After taking the two-hour bus to Zakopane, I arrived in the mountains in the early afternoon. Right away, I was off to a bad start. I missed my bus to the hostel and was forced to wait for about an hour and a half for the next one (little did I know it would only take 45 minutes to walk to my hostel).
A little about Zakopane, Poland. . .
Zakopane lies in the extreme south of Poland in the heart of the Tatra mountain range. It is known as Poland’s “Winter Capital” because of its great winter activities opportunities. It is a small mountain town that thrives on its tourist season. Only about 30,000 permanent residents reside there. However, the town is visited by over 2.5 million vacationers annually. Located only 2 hours from either Krakow or Warsaw, it is pretty well situated in between making it an accessible day trip from either larger city.
Activities to do in Zakopane
– Alpine/Cross-Country skiing
After I actually arrived at “Goodbye Lenin Hostel”, my whole trip took on new life, however. There was a long driveway leading up to the hostel through mountain forest, and I just knew this was the right decision to stay here. As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by Gary – the hostel receptionist. He told me only three people were checked in for the night which was exactly what I wanted to hear. I wanted an escape from all the tourists and people for a while.
Gary had been working at the hostel for a month through Workaway; the same program I used in Belgium. I soon learned the entire hostel staff was there through Workaway – how cool! Initially, after talking about travel plans, I thought I would be traveling to Prague with him and Pete (another guy in the hostel I met), but it turns out I changed plans as did they. The rest of the staff was out hiking at that time, so it wasn’t until later that I met them; what a stay that must’ve been for them. He invited me to a staff BBQ that never actually happened but we did manage dinner as a group.
I headed out for my first hike in the Tatra’s shortly after arriving. It was an absolutely gorgeous day. I was in shorts and a t-shirt even though there was still snow on the ground from the week before. At my first chance for laying down on dry land and taking a breather, I did just that and took in the mountain air. It was the exact break from the hectic traveling I needed. Once I got to the peak of the mountain, I did much of the same, except this time I napped with the view of the whole range and a 500ft drop-off only a couple of feet away from where I was laying. I stayed for the sunset then headed back down the mountain.
When I got back to the hostel, the rest of the staff and other hostel-stayers were there. We sat around and talked about travel all night. It was really surreal and I appreciated the laxness of it all, but I had a feeling this kind of night happened quite often around here. Goodbye Lenin Hostel was truly the most unique and genuine hostel experience I’ve ever had and I would 110% recommend it to anyone even if it meant spending a bit more money. However, it was only $10 per night anyway, so it most likely won’t break the budget.
Lake Morskie Oko
After an early night, I had an early morning as I was going to hike to the top of the Tatra’s to see Lake Morskie Oko. It was a long hike to do alone. It was all paved road that cars and horse buggies drove by on all day. There weren’t many vistas to look at; it was mainly just an aisle of spruce trees blocking the views the entire afternoon. I wasn’t expecting a hike like that which made it even longer. I was hoping for some untamed trails and real mountain exploration like the day the night before.
The view at the top was breath-taking (although for whatever reason I wasn’t expecting the lake to be frozen over). I bet it’s even nicer in the spring when you can really see the contrast between the blue lake and green spruces, but the snow-capped mountains were a nice touch.
I rewarded myself at the top in the mountain café with a traditional Polish cabbage stew, Bigos Pieczywo, and a Tyski piwo (Polish beer).
After lunch, I noticed everyone was walking across the frozen lake without a problem, so I decided to do the same. However, I wasn’t so lucky. I obviously wasn’t careful enough because of my first step onto the ice, I went in with both legs knee deep into the freezing water and had to do the 3-hour hike back down the mountain with freezing wet shoes and feet. Regardless, it was remarkable how the hike culminated at the top with the best view of the mountains and the famous lake right in plain sight. It’s like nature tourist attractions were man-made or something.
That night, Pete (Australia), Gary (Manchester), Talina (Brazil), Agga and Mada (Poland) and I decided to celebrate Pete and Gary’s last night at the hostel by going out to the city center to the Piano Bar. It was the deadest environment I had ever experienced in a bar, but somehow it was still fun. We played a game to liven up the mood and had ourselves a decent night.
– Szwagropol Bus Line from Krakow or Warsaw (every 15-20 min) – $3.90
– Average lunch from market – $1.75
– Goodbye Lenin Hostel dorm bunk (skiing off-season) – $8 per night
– Ski Lessons (offered from Goodbye Lenin) – $13 per hour
– Bus from Goodbye Lenin to Morskie Oko – $3 each way
– Tatra National Park Entrance Fee (student fee) – $0.75
– Traditional Polish meal and beer at Morskie Oko mountain café – $5.70
– Pint of beer at Piano Bar in City Center – $1.50
Pro Tip: Free WiFi at the mountain café at Morskie Oko.
Other than adventure activities, there is not much reason to go to Zakopane. However, if you are really craving some time away from the big city frustrations, Zakopane is a perfect alternative.