A vist to Zakopane
On Thursday of last week, we drove to Zakopane (zah-koe-PAHN-eh). You've never heard of it, right? Read on!
Poland has no natural borders to the east and west, which has always been a problem for them since Germany and Russia have historically nudged them from each side. However, there are natural borders to the north and south. The northern border is the Baltic Sea, and the southern border is marked by a river and High Tatra mountains, which are part of the same chain as the Swiss Alps. These gorgeous mountains are snow-capped year round.
Zakopane is a major tourist destination in Poland. In winter, it's a ski resort, and in the summer the mountains are a great place to hike. Zakopane has even made a bid for the Olympics, but I don't expect to see them held here in my lifetime--the infrastructure is just too weak. Right now, Zakopane can only be reached from Krakow (which has the nearest airport) by a two-lane road that is always clogged with travelers, and most of the accommodations in town are not hotels, but guest rooms in individual homes (which advertise if they include private bathrooms, so you know some of them don't).
I haven't been down there for several years, so it was lovely to visit again. It's always fun to shop in the markets, where it is possible to buy hand-crafted items that reflect the mountain traditions. Lots of wood carvings, wool slippers and sheepskins, and table linens.
The architecture in this region is different from elsewhere in Poland. Mostly, they use a lot of wood, which is rare in the city, and sometimes the wood is elaborately embellished with carving. Even new buildings are done in this style, and I am astonished at the work that must go into it.
The kids played at a playground made from interestingly-shaped pieces of wood. The whole thing was surrounded by this whimsical fence.
It was much colder than it should be in June, but we had a good time, and I'd like to go back this summer and do some hiking. Certainly, I hope we don't wait another four years before we visit again, since it only takes a little more than an hour to drive from Krakow (although you wouldn't want to go on the weekend unless you enjoy enormous, choking crowds of people).
I bought a lovely platter, hand-carved from a large slice of wood, so at least I will have a memento of the mountain culture here in the city.
If you ever have the chance to visit us in Krakow, Zakopane is definitely worth a visit as well. The mountains are truly stunning, even if you don't want to climb, ski, or hike.