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Changes changes changes

A while back I was writing about finding a new home on Lofoten. But nothing happens as we plan…

So I’m back in Poland in a beautiful historic town Bielsko-Biała. Close to the mountains of course. I’m starting my new business, developing my skills and discovering myself.

Lofoten will remain my dream home.

More to come as my site will evolve into something better.

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Motivated by food – hiking in Tatras

Hiking with friends in the Tatras

Hiking with friends in the Tatras. Guess whose backpack is bigger…

Someone told me once “Justyna, you eat like a horse!” The remark was supposed to be friendly and referred to my big plateful of lunch at work, so I took it with a smile. Well, however one can put it in words, food is extremely important to me; I’m not one of these people who can go on for hours without re-fuelling, especially when hiking “proper” mountains like Polish Tatras. It was a thought of “schabowy” (a Polish-style pork chop in breadcrumbs) with mashed potatoes, which kept me motivated to keep my legs moving with the great speed to get to the mountain hut after quite a difficult hike and scramble.

Tatra mountains (also called Tatras in English or Tatry in Polish) are the highest mountain range in Poland and Slovakia. They are beautiful, majestic and rugged. The easiest way to start exploring Tatras is to go to Zakopane, as there are many trailheads nearby (to read more about Zakopane click here). There is an option of taking a cable lift up the mountain, and continue to the trails if you want to save some time. But if you prefer more exercise (and don’t want to pay for quite an expensive lift), you can just start at the bottom. Unfortunately, due to the Tatra National Park regulations, camping in the mountains is not allowed, which can restrict some options to explore the trails. Saying that, there are 8 mountain huts you can stay in, if you want to spend a few days in the mountains. They are very well located near the trails, making it possible to plan multiple day routes. Years ago, there would always be a place for a hiker in a hut, even if you had to sleep “on the floor”, but the policy changed, and there is a requirement to book a bed ahead. I would really recommend booking accommodation, especially at busier times of the year.

Murowaniec mountain hut, Hala Gasienicowa (Gasienicowa Valley)

Murowaniec mountain hut, Hala Gasienicowa (Gasienicowa Valley)

My friends and I didn’t think too much about booking a hut, as it was a middle of May, and not a bank holiday weekend, but to our surprise, when phoning on the day, we found out that all beds were booked in two of the huts we considered. Luckily, there were still beds in the Murowaniec mountain hut, so in the end we could stay up the mountains! Two trails to the Murowaniec hut start in Kużnice near the Kasprowy Wierch cable lift entrance, to make it more interesting, we took the blue trail up and the yellow one down.

Hot and sunny weather made us almost forget that there’s still some snow and ice on the mountain tops. After getting to the Murowaniec hut and leaving the heaviest stuff in the room (although I always have to hike with quite a big backpack “for photos”), we had a short break and I enjoyed Polish fast food – huge “zapiekanka” (a hot halved baguette with mushrooms and melted cheese on top). And then our adventure began, heading towards Kościelec (2 155m) I could see its steep summit resembling a tripod and I kept thinking how I was going to get there. It’s not like I’m an absolute novice, I’ve climbed higher mountains (to be exact even twice as high Mt Elbert of the Rocky Mountains), but something was telling me it would be quite an effort.

Trail signs, Tatra mountains

Trail signs, Tatra mountains

Getting to the foot of the mountain was quite easy, even with some snowy and sometimes icy patches on the way. But the real climbing started when we got to the steep rocky section. Scrambling was not new to me, but having to climb through some snowy and icy steps made my heart jump a few times. My friend’s story about someone who fell off Kościelec during the climb and died, didn’t help my confidence at all. I felt really exposed trying to reach some slippery handholds and knowing that one mistake could cost so dearly.

Climbing the top of Koscielec, snow in May...

Climbing the top of Koscielec, snow in May…

Views from Koscielec summit

Views from Koscielec summit

Needless to say, I felt very accomplished when finally got to the summit of Kościelec. Taking in the views, and my sense of pride were affected a bit by the thought of climbing down. And then it became official (again) – I was the slowest hiker ever. Being tired and with my mind not working at its best, I was just automatically following my boyfriend’s instructions: “put your hands next to your feet and just lower your body”, you won’t reach this foothold with your feet, so you just have to trust it and slide down a bit”, “watch your feet, it’s slippery like sh..t”. Finally, getting through the last bad section, made me overflow with happiness. My friends suggested a shortcut to the hut, but having enough of steep downhills, I voted for splitting our team up and taking the route known to me. Hiking on an easy terrain felt so wonderful, and the only thought which kept me alive was the hot food in the hut. I had checked earlier the sign in the dining room (everyone has their priorities), which said it was closing at 9p.m. So we were moving as fast as possible to be there on time, “schabowy” on my mind (like Georgia for Ray Charles). Success, we were back in the hut at 8.50p.m.! I ordered my food and heard: “Sorry but at this time we can only offer some soup as the kitchen is closing”… Well, they could stick their soup up their bottoms, so I ordered 2 pints for dinner.

