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Published: November 22nd 2016
Zakopane... A small town located in the southernmost part of Poland... and yet it attracts on average 2,5mln tourists a year... What makes it so desirable then? For one it’s the incredible Tatra mountains, and what comes with that are the endless opportunities for trekking in summer or skiing and cross country skiing in winter... But it’s also the different culture, slightly different language, different style of architecture and of course the food... I love it and I’ve been to this town many times already and even though each time I had the accommodation booked some time in advance, it never crossed my mind that it might be difficult to find something a week ahead of the arrival... As that’s more or less when we started looking for a place to stay there. And what a nightmare it was! Zakopane is known for having lots and lots and lots of guest rooms, it’s all about tourism there after all, so how come every place I called had no rooms left... On booking.com the only places left were ridiculously expensive! At some point I really started thinking about changing plans and maybe making it to Zakopane on the way back instead? Few
more tries... It turned out that we picked the busiest weekend of the whole year of course – 15th
of August was a church holiday and it seemed like everyone was planning to spend that long weekend nowhere else but in Zakopane... Now it all made sense... Eventually my mum called the place they stayed at before a few times already and they happened to have one room left! It wasn’t exactly in Zakopane, but in the village next door, Koscielisko, it would do just fine.
We decided to take the train rather than the bus to Zakopane, even though it supposedly was an hour longer journey. I know the road to Zakopane pretty well though, so if all those people who booked accommodation for the long weekend were making their way over there now, I had no doubts that there was going to be a chaos on the road. The train journey wasn’t exactly too exciting despite the fact that we were moving in a very sightseeing pace. And on top of that as we started approaching Zakopane, it started drizzling... As if it couldn’t start raining once we arrived at our guesthouse... Once we got off
at the station it was raining... and it felt quite cold as well... Hmmm... I hoped there would be some good weather in between as trekking in the rain? Not too much fun...
It’s very easy to move around Zakopane and surrounding towns, you simply need to look for little vans/minibuses and make sure you jump on board the right one. Thankfully we caught our bus straight away, it was a bit awkward to push through the narrow corridor of seats with two big backpacks, two daypacks, baby and a pram. The bus wasn’t packed though so soon after we were on our way. We got to our guesthouse in no time at all. The room wasn’t much, but we had our own bathroom and breakfast was included in the price as well so all good. Since there were three single beds in the room, we straight away thought of putting two together, but the wooden frames were so gigantic, it was never going to work. Putting them together would just leave a massive gap in between. It looked like it was going to be Millie and I on one of those beds for the next few
nights then... I knew how that was going to work – Millie taking most of the bed, kicking me in the face now and then, and I would be practically hanging on the edge... There wouldn’t be much quality sleeping for sure... On the other hand I would get some nice cuddles, and these simply make up for everything.
Since the forecast for the next day wasn’t too bad – 4C in the morning but no rain throughout the day, we decided to do a bigger trek that day. First a big breakfast, that’s how I remembered it (as I actually stayed here once with my parents before as well), one bus to Zakopane and another one to the beginning of the track in Kuznice and we were ready for our big walk up to Kasprowy Wierch. And so were gazillion other people... To be honest it doesn’t really matter when you come to Zakopane, there are always lots of people around. We did choose the busiest weekend, still the crowds were more or less how I remembered it from my previous trips here anyway... Grant was reading some reviews about the places we were going to
and came upon quite a few comments that it wasn’t the real trekking as you were surrounded by people everywhere and that you should avoid these places at all costs... Well, if you’re looking for solitude, trekking in the Polish Tatras is definitely not the place for you... Also some trails are obviously more popular than others so if you do choose the popular one, don’t expect to be the only one there... I know I might sound a bit defensive here, but I simply love this place, even with gazillion people around.
I told Grant that there were going to be lots of people around, still I don’t think he was prepared for the actual amounts either... I guess after trekking so much in New Zealand and passing only a few people (if only) a day, it can be a bit overwhelming... He took it with an open mind though and soon after we were moving towards our first stop – Hala Kondratowa. From Kuznice you can just take the green trail up to Kasprowy Wierch directly, but we decided (or rather I decided) to make a bit of a longer walk and go through Hala
Kondratowa, Przelecz pod Kopa Kondracka and then to Kasprowy. I did a similar trek with my parents a few years ago and it was stunning, so it sounded like a good introduction of the Tatras to Grant. The first part of the trek was really easy, lovely stroll through the forest and meadows until we finally reached Hala Kondratowa. Every now and then you come across huts where you can rest and get some food and drink and even spend a night if you want to (I would imagine that the bed has to be booked loooong in advance, especially in the high season). For me a quick stop at one of these huts means having a gigantic cup of tea and a piece of cake. What can I say? You simply need all that sugar in you before a trek. The hut at Hala Kondratowa was packed but the queue was going really fast and even though there were hardly any seats around, we found some – besides even if we didn’t, the sun was shining and there was plenty of grass to sit on around. Most of the people go from here through the blue trail to Giewont
(our famous Sleeping Knight which can be clearly visible from Zakopane, it has a big cross on its peak). I went once to Giewont and don’t think I’ll be doing that again. The peak is really small, so once a few people get on top, the rest behind them has to wait until they are satisfied with ‘conquering’ it – in the high season it means the last part of the climb is basically standing in the queue and waiting for your turn, loooong queue I might add... Looking at Giewont from surrounding peaks sounds like a much better option.
