We planned our Polish trip completely unaware of World Youth Days, Catholicism’s way of rejuvenating young Catholics about the religion. This week-long event also included a visit from the Pope. This meant that young Catholics from all over the world were in Krakow when we arrived which while fascinating at first, quickly turned to annoyance as this made walking down every street a chore and the decibel level of the city rose to beyond lively. Needing a break from the crowds, we opted for a day trip. From what we read online we decided that Zakopane, a place that is very popular with Poles and other Europeans alike, would be a good way to experience some of Poland’s incredible natural beauty.
Kasprowy Wierch Cable Car for Ultimate Scenery
The morning was foggy and uncertain of rain which might have accounted for, at least in part, why there was no line at the cable car. We bought our round trip tickets and about 5 minutes later we found ourselves riding up through dense fog. We hung on to the occasional clear spot in the cloud that teased us with breathtaking scenery. We were eager to reach the top!
We left the cable car station at the top to a windy and much cooler climate but that fog was still there blocking many of the surrounding mountains. We began to walk and relished the idea that we were traveling through the clouds. Shortly after we began exploring, we looked back and could no longer see the cable car station behind us and our excitement grew.
Knowing that the Slovakian border was somewhere around where we were walking, we began to wonder if we would know when we crossed to Slovakian soil. As we moved through the fog we came to a distinct marker in the form of a cement block covered with colorful graffiti and we wondered if this might be the most subtle border crossing we’ve ever encountered, especially when compared to our walk from Israel to Jordan and back, our ferry ride from Turkey to Greece or even the numerous times we’ve crossed between the USA and Canada.
The fog began to lift revealing the incredibly lush green of the grass and the contour of the mountains against a bright blue sky. The weather seemed to be ever-changing almost as if it were a demonstration of possibility. We watched clouds roll into valleys and up over mountains, while the competing sun broke through at specific points showing off the array of capability from heavenly effects to adding the sparkle on alpine lakes.
We savored every moment of the view, the landscape and the experience with nature, realizing that every type of weather Mother Nature provides is beautiful, powerful and full of awe.
Hiking to Nosy
We took the cable car back down the mountain only to be met by a HUGE line of people waiting to ascend. We thought it would be a good time for a hike and decided on Nosy, which promised more scenic views. After paying a small entrance fee at a kiosk we began our hike in Tatrzański Park Narodowy (Tatra National Park). The path involved a lot of UP but we took our time and were rewarded again and again with beautiful views and we enjoyed the fresh clean air as we climbed. Unlike our first experience of the morning we were not alone on this hike.
When we finally got to the top it was packed with people taking pictures, resting on the rocks and eating lunch. Despite the crowd we managed to find a relatively secluded spot to sit together with our backs to the big rocks where we once again enjoyed a beautiful view.
Hiking down was much easier as it was more of a sloping trail that gradually brought us back to Kuznice. The sun had come out and shown through the big beautiful trees creating a fairytale-like scene. This was my favorite part of the hike.
Being Vegan in the Alps
With an emphasis on local, traditional and very non-vegan dishes such as Poledwica (pork loin), Oscypek (salted, smoked sheep cheese) and Bombolki (yeast biscuit smothered with honey), Zakopane is not the easiest place to be vegan! So we made sure to bring some snacks with us for the hikes and for lunch we went to Grass, located at Weteranów Wojny 2. Although Grass is not a vegan or even vegetarian restaurant, it is the one restaurant in the area which serves vegan pierogi as well as several other vegan dishes.
A very sad aspect of our Zakopane visit as vegans was seeing the enslaved horses forced to haul tourists to and from the cable car station. We watched horse after horse straining to pull cart after cart weighed down by tourist after tourist up the road as cars quickly zipped around them. To come across forced labor in such a beautiful location was a shock and a huge source of disappointment and sadness to say the least! This was their life, all day every day.
Tips for the Ultimate Visit
Crowds in Zakopane are simply par for the course, especially during the summer months. There are, however, ways to avoid them as much as possible. The biggest tip is to get there super early, like at 7am, to be on the first few cable cars going up the mountain. This is not only a way to avoid a long line, but it also will help you to avoid too many people hiking around once up top. If we were to do this again, we would take the very first cable car up and walk the mountain down to the bottom. You will have the whole mountain virtually to yourself.
Busses leave from Krakow starting at 4am to make the two hour drive due south to the mountains. Polski Bus and Info Bus both offer this ride for less than 5 Euros. Once in Zakopane you will still need to take a minibus (confirm the price when you enter but you will pay when you exit) to the Kuznice cable car. Alternatively, you can rent a car and drive the very easy route, which simply involves staying on one main highway (DK7).
If you drive, however, you will have to contend with finding a place to park once in Zakopane/Kuznice. Do NOT park in the parking lot in front of the cable car as this is reserved for taxis and group busses. The closest parking lot is about 2 kilometers before you get to the cable car on the left next to Hotel Murowanica. Pay the attendant in cash and then you can either walk the 2 kms to the cable car or take the bus for less than 2 złoty (pay at the end of the ride). The bus stop is right across the street from the parking lot. If you are extremely early, the busses won’t be full but starting at around 9 or 10am there will not be any room for you, so you will have to walk.
Sometimes you just have to share beautiful natural wonders with others and despite the crowds, we would love to visit this stunning region again.