Zakopane 3: Morskie Oko

Morskie Oko is the largest lake in the Tatras, a bus ride and 2-mile upward hike along a road from Zakopane. This morning was cold but clear. Roger had a fantastic day. I was in bed eating banana and crackers. I assume I have the bug he had last week.

There is a “hut” on the shore which isn’t actually a hut.

Even on a cold day, there was a large crowd, young and old:

The lake is still frozen about a foot thick with a path across it:

but there are also oopsies:

Roger crossed the lake and climbed the other side toward the next lake as far as his boots, sans crampons, would hold:

Other vistas he saw:

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Tomorrow is our last day in Zakopane. When planning the trip, we estimated at least a week here, but snow at 1,300 meters put a damper on hiking the Tatras. We will probably go east to lower mountains.

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Zakopane 2

Today was better than we had anticipated. We had assumed that we would spend the day in town, but we soon got restless and decided to walk back up to the National Park office. Once there, we decided to walk on to Kuźnice, then ended up hiking a ways into the woods. I don’t know how far we hiked, but we walked a fair bit of the day.

It rained with a bit of sleet all day, but we were not the only ones out in it. Old and young took the weather in stride:

At Koźnice, the trail into the woods was well-built and beautiful:

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And

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This was the only flower we saw in the woods:

Had we continued a bit farther, we would have come out of the woods to what is supposed to be an excellent view, but as you can see, there were no far views to be had today. Also, we were beginning to get chilled, so we came down to Koźnice for a huge bowl of hot soup.

Sometimes, particularly when in cities, I feel a bit self-conscious clomping around in my hard-core leather hiking boots, but today I was quite thankful that my toes were warm and dry.

Back in Zakopane, we started looking for houses in the “Zakopane Style,” the work of one architect in the late 1800’s. These houses are large wooden structures with ornamentation, such as this:

I was more taken by smaller, earlier houses that remind me of farm houses in Romania:

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One of the larger houses is the Museum of the Zakopane Style. Much of interest to woodworkers:

Different woods in the floor (not stained), and some monstrously wide boards:

Interesting door:

Wood carving everywhere:

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Note how the mirror surround echoes the unusual window treatment:

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After a warm dinner, we retreated to our warm room. Roger found a bit of extra warmth for his head.

Tomorrow, hopefully clearer weather for a more proper hike.

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Zakopane

Today we traveled by bus about two hours south to Zakopane. The trip was about as painless as it could possibly have been, and cheap. In retrospect, perhaps we should have stopped somewhere else first, but we are OK with being here.

Why the reservation? One, it is May Day and the place is packed. Two, the weather may not be good for hiking for several days. We had been warned about the May Day crowds, but the significance slipped our minds.

The Tatras are spectacular. Zakopane is a resort at their base, catering to 2 million visitors per year, mostly Polish. Think Jackson, Wyoming, but more geared toward pedestrians. It can get a bit tacky:

but there is some interesting architecture ripe for exploring.

I found this sculpture on the street,

the first I’ve ever seen which included a cell phone:

We discovered Polish cheese today, actually before we left Kraków. For lunch I had a “Swiss Cutlet with ham, oscypkiem and tomato,” in part to find out what oscypkiem was, given that it had no translation.

What I got looked like Chicken Cordon bleu with a slice of fresh tomato in the middle (nothing frozen about this–fresh made). The oscypkiem turned out to be a smoked Polish cheese which was quite delicious.

In Zakopane, a man was frying up little pancake-like things and topping them with currant jelly. Imagine our surprise that it was the same cheese. Then in the market, we saw stall after stall after stall selling this cheese. It can be from cow or sheep or mixed, smoked or unsmoked. I am looking forward to having it for breakfast tomorrow.

Cheese stalls:

Rolls of cheese and the little pancakes (in the bag)

When we got to our room, I took a 500 and a 200 bill from my money belt to pay the 639 zloty bill for four nights. The hostess spoke no English, but made it clear (politely) that something was not right. She called her husband, who told me that I could pay with credit card or Euros? I was dumbfounded. They don’t take their own currency? Then I glanced at the notes again–duh–I had offered Norwegian Kroner. We had a good laugh.

Zakopane has a noticeable steady rather steep slope. Our room is at the bottom. The park office is at the top, about two miles up. We got settled into our room about 3 and learned that the park office closed at 4, so off we trotted up the hill. When we found the office at 3:45, it had already closed. The good part was that the experience didn’t seem to faze Roger–he outwalked me as usual and appears to be recovered from his malaise.

Tomorrow we will probably explore Zakopane.