My friend near the summit of Koscielec

My friend near the summit of Koscielec

Climbing Koscielec

Climbing Koscielec, breathtaking views…

Having a rest before getting to the Murowaniec mountain hut

Having a rest before getting to the Murowaniec mountain hut

Getting through the snow...

Getting through the snow…

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Zakopane – Gateway to Tatras

View from Kasprowy Wierch, Tatra mountains

View from Kasprowy Wierch, Tatra mountains

I was probably 5 years old and a bit scared of that black devil with a pitchfork running around in a mountain lodge. It’s one of my earliest memories from Zakopane, where we went for a New Year break with my family. For the people who might not know – Zakopane is not a hell of any sorts, the Devil is one of the Polish traditional carnival characters alongside Angel, Death, etc. People would dress up as those characters and go to raise some money (similar to Christmas carol singers but with a bit more bite to it). Anyway, I remember the devil and lots of snow, we would go for night sledge rides and I was tucked in thick fur blankets like a Russian princess. I have been in Zakopane a few times since then, recently in May.

Krupowki, the main street in Zakopane

Krupowki, the main street in Zakopane

First, a few information bits about Zakopane. It lies in the South of Poland, and being a beautiful gateway to Tatra mountains (called Tatry in Polish), it has been a famous tourist destination for many years. It is one of the “must-see” places in Poland. Zakopane is very easy to get to even without a car. There is a train option (more expensive and longer) and plenty of buses to choose from (I would recommend private ones as they are the cheapest). If you are not sure, go to Cracow (most people go there anyway) and then take a bus. The bus station is under construction and the bus stands to Zakopane are situated outside, just follow the big yellow signs with letters written on them. There are also plenty of places to stay in Zakopane – you can choose between mountain huts, hostels, hotels, and private rooms. Almost every house in Zakopane offers rooms for rent, but it might be difficult to find rooms in the centre during the high season, so booking might be advisable.

Watra brewery, Zakopane

Watra brewery, Zakopane

There’s so much to do in Zakopane for everyone. If you’re a bit lazy and not so much into mountaineering, you can just put some outdoor clothing on and hang out on Krupowki. It is the main street in Zakopane, filled with outdoor shops, cafes, souvenirs, restaurants, and – most importantly – stalls with traditional goat cheese pieces (“oscypki”). Oscypki come in a traditional shape but in different sizes. They can be smoked (brown) or not (white), and you NEED to try them. I’ve just heard from a reliable source that it’s better to pay more for oscypki and not go for a cheaper option. Apparently even a not so fresh piece of better quality is much tastier than a cheaper alternative (especially if you heat it up in the oven). If you’re in a restaurant, try a grilled version with cranberry sauce as a starter, yummy…

Zajazd Furmanski, Zakopane

Zajazd Furmanski, Zakopane

Zajazd Furmanski, traditional design, Zakopane

Zajazd Furmanski, traditional design, Zakopane

We visited Zakopane in the middle of May, out of season, but it was still pretty crowded, especially in the evening. Choosing a place to eat is always a bit of a challenge for us, I like to try local dishes, my American boyfriend opts for a hamburger or pizza. So we were going from place to place to find a good compromise. As he really loves beer, I managed to tempt him to go to a local brewery called Watra. They offer not only delicious beer (honey beer being my favourite) but also a big variety of dishes – from traditional Polish to (beloved by some) pepperoni pizza. Another good place to eat is Zajazd Furmanski. Although not quite in the centre of Zakopane, the food is delicious. I enjoyed not only the food but also the traditional design of the building, huge wooden beams with the plaited straw insulation. If you travel with children and need a break, there was also an indoor children play area downstairs.

View from Kasprowy Wierch

View from Kasprowy Wierch

Good news if you’re lazy, but want to see a bit more than just a nice mountain town, there a few cable lifts which you can take to admire the mountain landscapes. We chose to go to Kasprowy Wierch (1,987m) to enjoy the afternoon before meeting up with our friends. To get to the lift from the centre, you need to take a minibus to Kuznice, it took me a while (a visit to the information centre to be precise) to figure it out. There was still some snow on top of the mountain and I was glad I had my insulated jacket with me to keep me warm. I’m not sure how some people managed to go to the top in trainers, I know it was not very far, but it would require some skill not to skid on a slippery surface. It’s worthwhile to go to the top, you will experience wonderful views of surrounding Tatras which can make up for 10 minutes of exercise…

And if you’re not so lazy and you would like to climb some mountains, Zakopane is also a great choice for you. More in my next post…

On top of the mountain, Tatras

On top of the mountain, Tatras

Climbing near Kasprowy Wierch

Climbing near Kasprowy Wierch

Taking photos near Kasprowy Wierch

Taking photos near Kasprowy Wierch

Scrambling near Kasprowy wierch

Scrambling near Kasprowy wierch