Posts Tagged With: high tatras

Paradise Revisited

Last November I paid an unexpected visit to Slovak Paradise, or Slovenský Raj, if you will, with a pretty cool collection of people from The Ginger Monkey Hostel. The hike, which took us past one of the most spectacular lookout points in Slovakia, alongside and occasionally right over the edge of the Hornad River and up a waterfall-filled gorge, is definitely a contender for the top spot on my Slovak highlight list.

However, ever since I took that hike, I’d been a little bummed out that Chris, who I’ve been traveling with the majority of my time in Slovakia, hadn’t been there. As a fellow hiking enthusiast and one of the biggest waterfall lovers I know, I felt he completely missed out on one of the best experiences an outdoor lover can have in Slovakia. And so, when we were passing by Spišská Nová Ves, just a stone’s throw from the park, I was ecstatic to be able to give the loop another go with Chris and our friend Jack.

A cliff near Tomášovský výhľad in November.

A cliff near Tomášovský Výhľad in November.

Chris and Jack looking out near

Chris and Jack looking out from the same spot in May.

Slightly senior portrait-esque, but the setting redeems it.

Slightly senior portrait-esque, but the setting redeems it.

Close to the edge at  Tomášovský výhľad.

Close to the edge at Tomášovský Výhľad.

And from the same cliff in November.

And from the same cliff in November.

My maiden journey through Slovensky Raj had been guided by someone familiar with the park, so I was basically on autopilot, gaping at scenery the whole time. Since I would be the veteran this time, I took it upon myself to find the route we took before, worried that any other path might not live up to the hype I’d been creating.

Information about the trail wasn’t hard to find. Although we barely saw another soul during our mid-November hike, it is allegedly the most popular trail in the park and is packed beyond belief in the high season of July and August. (We were lucky enough to bypass the only other large group early on this time around.)

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Categories: environment, fitness, hiking, nature, science, TEFL | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

April Adventures – Part II

Spišská Belá and Mountain Lakes

After an unexpectedly great week in Snina, I decided to head out to meet Chris in Spišská Belá for the weekend before we both headed to Sabinov. Chris had been spoiled all week by two teachers from his school and their hospitality continued on into the weekend. On friday night, after settling into the quaint village for a bit, we went to the Drum Cafe for some drinks and good conversation. The teachers, Dagmara and Katka, spoke English fantastically. We spent most of the night laughing, but made a little bit of time for planning an excursion in the Tatras the next day.

Katka proved to be an expert on all of the nooks and crannies of the mountains. She and Dagmara (Dada, as she is affectionately known) were nice enough to pick us up the next morning and take us to a part of the Tatras we had never seen before.  We arrived in Vysoké Tatry by mid-morning. While Katka is an expert on the mountains themselves, she was a little more shaky on specific directions. But, we still eventually found the first lake she wanted to show us hidden behind the Grand Hotel Kempinski, a place my salary is still several zeroes short of affording. The morning had started out gloomy, but the mountains began to show through the wisps while we stood there, allowing for a great view of the peaks behind the lake.

Hotel Patria and a frozen Štrbské Pleso

Hotel Patria and a frozen Štrbské Pleso.

The beautiful, five-star Grand Hotel Kempinski that I was certainly not staying in.

The beautiful, five-star Grand Hotel Kempinski that I was certainly not staying in.

After seeing the first lake, we crisscrossed around the resort town for a bit in search of a trailhead that would take us between the mountains to another more secluded lake. While it took us a moment to get oriented, when found the trail without too much effort. From there, we started up a casual incline with snow that was luckily still frozen enough to stand on without falling through, mostly. As we hiked, we could see people skiing and celebrating the final days of the season on the other side of the valley, which set a festive mood. As we moved further into the mountains, the scenery became more limited thanks to storm clouds forming overhead. But, even though we were miserably underdressed (it had seemed so nice at the bottom), the light exercise and mild temperature kept us warm enough over the nearly two hours it took us to reach our destination.

The biggest ski jump I've ever seen.

The biggest ski jump I’ve ever seen.

When we first arrived at the second lake, Popradské Pleso, we could clearly see the near side and make out some figures climbing on the mountains above, but I knew we were missing out on the grand experience thanks to the weather. Somewhat disappointed, but eager to be out of the dampness, we hurried into the lakeside hotel and restaurant to lift our spirits with some traditional, cheesy, doughy, Slovak cuisine.

