Thursday, April 28, 2005
Zakopane, Crossing into Slovakia and Levoca
The Tatra MountainsAnother early morning, we have a big day ahead of us. Too bad its raining. Neither of us slept well, there were two individual beds with extremely scratchy sheets. This was the worst bed, EVER. Went downstairs for breakfast, checked out and left our big bags at the hotel for the day.
We caught a local bus to Kuznice, at the base of Mt. Kasprowy Wierch. It was cold — about 35 degrees F — thankfully the rain stopped and some blue sky was peeking out from behind the clouds. Walked up and got on the first cable car up the mountain. We were packed in with a bunch of skiers, we seemed a bit out of place.
Mt. Kasprowy WierchThe ride itself was beautiful, it takes about 20 minutes to ascend to the top of the mountain. As we neared the top it became very foggy and began to snow. Suddenly we both realized that this was not quite what we had expected! Once we got off the cable car and on to the mountain it became very clear it was still the skiing season. There was 6' of snow on the mountain and it was about 25 degrees F. We couldn't see 10 feet in front of us! I stepped off the path to the top of the slop and found myself buried in snow up to mid calf.
On top of
Mt. Kasprowy WierchAll those plans for a rousing round of the hokey pokey at the border are for naught! We wouldn't be able to find the border if we even tried in this weather. One cup of hot cocoa each and we're headed back down the mountain to Kuznice. Waste of $20 or time well spent? It was certainly an experience!
We decided to walk back to Zakopane, it was gorgeous walking through the northern edge of the Tatra National Park and in to town. Thankfully it warmed up as we got closer to town, we had not planned on such cold weather and were a bit underdressed.
Cable Car at
Mt. Kasprowy WierchBack in Zakopane, we decided to visit the Tatra Museum which was highly recommended by the Lonely Planet Poland guide book. The museum was really interesting, I think. I wouldn't know because everything was in Polish and my ability to read Polish is pretty dismal! However, it was interesting to see some of the artifacts of the people of the region, including instruments, farming tools and clothing.
Cable car at
Mt. Kasprowy WierchBack to the hotel to pick up our bags, its time for us to cross the border into Slovakia. This is the one part of our trip that was not well researched for the simple lack of information that I was able to find in books or online. All we know is that one bus takes us to the border at Lysa Polana, we walk across the border and pick up a bus to Poprad in Tatra Javorina, Slovakia. So, we walked to the bus station and bought tickets to the border. We had some time to kill, and Polish zloty to spend, so we headed across the street for a bite to eat. Apparently, the zloty is not "fully-convertible", so it was in our best interest to spend all we had.
Cable car at
Mt. Kasprowy WierchThe ride to the border took almost 45 minutes through the mountains. The terrain was beautiful! There is clearly a lot of tourism here by the number of small ski lifts and hotels along the road. There was also quite a bit of new construction, some HUGE mountain homes being built on the top of impossibly steep hillsides. Finally we reach the border... the adventure begins.
We're the first off the bus, there are a few other locals crossing the border too. We walk up to a small building sitting in the middle of the road surrounded by granite peaks. We walk up to a small window with a Polish border guard who takes our passports, asks a few questions — apparently the lack of an entry stamp on the train was odd — and stamps the passport. She then hands it over a low wall to the Slovak border guard who stamps our passports and hands them back to us. A short walk past the gate and we're in Slovakia. Damn, that was easy!
Cable car at
Mt. Kasprowy WierchIts about 100 yards to walk into the next town, as we cross a small river we spy a family of deer hanging out near the border. I hope they have their papers in order! Soon we realize that Tatra Javorina is not much of a town, there are two buildings and a location for the bus to stop. There is one business open and a man sitting on the roadside in a bear costume. WTF? I attempt to ask him where to find an ATM or cash exchange desk so we can get some Slovak Crowns to continue our journey. After a few attempts he understands my request and points back to the other side of the border. Uh-oh. I did see a cash exchange desk on the Polish side but didn't consider that they would give me Slovak Crowns, so we didn't stop there on the way across the border.
Back to the border we go. Repeat the same process in reverse and we're back in Poland. We have US$ on us, I pulled out $40 to convert into Slovak Crowns (SKK). When we reach the exchange desk the woman working there — who thankfully speaks some English — informs us she cannot convert USD to SKK. She would have to convert USD to zloty and then to SKK, which she informs us would cost us a lot of money and she refuses to do it. Steph is getting nervous at this point and I am trying to figure out what to do. She tells us we have to cross the border — AGAIN — and we can get SKK in the next town. I tell Steph that we'll figure it out somehow and we head back to the border guard.
On the road to
ZakopaneWhen I approach the Polish border guard, she appears VERY confused. In broken English she asks me why I am crossing the border again. I explain the situation and she tells us to hold on for a moment. Steph and I exchange worried looks and wait patiently while she talks to a truck driver who is crossing the border. We figure that we'll hike the 3Km or so into the next large town and figure out what to do when we arrive. Then the border guard comes out of the building and explains to us that the truck driver is willing to drive us to a larger town where we can find an ATM or chash exchange desk in Slovakia! Woohoo!
We hop in his truck — Steph made me ride bitch on the console! — and started driving. The truck driver speaks Polish, Russian and German. We speak English, Spanish, French and Hebrew. This should be an interesting ride. We have no idea where he is taking us, although there is only one road around this part of Slovakia and it heads toward Poprad, so we can't go too far wrong. After more than 30 minutes of driving down from the mountains and into a gorgeous green and hilly countryside we enter Spissky Belá, a small town in the Spis region where our new best friend drops us off. I tried to give him $20, he wouldn't take it! This is truly good karma personified.
On the road to
ZakopaneAcross the street from where we were dropped off there is an ATM. YAY! After getting some cash, we walked into a small grocery store for some water. This must be what a grocery store in the former USSR used to look like, there was *nothing* on the shelves. With water and a Snickers bar in hand we head back across the street to the bus station and wait for the next ride to Poprad where we'll catch another bus to our destination for the night, Levoca.
The trip to Levoca was uneventful. On the way into town Steph spotted a sign for our pension, Pension Miva, along the roadside. When we pulled into the bus station we headed straight toward the sign, based on my map it looked like the right direction. Unfortunately, it wasn't the right way, there are two bus stations in Levoca and not one as was indicated on the map! The sign said, quite helpfully, that Pension Miva is 2Km up the road, in the opposite direction, uphill the entire way! We can't seem to make the right decisions today! Up the hill we go, huffing and puffing with our packs on our backs.
On the road to
ZakopaneWe finally reach our pension and check in. The prices posted outside are cheaper than our originally agreed upon price when I made the reservation, so we spent less than we intended, $35/night with breakfast for a beautiful room with a bathroom and shower! What a bargain!
After a quick shower and a little time to relax we headed out in the cool rain for dinner. We found a cute place right on the square and had a great meal, a few local beers and some of the local firewater, silvovice or plum brandy. All this for the bargain basement price of $11! I had heard Slovakia is cheap, but I didn't realize exactly how cheap it would be! Walked back to the hotel and got ready for bed. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day for us!
Posted by dhs at 4/28/2005 11:16:00 PM