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Nowa Huta

Today’s focus was Nowa Huta, a city of 200,000, now a suburb of Kraków, designed by the Communists as housing for workers in a large steel mill– “Planned Community” on steroids. We did not expect to see the broad boulevards and parks surrounding rather tasteful apartment blocks–better looking than many we have seen.

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The Ark Church of Nowa Huta is like no other I have ever seen. It got its nickname because it looks like an overturned boat.

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The church has an interesting history. At first, there was no Catholic Church in Nowa Huta and the Communists weren’t keen on there being one. Each year for Christmas, Bishop Karol Wojtyla, the future John Paul II, would hold a Christmas Eve mass. Someone erected a wooden cross and whenever it was torn down he would replace it. This church was the result of their efforts. Pope John Paul II stands on the steps.

On the way to the church, we passed a small war museum. We weren’t expecting much, but there were some moving displays.

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As a seamstress myself, I was fascinated by the uniforms–the first I have ever seen anywhere, even from the American Civil War–that looked hastily made. Note the imperfect stitching on the sleeve.

As we left the museum, I caught a glimpse of Poland’s future. May it be as bright as her eyes.

Our next destination was the air museum at Poland’s first airfield near Nowa Huta, but first we had to find it. It was on the map a ways up the main highway. This trek would be a problem in the US, but not here where biking lanes and walking paths are the norm.

We passed an enormous statue.

only to find ourselves peering into the back gate of the museum with no way to get in.

Some young men told us we had to go back to the main road to get to the entrance. We got lost again before we found it.

Luck was with us, though. The museum as open later than we thought and we had an hour to peruse the planes. Most were Russian.

This passenger jet started life as a bomber.

This was a jet-engine crop duster.

This F-5E was captured by the North Vietnamese from the South Vietnamese in 1975 and brought to Poland for research.

On the way back to our hostel, we found this unusual monument to a famous painter.

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Tomorrow, south to Zakopane and the Tatras, even though there will be rain and snow.

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Kraków

We first visited Kraków in March, 2008, on our first real European trip. Since then, cobblestones and medieval architecture have unfortunately come to seem a bit ordinary, but Kraków has not lost its charm.

Roger was a bit under the weather, so I explored alone. My first find just around the corner from our hostel was a lunch bar reminiscent of the Communist era “milk bars” run by the government to give the workers cheap but good places to eat. This place lives up to its heritage. This is a $4 meal that tasted as good as it looks:

Next was a museum displaying the interior of a merchant’s home. As a woodworker, I was most interested in the furnishings with their inlays and carvings:

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There was lace in the making:

and table legs similar to ones I have made myself:

I passed by the Cloth Hall in the main square. This building took my breath away when I first saw it. In law school, I was fascinated by the “law merchant,” the birth of our contract and commercial law that we take for granted today. This is one of the places it was born.

Then I headed south toward the Jewish Quarter and Schindler’s factory. I passed the oldest church in Kraków, built in the 11th century.

It survived the 1241 Tatar invasion, but it did not survive the Baroque era unscathed.

As is so often the case, I found some jewels by walking instead of riding. For example, I did not expect to see this:

Of course I had to step into what appears to be a bar that will open in a few weeks. The owners were delighted to show off to an American who lives near Route 66 and recognizes the cars:

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I had a strong emotional reaction to this simple memorial. For me, it was more powerful than anything I’ve seen in a museum. Just a simple, careworn house

With a memorial plaque which reads, “In memory of the Rosak family. Residents of Kazimierz 1633 – 1941.”

The museum in Schindler’s factory was more generally about the Jewish Ghetto and its extermination than just Schindler. The museum was better than most. I will not easily forget the smells or the sounds or these children’s puppets:

By evening, Roger was well enough to go with me to the underground museum. A large area of the main square was excavated in 2005, but covered over in 2008 when we were first here. Now it is a museum displaying, among other treasures, 14th century potholes and wheel ruts. The more things change, the more they are the same.

Tomorrow: More of Kraków.

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Norway

This year’s foreign trip was shaped by a young relative’s Confirmation ceremony in Bergen, Norway. We attended her older sister’s ceremony three years ago. Both were memorable.

The Confirmation for both boys and girls comes at age 15 after a course of serious study; it is seen as a rite of passage to adulthood and is celebrated with a public ceremony and family rituals.

One ritual is the parents summarizing the child’s childhood, personality traits and accomplishments. Fitting songs are made up and performed. Gifts are given. And food is served–lots of it, some of it quite traditional like this cakes (which happens to be sharing the table with an American apple pie):

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Our Confirmant chose seafood for her feast:

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Both girls wore their traditional dresses. These have been handed down several generations and needed a bit of alteration. I felt quite privileged to observe and participate to a small degree in this task.

