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SLOVAK MATTERS

You make the call - how to reserve in Slovakia

IN THE PAST year it has been said rather loudly that Slovakia is an investor's paradise. Less well known, however, is its role as a tourist's paradise. Off the beaten track, the country has the advantage of feeling wild, and the related disadvantage of a lack of accommodations, or ubytovní. Although it is possible to travel without reservations, I recommend calling ahead.
Big hotels are sure to serve you in English. To plan a stay somewhere smaller, though, you may have to face the stress of a foreign-language phone call. Don't worry - I'll have you calling in the 10 minutes it takes to read this article.

IN THE PAST year it has been said rather loudly that Slovakia is an investor's paradise. Less well known, however, is its role as a tourist's paradise. Off the beaten track, the country has the advantage of feeling wild, and the related disadvantage of a lack of accommodations, or ubytovní. Although it is possible to travel without reservations, I recommend calling ahead.

Big hotels are sure to serve you in English. To plan a stay somewhere smaller, though, you may have to face the stress of a foreign-language phone call. Don't worry - I'll have you calling in the 10 minutes it takes to read this article.

A good way to start is with "Dobrý deň, prajem," ("I wish you a good day"). This polite phone phrase will butter up the reception staff for the bumpy linguistic ride that is to come.

After this, get to the point, especially when calling on short notice, with "chcel (chcela) by som vedieť, či máte niečo voľné," or "I would like to know if you have anything free".

Be careful with the last part - trying to ask when a restaurant would have a free table, I once said "kedy máte voľno?" to a waitress. She thought I wanted to know when she got off work.

To be more specific, you can use the sentence above but end it with "... či máte voľné miesto" ("if you have [any] free space").

When you call further in advance, try, for example, "chcel (chcela) by som rezervovať miesto pre troch ľudí od dvadsiateho prvého do dvadesiateho štvrtého augusta" ("I would like to reserve space for three people from August 21 to 24").

If you want to stay for just one night, tell them only the day you will arrive. For example: "... na jednu noc, osemnásteho júla" ("...for one night, the 18th of July").

Around this point you will have to discuss what room or rooms you want. A samostatná izba is a private room. A jednolôžková izba is a single, a double is a dvojlôžková izba, and an additional bed is a prísteľka.

In some horské chaty (mountain huts), you might be sleeping in a poschodová posteľ (bunk bed). In this case and in rooms without a private bathroom (vlastná kúpeľňa), you use spoločné zariadenie, or shared facilities.

On the other hand, to get something a little more comfortable, you can stay in the apartmán, or suite.

It is while discussing these important details that communication can break down. When a torrent of incomprehensible Slovak comes through the receiver, I usually say "prepáčte, hovorím málo po slovensky" ("Excuse me but I speak little Slovak"). This always gets me sympathy and slows down the conversation. In fact, I normally say this near the beginning of my call just to anticipate any misunderstandings.

Once the rooms have been negotiated, then you can ask "koľko to bude stáť?" ("how much will that be?"). Generally, you are told the price per room, or else per person per night.

If something extra is added, it could be a local hotel tax (pobytový poplatok) or the cost of breakfast (raňajky). Usually you decide on breakfast once you check in.

When you agree to the reservation they will ask "na meno?", which is your cue to tell them your name.

A final problem is double pricing, when foreigners are charged extra for hotels and services. This is often against local law and, hopefully, is fading from practice in the face of EU entry and increasing competition.

If you do run into it, it will probably be an unpleasant surprise when you arrive at the hotel and read the normal Slovak prices posted on the wall. To try to reason your way into a discount, you could try saying "počul som, že ceny pre cudzincov su protizákonné ("I heard that foreigner prices were against the law"), but don't get your hopes up.

How does your host know you are a foreigner when you have learned such smooth and natural Slovak from this column? By law, a Slovak ubytovňa always needs one or all of the passports (pasy) of their guests. Please do not leave yours in Bratislava while going on a tour. On one aborted weekend, two friends and I spent the greater part of a rainy night in the Žilina train station after forgetting just one of our passports. Despite all our pleading, no one had taken us in - one hotel even accused us of being illegal Mexican migrants.

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