Slovakia vs Scotland

By Erik Redli
Please note: The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of RetoxMagazine.com

Slovakia vs Scotland

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Landscape taken in Slovakia by Andrew Fecheyr.

Similarities between Scotland and Slovakia

Although I am a Slovak national, I was always attracted by Scotland's history, mythology and culture in general. During my visits to Edinburgh and Dumfries, I realised that Scotland has actually much in common with Slovakia. In this post I would like to point out some of these matches and at the same time update you on some facts about Slovakia.

My first visit to Scotland

Mestozhh Mestozhh

Pictured on the left is Mestozhh and on the right Michals Gate. Images by Erik Redli.

I visited Scotland for the first time in 2009, for a one-day trip to Edinburgh. The Scottish capital has a population approximately that of Bratislava, the “airport gate” for visitors in Slovakia. In Edinburgh I walked out of the station into the pleasant rainy weather and found myself in Scotland. A piper was playing on the street and I could choose whether to visit the historical Royal Mile on the left, or the modern city on the right. Similarly, in Bratislava you come across history interwoven with business while walking the cobbled streets a few minutes away from the station.

Castles and the "brave hearts"

Bratislava Castle, Slovakia Edinburgh, Scotland

On the left is the Bratislava Castle, Slovakia and on the right the skyline of Edinburgh Castle, Scotland. Images by Erik Redli.

The skyline of both of the cities is dominated by castles. They served as a royal residence and were besieged several times by invaders. The Scots had to face the Romans and the English; Slovaks were raided by Hungarian tribes and later by the Ottoman Empire. In the 18th century, the Scottish folklore suffered during the Highland Clearances. Hundred years later, Slovak romantics ignited a revolution against the foreign landed gentry. The rebellions were silenced, but countries managed to preserve their national self-confidence and culture.

Finally, after the division of Czechoslovakia in 1993, Slovak Republic became an independent country. Similarly, some matters were devolved to the Scottish Parliament after the referendum in 1999. Nowadays, Scotland would like to achieve full independence, and the Slovaks pursue greater integration within the European Union. However, both are challenged by the growing opposition that most probably fear too much responsibility.

Locally distilled is the best

Bratislava

"In Scotland, you cannot omit the Whisky experience." Image by Erik Redli.

In Scotland, you cannot omit the Whisky experience. I visited the Museum of Whisky in Edinburgh, and recently a specialized shop in Dumfries. There I realized that the spirit is just a Scottish version of the Slovak "slivovica". Slivovica is liquor distilled from fruit, predominantly the plum. It has been a part and parcel of our folk traditions - welcoming guests, or toasting a wedding with a glass of the homemade spirit. You can buy it in shops, but best is the home distilled. Similarly, in the Whisky shop you could hardly find the well known brands, majority was occupied by local distillers. Quality is a matter of subjective opinions.

Fatty food, part of the folklore

Haggis

"Questionable authenticity of my haggis, as I bought it with chips in a fast-food joint." Image by Erik Redli.

Always when I go to Scotland I eat haggis, the traditional food. It is a mutton stomach stuffed with pluck (lungs, heart, and liver), rice, and seasoning. Many people find it disgusting, but I eat it all. I do not rank it amongst my favourite foods, because it is quite fatty and does not taste particularly well. But for me it resembles the Slovak jaternica, pig's intestines stuffed with some internal organs, rice, seasoning, bread and whatever. It is typical of a Slovak pig killing.

However, I can not be absolutely positive about the authenticity of my haggis, as I bought it with chips in a fast-food joint. The stomach has been replaced with an artificial casing, similarly to mass-manufactured jaternica. Yet still in some villages a family would feed and nurture a pig and on one nice day – not for the pig – call the butcher, and other family members for help, and kill the poor animal. Nowadays, jaternica is manufactured in bulk and the intestine is replaced by artificial casings.

National myths and heroes.

Janosik

The Slovak national hero Juraj Janosik.

Everyone who has seen the 1997 movie knows the story of William Wallace and his fight for independence. Later, in 18th century it was Rob Roy who raised the flag with St Andrew's Cross. His legendary status was boosted by Walter Scott's novel and many movies.

The Slovak national hero is Juraj Janosik. He was born in a mountainous village in the north of Slovakia (Terchová). Aggrieved by the gentry, he joined the local villains and shortly became their chief. He would steal from the rich and give to the poor. However, his career lasted only a few years, because he was captured and hanged. But his legend lives on in many stories, novels and several movies – the last one came out in 2009. Ironically, the role of Janosik was given to a Czech actor, similar to Liam Neeson starring in Rob Roy.

Things to do on your visit

I can discover many more similarities between the two countries. Whichever of the two you decide to visit, my recommendation is the same: climb the mountains, walk the capital, enjoy a shot of the locally distilled spirit and watch the movie about the national hero.

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