Destination: Zakopane, Poland

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Snow while hiking in the Tatra Mountains (April 2017).

The following morning after my day trip to Auschwitz, I took another day trip out from Krakow, this time to Zakopane, a town located in southern Poland. Bordering close to the border with Slovakia, Zakopane is famous for being a ski resort town, for it’s right at the foothills of the expansive Tatra Mountains (also shared with its Slovak neighbors).

While I’m by no means a skier, I wanted to visit Zakopane for its nature and hiking. At least in the Tatra Mountains, there’s a famous lake known as “Morskie Oko” (translates to “Eye of the Sea”), and I’ve heard that it’s supposed to be incredibly beautiful…at least, the photos that I saw of it online proved to be jaw-dropping gorgeous!

That said, once more I took an early-morning bus from Krakow; the journey took about two-and-a-half hours, and at 9h30, I arrived at Zakopane’s bus station, which was right next to the train station.

Now, I’d researched beforehand how to get to the entrance of the Tatra National Park to begin my hike, for it wasn’t as simple as just walking there. Thanks to this lovely blog post I’d stumbled upon, I knew that I had to take a shuttle service over, which cost about 10 zloty (2,50 euros) one-way. Technically, it’s possible to walk to the entrance of the national park, but it would be grueling since it’s steadily uphill, and it would probably take about one to two hours just to arrive. At least with the shuttle, it took only half an hour, and I was able to rest my legs before preparing myself for the hike that was to come!

After paying 3 zloty (< 1 euro), I set off on my hike up to Morskie Oko; it would be a two-and-a-half hour hike, but it proved to be a pleasant one, since it was a rather cool day and not too many tourists were out; I’ve heard that it can get crowded in the summertime when people are on their holidays, so it was a good thing that I went during off-season!

At first, I was uncertain if I knew how to get to Morskie Oko, because I’d assumed that it would just be me against the wild, wild wilderness. I didn’t have a map, and that worried me. However, I realized that I didn’t have to be concerned at all, just because the trails were paved and well-marked, with signs everywhere pointing you in the right direction. All I had to do was follow the arrows pointing to Morskie Oko, and they would take me there!

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Beginning of my hike.

The hike was absolutely gorgeous; it’d been a while since I last hiked, let alone been in nature (last time was at the calanques de Marseille in February). Granted, the April air was slightly nippy, but I actually liked it, just because I was getting a workout from the hike itself. About halfway into the hike, I stopped at some Porta-Potties along the road for a bathroom break; they were free to use, unlike those at the restaurants when you get closer to the summit (at 2 zloty a pop). Also passed by this lovely, icy-white river in the process.

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River along the hike.

As I continued to ascend the Tatra Mountains, it got progressively colder, not to forget rather strenuous. In fact, it started snowing a bit! Although it was only flurries, I was surprised that it was still snowing- in April! Then again, it was in the mountains, so probably not surprising as it should be expected…

Two-and-a-half hours later, I finally made it to the top of the summit, and saw Morskie Oko…completely frozen over! I had to laugh, because it didn’t register that, since it was snowing while hiking, the lake would be covered in snow, too! I was hoping for a lush, crystal-clear water kind of view, but not that day! Nevertheless, it was still a lovely sight to see, as I took photo after photo of the lake against the backdrop of the high, dramatic mountains. Also ventured down to the lake itself, and while I didn’t go all the way towards the middle of it (some people did), it was fascinating to be standing on solid when usually it would be liquid on warmer days.

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Morskie Oko…frozen over!

Feeling rather cold, I popped into the cabin restaurant located right in front of the lake. Although the food and drinks were ungraciously over-priced, nevertheless I treated myself to a mug of mulled wine before begin my hike back to the entrance of the national park. Whereas getting to Morskie Oko was uphill, this time around it was downhill, and I pretty much sped all the way down, arriving back within an hour-and-a-half. I took the shuttle back to Zakopane’s town center, where I bought gołka, which is Polish smoke cattle cheese which is pressed into an intricate log design. It’s similar to oscypek, which is cone-shaped and made from sheep’s milk, but all the same, it was my souvenir from the region. I tried it when I returned to France, and it was good! Doesn’t have a cheesy taste to it, actually (more meat-like, if anything), but nonetheless a nice treat to have.

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Zakopane town center (with the mountains in the background).
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Golka cheese.

I didn’t stay too long in Zakopane’s town center, just because I wanted to head back to Krakow before it got too late. That said, I took the 16h45 bus, returning around 19h00. It was a tiring day of hiking, but all the same, a very rewarding one!

Altogether, Zakopane proved to be a pleasant day trip, probably one of the more relaxing ones I’ve had in Poland, next to Gdańsk. While it’s true that I hiked and otherwise physically exerted myself that day, it wasn’t stressful at all, as I got to slow down and admire the beauty of the mountains, the rivers, and overall natural beauty of the country. It proved to be a lovely break from the urban cities that I was accustomed to during my holidays, and I found the visit to Zakopane very therapeutic.

I’ll be finishing off my last destination (and subsequently last post) on Poland soon. Coming up: Krakow, Poland!

 

— Rebecca

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