Saturday, July 30, 2005

Hiking to Slovakia.....

some pics loaded...see the rest on flickr

Ok, on to the good stuff. Upon arriving in Zakopane and scoring an incredibly helpful map from the TI (tourist information office; the green i goes with the @ [internet] and WC [toilet] as the most useful symbols to know in all countries), we grabbed some breakfast and then were able to check into the Pension Jurek, our home for the next three days. After taking a quick little siesta, we elected to get out on the trails and start exploring.

Our hostel was an approximately 30 min walk from the start of a number of trailheads (much closer here than from many of the places we could have stayed). Over the last three days we've done our best to cover as much ground on the trails as possible without a) getting completely exhausted and b) falling off any ledges, getting impaled, etc. Seems easy enough.

And for the most part, we survived. The first day we did a three hour hike consisting of a loop that peaked out at Sarnia Skala (the picture isn't ours; just gives you an idea as to where we ended up). It gave us a beautiful view of the city, provided some pretty scenary on the way up, gave Becca a chance to feel like the queen of the world, and was a great way for us to get out of the pension and get the legs warmed up on moderately challenging trails without killing ourselves after the overnight bus ride. The highight had to be the guy who blew past us hiking the bumpy trail in flip flops. The foam version. Talk about feeling wimpy :-)

The second day was our most ambitious. We decided that we wanted to scale one of the peaks and chose Kasprowy Wierch. The main reason we chose this was because it was the most direct route and it also had a cable car in case we got to the top and ran out of gas. This ended up being just an amazing hike; the whole thing took us about eight hours with lots of difficult climbing and just as difficult descents amongst quite rocky trails. We knew we were in for a long day when the hike to the trailhead took us about an hour and averaged a six or seven percent grade.

It's really hard to put into words how fulfilling this hike was; for me at least it was really one of the first times I've ever done any sort of higher altitude hiking. It was very cool to eventually pass the tree line and then know that we still had a ways to go (though after the 3rd straight hill hidden behind a hill Becca let off an unmentionable word; can't say I blame her because I was thinking it). The view at the top made it worth the trip though as you could see the peaks and scenery in both directions for miles and also were able to cross over into Slovakia (the border posts were on each peak). So although we don't have any stamps to prove it, we can say that we hiked from Poland to Slovakia in one day!

The final day was spent doing a medium length (about five hours) hike that had a lot less elevation gains (though still went up about 400m) but was very pretty, including one stop in a valley between two of the peaks (which Becca says we'll see plenty of in Switzerland) and lunch at one of the huts on the way back down.

The last three days of hiking have just been amazing and a good primer for us heading a two week trip to the Alps (Swiss and French) at the end of August. It was just really nice to spend a few days in pretty nice conditions outdoors exploring the beautiful "rustic" trails and getting our hiking legs ready for Switzerland and France. At least in Switzerland, we'll have this to sooth our angry, tired legs...


some typical viw

PS Zakopane itself is a cute little alpine town complete with plenty of kiosks selling food, souvenirs, etc. It also was the home of a nice courtyard complete with a ton of tables where Becca and I spent two of the evenings resting our tired legs playing cribbage and taking ample advantage of the beer garden and surrounding eats.. Overall certainly touristy but we heard almost all Polish during our stay there; definitely a holiday location for locals more than anyone else.

PPS. (from Becca) This was also the location of a number of interesting food moments. We have been trying hard to use our meager Polish vocabulary (we have hello, thank you, one, two, how much, where, and please down cold!) as much as we can, and ordering food is often one of our best chances. For some reason in Zakopane I kept getting myself into trouble. Nothing too major (and probably not as funny when I write it), but things like 1) thinking I was ordering a slice of bread to make a cheese sandwich out of and getting the entire half of a loaf of peasant bread (about the size of a soccer ball) or 2) thinking I was ordering two gyros sandwiches and getting two mammoth platters of all the sorts of fixings you'd expect inside (like meat, lettuce, tomatos, sauces, etc.) but no actual bread. Oh all tasted good.

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