Tuesday, June 26, 2007


[Dolina Kościeliska]

When travelling, you need to remain flexible given the way circumstances may sometimes demand it.

While I love Zakopane, there are two things about it that can make it difficult: the food and the weather. In a word, the restaurants here suck. They range from mediocre to poor, with a big emphasis on large portions of fatty meat, usually accompanied by lots of cigarette smoke. Last night, after fruitlessly searching the main street for something edible, and even toying in my desparation, with resorting to Pizza Hut, I ended up with a chicken shishkabob.

This morning, I awoke to rain, lots of unending rain. Since my plans were to head out early and take the cable car to the top of Kasprowy Wierch, that was now out of the question. I went downstairs and fixed some breakfast and read more Arendt. I decided to spend the morning doing errands and hoped the weather would improve. I went to the post office and sent myself two packages of materials I'd accumulated (like the handouts at the House of Terror Museum), then I went to the local historical museum (all in Polish), and finally, to the store, where I bought some spaghetti sauce for lunch.

Who knew that Uncle Ben's has a line of spaghetti sauces. I bought the bolognese. Unfortunately, this seems to be a recipe for bologonese that doesn't include meat. But it was filling and tasted better than anything I could've gotten in the restaurants on main street.

After I finished lunch, I noticed it had stopped raining, and there were even a few spots of blue between the clouds. I grabbed my bag and caught a bus to Dolina Kościeliska.

This is a beautiful valley, between the high peaks of the Tatra Mountains. You can take horse-drawn carts here too, but the trail isn't steep and I wanted to walk. After a few minutes it started to drizzle, so I pulled the hood of my windbreaker over my head and kept on trekking.

After about 40 minutes I reached a turning point to something called "Jaskinia Mrozna." I remember my guide book said something about caves in the hills used by bandits, and since the sign said it was only 15 minutes away, I figured it would be a nice detour.

Only it turned out to be 25 minutes of steep climbing. At the top was the entrance to this cave. There was a guide giving a lecture in Polish, but a British family, whose daughter in law is Polish, told me that all he said was this cave had been discovered 80 years ago, that it's called the freezing cave because it's so cold inside, but that there isn't any ice, that it's the only cave that's electrically lit, that it takes about 25 minutes to walk through, and that at points we'll need to duck our heads.

Ok, I thought, why not. The cave is quite cold and damp, and sometimes the walls of the cave are at a steep angle, requiring people to walk at that angle to pass. Sometimes, the ceiling got so low, I had to crouch down and sort of hop forward (since the floor was too damp and muddy to crawl on).

[Jakinia Mrozna, at one of the broader points]

Eventually we came out the other side. It was amazing how much warmer it was outside. At first I thought it was because it had been so cold in the cave, but the British woman pointed out that no, it was because the sun was now shining. While we had been in the cave the weather had cleared out and it was now gorgeous.

On the hike back down, the Polish daughter in law told me that the cable car to Kasprowy Wierch is down for modernization, so that there's no way to the top except by foot (and hiking down it was bad enough last year). She said that they were going rafting tomorrow on the Dunajec river, something I'd wanted to do too but hadn't had the time for.

Back in the valley, it was another 1 and a half hike up through the valley, as it wound past cliffs, forests, and meadows, with periodic bridges over the stream. Finally, I reached the Ornak, a lodge run by the park service that provides food and drink to tired hikers.

[Someone else's photo of the Ornak]

I got some hot tea with lemon and a slice of Szarlotka (an apple cake that has a thin bottom and top crusts, and is filled with lots and lots of apple slices). After I nice rest, I headed back down for the 1 hour 50 minute walk back to the bus stop.

The walk was so beatiful; just variations of green in the grass, the trees and the hills. The only sound that of birds, the rush of the wind in the woods, and the similar but distinct sound of the water flowing over stones. Here's another shot of the trail:

[Passing through meadows]

I reached the bus stop around 6pm, very tired, but very happy. Between the six hours of hiking yesterday and the five today, I think I have finally worked off the meal I had at Gundel.

I took the bus to the last stop so I could visit the tourist office. I decided to book the rafting trip tomorrow. They tell me that if the weather is bad and the trip is cancelled, I'll get my money back (we'll see -- or hopefully, we won't).

Now the only thing left is to decide what to do about dinner. Given my choices, I think my best bet is Roosters, the Polish equivalent of Hooters. I'll let you know tomorrow if that was a good or bad choice.

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