My first intentionally short excursion into the High Tatras (Vysoké Tatry), the highest mountains in Slovakia, turned out to stretch into two unexpected days. When I first arrived in Tatranská Polianka (a desolate place with mostly large, old and wooden hotel buildings and an electric train depot) I needed supplies for my hike. So I walked about two miles to Starý Smokovec. There I also got a good Slavic meal next to a big stone and wooden fireplace before walking back to my hotel.
When I got back, it was about 8 p.m. But I had a strong urge to take a “short excursion” into the mountains. It was also the Fourth of July, which meant absolutely nothing to Slovaks, except this American one. (Note: Tatranská Polianka is next to the highest peak and supposedly has the best air for one’s lungs.) This is when things began to go haywire. I wanted to hike up to Sliezsky Dom. It was recommended by my hotel manager. I had no idea what it was and didn’t care. I just needed a destination to reach while hiking through the High Tatras and then I would find out what it was when I got there. It was supposed to take about two hours. …
My gear consisted of a poncho (it incessantly lightly rained and the weather ranged around the mid 50s … I cannot stress how important a good poncho is in keeping you warm and dry); next were my leather, water-resistant Ecco’s (I cannot stress how important a good pair of shoes with excellent soles are when you have to walk from one boulder to the next wet boulder for miles; a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon (I cannot stress how important it is to bring spirits with you [there is a reason they call it “spirits” … incidentally, the wine you buy in Slovakia comes usually from the Czech Republic and is very good and also cheap, about $4.50 a bottle.]); a good multi-LED flashlight (absolutely necessary when you hike in the dark and all stars are covered by a thick fog); and nuts, a strange European candy bar, a tak dalej (and so on).
At first the hike was pleasantly easy. It first consisted of a paved road where cars were banned to drive, followed by a dirt path strewn with mostly small rocks. As I entered the higher elevation, I then entered a forest. This is when it started to get dark. But I wanted to see this Sliezsky Dom. So I pulled out my flashlight, took another swig from my bottle of wine, and continued. I could hear and faintly see beautiful waterfalls through the forest trees. The trail also got interesting, becoming a trek of boulder walking in the dark (flashlight absolutely necessary). It was a shame my iphone didn’t have a flash. The things I saw were absolutely beautiful, but also the night sounds. I would periodically take a rest and just listen and enjoy my vino.
After about four hours I began to wonder what this Sliezsky Dom was and if I would see it or just walk by it. Eventually I came to what I could see a beautiful hotel (Sliezsky Dom) stuck way out in no-man’s land. I walked through the automatic sliding doors and was greeted by two guard dogs in the first entrance. Tired and a bit drunk, I lied down next to my two new friends and shared some of my Macadamia nuts. They were friendly and lazing like me in the first entrance to the lobby, grateful like me to be in shelter. Again, it was incessantly lightly raining.
A friendly young man walked in from the lobby and greeted me with a room. It was early, early in the morning, the next day, and I was very grateful for this. A bed and not to have to walk back down to my hotel … Samozrejme (of course)! He took me through several beautiful pine-paneled corridors, surrounding glass walls and down through interesting modern but warm staircases. My room turned out to the most fantastic room I have yet to stay in Europe. Beautiful wooden paneled walls, like a sauna, complete with the most modern conveniences and a great big very inviting bed across from a TV inset in the wall.
I woke up the next morning with the TV still running. It was 8 a.m. Then I looked out my big right-angled windows and saw a beautiful mountain right in front of the hotel, and two early hikers making their way into it. I didn’t even bother to shower. I just threw on my cloths and poncho, drank several glasses of some of the sweetest and coldest tap water, and made my way down to the hotel lobby, which was a bit interesting. The manager greeted me with a sly smile (I was still holding my bottle of wine when he previously caught me petting his friendly guard dogs).