After a cake and a cup of tea we were ready to take on the next part of the trail. It started nicely, only slight ascent but then the climbing just went on and on and on... it seemed to have no end... When we passed some people coming down, they said we still had 2hours to the top... What? I think that was slightly exaggerated as the whole ascent from the hut was supposed to take 1,5hour... Thanks for keeping our spirits up! Grant was of course walking with Millie and as usual we got a
lot of smiles and nice comments... For some though it seemed a bit strange to take such a small baby trekking. I overheard one conversation between some couple. The woman simply didn’t see the point of it as our baby obviously wouldn’t remember a thing, in the end she said to her partner – they must be doing it to keep fit! Ok? Whatever makes you feel better dear... 😊 So we kept on walking and walking... I needed more and more stops along the way – think sitting around at my mum’s and eating all those yummy cakes wasn’t exactly a great preparation for the trekking after all... Finally we made it to the top! Yay! Now the last part of the trek, walking through the top of the mountain range all the way to Kasprowy – my favourite part, absolutely beautiful views!
It got slightly more windy on the top, so we wrapped ourselves up a bit more, with whatever clothes we took – it was supposed to be summer after all, and off we went. Grant finally understood what I was talking about when I said I loved this place... Picture perfect! If you
cut out some of the people that is... Thankfully the crowds don’t get to places like that, they stick to popular trails and take the cable cars whenever they can... Don’t get me wrong, you won’t suddenly be all alone with the mountains, you simply pass less people on the way. Stepping one foot in Poland and one in Slovakia, we followed the path to Kasprowy. Once again we heard a few comments about walking this path with Millie – we got a few comments about her lack of shoes as well, as if I was hearing my parents, where are the socks, where are the socks? 😉 What can I say? We weren’t expecting these kind of temperatures... Three pairs of socks for now, until we got something slightly more appropriate... Later on we simply put her feet in my raincoat – nice and warm now! We had to stop to feed Millie on the way, the most scenic place for the bottle so far! I think I should’ve had a few more of those cakes at the hut as well as my stomach started rumbling, not too long now... There were a couple of tricky parts where we
had to climb some rocks – fine for me but Grant was a real trooper doing it with Millie! We watched in horror as one girl almost got pulled by her gigantic backpack down the slope when coming down one of these rocks, thankfully she just managed to catch her balance... Pheeew...
The last part up to Kasprowy was a real killer for me... I was hungry, tired after a few hours of walking and it was still up, up and up... Totally unfit... I did this before and definitely didn’t remember it being so tough... I made it though! Grant and Millie were already waiting for me at the top and making friends with some kids. Ok very nice, but it was time to eat something and book the cable car down. We found a table upstairs, I grabbed some food (slightly overpriced, but I guess they needed to get it up here somehow) and finally had a chance to sit down... and then I felt it, all the energy suddenly gone... I felt so weak, even lost appetite, was just staring at my plate... Grant went to grab some food as well, and didn’t bring
good news at all... it looked like we would have to walk down as the queue for the cable cars was slightly ridiculous... that couldn’t be! Seriously there was no way I was going to make it, the idea of walking for another 2hours was just more than slightly overwhelming... I was feeling sick! Better check that cable car then! I asked a few people at the beginning of the queue how long they’ve been standing there... not great – some said over an hour, some more, also the people with return tickets had priority so only when someone didn’t show up, the people in the queue where able to jump onto the car instead... Judging by the length of the queue and how fast it was going, it was good 3 hours queuing at least... That was it, I’d just have to find that strength somewhere... After the food, some of the energy came back and soon after we were on our way back. Once we started walking it actually wasn’t too bad... One absolutely incredible and exhausting day of trekking done!
