Posts Tagged With: hiking

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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Slovak Paradise

Slovak Paradise

Some perfect timing for perfect weather made for an amazing visit to Slovensky Raj this weekend. More about hiking through forest, rock, river and darkness soon.

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In the Heart of Slovakia: Bojnice

Spending the last two weeks in Bojnice confirmed what I already suspected – I am falling in love with Slovakia.  The small town beneath Bojnice Castle is bursting with charm and we were overwhelmed with hospitality. Our hosts here made sure to not only make us feel comfortable, but to show us what daily life is truly like for the people of Slovakia. Here we were graciously invited into several homes for great conversation and our first tastes of authentic, homemade Slovakian meals.  I also got the chance to horseback ride for the first time since I was 12, hike through the autumn-colored hills surrounding the town, explore a castle fit for Cinderella, visit one of Slovakia’s four zoos, witness an intense hockey practice, and, most notably, try Zumba for the first – and then the second –  time (which was most necessary to off-set my high intake of Slovakian cuisine). Even after staying a weekend beyond what my teaching duties called for, I was very sad to see Bojnice go, but it will be remembered as the place where I began to understand what it means to live in Slovakia.

Bojnice Castle from the hills above

Fall foliage finally comes to Slovakia

Celebrating the big 23rd birthday with a hike, the best way to celebrate if you ask me.

Generally being in love with life and fall.

My little rambunctious students on our trip to the zoo. They are completely oblivious to how cool it is to have a castle in your town.

They do know how to draw a mean giraffe though. This adorable poster made up for all of their eight-year-old antics.

Paragliding. The new number one item on my Eastern Europe bucket list.

As far as silhouettes go, Bojnice Castle pretty much takes the ideal-castle cake.

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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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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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Finding the High Ground in Vienna

The best view of Vienna. (My students later informed me this is a park originally reserved for imperial hunting grounds…pretty cool.)

It is my most trusted theory that if you head to the highest ground in any place (or if that fails, the highest building), you will always find something amazing.  Last Sunday, I tested this philosophy once again as Chris and I trekked up the winding residential roads on the outskirts of Vienna, pursuing a speck of pasture I thought I spotted from below.

I was encouraged as each level of houses we advanced brought wider and longer views of the Vienna cityscape.  When we finally paced the highest road, I found myself more than satisfied with our hike’s supposedly final outcome.  That is, until I saw a woman and her dog slip up a dirt path into the woods above.  Upon further inspection, the trail seemed public enough, and even if it wasn’t, the intrigue was worth any slap on the hand we might have received for trespassing.

Our curiosity was duly rewarded.  The speck of pasture turned out to be much more than a speck.  Instead there was a sprawling field of long green grass dotted with tiny white flowers, which I can only hope to be edelweiss in order to fulfill all of my Sound of Music-esque fantasies.  To further indulge my whimsical ideals of Austrian pastures, I may or may not have taken a few moments to demonstrate my finest yodeling abilities.  This very liberating experience continued for a few perfect moments until interrupted by the chuckles of the (probably actually quite disturbed) hikers who had snuck up behind us.  Embarrassing as that was, the immensity of the culture-drenched city before us, combined with the friendly September sun warming our bare feet above us, made for just about the most quintessentially Austrian moment I could have wanted.

And so, my theory has been proven true once again.  Just stay tuned for my post on Slovakia’s High Tatras for further evidence.

To read more about Christopher and his “yawping” (pictured above) check out wayfarersmurmurings.wordpress.com

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Views From the Wonderous Wolkersdorf Wanderpuzzle

I’ve liked Wolkersdorf from the start. From the moment Chris and I stepped off the train, people have been extremely friendly and have gone out of their way to be kind and polite. (A free ride from the train station is especially appreciated after nearly 24 hours of travel with 50-plus pounds of luggage.)  The quaint town is impeccably clean with the perfect combination of preservation of the historic and introduction of the modern.  The scenery, both in the village and on the countryside is stunning, and you can’t help but notice that none of the bicycles contributing to the high cycling-to-driving ratio in this town are ever locked up.

As though I wasn’t already contemplating ways to make a semi-permanent move here, we came across Wolkersdorf Wanderpuzzle, a network of biking and walking trails throughout the Wolkersdorf village and countryside. The trails led us through charming neighborhoods and up hillside vineyards to a view of Wolkersdorf’s pride and joy: their windmills.  Although I’m not normally a fan of the rotating steal monsters, in this setting I see them for the majestic, powerful, looming giants others claim them to be. It may be partially because clean energy they provide fits in so organically with this pedestrian heavy, environmentally conscious and seemingly pollution-free town.  While I know this first location is setting the bar high for things to come, it is always nice to start out on a good foot.

View of Wolkersdorf and its windmills.

Victoriously biking up the giant hill

Chris becoming one with the willow tree.

Apparently what Austrians keep in their garages?

Practically an Austrian Hobbit Hole 🙂

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Lose Yourself in Allegheny National Forest

According to the university website, St. Bonaventure is 70 miles from Buffalo, 195 miles from Cleveland, 220 miles from Pittsburgh and 360 miles from New York City.

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As far as many are concerned, that places St. Bonaventure right smack dab in the middle of nowhere.  And in many respects, they may be right.  However, that doesn’t mean that the area surrounding St. Bonaventure is without things to do or places of interest.  So for the next few weeks I will be exploring different things to do in Cattaraugus County and the surrounding areas.

This winter has been a disappointment to skiers and snowboarders in Western New York, including myself.  However, the uncharacteristically warm weather does allow for other outdoor ventures that are much less expensive.

St. Bonaventure is situated near plenty of places to hike, but Allegheny National Forest, with over 200 miles of hiking trails, is just a short drive away. This Saturday, after having hearty pre-hike Burton burgers, my friends and I set out to take on a small portion of these trails for a chance at some fresh air and a change of scenery.

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