My last day in Zakopane, Poland, and it’s raining. You learn to take advantage of such days when traveling for an extended period in foreign countries. Everything takes twice as long and such days are perfect to just relax and accomplish one task at a time. You have all day.
My wakeup call this morning was church bells playing some tune. I’ve been hearing these different tunes from Prague to Banská Bystica to now Zakopane—but today had a twist. A dog very near my pension actually sang to this particular church chiming at 7:30. It was so charming I had to get up. It A-whoooed, A-whoooed and then raised an octave when the chiming tune went into its second movement. The dog even continued to sing for a bit after the bells stopped banging.
The first task of the day was finding a hotel for the next day, destination: Krakow. I sent out 27 requests while slowly eating my breakfast in the pension restaurant … coffee, cereal, bread with jam, yogurt, and ending with a little sausage, ham, peppers, cucumbers and cheese. Since my pension’s Internet access doesn’t work from my room (even though they confirmed it did), this was just another moment of me taking advantage of the typical things not quite going right … or the way you planned them to. These happen regularly, sometimes almost incessantly, but here in Europe you just find new ways of doing things. Service people here tend to be patient and alternative solutions usually are found, except for those relics of the communist period. These people just have only one answer: no.
After breakfast and responses already coming back from hotels, I then make my way through the pretty village of Zakopane to tackle my next task … buying a train ticket to Krakow and getting familiar with Zakopane’s train platforms; pretty simple: two platforms. I just need to see the train arriving at 9:24 and board it, regardless of where I’m standing. I wish they were all like this.
After my main logistic tasks are taken care of, I’m off entering different stores while making my way to the town’s main center. Stores in these Slavic countries are small and never offer a one-stop shopping environment. Even their Tesco or Kaufland, which is considered huge here, are still smaller than our Meijer. So I buy whatever I see that I may need.
For example, I see shoe polish. My Slovak-made Ecco’s have taken a severe beating hiking through the High Tatras (on both sides), Slovak Paradise and various lesser-known trails. I actually thought they were beyond recovery. They were not made for hiking, but more for cobble-street walking and the places I took them to makes me think there might be a good testimonial I could provide to the Ecco company. Slovaks make damn good shoes! After I get back to my room, I begin tearing up a t-shirt that got stained from discharge spray from my foot-deodorizer while traveling, and begin applying several coats of brown polish. I’m amazed that they look practically brand new. I only wish I took a before and after picture. I also took advantage of a disposable shoe polish pad I took from a ski lodge resort I stayed at in Slovakia.
With these tasks done, I begin going through my hotel offers from Krakow. I sort out all the ridiculously expensive offers, and pick those reasonably priced, have Internet access, a TV, followed by ones near to the city center and train/bus stations. Carrying a 55-pound backpack is not fun when you have to walk over a mile. I get a taxi seldom just because I don’t like the feeling after getting ripped off, even though what I pay is well worth it.
After all this, I forward my accepted hotel offer to my iPhone, map the destination using said device’s map application, and do screen captures of my train (or bus) departure times using Cestovné poriadky. This website is awesome and an absolutely necessity for those who travel a lot using the public transportation.
Speaking of absolute necessities, my Tote umbrella ranks near the top. Which makes me wonder why people still use those old fashion un-collapsible umbrellas when travelling? First, you carry with you a lot of things and are constantly reaching into your pockets or day backpack. Holding a long umbrella while doing this is not easy and you really can’t put it in your backpack. Tote umbrellas are awesome and ponchos, too, when hiking and it’s really pouring.
Speaking a little of my first day in Zakopane, I wasted no time after getting off the bus and checking into my room. I climbed right back on another bus that took me to Morskie Oko, a lake near the Slovak border. The one-road leading through the High Tatras on the Polish side was packed with cars, a real tourist trap. It took an hour to get to the lake’s entrance, but then you had to walk two hours to get to it. Considering I come from the Great Lakes, and the paved road was absolutely packed with people coming and going, I decided to walk the path less traveled, a real hiking path. Not paved!
I ascended the blue path for about three hours and got beautiful views of the High Tatras on Poland’s side. I must say, even though Slovakia has the majority of the High Tatras (about three quarters), the Polish side is so much more beautiful. It is full of evergreen trees going for miles up mountains with majestic rock peaks at the top. I ate my kielbasa and sipped my Chilean red wine while viewing this splendor and not being disturbed by mobs of people.
On the Slovak side of the High Tatras, it is pretty bare, being tree-stripped to accommodate villages and tourist spots. There are no tourist villages on the Polish side that I could see. There is only Zakopane and everyone comes from there to this huge park that stretches for miles and miles. I think this is partially the reason why Poland’s High Tatras are much more beautiful than Slovakia’s. Slovakia’s High Tatras are more harsh and stark and bare. Poland’s side is just beautiful, stunning at times.
The path had some pretty interesting wooden- and stone-made steps to help in the ascension. Most of the path was full of boulders due to the water that rushes down the mountains. The trail would often go through evergreen forests. Some areas had a beautiful green and mist color that I tried to capture digitally but failed. I walked this trail for about five hours and then took the paved road back to the area where extended-like mini buses waited for tourists to be taken back to Zakopane.
Later that night I went to the town’s center and had a good “official” first Polish meal in Poland. The waitress brought out a small bowl of some Polish cookies, which were very good, and some very salty-like cookies, which weren’t that tasty but made you want to drink more beer. After that, I walked back to my pension taking a variety of interesting side paths. Slavic cities are full of these paths. Walkers are definitely catered to here.
To see more photos of Zakopane and my hike in the High Tatras, see the following albums: