Anyone’s Alternative Destinations – Bratislava

Europe is a MUST DO for most travelers from all corners of the Earth. There are so many different cultures mashed right next to each other, creating a unique opportunity to experience several cultures in a relatively small geographic space. I’ve personally always been obsessed with this continent, so getting to actually SEE the real deal behind all the maps and books was a life changing experience. When you hear “Europe,” you might think of drinking wine in Florence or taking a walking tour along the streets of London. Sure, the big sites are absolutely amazing, and you should make them a priority at some point in your life. However, we are not limited to the major tourist attractions. Europe offers a plethora of cultures that each have something to offer. Sometimes it is far off the beaten path where we find our little slice of heaven. Welcome to Anyone’s Alternative Destinations. Throughout these articles I will be revealing some of Europe’s lesser known traveling spots that may come as a surprise to you.

The first destination I am bringing to light is Bratislava, Slovakia. Most people would never think of this as a major spot to explore, and some haven’t heard of it at all. The reality is that Bratislava or “Blava” crams a mix of vibrant culture, friendly locals, and rich history all into one pint-sized capital. And speaking of pints… Slovak beer is absolutely delicious, and most places sell for less than 1 euro. This city is among the most affordable in the entire continent and will cost you only a fraction of the price of going to Rome or Paris.

Bratislava is the capital and largest city of Slovakia, formerly Czechoslovakia. Because of its past political issues and unrest, this city is rich in history and has a story all its own. Situated right in the heart of Europe, it embraces one of the most central-European, hearty landscapes in the entire continent. Many travelers are turned off from visiting this city because of its rough past and poor economic situation, but that is exactly why you should make it your next destination. You see, there are no hoards or crowds of tourists in this city; you will spend next to nothing during your stay and find some of the most welcoming people along the way. There are also no shortages of things to do in this beautiful place.

As soon as you enter the city, you are overwhelmed with a sense of opportunity. Most travel destinations have a strong itinerary of activities one must do when they visit. This is not the case for Bratislava. You can make this trip exactly what you want. Strenuous, action-packed hiking trip? Go for it. Cultural exploration filled with museums, music, and history? Absolutely. Relaxing vacation along the banks with amazing coffee and local food? Why not? I got to experience a little mix of everything during my stay.

For about 2 euro, take the city bus to Castle Devín to see a middle-aged castle storied with the history of Bratislava and Slovak culture that has survived centuries of battle. It overlooks the vast Danube River and provides a beautiful view from overhead. More adventurous travelers can even strip down and take a dip in the river while enjoying a gorgeous afternoon. Roadside stands pepper many Slovak streets selling fresh wine for less than a euro a liter. On the opposite side of the city, take the tram to the massive Lake Piesky (zlaté piesky) that serves as a hangout spot complete with authentic food stands and bars for locals, especially during the warm summer months.

The Slovaks are among the kindest and most welcoming people in the world. Some might even invite you to their table as guests to talk about their culture, as they are not very accustomed to tourists. This will make your vacation more memorable and more concrete than ever! If you have some time in the country, get out of the city and take a bus to the Tatras Mountains for some serious hiking among some of the most beautiful views in the world! The country is small, so getting around is easy. Finally, end your night visiting some of Blava’s old taverns alongside the cobblestone streets in the central city, or catch the sunset from high on a hill on the edge of town at Bratislava Castle for an amazing view of the entire city. And don’t miss out on the food. The city’s best local food is served at around 6 euros so there’s no point in cutting yourself short and passing up the best Halusky you’ll ever have.

This city is truly a diamond in the rough. I went there on the flip of a coin, and it has become perhaps my favorite place in Europe. Only a short train ride from major cities like Prague, Vienna, or Budapest…Bratislava is worth a stop, and it might just take the cake as the best spot along your travels. Like I said earlier, check out the big destinations in Western Europe. They’re amazing, and people go for a reason…but if you want to break from the crowds and street vendors, take a chance and find your Slovak paradise!

