When I told people my first stop in Eastern Europe was Slovakia, I usually got a blank stare. Or a question meant to gain understanding of what exactly was there. Why travel to…where were you going again?

Older people know it as the latter half of Czechoslovakia. As in the order of the words, it’s to the east of Prague. I’ve been basing myself in KoŇ°ice (photo at the top), which has one of the most attractive city centers you could wish for in Europe. Pedestrian-only and almost no tour groups in site. Most tourists you do see are Czech, Polish, or Hungarian.

And you find castles like this all over the Kosice region.

Plus there are some great parks and protected areas where you can take in nature through hikes, cavern exploration, or boat rides.

As for prices, which I’m checking out for a book update, it’s a mixed bag. Overall, Slovakia is significantly cheaper than the U.S., which you can’t say for anywhere in Western Europe right now. The best deals are on what you consume: restaurant food, wine, and beer especially. This is a country where you can still get a big lunch and a glass or two of wine or a beer for less than US$10.

You’ll seldom pay more than 6 euros for admission to anything and usually it’s more like 2. Transportation is reasonable, but not all that well set up for English speakers. There’s not much of a backpacker infrastructure, so this is a country where I would definitely advise carrying a guidebook—and a phrase book.