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Published: October 17th 2007
A beautiful Zakopane Valley
This part of the walk lulled us into a false sense of comfort about the trail ahead!
After two nights in Krakow we hopped on a bus and headed south to Zakopane - the village at the foot of the Tatras Mountains. It is a gorgeous village, full of gorgeous wooden houses with masses of wooden decorations inside and out. There are so many in fact and it is so unique, that the architecture became known as the "Zakopane style". Unsurprisingly, Evan was most interested in wandering around the town and snapping a few photos. The plans for our house in Donnybrook are getting more and more extravagant.
We arrived in Zakopane quite late one afternoon, but were up early the next morning to do a hike through the mountains. We had polled quite a few of the other people staying at the hostel and decided to do "the red trail up, and the blue trail down". Loosely translated that meant that we hiked up through a valley alongside a beautiful stream, and then the real hiking started as we went higher and higher until we reached the top of Mt Geiwont. A lot of people choose to hike up this mountain because it has a massive steel cross on top of it and it has magnicifent
views of the surrounding area - and it seems to be a very popular place to have your photo taken. Very much a statement of "I made it!"
It was an amazing hike. It was more like climbing in some places, and I couldn't believe what I saw some people wearing. Jeans and jumpers as if they were just going out for a stroll to a coffee shop in Zakopane town. Amazing. I think some of them might have given their shoes and the bums of their jeans a bit of a hiding. I know my pants got a hiding. My favourite gray pants are now no more - the large rip in the back end was not repairable and they were left in the rubbish bin in our room. Luckily my jacket covered it during the day. Not that it mattered. It was so cold that both Evan and I were wearing our thermal pants underneath! So much for a lovely September in Europe.
At the top of the mountain, the last 50m is done by hanging on to a chain to half pull yourself up the side of the mountain. Finally we reached the top and
And it was steep going
Hence me being at the back of our little group
luckily for us the masses of fog shifted to allow us a breathtaking view of the mountains around us - many of which had snow on the peaks and down some of the sides. This meant a bit of fun. On the way down the mountain, we had to go through a particularly large area covered with snow. Well, it was actually more like ice because it had been there for a while. But that didn't stop Evan. He got down low and slid down the side of the mountain on his boots, pushing himself along with his hands (which were covered in a pair of socks as we are too poor for snow gloves!). He had a ball, just like the big kid that he is. It was great. Pity I forgot to get the camera out + too busy laughing.
Finally we reached bottom and headed back to the hostel for some warmth and a rest in front of the heater. Our legs were a bit shaky but our minds were full of the experience.
After a morning wandering around town we headed back to Krakow. We saw way too little of Krakow town the first
Our final aim
Every now and then you could see the top of Mt Geiwont when the mist cleared
time we were there because our hostel was so great, and felt so like home that we spent way too much time chilling out in front of the plasma screen, free internet or just talking to the staff. It was a great place - "Greg-Tom Hostel" for those interested, and it was great to relax.
For our last night in Poland we headed to the Rynek - the town square, which is the biggest in Europe. We had dinner with a couple of other travellers and then wandered around watching the entertainment. There was not only the usual buskers but also a big free concert on which seemed to have attracted many locals.
On our last day we were up early to make the most of it. We went over the river to the old Jewish quarter - the area that became the Jewish Getto during WWII. We didn't have any luck finding the remaining pieces of the ghetto wall (though the guide book says they are there!) but we did find a memorial called "The Chairs". This is a massive open area which has a large number of steel chairs scattered around it randomly. It is supposed
to remind people about how things would have looked after the Jews were all herded into the ghetto having to leave behind so many of their belongings. I really like these monuments. They seem to get you thinking a lot more than the standard old plaques and monuments - although they have their place too.
From there we walked back over the bridge into the old Jewish quarter - Kazimierz. The Jews never reclaimed this area after being released from the ghetto. In fact, the information we have is that there are only about 500 Jews left in all of Krakow. All but 2 of the many synogogues have been turned into museums. What the Jewish area is now known for is cafes, clubs and restaurants. But who can blame them for not wanting to come back.
Next was Wawel Castle. We didn't go into any of the castle exhibits or the cathedral (were feeling cheap that day and not particularly interested in reading and reading), we just walked around the castle grounds and admired the buildings and the view. We had had enough of history so it was good to be moving on. I spent the rest
But we made it!
Check me out - freezing cold but feeling very good about it
of our time in the afternoon shopping! Not good for the budget, but I bought some gorgeous jewellery and a shirt. Really nice - love that retail therapy sense of satisfaction.
Krakow was one of the best parts of our trip so far and it was sad to be leaving. That afternoon we caught a flight to Bourgas on the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria. It was the cheapest way to get as close to Turkey as possible, where we were due to begin the next part of our adventure.
It also turned out to be one of the funniest plane rides we have ever had. It seemed like the airline had sold tickets to only first time flyers. Although we are hardly frequent travellers, we feel like everything is pretty standard now, but the rest of the passengers seemed amazed by everything. They oohed and ahhed and a few screamed in fright on takeoff, there was lots of leaning over to peer out the window, people taking photos, and even more suprising - when the flight attendants were giving safety instructions - everyone shut up and listened! When was the last time you saw that on a
The view was amazing
And later Evan got to play in some of that snow/ice
Funniest though was when we landed. It was all pretty normal (aside from all the people trying to lean out the window), but when we came to a stop - everyone clapped! I have only ever seen that happen once before after a very bumpy ride. This was just a normal flight. Oh well - I suppose it is just a thank you to the driver.
Bulgaria was interesting. The roads are a mix of extremely fast cars (not sure they have speed limits there) and horses and carts. But we didn't have time for Bulgaria so one night was it. The day after we arrived we jumped on a day bus to Istanbul to visit an extremely westernised (at least in part) part of the middle east.
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