Geography? So are you going to teach? – Part 1

A little over two years ago I fatefully fell into my second geography class. The first geography class was a general education course I took as a freshman because my adviser claimed it was popular among journalism students. That first class opened my eyes to the wide variety of fields that fall under the geography umbrella, but I was firmly entrenched in my romantic dreams of a journalism career. Eventually my desire to enter the mess of modern media eroded. Having no idea what to do, I threw caution to the wind and became an English major because I enjoyed writing and reading. Who needs to actually make money, right? (Just kidding. English majors are often as misperceived Geography majors.)

It turns out English majors are required to take a sequence of science classes, so I picked up the second geography course where I previously left off and immediately knew I was where I truly belonged. Only, I didn’t know geography would require repeatedly explaining that my major is more than memorization of countries and capitals and that it offers many career options besides teaching. For the last two years countless family members, friends, and new acquaintances have asked the same question with the same bewildered and concerned looks on their faces as if picturing me at the front of a class full of brace-faced seventh grade brats or cornered in a classroom by ravenous parents.

And now we’re here. I love all of these people very much, and I greatly appreciate their concern and interest. But it is also frustrating to constantly have to defend my career choice. I didn’t know what geography actually is either before that first class in college, so I want to pass on the torch and explain just how viable and promising the field of geography is. Let the crash course begin!

In order to promote a better understanding of geography on a basic level, I want to ask and answer two simple questions in a two part series: First, what is geography? Later, what can you do with a degree in geography?

What is it?

In the broadest sense, geography is the study of the earth and people, often regarding the interactions between the two. A textbook might tell you that geography looks at these subjects through four lenses: place, space, scale, and time. Again, what does that mean? The easiest way to explain this will likely be through an example of a geographic study.

For place, let’s look at an example relating to physical geography: sinkholes. A geographer studying sinkholes may ask something like, “What are the physical conditions conducive to sinkholes,” or, “What conditions make a place more likely to experience sinkholes?” Some of the characteristics of at-risk places include highly acidic water and soluble geologic layers made of limestone. These physical conditions have to do with place, although abstract concepts like economic power can also apply to place.

Space is a more difficult concept to grasp. It ultimately deals with how places are related (or not related) to each other. Continuing our sinkhole topic, one may ask how sinkholes in Place A have affected its relation to Place B. Have an increased number of sinkholes caused displacement—a migration of people from Place A to a Place B? If so, how has the arrival of these migrants impacted Place B, and how has their absence affected Place A? How have the sinkholes changed the economic relationship of the two places? These questions of space combine aspects of both physical geography and human geography.

Scale is simply the size of the study area and how it relates to larger and smaller study areas. Common scaler terms are “local,” “regional, “national,” and “global.” I will use a new example to explain this: Brexit. A geographer may ask how Brexit will affect the economy of one specific town in the UK, or ask how it will affect the UK’s economy as a whole. They may further look at the affects to the UK’s relationship with France, Germany, and the US. These are all questions of economic and political geographers who fall under a larger category as human geographers.

The last of the four concepts is time. This is important because many geographic studies look at relationships over time. How have things changed, or not changed and why? A geographer looking at Brexit may ask when the path towards Brexit started and how it progressed. They would research public political opinion and policy over the last 5, 10, 20, 30 years to discover patterns leading to the current nationalism rise in the UK. Another example of time is mapping the change in landscape over time with aerial photography and satellite imagery. This kind of geography falls into Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Geographic Information Science (GISc).

I hope that I have successfully summed up what geography is. It is simply the study of the earth, people, and how they interact over place, space, scale, and time. I also introduced three other important ideas that I will cover in Part 2. These relate to what kind of geography that is being done: Physical Geography, Human Geography, and GIS. I hope to explore these in more detail by looking at what careers are out there for a geographer. Please feel free to reply below with any comments and questions!