, agnostic, liberal and traditionally quite well-off. By contrast, the Slovaks are, for the most part, more devoutly Catholic and socially conservative. Though their peasant way of life is slowly dying out, the traditional, agrarian codes of conduct remain embedded in the Slovak culture.
Throughout decades of peaceful coexistence, the CzechSlovak divide remained one of the distinctive features of the country: Czechs and Slovaks rarely mixed socially, visited one anothers republics only as tourists, and knew little about each others ways, relying instead on hearsay and prejudice. Yet despite this, and the constant rumblings of discontent in Slovakia, few people predicted the break-up of Czechoslovakia. During the summer of 1992, numerous attempts were made by the Czech and Slovak federal governments to reach a compromise that would preserve the federation while giving the Slovaks a degree of autonomy to satisfy their national aspirations, but for whatever reasons, no agreement emerged.
Events were soon overtaken by the elections of June 1992. A sweeping victory by the nationalists in Slovakia and the right wing in the Czech Lands quickly propelled the country towards disintegration. The new Czech administration, intent on pushing through free-market economic policies inimical to the Slovaks, and a Slovak government that had pledged to declare Slovak sovereignty, finally agreed to disagree, and on January 1, 1993, after 74 years of turbulent history, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist.
To begin with, both sides seemed keen to help preserve at least some of the numerous personal, political, economic and cultural ties of the old federation. In the end, very little has survived: both countries have separate currencies and formal border controls, and dual citizenship is not permitted. Predictions of a post-Yugoslav scenario have proved unfounded, though the issue of Slovakias Hungarian minority remains potentially volatile, and both republics have witnessed an upsurge in nationalism and racism, much of it directed against the large Romany population they share.
WHERE TO GO AND WHEN
Almost entirely untouched by the wars of this century, the Czech capital, Prague, is justifiably one of the most popular destinations in Europe. Poised at the centre of Bohemia, the westernmost province, Prague is also the perfect base from which to explore the surrounding countryside. Both the gentle hills and forests of South Bohemia, one of central Europes least-populated regions, and the famous spa towns of West Bohemia Karlovy Vary, Marianske Lazng and Frantiskovy Lazng are only a couple of hours drive from Prague. Pine-covered mountains form Bohemias natural borders, and the weird sandstone "rock cities" in the north and east of the region are some of its most memorable landscapes.
Moravia, the eastern province of the Czech Republic, is every bit as beautiful as Bohemia, though the crowds here thin out significantly. The largest city, Brno, has its own peculiar pleasures not least its interwar functionalist architecture and gives access to the popular Moravian karst region, plus a host of other nearby castles and chateaux. The north of the province is often written off as an industrial wasteland, but Olomouc is a charming city, more immediately appealing than Brno, and just a short step away from the regions highest mountains, the Jeseniky and Beskydy.
Although the Slovak capital, Bratislava, cant compare with Prague, it does have its virtues, not least its compact old town and its position on one of Europes great rivers, the Danube. Slovakia also boasts some of Europes highest mountains outside the Alps: these have long formed barriers to industrialization and modernization, preserving and strengthening regional differences in the face of Pragues centralizing efforts. Medieval mining towns like Banská Utiavnica and Kremnica still smack of their German origins, and the cathedral capital of the east, Kouice, was for centuries predominantly Hungarian. In the Orava and Liptov regions, many of the wooden-built villages, which have traditionally been the focus of Slovak life, survive to this day. Carpatho-Ruthenia, in the far east bordering Poland and the Ukraine, has a timeless, impoverished feel to it, and is dotted with wooden Greek Orthodox churches and monuments bearing witness to the heavy price paid by the region during the liberation of World War II.
In general, the climate is continental, with short, hot summers and bitterly cold winters. Spring and autumn are often both pleasantly warm and miserably wet, all in the same week. Winter can be a good time to come to Prague: the city looks beautiful under snow and there are fewer tourists to compete with. Other parts of the country have little to offer during winter (aside from skiing), and most sights stay firmly closed between November and March.
Taking all this into account, the best months to come are May, June and September, thereby avoiding the congestion that plagues the major cities and resorts in July and August. Prague in particular suffers from crowds all year round, though steering clear of this high season will make a big difference. In other areas, you may find yourself the only visitor whatever time of year you choose to go, such is the continuing isolation of the former Eastern Bloc countries nether regions.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Avoid this book. You're better off with Lonely Planet.
ADDED: having been to Slovakia and Czech Republic twice now, I can say that his descriptions really are off the mark. I didn't see any of the rust belt horror show that Humphreys describes.