Zakopane Weekend Break
I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't been to many places in Poland. I don't really have many excuses for it, apart from being a lazy fecker and the lack of willing travel companions.Zakopane was on my hit list (a mere 111km away from Kraków) and a friend was keen to see it too. I'd heard that Zakopane was commercialised and often crammed with tourists. Well, living in Kraków I'm used to that, so I booked a place on PolskiBus and some cheap accommodation in a centrally-located hostel, which reassuringly went by the name of TopHostel.
Our guide book was ten years or so past its sell-by date, so I will present a more recent (non-definitive) review of the Poland's winter capital [pauses for the cynical laughter to subside...]
Quick and simple. Polski bus got us there 20 minutes ahead of schedule (ie in just under two hours) in relative comfort and for a very reasonable 16 zloty). The bus station is fifteen minutes or so walk from our the hostel we had chosen. Well, that would be fifteen minutes in normal conditions, but despite the temperature outside being a sunny 5 degrees (above zero) the pavements were in places very slippery. My winter boots are relatively grippy, but my drinking buddy didn't have such luck. Thankfully falling on her arse as a result of complete loss of traction was only to happen once throughout the weekend break and we managed to avoid A&E (narrowly at least).
Where to stay
This was my first stay in a hostel. I cheated though. Sleeping in the same room as half a dozen strangers didn't really appeal, so I booked a private room. This way I would have the social benefits of mixing with the fellow hostellers without having to sleep with them. The hostel is located on the main street of Zakopane, a few steps away from MacDonald's. You may find this hard to believe, but I didn't actually visit that MacDonald's. Yes, you heard me right. No burgers for me. My room wasn't pleasant enough. The bed was very comfortable. It wasn't until later that night I was to find out that neither the light nor the electric heater work.
After a quick wardrobe-change we set off to an old church and cemetery to do the first batch of many photos. The church didn't look very old, but the backdrop of the cemetery and the fading light of day made for some very nice photos. After a quick wander round the market and the main street we headed to a pub for the first of many mulled wines. Nice, but not cheap. "Next time I'll bring a flask of the stuff," I vowed.
Where to eat
Next stop was a restaurant, where we were able to have something which isn't readily available in the rest of Poland. What exotic foodstuffs am I the hell on about I hear you ask... Well, nothing that exotic really. Lamb. Yes, believe it or nay, but lamb isn't that popular in Poland. Occasionally you might find it in a kebab. So, lamb and dumplings was on the menu. It wasn't amazing considering the price, but it filled a hole.
I'm sure that in the middle of summer Zakopane is a kicking place to go out clubbing. However, after a quick pit stop at the hotel we grabbed the Scrabble board (and still armed with my camera) heading off to find a bar where we could play Scrabble and have a beer. The bar we had chosen was "Legend of the Bat". I can't in all honest recommend you go there for a drink. Well, that's not strictly true. Go there for a drink if somebody else is paying for it. Beers are a stonking 10 zloty a pop (admittedly you can get a shot fruit syrup added for free if you're that way inclined). When paying so much money for a drink you would think that you'd get comfortable surroundings and an amicable barman. Nope. The seats were hard, it wasn't exactly warm and the owner has a reputation for being the most miserable fecker around. Anyway, we were there to have a few games of Scrabble and drink beer. Mission accomplished.
We got back to the hostel well before midnight. The communal kitchen/lounge was full of people and the balcony was full of smokers. I sloped off to my private room in what seemed to be an unoccupied wing of the hostel and my friend went to her shared dorm. I slept fairly well (the alcohol probably helped there) apart from being woken up at 5am by some drunken revellers out on the street. Fortunately I managed to get back to sleep relatively quickly and was able to meet my friend in the communal kitchen and lounge just before 9am. Her night's sleep wasn't so good. The cause; snorers. The bane of hostellers everywhere. Breakfast wasn't particular impressive. Continental breakfast, so I shouldn't have expected too much. But it did leave me wondering which continent they were referring to.
Gold in them thar hills
After breakfast we set off up the mountain. Using the funicular railway. It was the weekend, so tickets were half price, making them a more reasonable 9 zloty for the return trip. The view from the top of the mountain was quite nice. And we wandered around for a bit taking advantage of the photo opportunities that were on hand, whilst at the same time resisting the attempts of people to extract money from us (which was pretty much everyone we had met during the course of the weekend).
Back at Base
After another round of mulled wines we took the train back to the foot of the mountain, through the market and back to the hostel. By this time we were mighty hungry and made use of the kitchen facilities back at the hostel (even though we had technically checked out). The pestopasta cooked up by my friend went down well. Chilling out for a few hours I was able to read the local newspaper while my friend sorted out some of the weekend's photos before attempting to have a power nap to catch up on the sleep lost due to the snorers. Her sleep was punctuated by the cleaner's vacuuming and the sound of the hostel owner watching TV. The hostel owner is a funny guy. He can see the positive in anything.
"You didn't sleep well?" His answer: "At least it gave you an opportunity to feel how comfortable your bed is".
"People singing in the street at 5am?" "Think of it as a free language lesson".
The hostel was clean and pleasant, the location was very good too. Having a private room was a good decision from me. We set off along the icy pavements to the bus stop. I plan to return there one day (to both the hostel and Zakopane). During the summer it would make a nice base for hiking and there is still that MacDonald's to be "tested out".