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Rain in Zakopane - Off to the Tatras for a walk

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So, enticed by the prospect of a sunny early September walking in the Polish Tatras, I signed up to join a group of walkers who were on their 4th or 5th international expedition. Four social workers, two policemen and three of us ordinary people made up the all male group flying out from Belfast to Krakow on September 1.

The 3 hour flight went smoothly (apart from me losing my mobile phone going through security) and we then all piled into taxis for the drive into central Krakow, to our hotel for the night, the Wielopole Guestrooms (http://www.wielopole.pl/english/index_e.php). This is a great little hotel, a few minutes from the centre, basic but very clean & tidy and with free internet access (with your own laptop). Cost was about £50 a night for a double.

After a rather late meal (in McDonalds - it was all we could find open, honest!) we then found the real eating and drinking area, had a beer in the square and headed off for a good sleep. Sunday morning was sightseeing in Krakow - the Square and the Castle. Lunch was a bit more authentically Polish this time - meat stuffed pierogi for me - and real good value.

After lunch it was off to the bus station for the 2 hr journey to Zakopane, our base in the Tatras. The bus was comfortable and very cheap, with the only highlight being Tam chatting up a young Polish student who spoke perfect English (although where she thought she was going to use 'by dint of' I'm not sure). Our hotel, the Helios (http://www.hotel-helios.pl/en/) was perfect, basic but clean and very central for eating etc.

Weather forecast for our week of walking was not good, although our first full day was perfect - cool and sunny. After wandering about a bit (I think group leadership style could be described as laissez-faire) we then made it to the top of Giewont, about a 2.5 hr climb from the village of Kuznice. The walk was testing but OK for me (though glad I had taken advice from Trevor and bought walking poles) and the view from the top, and on way up, was stunning.

We took a different signposted descent (now we know why there are strict rules that you stay on marked paths) and had our first (and thankfully only) accident when Steve decided to see how close he could get to the edge without actually falling over. He did do himself a bit of damage but was expertly looked after by a passing Polish fireman and his friends and then whisked off to the local A&E by mountain rescue. Everyone was very helpful and the level of service in the hospital was excellent (seen & sorted in about 30 mins!).  Thankfully Steve made a full recovery, although looked even more scary than usual, and even ventured back up the mountain later in the week.

Then the weather arrived! Rained all day Tuesday - no walking.  Wednesday, rain became sleet, and higher up, snow. It is early September isn't it? No walking for me (glad I brought inspector Rebus with me) although some did go for a 'low' walk and thoroughly enjoyed it. Thursday saw little improvement but we headed of by taxi bus for another low walk, this time up to Morskie Oko. This is a mountain lake (tarn) just below Rysy, Poland's highest peak at 2500m, and with everywhere covered with snow the view was again stunning. Just as stunning was the wonderful food available at the chalet (these are all over the Tatras, providing excellent hot and cold food for weary travellers).

Friday, our last walking day, was dull and wet, but we all headed out for one last walk, again staying low and mostly through forest. I didn't really enjoy this, and soon joined the half of the group which decided to descend, via another chalet for lunch, while a few brave souls headed up a bit further. Feeling even lazier, a few of us made most of the descent back to the bus part by horse drawn cart - perhaps the most expensive journey of the entire holiday at £4!

While the weather may not have been what we expexted (it was very unusual for the time of year) it was more than made up for by the quality and quantity of food consumed! Our hotel was a five minute walk from Krupowki, the main street with a restaurant about every 20m. They all serve traditional polish food and if you are a meat lover you will think you are in heaven. Their 'desery' were pretty good too and for starters make sure you try the beet soup (barscz) and the mountain sheep's cheese (oscypek). We tried a different restaurant most nights and none were disappointing - one of the best was Stek Chalupa and I can't remember the name of the even better one, but really you will get  great meal in any of them. We never paid more than £10 - £12 a head for the full works, including drinks, and often considerably less (eg fresh trout was about £1.50!)

Anyway, our walking came to an end and it was back to Krakow on Saturday morning for a day wandering around, buying a few presents, and of course eating again - we even managed a celebratory desery for my birthday.

Reflections
Did I enjoy the trip - absolutely. Despite the weather, we had some great days, and actually having both a sunny day and a snowy day during the same week was pretty good.The company was great - my first time meeting most of the guys, who made me feel really welcome. The food alone was almost worth the journey to Poland - certainly the best quality/value I have enjoyed on my travels to date. I did read more than planned, and managed a daily internet fix at the local internet cafe. Didn't see much of Krakow, but saw enough to book a return visit with Adrienne for new year - snow guaranteed?

If you do get the opportunity to either visit Krakow, or head off to the Tatras for something more energetic, definitely take it - early September is still the best time to go to the mountains and hopefully you will have slightly better weather than we had.

Thanks
Thanks to everyone else in the group and especially to this year's organiser, Trevor and to all the really friendly helpful Polish people who made out holiday such a treat.  Where are we going next year?

 
© 2018 Maurice Kinkead
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