Since I’m extremely behind in writing on this blog and my time in Poland is drawing to an end, there will be an onslaught of posts in the next few days. This post – the Polish highlands.
After our very demanding touring schedule while we were in Krakow, we were given a nice little break in the Polish highlands in a town called Zakopane! Zakopane is an incredibly beautiful town located high up in the Tatra Mountains that form a natural border between Poland and Slovakia. Driving into the mountains took us through a lot of countryside and what, in my mind before we came, I had deemed Poland. Beautifully green fields with idyllic cottages scattered about. The entire drive was breathtaking.
The town of Zakopane itself is a tourist attraction. On the main street that runs from one end of the small town to the other, you can find shops selling postcards and souvenirs for tourists (most consist on some sort of sheep or wool as that is what the region is known for), ice cream and cotton candy, a strange cheese that is apparently a delicacy in Poland, but one that you could not pay me a million dollars to eat (the thought of its taste even now makes me sick to my stomach), and bunches of other knick-knacks. There are also people dressed up as cartoon characters ranging from Winnie the Pooh to Hello Kitty for kids to stop and take their picture with. On side streets and in parks, there are amusement park rides and games for the whole family to enjoy.
The area is apparently very popular in the wintertime for it’s skiing and ski jumping. You can still see the ski jumps during the summer (but of course, no snow) and you can even slide down them on some sort of device that is safe (maybe, maybe not?) during the summer months.
Another popular thing during the summer is hiking through the Tatra Mountains, which boast beautiful views of Zakopane if you make it up to the top. A few of us decided to take the hike to the top of one of the smaller mountains. After almost four hours of straight uphill rocks and trees (but beautiful views of the valleys anytime we reached a clearing), we made it to the top. It was so worth the trek!
Zakopane is a town full of wood. Not only are there trees everywhere (which there are), but everything is made out of wood. The houses, the steps, the silverware, the plates and anything else you can think of. We visited a small, rural town just outside Zakopane and went to the workshop of a wood carver. This man’s work was absolutely amazing! Such intricate details in all his pieces and all out of wood! He explained to us the style of house in the mountain region. Roofs are extremely slanted because of all the snow that falls during the winter months here in Poland. With these slanted roofs, the weight of the snow doesn’t get as heavy and it protects the house and people inside.
Another thing I noticed was how new and clean all the wood houses look. They don’t appear weathered at all, yet, according to our guide, these houses are hundreds of years old. So why does the wood look so fresh? A tradition in these parts of the highlands has the women of the household scrub the wooden sides of the house once a year until the house is perfectly clean. If one has a clean house in the highlands, they say one has a good, strong woman.
As we said goodbye to Zakopane and the mountains, we took one last trip through the beautiful landscape. We all piled onto two rafts on the Dunajec River (which forms the border between Poland ad Slovakia) and floated down the river as our Polish guides steered us down the river and entertained us with stories and jokes (ones that sometimes didn’t quite translate in English).