Since we were staying right at the entrance to one of the valleys, Dolina
Koscieliska, the following day, we just decided to take it easy and do a relaxed walk right there. And so did hundreds and hundreds of other people as well. I was kind of expecting it, still wasn’t prepared for these kind of crowds... It is one of the more popular trails though – very easy, and mostly flat all the way to the first hut, many people would go even as far as to take the prams here. There are also plenty of horse carriages on this trail which can take you a big part of the way to the hut, for a price of course. To make it a bit more exciting we decided to check out one of the caves – Jaskinia Mrozna (Frosty Cave). There are quite a few caves around, this one had electric lights throughout, so sounded like a good idea. I kind of forgot that it was quite wet inside though... and tight! Grant had to do some serious acrobatics to walk through some parts with Millie. Millie loved it though – squeaky noises throughout most of the whole 500 metres... After that we headed to the hut, for me to have some tea
and cake of course and to feed Millie, Grant missed out on the beer this time. On the way back we bought a few pieces of smoked sheep cheese (oscypek), yum! After that we headed to Zakopane, just to hang around the main walking street, Krupowki. I couldn’t believe how packed it was! It was a bit of a challenge to walk around with the pram in between all the people, so we just walked the street up and down, got some knitted shoesies for Millie (yay!), had a bite to eat and called it a day.
Since the forecast for the next day was pretty good, I decided to take Grant and Millie to another popular spot – Morskie Oko, a beautiful lake set at the foot of some of the higher Tatras. To make it there at decent time, we had to leave earlier, as it took some time to get there. Thankfully we were able to have breakfast earlier, so with full bellies, we headed to Lysa Polana to start our trek. It’s another very popular trail, not really too demanding as apart from walking 9km one way to the lake, you walk the
whole way on asphalt road. Yep! You actually have the option to take the horse-drawn carts almost all the way to the lake (maybe 2/3 of the way) as well. And many people do... To be honest it’s hard to watch these pour horses struggling up the hill with a full cart of people... Ah well... It’s been this way since I remember, so I can’t see it changing any time soon. Usually we would do a more exciting trek, get off the asphalt road and walk through the Valley of Five Lakes (Dolina Pieciu Stawow) and from there make it to Morskie Oko. It is a whole day of walking though and we both agreed that one long trek with Millie was enough, so this time just headed through the asphalt road all the way to the Lake. We got there just under two hours, passing hordes of people on the way... Literally hordes! I don’t think I ever saw this amount of people here yet... At the lake was more or less the same. I thought of maybe walking up to another lake, Czarny Staw which lies just under the highest peak of the Polish Tatras, Rysy, but
it looked like many people had the same plans, so we just gave up on that idea... Instead we sat down, had a drink and a cake for me of course and after a few pics in between gazillion of people, we decided to head back. Seriously at one point, at one long stretch of straight road, there must have been at least a thousand people marching... It was crazy... Again carts full of people, going downhill this time... Once we got to the entrance of the park, I had to satisfy my curiosity and asked the guy selling the tickets to the park how many people were taking this path during that busy weekend – he said on average 10,000 daily! Wow! Looking by the crowds, I thought it was even more than that, but that was still a big number... definitely no chance of finding solitude anywhere here...
We caught the bus back straight away, which I thought was quite lucky considering the amount of people on the track. The bus filled up very quickly and soon after we were on our way to Zakopane. Not for long though... The parking situation around Lysa Polana
was always a problem, but now since they were doing some works on the actual car park, there actually was no real car park at all, so the people just decided to park their cars on both sides of the road. Which basically made the road normally fit for two cars into a four-lane massive traffic jam... It wasn’t too bad when the cars were trying to squeeze next to the parked cars, but once two buses met on the road, well... it suddenly became a big problem... Of course no police around to coordinate the traffic at all so a few people took it upon themselves and they played the traffic coordinators instead. To be honest I thought we were going to be stuck there for hours, but with the help of new coordinators and our skilful driver, we passed the oncoming bus and the parked car by millimetres... Pheeew...
On our last day in Zakopane, or rather Koscielisko, we just decided to take it easy... No trekking, just a simple walk to Zakopane instead. Yep, no buses this time just a looooong walk. I thought of maybe walking up or taking the funicular up to
Gubałówka Hill – a hill accessible from the end of Krupowki street, where you can see a beautiful view of Giewont and other mountain peaks from, still it wasn’t even possible to make it through the market at the end of Krupowki, let alone get to the funicular. So I just decided to take Grant up to the ski jumps instead. Nice walk through Krupowki with a quick stop for a coffee and cake for me, bottle for Millie and a beer for Grant – everybody content! Nice lunch at the ski jumps and a slow walk back home. In the end it was still a good workout for the legs, so we can proudly say we didn’t even have a day’s rest in Zakopane. We were very lucky with the weather and despite the ridiculous crowds, still managed to do some proper trekking and see a few incredible mountains. It actually would be nice to do some trekking between the huts next time we’re around here... But then thinking about the crowds, maybe we should try the Slovak side instead? For now we were only going to get a glimpse of the Slovak High Tatras... Next stop: Poprad!
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