I left Poland over 10 years ago, before we joined the European Union, I had friends that had already moved over to the UK and I felt that there were more opportunities for me over there. I had the basics of English, but I worked hard to learn. I took jobs to pay my way and now I have recently finished a 3 year photography course something I do not think I could have thought about doing back then.
Every year I try to get back home to see my family and go hiking with friends. We try and get a week in the mountains hiking planning a route that includes good days walk to our next hostel and evening meal. The group comprises of three friends and me. Our destination this year was the Tatra Mountains sat in the National Park that lay in the South of Poland bordering Slovakia. They cover an area of 750 km² and have a very diverse climate as they act as a weather barrier in the area due to their high peaks. In the summer temperatures surpass 30 degrees Celsius, dropping to -40 in the winter it rains for two thirds of the year “rather like living in London”. Last year we met up with the aim of going to the resort of Zakopane, to climb one or two of the many peaks the area has. The area is famous now as a ski resort in the winter and with hikers through the summer situated in the western Tatra range.
We left Krakow around 11 am. The journey took about 3 hours winding through beautiful countryside with small farms, large wooded areas making our way up to Zakopane, we had wanted to explore the town as none of us had been there before spending the warm afternoon exploring the main street of Zakopane called Krupówki where a traditional market is held daily in the summer selling everything. The local crafts made from straw are common and well made these items are found in many Polish homes even today the traditional Christmas tree is decorated with straw ornaments. A must try are the smoked cheese of the area made from sheep milk called “oscypek” and a wide range of restaurants selling local produced traditional meals such as sliced potatoes covered in herbs and locally smoked sausages. As a starter a seasoned beetroot soup called “barszcz” is not to be missed. The restaurants are large, warm and surprisingly friendly, they are decorated with wooden interiors, furnished with local crafts and walls covered in animal hide.
The next day we climb to the summit of Rysk 2,500m above sea level, the views were breathtaking and really are a sight to behold, feeling the sun and wind on your skin, trying to take the view in, knowing you are at the highest point in Poland, it really gives you a sense of having achieved something. The evening meals refuelled us for the next day adventures, which were full days spent doing slightly easier routes and taking in the lakes left in the mountains from the ice age including Morskie Oko Lake. We had an encounter on one of the days: From a distance we saw a bear break cover, it had probably smelt us down wind and not wanting to meet, it headed off to a safer place, it still exciting and reminds us how vulnerable we are to nature. The area has much wild life from the wild boar that roams the area to the wild lynx, deer and goat. Not forgetting that we still have wild bison in the East of Poland.
The great thing about having been hiking many times is now I have acquired through the years an understanding of what is needed for these trips and how the weather can throw anything at you. So being prepared for everything is the motto and a good pair of boots is a must. Spending time with friends out in the open walking talking, trying to achieve a common goal is rewarding. The highs of that peek you have just scaled, sometimes heading off track not seeing people for hours just being part of the group. Sharing everything from food to disappointment when the weather turns on you and the black skies mean you will spend the rest of the day wet and cold.
I would say that hiking is not for the light hearted but is fun and rewarding and each year brings the four of us back together. For a week we catch up, laugh, eat and drink but most of all we reconnect with each other and nature.
WRITTEN BY PETER KWIECIEN