The Road to Zakopane

Getting to this delightful town at the foothills of the “Polish Alps” proved somewhat of a nightmare. My Eurail Pass had the trip as taking more than 3 hours for the 100km and ominously in an all 2nd class train without allocated seats. Kraków Train station is modern and seemed to be extremely busy even at 7am on Good Friday. My train was to depart at 7.35 but I could not decipher “Zakopane” on the Departures screens. I joined a queue, apprehensive as I was about to interact with my third railway ticket officer. The train service to Zakopane has been replaced by a bus service. That seemed straightforward, but the extremely frustrating consequence was that despite several requests for help and directions, most of them provoking a curt response, such as a finger pointing UP, I was sent in all 4 directions of the compass as well as up and down several concourses and levels. At one stage I found myself in a football sized field of muddy quagmire – and hundreds of buses of all sizes and age but without any obvious humans that resembled potential passengers. The time approached 7:30am and I was no closer to finding the bus substitute to Zakopane Anyway I eventually found a bus station, not the correct one, but at least I found a bay which had “Zakopane” and which suggested that buses left very frequently, so you can imagine my relief. The final hurdle was that in an interaction reminiscent of my first encounter at the Warsaw station, the driver rejected out of hand the very official looking Eurail pass as hundreds of people queued up at the bus door behind me, waiting to buy a ticket. And so to get me there I paid 20 Zlt and boarded the bus.

The reason that there is no train to Zakopane became very obvious as all along the route, major highway and infrastructure works were being undertaken, so that within 5 years there will be a motorway and I assume high speed rail (Polish high speed) to this mountain ski resort. I am not sure that I will make the return journey to see it however.

I arrived within the 3 hours. I had not had any food or drink, so I went into a local bakery and had what I suspect is a Polish Easter Cake sort of like an Italian Panettone – the display case was full of them in all sizes and with various decorations.It had the taste and look when bitten into of a coarse butter cake.

The weather has been problematic, cloudy with breakthrough sun and variable misty rain. I hiked along a trail later that day – a local favourite obviously as there were lots of people rugged up and strolling along the ice and snow strewn path. It was not enjoyable for me as although I had walking shoes, I was not stable and slipped and slid, especially when descending, so much so that a local lent me one of his walking poles.

This was the sign at the entrance to the hiking trail, I did have second thoughts.

A couple of pictures of the scenery from the hiking trail

The second day, Easter Saturday I visited the 3 best ‘things to do’ in Zakopane according to TripAdvisor. The first was The Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima and as it was Easter, the place was seething.

There is a quaint custom that Polish people tend to fast on Good Friday or eat mainly fish then take a small basket of food to be blessed on the Saturday and once blessed, then that night and from then on, it’s the starter’s gun to indulge in gluttony: sweets, meat, meat and more meat. The Tata Chalet has a fixed dinner menu and then on Sunday there is a special Easter Breakfast. So I did venture in and out of the various churches if only to immerse myself in the Easter activities and the blessing of the food.

I also explored the Cmentarz Zasluzonycha na Peksowym Brzyzku (I can only assume there is no such thing as a low score in a game of Scrabble in Poland). It’s the local cemetery but as over the past few centuries, this mountain village has been the natural home of many Polish artists: painters,sculptors, writers, poets,philosophers and musicians, so the graves and headstones reflect the artistic talents of those interred. There were several musicians, but as far as I could deduce not an obvious Baroque Recorder player.

I also wanted to visit the Willa Koliba – a beautiful wooden villa designed by the famous architect Stanislaw Witkiewicz. It was closed but some pictures of the building reveal the detail and structure of what I can only surmise is the world’s biggest example of ‘tongue and groove’ technique? The building is situated along the original Main Street and all along this thoroughfare are beautiful examples of these wooden villas.

I then took the cable car up to the summit of Gubalowka mountain. Incidentally I discovered that the Polish way to say “return” as in “I wish to purchase a return ticket , please” is “up-down”. If only I had known that before. At the summit is a tourist Mecca of food and souvenir stalls.

The view from the summit

Overall a 20km walking day. I had a sauna upon my return. This is the Tatra chalet

And finally should we have moles in Australia ( not in the Russian embassy) but the Wind in the Willows type, then this how my back lawn might look.