Today we flew to Kraków on Norwegian Airlines, an absolutely flawless flight. Old Town has lots of tourists, excellent cheap food, but no nano SIM card for my phone. Tomorrow, I will try cutting down a micro SIM with toenail clippers.

We will spend three nights here before heading to the mountains. It should come as no surprise that they call to us.

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Since Last Year

When we returned home from Montenegro in June, 2014, it was time to put the dehydrator in high gear preparing backpacking food for two weeks in Titcomb Basin, Wyoming, with Roger’s brother.

It is a healthy 12+ mile hike into the Titcomb area with full pack, so we were glad we were already in shape. An outfitter brought in the extra supplies that allowed us the luxury of staying two weeks at our favorite campsite with this view:

and a short walk from this.

and close water from a hidden spring.

The trip’s excitement was a young man with a medical emergency. Brother-in-law’s satellite phone allowed his wife to call for evacuation and she stayed with us to hike out the next morning. We were glad to be able to offer her a spot in our tent for the night.

Hiking out was a challenge–rain, sleet and snow.

No rest for the weary. In a few weeks we were off to Vancouver, BC, then Zion NP and Bryce, then our final major destination of the year the Grand Canyon.

Observation Point in Zion:

was worth the effort getting there:

Other special places:

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The Grand Canyon was the most special of all. When we first went to the bottom in 2013, I declared that this must not be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We have decided that we will return each year as long as we are able. Mid-November appears to be a good time for us–not crowded, cool.

This year we were able to get last-minute permits for 4 nights: Bright Angel-Cottonwood-Cottonwood-Bright Angel. We took a day trip to the North Rim from Cottonwood, thus our trip was rim-to-rim-to-rim. Not bad for a couple of old fogies. The amazing part was that it did not particularly tire us. We could have done more.

We celebrated with a steak dinner at Phantom Ranch. At about $50 each, this was the most expensive meal we have ever eaten. It was worth every penny.

The inner canyon is a spectacular place like no other and nothing like the rim. Photos do not do it justice, but we tried:

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The early months of the calendar year are when we normally turn our attention to the yearly foreign trip. This year, though, my woodworking genes stepped into high gear. This van that I had coveted for so long in Europe finally crossed the Atlantic and found its way to my driveway:

It is destined for, and is well on its way to becoming, a camper van–our “Old Age Retirement Home.” As long as one of us can drive, we will be able to go where there are no motel rooms. In four months, we have insulation, ceiling, walls, floor, and about half of the cabinetry ready for installation. And it has three of its four windows. You haven’t lived until you’ve taken a jigsaw to the side of your new vehicle:

Ah, but what about the European trip? I write this in a hostel room in Kraków. We normally don’t carry guidebooks because we know them so well. This time we haven’t even read them. We will be fine.

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Going Home: 24-25 June

I did not leave the Balkans eagerly. I miss my friends, my cats, my woodworking, and a few amenities such as clean clothes every day and cotton underwear, but I could start again and do the whole trip over. When I get home, I will read my blog.

One thought sustained us as we prepared to leave Cetinje: After a drought of more than three weeks, this night we would have milk. Fresh. Pasteurized. Homogenized. Cold. Milk.

We spent the 32-km ride to Podgorica standing in the front aisle of the bus. Views across the mountains were spectacular, but we had to bend over to see. As we entered Podgorica, we saw one last symbolic horse and wagon. It will be a while before we see another.

Then poof, we were in Vienna. Seat belts. Fire Codes. The 21st century. When we were here in 2008, we visited Hunterwasser’s architectural whimsy and the Vienna Woods. Nothing else demanded our attention, so this time we just found dinner, some outstanding gelato, and Fresh. Pasteurized. Homogenized. Milk.

Now as we fly to the US, some observations:

On this trip, I have slept in about 40 inexpensive beds. All were immaculately clean. Almost none had the sheet(s) tucked in.

Only three were uncomfortable: Thessaloniki, Kotor and Vienna. In each case, it was a matter of trying too hard with squishy soft stuff instead on an ordinary mattress.

It will be a while before I eat another piece of bread with butter and jelly. Continental breakfast sucks. I will, however, sorely miss Shopska Salad–tomato, cucumber, onion, olives and a creamy, mild cheese.

We had to be careful when discussing foods with the locals. When someone said, “This is a traditional dish made only here. You won’t find it anywhere else in the world, not even in other parts of our country,” we didn’t say we’d already had the same dish half a dozen places already.