A plate of halušky and a few bites of pirohy did the trick. A half-hour later and seemingly a few pounds heavier, we were ready to make the trip back the way we had came. When we walked out the door, we were excited to find a much more exposed lake with big chunks of blue sky in front of us. Seeing it in its entirety not only made the whole trek more fulfilling, but also added yet another item to my list of things I would like to come back and see again in the summer.

Our destination,  Popradské Pleso

Our destination, Popradské Pleso.

The walk home proved to be even easier than our journey to the lake, and was also more enjoyable with the sun shining down on us. Mountains we hadn’t been aware of on our way in appeared, dramatically white and dark on a suddenly bluebird sky. We made our way back to the village much more quickly than we had come, meaning we fit two mountain lakes, several miles of hiking and loads of sheep cheese all into about four hours.

After a scenic ride home, we took some time to refresh and regroup. We met back up at Dada’s house later in the evening to feast and socialize.  Dada generously fed us some more delicious pirohy and single-handedly inspired my new obsession with bagel chips. She also shared two of her great obsessions with us; ice dancing and Audrey Hepburn. Amazingly, I had spent 23 years in this world without ever seeing “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which was something Dada could not allow. After the movie, some World Ice Dancing Championship recordings and a few plays off the Les Misérables, Chris and I headed out into the quaint village streets, feeling considerably more cultured than we had before.

The sun came out in full force on our way back.

The sun came out in full force on our way back.

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Categories: hiking, nature, photography, TEFL, tourism, travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Late Season Surprise in Slovak Paradise

As soon as I came across descriptions of hikes that included cliffs, waterfalls, chains and ladders in my Slovak guidebook, I was absolutely positive I need to make a trip to Slovenský Raj National Park (also known as Slovak Paradise). However, when October came and went and I still hadn’t made it to the park, I resigned that the trip would probably need to wait until Spring, as the most interesting trails in Slovakia seem to be closing.

Luckily for me, this weekend fantastic weather combined with fantastic people (one of whom is extremely knowledgeable of both the trails and language) for the most ideal journey to Slovenský Raj I could have hoped for.

My first view of the entire High Tatra Range

Saturday morning, a small group of us from my favorite hostel, The Ginger Monkey, set off past Poprad, to the Small Carpathians. After checking out the charming village of Levoča, which has a very impressive square and church, we entered Slovenský raj. From the parking lot, a yellow trail led us to a dramatic lookout point over a valley we would later hike through. To our left we could see the rolling Small Carpathians and to our right, the stunning High Tatras.

Not too shabby for mid-November

Denis was snapping pictures of us, but he was in a pretty photogenic spot himself.

Unable to contain our excitement at the lookout point

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Categories: hiking, tourism, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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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Exploring the High Tatras

So, as I mentioned earlier, my philosophy is the higher the better. I like hills, I love mountains, and I appreciate both exponentially more when I’ve reached the top. So when heading to Eastern Slovakia this past weekend, I had no choice but to stop by the Northern Slovakian mountain range, the High Tatras, for some hiking along the way.

Prior to my own excursion to Eastern-Central Europe, I had never even heard of this mountain range. More than likely, this is far more due to my own ignorance rather than their lack of reputation. However, if as few people outside of Slovakia realize what they are missing as I suspect, the High Tatras and the towns that lie in their shadow are being shorted of the reputation they deserve. I could go on for hours describing the undisrupted natural beauty, but the pictures tell a far better story than I ever could, so enjoy!

As far as mountain homes go, this is pretty near perfection.

View from the start of the trail

Interesting whirly weed. Not sure what it is, but I enjoy it.

Nearing the top of Siroke Sedlo

More than half way up Siroke Sedlo

We had to bundle as near the top the mountain became snowy…

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Vienna and High Tatras Tease

So my first two weeks of teaching have flown by. Time has been limited and so has good internet access, but I have thoughts bubbling over and pictures I’m extremely eager to post.  After Volkersdorf I had a full week in the beautiful city of Vienna, Austria, followed by a weekend in the Zdiar, located in the High Tatras of Slovakia. Both were stunning and perfect in their respective ways.  Here’s a photo from each with more to come soon, I promise.

Nothing beats Viennese architecture

Except maybe mountain goats taking in views on a peak in the High Tatras

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