Monthly Archives: October 2012

Bojnice Castle

Bojnice Castle

My last two weeks were spent under the shadow of this castle in Bojnice, Slovakia. More to come soon.

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A Return to Ždiar: A Quest for the Elusive Polish Lakes

I couldn’t stay away from the High Tatras for long. Just three weeks after my first visit to Ždiar, I was longing for mountain air and alpine views. I was also pretty excited to curl up in my comfiest clothes and hot cocoa in the cozy Ginger Monkey common room.

Views like this bring you back.

The day we arrived in the Tatras turned out to be utter perfection. Crisp air, stunning vistas complete with character-adding cows, and sunrays streaming through mountain peaks like nobody’s business.

Chris and Wally playing beneath the Bela Tatras.

Once we were blissed out from a short trek through rural Slovakian perfection (which also included the hostel’s perfect dog, Wally), we decided we had to take on the Polish Lake hike the next day to continue our fantastic outdoor weekend, questionable weather forecast or not.

The drizzle and overcast that greeted us Saturday morning should have been an omen that this day would not be like the last. But ever the optimists, just before 10 a.m. we took a bus that took us to the Slovakian-Polish border. There we walked crossed a bridge over a small river into Poland. While it really is no different than driving, it just feels very dramatic to walk over an international border, and so, we documented with equally dramatic photography.

First moments in Poland.

From the border we flagged down a new bus to take us to Tatra National Park, the location of our hike.  This bus driver, as I suspected, had no problem taking my Euros instead of Polish Zloty. (Of course allowing for a horrendous exchange for me, but these are the sacrifices you make for the thrill of walking over ATM-less borders.)

Upon arrival we found the park to be unexpectedly packed for a dreary October morning. However, I always love to see people out enjoying their local natural treasures, and therefore I was more than happy to endure the crowds and traditional Polish horse carts near the park entrance. We walked alongside the crowds on a paved road for about 20 minutes before our the red trail we were told to follow veered into the woods. While we were somewhat wary that the masses continued on to what you would assume to be some sort of landmark (a Polish lake perhaps?), the directions seemed very clear and thus we began our trek up the mountain.

A horse pulling a carriage full of older tourists speeds past.

A horse pulling a carriage full of older tourists speeds past.

As soon as we entered the forest it became clear that the Polish Tatras were mystically beautiful. Nearly an hour up the mountain it became it also became clear that we should have stuck with the masses a little longer.  The trail was intriguing, all shrouded in mist and fog, but it certainly wasn’t the route described on our map. (It’s funny how precise a small paragraph can for a seven-hour hike can seem until it’s not.) However, based on our limited map it appeared we may have been starting to do the route backwards, and based on our limited time continuing was the only way to go if we wanted to see any lakes. So continue we did. Continue reading

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Praha in Pictures

So Prague is amazing. I’ve been suspecting that for years based on rave reviews from friends and pictures in books, but I have finally confirmed it with my own eyes.  In my childhood (and admittedly more recently) I had romantic, fairy tale ideals of what European cities would be like.  Paris, London, Vienna. They were all perfect in their own not-quite-what-I-expected-but-still-exceeding-all-expectations way. But Prague, Prague was the closest thing I will ever find to my European fantasy city. Somehow the castle looking down upon the city and the regal, yet not pompous, buildings, combined with the glow of the lamps lighting cobblestone streets that wind through so much history. I can’t really explain it, but you can feel it.  So as I am at a loss of appropriate words to explain my Prague experience, I’ll share my pictures and perhaps tempt you to experience it for yourself.

Coming upon the Old Town for the first time as dusk was falling. A very pleasant coincidence.

The Astrological Clock. One of those things you have to see to say you’ve seen it. However, once you keep in mind the time it was created, it’s pretty technically amazing.

Our Lady of Tyn Church in the Old Town

Of course, there are street musicians galore, but this guy had the most heart, and the most style.

View of Prague’s famous bridges from above

Gargoyle on St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague’s castle

Newlyweds trying to create a perfect moment in front of St. Vitus. Not the only pair we saw running around the city taking pictures in front of magnificent backdrops either.

Continue reading

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Načeradec’s Legends and Mushrooms

My first impressions of Czech Republic, not including a quick underground ride from the train station to bus station in Prague, came from the village of Načeradec.  Arriving at after dark only provided me with the knowledge that the winding roads were narrow and our host teacher’s husband was not afraid to take them on at a high speed.  But the morning illuminated a tiny village settled on a base of rolling, recently harvested fields.

The village of Načeradec from a distance

The historic cobblestone town square contained a church dating back to the 12th Century and is lined with shops that look much the same as they must have two hundred years ago or more. A few residential roads branched off with a scattering of houses on each, none of them further than a half mile or so from the village center.

As I said, Načeradec is tiny.  Therefore, the selection of conveniences one has to choose from is also tiny. The place where about 600 people call home has no restaurants, no ATM, no wifi and most unfortunately no ice cream shop.  While there were three painfully small grocery stores, I am not sure any two were ever open at the same time, and though there was a gas station, I only saw that open once as well.  The highlights of our student-provided town tour were the football field and the big farm.

The interesting thing about the lack of conveniences, like wifi and ice cream, is that while they did prove to be trying, I don’t think it at all diminished the quality of life in Načeradec at all. If anything, the pace of life here felt more natural and satisfying. Some of the people seemed embarrassed to admit to us they lacked some conveniences we’ve come to take as a given, but in reality, it was a refreshing experience in many ways.

Marker for the hiking path that goes through the village and to Blanik

While small, Naceradec does have it’s claim to fame. It is one of a few villages, and believe it or not, probably the biggest, that lie in the shadow of Blanik. Blanik is a mountain full of Czech legends, literally.  The story is that the revered Saint Wenceslas and his knights lie sleeping within the mountain, ready to rise in defense of Czech Republic if it is ever invaded from all directions. Continue reading

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The Fairy Tale Land of Czech Republic

This past week my journey took me to a place I have wanted to go for years – Czech Republic. Of these seven days, two, of course, were spent in Prague, the famous and historic Czech city with a metropolitan population of 2.3 million. The other five, however, were spent 90 minutes outside the capital in the village of Načeradec, population: 600 – at best. Fantastic times were had in both places, and each were perfect in their respective ways. If I had to sum it up, I would say in all of the fairy tales you read as a kid, Prague is the castle where the princess lived and Načeradec was the magic forest she runs away to when she wanted to talk to deer, get chased by wolves or other stuff like that.

The details on Načeradec are to come tomorrow. Prague photos will be up later this week. For now, though, here is a sneak-preview picture from each magical place.

Magical looking mushrooms blooming in the Slovakian forest

Dusk settles on Church of Our Lady Before Tyn in Prague

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