Ethnic pride and identity were evident everywhere we went and irrespective of arbitrary borders imposed by governments. Some people, including border agents, seemed to just ignore the border. We are lacking several stamps in our passports.

Imagine traveling where there are no postcards for sale. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the lack of tourist infrastructure sometimes made getting around easier. Buses may run at odd times from odd places, or there may not even be a bus, but just say where you want to go and the locals will make sure you get there.

Our monetary goal was $100/day for the two of us on location. In other words, all expenses from landing in Athens to departing Vienna, not including airfare or expenses in the US.

The entire trip was cash from ATM’s. The credit card never left the money belt. I have a separate travel account, so calculation is easy. $8,164 over 80 days is $102 per day.

Accommodations averaged very close to €30 ($40) per night. Most were €30, a few under, a few over. All but a few were private room with bath: some had kitchen or kitchen privileges. Most of the time, it would have been possible to go cheaper, but we didn’t feel the need to. I never negotiated a price.

The hostel room in Vienna was by far the most expensive at €50 and the bathroom was down the hall. I could have avoided this overnight layover, but that would have meant a very early departure coupled with the time change. At our age, we don’t handle 30-hour days very well.

Budgeting food was seldom an issue, though the Euro exchange rate really sucked. The worst part for me was when we needed to share entrees and Roger’s tastes are more limited than mine. The best part was that most of the time we had excellent meals in surroundings more elegant than we ever have at home.

Greece was by far the most expensive country, and we would consider it expensive even were we not comparing it with the other countries on this trip. In particular, transportation in Greece was a killer. It was not unusual to spend €30-40 ($40-55) on a pair of bus tickets, and then there was the €112 ($150) queasy ferry ride from Santorini to Crete. That put a big dent in our $100 budget. Fortunately, the other countries smoothed it out.

My favorite moment: approaching the village of Limar in Albania. I cried with joy. It had been a longtime goal to hike to an isolated village like this, and somehow my first glimpse of Limar fit the mental image I had carried for years.

According to Roger’s GPS records, we hiked more than 200 miles on this trip and ascended more than 30,000 feet, mostly with full pack. This doesn’t count the wandering around that wasn’t actual hiking. Neither of us suffered from this level of activity. My mild knee twist when I fell on the Valbona pass resolved quickly.

Our travels for the year are just beginning–several trips within the US are on the calendar, including backpacking with family in Wyoming. My woodworking is getting terribly behind schedule.

We have not begun to contemplate our next foreign trip, which we assume will be next spring or fall. One day, one of us will say, “How about …?” The other will say, “Yeah. That sounds good.” That’s how our adventures begin.

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Cetinje: 23 June

Cetinje crept into our itinerary because it is small and relatively convenient to the Podgorica airport. I didn’t expect it to be so delightful. It was the royal capital of Montenegro, so it is sprinkled with palaces, gardens and former embassies, yet it is a small city with a scarce few buildings taller than two stories. It is a good place for sauntering on this last night in the Balkans.

Some photos:

The back yard of our accommodation

Street scenes

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The Blue Palace

The English Embassy

The Court of King Nikola (Last King’s Residence)

I’m not sure what this was, but the exterior trim is stunning.

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Entrance to royal park

Tomorrow, bus to Podgorica, then the airport. We sadly say goodbye to the Balkans.

Categories: Montenegro | 2 Comments

Kotor 3: 21-22 June

Kotor has a decidedly Venetian flavor for good reason. Imagine mini-Venice with no flooding, Dubrovnik surrounded by mountains instead of the sea, though the Bay of Kotor is at its gate.

Roger did not venture out Saturday, so I took his camera for a few photos.
I considered it my duty to contribute to the socialization of all kittens I met.

Impromptu dancing to street music

Every day is wash day.

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Some buildings are just shells

With his camera, I could use telephoto.

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Sunday, Roger was feeling well enough to go to the Venetian fortress above Kotor. We ascended by the Ladder of Cattaro, the ancient mule path that was for centuries the only access over the monte negro–black mountain–into the interior of what is now Montenegro. This path goes over the top of the mountain and on to Cetinje.

A piece of ancient track

Were Roger not under the weather, we would have at least gone over the top, but we crawled through a hole in the fortress wall

and came down the modern steps to town.

Some of the fortress walls are in amazingly good shape, and in general the Venetians were quite serious about defenses here.

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Chapel on the way up

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Inside the fortress

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The view of the bay was good, but not as good at sunrise as it would be at sunset.

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Old town from above. It is a small part of greater Kotor.

Church on the way down

Tomorrow Cetinje, our last destination before the flight home.

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