Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Return to Zakopane

What a last weekend I had!  So much fun, but so much energy required! Our friends from the UK, Quartny and Sagar, arrived in Kraków on Friday, and I showed them around town.  Andy joined us when he was done with work.  I'm glad they really enjoyed seeing Wawel castle and some other parts of the Old Town (perhaps a little too much, as they really took to Polish vodka).

After exploring a little more of the city on Saturday, we left for Zakopane by bus late Saturday afternoon.  Andy's experience from making this trip last year helped the entire process go smoothly.  We have Sarah, who was kind of like Andy's guide on his trip last year, to thank for Andy’s know-how.  She is still providing help!

When we got to Zakopane, we found a place for dinner, and went to bed fairly early.  We wanted plenty of rest for the hiking on Sunday!  Unfortunately, Q had not been getting very much sleep the past couple of nights, so she needed a lot of coffee to keep her going for the weekend.

The 9-kilometer climb to Morskie Oko lake was fairly easy.  It was on the paved road, and the only things we had to watch out for were the horse-drawn wagons that passed by periodically.  The wagons seemed like a good idea for families with strollers or those who are older or disabled, but I couldn’t help but think that some of the people riding were just being lazy.  Maybe I’ve become an endurance event snob…

In any case, the weather was a little warm but generally beautiful.  The lake was just as gorgeous as Andy's pictures were.  I wish I could describe it all with words, but neither those nor photos really do it justice!

We continued hiking around lake, at which point the traveling became very rocky, and got to the foot of what Andy calls the "Eternal Stair,” which would lead us to the upper mountain lake, Czarny Staw (CHAR-nih STAHF).

The “stairs” are maybe a half-mile climb up rocks placed in a vaguely stair-like pattern.  I certainly was the slowest one of the group on this part, and I couldn't help but think of Sam, Frodo, and Gollum going into Mordor as I was climbing.  It was definitely a workout.

The view from the upper lake was worth it.  It also made wading into the cold, clear mountain water feel amazing.

As we were discussing our plans for the hike, Andy and I were getting a bit worried that Quartny and Sagar might make us hike all the way to Slovakia.  This would have added another 3 hours to the hiking, probably.  
Although we had convinced them not to go to Slovakia, our friends were not content to stop at the upper lake.  We had seen some white patches on the mountain from afar, and Q and Sagar were heading around Czarny Staw to settle a debate as to whether it was snow or just some salt deposits.  Andy and I followed after resting a bit.  I was convinced that it couldn't be snow; it was simply too hot, even at our altitude.  I was wrong.

We had hiked a long way, and it was nothing but rocks after we had reached Morskie Oko (the first lake), so my legs were starting to give way on the way back down the Eternal Stair.  Luckily, we stopped to rest and eat some snacks at the inn on the near side of Morskie Oko before we made the roughly two-hour walk back down to the entrance.

Here we are--triumphant hikers!--before we headed back down.

By the time we rode the shuttle bus back to Zakopane proper, we were HUNGRY.  I don't think the food consumed equaled the epic four-person platter Andy and company ate last year, but I had a goodly amount of the region’s famous smoked mountain sheep cheese with my dinner.
When the feasting was over, we stayed out to enjoy the delights of the main strip for a while longer, but most of the shops were closing for the night.  After a good night's rest we tried souvenir shopping again in the morning, with more success.  We departed Zakopane for Kraków about 11 AM on Monday.

The sights of rural Poland on our return journey...

The last bit of fun we could fit in with Q and Sagar was a big main meal on the Main Square and a little help with their final Polish souvenir shopping.  I think they enjoyed their Poland vacation very much, and we certainly enjoyed spending last weekend with them.  But my time in Poland is also coming to an end.


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