Climbing up a steep hill in the baking heat with our backpacks, we were distracted from our guesthouse search by the sound of music coming from a small church in seemingly the middle of nowhere. A group of people had gathered outside, watching avidly as groups of men in traditional felt suits, and women in embroidered dresses and scarves walked out of the church singing as they went… We had accidentally stumbled into a traditional polish mountain wedding. As a group of folk musicians played, the wedding party climbed into waiting horses and carts, and with a final a-cappella song from two men on horse back with felt hats, they were off. The ten or so horse-drawn carts headed off through the country lanes awash with colour and song… and just like that all was quiet again…just a little church in the countryside.
Zakopane is a small town in the south of Poland, right on the border with Slovakia, and at the base of the Tatra mountains. In the winter it is the polish centre for all things snow, with ski slopes scattered across the mountains and huge ski jumps constructed into the sides of hills, but in summer it makes for a lovely place to do some mountain hiking, and to relax in the warm mountain air with some great views. We managed to find a little guesthouse outside of the tourist heavy centre with views across the mountains, that made the perfect base for a few days of relaxation, sunset watching and of course, if we could tear ourselves away, maybe even some walking.
Having grabbed a walking route map from the local tourist office we set off early in the morning to climb the peaks around Zakopane… Ok so we may have cheated slightly and taken the handily constructed cable car to the top of the mountain, but everyone knows that the hardest and most rewarding part is walking downhill … right? After queuing for the best part of an hour, with a lot of irritated Poles, we climbed aboard the cable car and were treated to spectacular views in every direction. They got even better once we’d reached the top and could step over the border into Slovakia and wonder why, when a country looked that beautiful, we hadn’t included it in our trip plans… oh well next time. The walk down the hill led us past some beautiful mountain lakes, and even some patches of snow still remaining from the last winter. We were even lucky enough to spot some deer jumping around in it, pressumably trying to cool down…
After finally making it to the bottom of the mountain we “treated” ourselves to the local delicacy of smoked sheep’s cheese, which they serve hot, a bit like halloumi, with some sweet cranberry sauce. We can’t say it was the nicest thing we have ever treated ourselves to, but it did give us the energy to get back to our guesthouse, just in time to watch a huge thunder-storm approaching up the valley.
We had really enjoyed our time in Poland, totally exceeding our expectations, and so were sad to leave, but it was time to head back to Krakow and onwards to the Ukraine.