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Published: December 1st 2016
Bus to Poprad was leaving at 11.15, so we had plenty of time in the morning to eat breakfast in peace and pack afterwards. Then a usual minibus ride back to Zakopane and soon after we were boarding our bus to Poprad. Even though it was only 60km to Poprad from Zakopane I thought that the scheduled 1,5h journey seemed quite hopeful when taking into account the usual queues from Zakopane towards Lysa Polana. There surely must have been another route? Yep, it looked like there was one. No traffic at all leaving Zakopane, not sure what was happening in the other direction though as the traffic was not moving at all... kilometre-long queues that way... It looked like everybody decided to head back home after the long weekend... at the same time!
The bus to Poprad was almost empty, which already was a good indication that probably there would be hardly any tourists on the Slovak side. We passed quite a few lovely villages on both sides of the border and it made me wonder why everyone was heading to Zakopane if there were so many other beautiful places around – what difference would it make if you stayed
a bit further away from the busy Zakopane if you came by car anyway? And yet just like all the other thousands of people I was looking for accommodation somewhere in Zakopane... Might have another think about it when coming to this region next time though...
As we were passing lovely little villages on the Slovak side, I remembered reading about them in the Lonely Planet and thought that it actually could have been really nice to stay in one of them as the Tatra views were simply spectacular... I guess one question was whether they would have a good communication service if you happened to come there (like us) without a car... Poprad was a much bigger town so there was no doubt we would have no problem moving around from there. Apparently back in 2002 I stayed in Poprad with my parents, can’t say I recalled anything from this town though... Trekking on the Slovak side, definitely yes, but Poprad itself, not at all... Hmmm... I guess it should’ve been a sign?
To be honest when I booked Poprad, the only thing I knew about the place was that it was quite close to the High
Tatras. The weather forecast wasn’t too great for the next few days and we were pretty exhausted after 4 busy days in Zakopane, so I was actually looking forward to doing nothing, just relaxing, catching up on blogs and simply doing mum duties with no sightseeing planned... When we finally arrived in Poprad I have to say I was quite disappointed though – I guess you shouldn’t expect much from the bus station but in general from the first sight the city looked quite... well... how can I put it mildly? Not charming at all? I guess boring could be the right word here... Sorry, don’t mean to offend anyone here, but that was simply my first impression of the town... No view of the Tatras either as a huge cloud was glooming over the mountain range. Still I decided to research the city a bit more and give it another chance.
We walked to our accommodation, checked in using broken Polish-Slovak (no English at all – who would’ve thought that Polish could be so useful abroad?), dumped our bags and headed out to the nearby restaurant to have something to eat. The wooden board outside looked very inviting
as meal deals for EUR4.50 sure did sound very tempting. Once we walked inside it kind of looked as if the place either wasn’t open yet or as if they didn’t expect any people around that time at all. The staff eating lunch, no other guests around... Again hardly any English, we managed to order some beers and food and hoped for the best. Some more people showed up in the place, I guess they didn’t open up especially for us then. 😉 A moment after a waitress came walking around with two soups asking who ordered them. It wasn’t us, we thought, but let me check just in case... Another look at the specials menu, trying to decipher Slovak dishes – hmmm... it looked like the EUR4.50 set actually included a soup, main meal and a dessert! Now, we’re talking! Yep, we’ll have these soups then. 😊 After a very filling lunch, we had no doubt that Poprad would look much more welcoming to us for sure!
Well... Maybe we weren’t trying hard enough to see its good sides after all... For the first two days we didn’t do much around Poprad at all. We made a few
trips to Poprad’s centre, but I can’t say I was particularly in love with the place. In fact I found it very unremarkable. I know that it might sound a bit harsh as there’s nothing wrong with it really, it just could’ve been so much more. Nice old church in the middle of the square but the surrounding buildings didn’t seem to have much character at all... A few restaurants and some shops around... Think the place just needed a bit more atmosphere... We also made a couple of visits to the shopping centre, mostly to get the Slovak number and that was it really. It was raining on and off and the 4 days of walking in Zakopane really got to me – my head was spinning, sinuses were playing up and in general I felt really run down... I had a bit of time to catch up on blogging when Grant took Millie out for a walk one day, but in general it was all about taking it easy and trying to rest a bit these days.
Even though I wasn’t feeling the best on our last day there, I thought that being so close to the
High Tatras and not seeing any of the range at all, would’ve been a shame, so decided to take Grant and Millie for a little trip to Tatranska Lomnica. It was cloudy in the morning and after almost three days there we still haven’t had a chance to see a view of Tatras from Poprad at all! The weather forecast was promising though so we got up early and headed to the station to catch a train to Tatranska Lomnica. We got the 6EUR return ticket for the both of us and boarded the overcrowded train. Maybe I was wrong when I thought there will be no crowds on the trails, it couldn’t be as crowded as on the Polish side right, or could it?
