I've probably made it pretty obvious by now that I enjoy doing things in nature, particularly when mountains are involved. So when I heard of a mountain town just two hours south of Krakow called Zakopane, I couldn't resist. I grabbed my green sneakers, grabbed my friend Blake, headed over to the bus station, and off we went.
When we stepped off the bus, we were greeted to green trees, fresh air, but unfortunately a lot of other visitors. Too many in my opinion.. Usually I go to nature to be away from the noise and stress of the city in order to spend some time by myself, but this place seemed crowded. That said, I soon realized that this was by no means a standard tourist crowd. After about ten minutes, I began to realize something. I had only heard one language being spoken: Polish. This crowd wasn't comprised of hordes of North American and Western European tourist groups as I previously assumed. Instead, it was entirely of made of Poles, out for the day to enjoy the natural beauty of their country. Suddenly I felt more at ease as I drank a cup of coffee and headed up the slopes.
While there were several peaks to choose from, Blake and I decided on one called Mt. Giewont, which, as we were told, was particularly scenic and provided an amazing view of the surrounding country from the top. The sign at the start of the trail read 3 hours and 30 minutes to the summit. We began to ascend, first on a semi oaved road, then a dirt one, and finally a small dusty path with rocks and tree roots (just as it should be). As we went higher and higher, the swarms of people soon disappeared and nature began to take over.
Two hours had passed and the climb was not particularly difficult, but that didn't matter because the surrounding area was incredible. Tall green trees sprouted in every direction while streams of clear blue water tumbled down the rocks alongside the trail. Every so often, the canopy of leaves gave way to a clearing that revealed the side of the mountain and the sprawling country below. It was hard to imagine that just a little while ago we were surrounded by people. I, for one, gladly welcomed the change.
As we neared the final ascent to the summit, we were surprised to find a fair amount of people, including a group of nuns in Nike trainers, all waiting in line to climb up the small, narrow pathway to the peak. It was just wide enough for one person, and was a bit technical, so going fast was out of the question. In total, it took about 20 minutes until we got our turn, but it was completely worth it. The mountain stood alone and the sky was clear, allowing us to see for miles across the Polish lands. It was both a calm and exciting experience, and I decided to celebrate by eating my lunch (which consisted of a sandwich and banana) on the summit.
After we descended, it became clear to me that when I do come back to Poland, this is a place I need to revisit. I did not know it at the time, but apparently there are quite a few hostels and guest houses in the town, allowing you to stay for a few days and wake up to the fresh mountain air. It is absolutely all worth it and because of it's proximity to Krakow, it ix very easily accessible.