I didn’t want to walk down the same trail I came up on. I wanted to continue the trail to the next destination on my map, which was a place called Hrebienok (Hrebienok). And then apparently I could take some strange train (funicular) back down the mountain to Starý Smokevec, where I envisioned a fantastic Slavic meal next to that beautiful wood and stone fireplace I visited the day before. This leg of the trail looked about twice as long as my previous but I figured if I took the funicular down it would cut my time in half. Sometime between waking up and throwing on my clothes, I ate three Macadamia nuts left in my little bag. It wasn’t a good idea to walk on an empty stomach, but I figured I would burn off some extra fat (albeit, all I have been doing during this trip has been losing weight) but I always think these situations are good times to burn fat and serve as a good fast to cleanse the body. Mistake! When walking through strange trails through large mountains never go without a good meal.
As I began my hike, still a bit inebriated from the night before, I started to also realize I was still tired. That mountain vision through my hotel room window had inspired me—damn the torpedoes (sleep and food). I was in the High Tatras for Pete’s sake! It still incessantly was lightly raining, but this didn’t matter. I had my poncho (BTW, Rick Steve’s, which is better than most, looks pretty stylish, black, and covers the backpack and the legs down to the knees).
After walking a distance, I turned around and saw how beautiful my hotel was, surrounded very closely by large mountains. I think this is when I realized that this was Sliezsky Dom. Ah … my first destination, and I had the pleasure to spend the night there with the advantage of continuing my hike on my second day into the High Tatras.
My hike took me around the sides of large mountains. To my right was a very large valley. Clouds quietly rolled through it. And my poncho and Ecco shoes kept me dry (ironically, Eccos shoes are made in Slovakia, which I did not know until after I bought them).
The hike was slow walking from one large wet boulder to the next and slowly making my way up into higher elevations. Vegetation would occasionally get a little bit over head high. At times I had to cross small waterfalls rushing down the mountains. Some of the boulders were just high enough from being covered by rushing water. These were times were I just stopped and enjoyed the beauty.
My trail was designated Blue. Yellow is the next and highest level, I think. Who would figure “mellow yellow” being the highest. I thought this was the easiest until I hiked a yellow trail outside of Banska Bystrica. Bože!
The only hikers I met were coming the other way, from Starý Smokovec, probably from that weird train I planned on taking back to said mentioned town. When they approached, I always stopped to allow them to pass safely. The rocks were slippery and didn’t want to slip. I did this when two hikers were approaching me. I fell right on my tailbone on a huge boulder. I still feel it and probably will for about a week or so. The onetime my Eccos’ soles let me down. … Walking on these slippery rocks in tennis shoes is not recommended. Incidentally, I did walk in tennis shoes on following days for the comfort that they provided to my blistered feet, but it wasn’t raining and the trails were dry.
After about 2-3 hours, the trail started to lead down the mountain toward woods below. This is when I started to get really hungry. Those three Macadamia nuts just weren’t cutting it. And I have no survivor skills when it comes to knowing what to eat out in the wild. I saw some woman in Banska Bystrica picking berries off of bushes and eating them. At this time, I wish I had seen what they looked like. As I continued to hike, I got hungrier until my stomach started to hurt. Also, I was tired. So, I would lie down occasionally on a big boulder using my poncho as a blanket. I kept dry but I stayed tired and hungry throughout the hike.
I thought about this strange train I was to ride, but when I arrived at a sign post that showed Hrebienok was 15 minutes farther away, I decided to walk down the mountain instead. I figured once I got to this weird depot, I’d probably have to wait 30 minutes to an hour for the next departure and I was so hungry that my stomached ached badly and I just wanted to get to food as quickly as possibly.
As I made my way down to the town of Starý Smokovec, the trail became wet and muddy. At times the decline was so steep I would have to plan my steps before preceding less I take a sliding spill. Eventually I made my way down and all while never hearing that strange train, so I thought I made the right decision.
When I got down the mountain, I headed for the first place that sold food. I don’t eat beef, but when the only thing I could recognize on the menu at a small standup, fast-food place was “hamburger”, this I got and a beer. They didn’t have my dark (tamavé) Širiš, but I would have drunk American Budweiser if that is all they had. The hamburgur consisted of a very, very thin slice of beef covered on top and below by large helpings of coleslaw, lettus, vegtables and a white like-crousant bread. After a few bites and swigs, I laid down on the bench next to my table and went to sleep. When I woke up, I took another few bites and swigs and began my 1.5 hour walk back to my hotel in Transka Polianka.
Thus concluded my first hike into the High Tatras.