Day 13: Hiking the High Tatras

This morning we were up and eating breakfast by 9:00.  For the record, this hotel’s breakfast was the best we had on the trip and the COFFEE WAS NOT INSTANT!  Over our meal we planned out the day and decided the first stop would be to take the cable car in nearby Kuznice to the summit of Kasprowy Wierch, which lies in Tatra National Park and is a favorite among skiers.

Going up the cable car.  Wait, where'd the cables go?

Going up the cable car. Wait, where’d the cables go?

The bus to Kuznice (3zl each/$1) left from the station near our hotel and it was easy to navigate, as the sign in the front window of the bus said “Kuznice”.  The driver let us off at the cable car station and we purchased two round-trip tickets to the top (50zl each/$15.75).  After a short wait, the cable car arrived and a pile of people, both mountain gawkers and skiers alike, squeezed on.  About halfway up, the cable car reached another station where everyone disembarked and transferred to a second cable car for the rest of the ride.

Real people, real mountains

Real people, real mountains

At the top we found ourselves 1,987 meters (6,500 feet) above sea level and amidst stunning views of the Tatra Mountains, the highest part of the Carpathian Mountain range and one that forms a natural border between Slovakia and Poland.  Because there was still a lot of snow on the mountain and because it was a gorgeous, sunny day there were a lot of people taking advantage of this and doing some late season skiing.  After the rush of skiers headed down, Jim and I tromped through the snow out onto a ridge to really soak up the views.  We may have even frolicked in the snow just a little.  It was beautiful and we took some self-portraits that now we think look like we were superimposed on them using a printed backdrop.  But they are real, we are real, and the mountains are really that beautiful.

Like being in a painting

Like being in a painting

We watched the skiers for a while, lamenting how we wished we had picked up the sport in our younger years, and in general enjoyed the mountain air, sunshine, and vast expanses before deciding we’d better head back down, as there was a hike we wanted to do in another part of the mountain.  Going down proved to be significantly less seamless than going up, as we had to wait over an hour until an empty cable car came to take down what had now become a large crowd of fellow non-skiing mountain gawkers.

Ok, just one more mountain shot

Ok, just one more mountain shot

Once at the bottom we stopped for a coffee and contemplated which hike we’d like to do.  An accommodating woman from the front desk of our hotel had highlighted two of her favorites, but one was through the longest valley in the Tatras and the other was through the second longest valley.  Because the cable car had taken longer than planned we now found ourselves with less hiking time on our hands.  You know how sometimes you read about a couple of knuckleheads who went hiking in the mountains ill-equipped, unprepared, and without allowing enough time to get back to civilization before nightfall?  And then how search parties have to assemble, helicopters are fired up, and hound dog noses are put to the test?  Well, we were trying to avoid being the impetus for any of that.  Thus, we opted to take a shorter hike I’d read about from home.  Now all we had to figure out was how to get to the trail head, and in the end we decided that taking a cab directly there would be much more time efficient than trying to take the bus.  This turned out to be 30zl/$9.50 well spent, as it was quite a distance away.

Snowy trail (check), stream (check), mountains in distance (check)

Snowy trail (check), stream (check), mountains in distance (check)

The trail we’d chosen was through the Strazyska Valley to the Siklawica waterfall in Tatra National Park (about 45 minutes up and 45 minutes down).  What we hadn’t realized was that most of the trail would be covered in a few inches of snow, part of which was slushy and part of which was a hard-packed sheet of ice.  These conditions were much easier for Jim to traverse, as he has the sure-footed grace and balance of a mountain goat on almost any surface, but proved to be more difficult for me, who has the balance of a newborn fawn.  Regardless, we pressed on up the hill, oftentimes taking two steps forward and slipping one step back.

The white vertical stripe in the middle is one of the waterfalls

The white vertical stripe in the middle is one of the waterfalls

Most of this trail ran alongside a stream through a beautiful evergreen forest, and many times we could catch glimpses of the snow-capped mountains in the distance.  It was very peaceful, not very populated, and more of what we had in mind when we envisioned “Zakopane”.  We reached the waterfalls without any injuries or major falls and sat on a rock nearby, taking it all in.  The waterfalls themselves weren’t super grand or majestic, or anything, but the surrounding environs were stunning, the weather was gorgeously sunny, and the whole package was ravishing.  Aaah, what a way to spend an afternoon.

Photo break

Photo break

After relaxing by the falls for a spell we started picking our way back down.  Even though it was downhill it took every bit as long to walk because in many ways it was tougher to keep balance and not go sliding – and then tumbling – down.  Jim, of course, glided down with ease but I had to employ the “arms waving around wildly” maneuver to help with balance.  I threw in some jazz hands for good measure.

QUICK - DOES ANYONE HAVE A GUMBALL?!?

QUICK – DOES ANYONE HAVE A GUMBALL?!?

We got back to the trail head and proceeded to walk the 35 minutes or so back to Krupowki Street in town.  Along the way we saw a random pair of gumball machines housed in what looked to be a custom built gumball shelter in the middle of nowhere.  I guess someone was concerned about having a gumball emergency with nowhere to turn.  It happens, you know.

All this fresh mountain air and snow trekking did a number on our energy so we plodded back to the hotel for a rest around 16:00, lounging for about an hour before heading out at 17:00 for an early dinner.  Dinner tonight was to be at the highly lauded restaurant on TripAdvisor.com, Bakowo Zohylina. All I will say about this place was the food was delicious (Jim had a whole trout, I had herbed chicken breast) but our waiter took first prize for being surliest in all the land.

Park near our hotel

Park near our hotel

After dinner we went back to the hotel for a nightcap of Sambuca, as we’d noticed earlier in the day there was a gazebo in the garden where we could sit outside.  Over the fine Italian export we had a lot of laughs, dissecting the highs and lows of the trip so far.  We did, however, steer clear of discussing The Borscht Incident.  Too soon, too soon.

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