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Zakopane: Tips

We were crushed like sardines into a can on our bus from Stary Smokovec to Lysa Polana. It was a delapidated local bus, every seat was taken, and at least twenty people packed the aisles. Lysa Polana was about an hour away, sitting just on the Slovakian side of the Slovak-Polish border. We survived the crush, left the bus, and walked from one country into another; an experience that was way less scary than I thought. Once across the border, we waited for a local bus to take us another hour to Zakopane, a moutain resort town at the Northern foot of the High Tatras. Seated a few metres up the road, also waiting for a bus we assumed were the same three hikers we’d shared the mountain chalet with two nights earlier. After about 15 minutes, a maxi-taxi pulled up and the other three got in.

“Bugger, why didn’t we order a taxi.” I asked rhetorically.

One of the lads stuck his head out the taxi window once they were all seated, and yelled in our direction, “Zakopane? Zakopane?”

“Uh, yeah sure, how much?”

The driver turned his head around, “5 Zloty.” I quickly did the maths in my head, “Shit, that’s less than $2.50 each” I thought. We grabbed our bags, jumped in the taxi, and were on our way.

Now, Zakopane. We’d heard great things about the place, and if you’re ever thinking of going, here’s some tips of my own. Just remember that they relate only to my experience, and you may not necessarily face the same things.

Don’t trust Lonely Planet. When they say a local tourist information office books private accomodation, that office most likely won’t.

When you do finally stumble across a travel agancy place that does book private rooms, don’t believe them when they say, “Yes, yes, very nice room. Double room. Very nice area of Zakopane. Only one and half, two kilometres walk.” When the same lady also suggests that you may be able to get a bus to this room you’ve just paid for, you should go ahead and tattoo those details down on your forearm, cause trust me, you don’t want to walk. If the tattooist is at lunch, and you do decide to walk, you will actually find that after 45 minutes you will leave the town of Zakopane, and enter a small village on the town outskirts. This is where you room is.

When you enter the house, you will encounter a grumpy old Polish gentleman whose language is apparently limited to grunts. Upon crossing the threshhold of your new room, you will enter a small box of a room, with three single beds. Do not expect your host to be jovial or informative, especially relating to such trivial information as where the bathroom is, and whether or not you get a key to the room.

Do not walk down the main street of Zakopane, it is filled with gut-wrenchingly lame market stalls. Hundreds of ’em. But they sell only three different things; beanies and other snow related crap, and small cylindrical pieces of food that look like bread that look like a tribal wood carving that are actually dense smoked cheese. Unless you and your taste buds are having a bit of an argument, do not eat said wood carvings. Hmmm, that’s only two things. Four hundred and eighty seven stalls, to sell two items. Hell on earth. Then there were guys strolling down the street selling even lamer crap; some sort of weird colourful ball that collapses into itslef like a scared hedgehog when it stops moving. These men kick one in front of them along the street, and into the path of anyone who looks stupid enough to buy such a thing. And those imbecilic tourists were everywhere.

Do not seek refuge from these imbecilic tourists in a small bar that advertises a three-hour long happy hour. You will find yourself as the only person in the bar, paying three times as much for a beer as you did just 30 km down the road in Slovakia, and listening to George Michael’s greatest hits. Do not then seek refuge from this bar in the Irish looking bar next door. And certainly do not buy a pint of Guiness there, as it will cost you your entire days budget. Seriously, it cost more than we were paying in the UK.

There’s a rumour that Poland is a cheap country. Don’t start rumours, they’re not funny.

If Poland has an equivalent to Australia’s Gold Coast, then Zakopane is it.

Do get a cable car from Zakopane to the top of a nearby mountian peak at 1960 metres. The views across the snow capped peaks of the High Tatras are phenomenal. You will also get the chance to take photos of you and your girlfriend with your legs straddling the Slovak-Polish border. If you don’t have a girlfriend, ask one of the other tourists to take one for you, they should be most obliging. If you are a girl, then you can take one of your boyfriend. Or if you are a girl with a girlfriend, then whoa, that’s really cool, you girls will have guys lining up to take a picture of you with your legs straddling anything.

Polish people are famous for drinking shitloads of vodka. If you would like to indulge in this pleasant past-time, do not attempt to buy your vodka from a mini-market in the main street at 6.15pm. Despite having an entire wall of the store dedicated to hard liqour, and being open for business, they will not sell you any vodka. I do not know why. (On a side note, all of Eastern Europe loves hard liquor. When at a small bar/cafe in rural Slovenia, we read a manu that saide, ‘bar opens at 9am, but we do not serve spirits until 10am’. Wow, that hour of waiting must be a killer).

When you do finally get a bottle of vodka, do not mix it with Fanta. That’s just asking for trouble.

If you are stuck in your lavish private room watching tv, be aware that English programs are dubbed into the local language, much like other countries in the area. However, in Poland, rather than finding voice-over artists whose voices at least sort of match the character, even if it’s only in the male/female department, Polish television has only one voice-over artist. One. With a monopoly on the market. If you’re watching Look Who’s Talking, that film classic with Kirsty Alley and John Travolta before he became cool again, said voice-over man will even do the voice of the baby.

And now that you’ve read my tips, please disregard all of them. Zakopane is a visually stunning town, with a brilliant mountainous backdrop. And despite my cynical ramblings, we did have a decent time there. I just think after the remoteness of Slovakia, and the laidback feel of Stary Smokovec, the commercialism of Zakopane really threw me. And Poland is a bloody cheap country, just not as cheap as Slovakia.

And vodka mixes really well with Cappy brand multi-vitamin juice.

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One Response to “Zakopane: Tips”

  1. cian higgins Says:

    dave and Bec, Cian Higgins here, only saw your comment about your brother today, no worries as was staying in WA. Spent some time down South last week in Albany, Margaret River, direction touring around, great place, having a ball, leaving for home on thursday 3rd, e-mail adresss for future use (if any ) is
    Glad to see you are doing well still. Mam is off to Vietnam in 2 weeks to work in a orphanage for 3 months so no standing still there, anyway take care. Cheers Cian

  2. Posted from Australia Australia

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