Most of the people got off at Stary Smokovec, while we jumped on the next train – 6 more km to go and 5 stops! Yep, a stop every kilometre... I guess there had to be some kind of connection between the villages... Once we got off we followed the ‘masses’ to the cable car station. There sure were quite a few people queuing for the cable cars and I’ve heard quite a few
talking about going all the way to Lomnicki Stit, we decided to go to Skalnate Pleso only... Not that we had any other choice anyway – apparently you need to book Lomnicki Stit days in advance... Next time! After queuing for 15 minutes to the ticket booth and another 15 to the cable cars, we were off! Not too bad at all! If that was the peak season and big crowds in Slovakia, I would come over here in high season any time!
Actually there is a trail going up to Skalnate Pleso and quite possibly all the way to Lomnicki Stit as well, but I really wasn’t up for trekking that day. Hopefully next time we’re here, we’d be able to do some trekking on the Slovak side as well as from what we have seen so far, it’s definitely worth it. And much less crowded of course... We shared a cable car with some Slovak couple, the woman seemed to be super excited to be going up to Skalnate Pleso as was snapping pictures all around, I actually spotted her already in the queue for the cable car as she was busy making tons of pictures right
there as well. Millie as usual started being all friendly so we actually had a chance to talk to the couple. She spoke some English, while he spoke none at all... Still we managed to find out he was Hungarian while she was from around here but haven’t been to these parts for years – hence the excitement... Also she wasn’t shy to say that mountains weren’t really for her at all, shopping and spas were more her cup of tea, but her husband really wanted to come there, so she said she might as well enjoy it. And there was no doubt she was enjoying every moment of it. That’s the way to go!
As we were getting to Skalnate Pleso I started getting a headache again, so rather than enjoying the views, we hid away in the restaurant to have something to drink and pop some pills, hoping it would help fast! And so it did it would seem, or at least numbed my pain a bit... Just enough to walk around and enjoy the incredible scenery... We saw the tiny cable car going up to Lomnicki Stit, no wonder why it was so expensive and booked
out, there was enough space only for a few people and there was only one car going both ways! When we got to Skalnate Pleso you could hardly see Lomnicki Stit at all, but it looked like we were lucky again, as it just appeared out of nowhere for a good while, hey! We even had some blue sky! Not to mention that the people that booked the car all the way to the top were very lucky too... The ones in the morning, not so much unfortunately... When I looked around this place, I thought that it would’ve been really nice to come over here, meaning here on the Slovak side of the Tatras, for a longer period of time and do some proper trekking... Not this trip though, instead I added this place to my never ending list of to-do-things...
After that we just headed back to Poprad. Instead of walking back to our hotel, we decided to check out Poprad’s historical neighbourhood – Spisska Sobota, which is apparently one of the best preserved medieval towns in Slovakia. It only became a part of Poprad in the 20th
century. First settled by Slavs in the 12th
it was later colonised by Germans and between 1412-1772 pledged to Poland. Yep, our borders were changing constantly... During the second half of the 15th
century and throughout the 16th
century the town flourished economically. It became not only a market (its name comes from the open-air markets which were held regularly on Saturdays) but also a craftsmanship centre. Most of the houses around here were built between the 15th
As we started approaching this neighbourhood I knew already I was going to like it. Even the street leading to it, had quite a bit of character already. As you enter Spisska Sobota, the first thing you see is the Gothic church of St George. We wanted to go inside but the church was shut. Actually when we started walking around, admiring the buildings around, we couldn’t help but notice how empty it was around... Except for some local guy standing in front of his house and another one on the bike further ahead, there was nobody else around. Wasn’t that the high season? And it looked like the place was certainly expecting tourists with information boards every few metres explaining what you could find around.
There were quite a few hotels/B&Bs located in the old buildings as well. Since a few people came out from one of these, meaning it was open, we thought we would check its restaurant and have a bite to eat. Well, it looked like they were expecting some tourists here for sure – tourists with some big pockets full of money. Some very European prices! No thanks then.
Coming from overtouristy and overcrowded Zakopane, I couldn’t help but wonder why Poprad wasn’t trying to steal some of the Polish tourism? Not too far away after all, with this beautiful neighbourhood and High Tatras only a short drive away, the town should’ve been vibrating with life. If it was in Poland, there would be lots of stands everywhere offering local crafts and foods, also every restaurant would have a few tables in front inviting people to sit down and have a drink at least. Here nothing... Absolutely dead place! When we were leaving we saw a tourist train with two tourists on board making a round through the neighbourhood... I guess that was a start but if the place looked empty that wouldn’t really bring them back for some food
or drink, would it? I think in general the city could do with a bit of a makeover or at least some kind of help of getting more tourists and more money coming in. After all it’s set right under the High Tatras, you couldn’t ask for a better location. But then maybe they are satisfied with the amount of tourists they get here? Who knows...
Anyway, I was happy that on our last day not only we got to see the Tatras but also made our way to Spisska Sobota as at least we saw a part of Poprad that was really worth a visit. There was no doubt though that if we did come here some time in the future, Poprad would not be the place we would be staying at. Think we would just choose to stay in one of the smaller villages even closer to the High Tatras. As for now we were ready to check out Slovakia’s capital. Next stop: Bratislava!
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