It was only a two hour drive in the morning between Krakow and Zacopane and although the temperature was dropping rapidly (there was a high of 10C expected in Zacopane that day), the weather seemed to have temporarily cleared. This was good news as Zacopane is known as a ski resort town in Poland and one of the highlights, according to our guide, was to either walk up or take the gondola up the small mountain to enjoy the views from the top.
Upon arriving in Zacopane, our guide once again gave us a quick tour of the town which consisted mostly one main pedestrian-only street which led past dozens of cute shops and cafes, through an open-air market and to the gondola up the hill. One of the local foods is a smoked cheese and its sold in beautifully moulded shapes – in fact they look more like wood carvings on their stands than like cheese!
Feeling the need for some exercise after all of our heavy meals, I convinced a group of my new friends to hike up with me, rather than take the gondola. To say it was a disaster would be an overstatement but it certainly wasn’t the easy afternoon walk we had hoped. The rain had made the path quite slippery and it was very steep – basically a 30 minute walk up a ski hill! By the time we reached the top, we were more than ready for lunch and had all agreed we’d be taking the gondola down. I opted for another plate of perogi to refuel and even allowed myself a bit of dessert – a delicious rich pastry, that tasted like a donut and was covered in cinnamon and sugar but was about the size and shape of a lampshade with rings of pastry in a spiral. Almost as nice as the taste was the temperature and the dessert warmed me enough to enjoy the stunning view to snowcapped mountains in the distance, and down to the little town of Zacopane below.
Later that afternoon, after we had all split off to do a bit of shopping on our own, the rain returned with a vengeance. While at first everyone on the trip was annoyed the bad weather had returned, just before dinner – as we were all walking to our restaurant – we realized what the rain had brought. Although we’d just received the wet weather, the temperature was low enough that the entire surrounding foothills received a heavy snow. The mountains which had been green around us before were now a stunning white and in the sunset, with the snowcapped hills all around, Zacopane was even more gorgeous than before.
But nature’s beauty was going to take a backseat as we headed into the local restaurant our guide had introduced only as “The Meat Palace.” If I thought my pork knuckle was a medieval feast, that was nothing to what was about to appear in front of us in Zacopane. A huge platter, bearing at least 14 different types of meat, arrived for every 8 people and even with 8 people per platter, we couldn’t finish the pork, lamb, fish, beef, veal and sausage before us. Weighing a good 5lbs more than we had when entering the restaurant, we made our way through the crisp night air back to the hostel.
The next morning saw us loading into the bus bright and early for the long day of driving ahead. We’d be leaving Poland, driving through Slovakia (where we wouldn’t actually be spending much time) and into Hungary and Budapest by mid-afternoon. Although all of the countries on the trip were areas under Soviet control, it was interesting to see the variations on how much or little reminders of communism had been expelled from the various towns. As we crossed the border into Slovakia, our guide pointed out the light posts, all of which still had loudspeakers attached, from which the Soviet national anthem was played daily, along with other announcements from Soviet leaders.
We passed too quickly through Slovakia, stopping only briefly for lunch where I had a tasty chicken noodle soup both to warm up and to eat lightly after our massive meal the night before. After lunch it was back in the bus and onwards into Hungary and Budapest.