A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: otisandma

Home Again :)

Polish and Slovak musings

overcast 7 °C

After a Very short nite (anyone else have trouble getting to sleep when you know you have to get up at 3:30am to get to the airport?!!), I made the trek home to Hamilton.
Of course I was too early for the buffet breakfast at the hotel and they made me a generous bag lunch! 3 little sandwiches, yogurt, water and some wafer cookies. A word about the hotel breakfasts: every place we stayed had wonderful buffets set up. Not just some simple continental breakfast in Poland/Slovakia - no way. It's a hearty set up with usually 3-4 hot dishes, a platter of meats & cheeses, cups of yogurt, salads or plates of sliced veggies, fresh fruit, pastries/cakes and of course bread! Coffee, tea, juices. We were usually able to fill up well - at the ski resort I saw a mom making a couple of sandwiches to take for her young boys.
Other meals - As part of a tour, our guide usually took us to local restaurants featuring traditional foods. These were usually pretty simple places where you'd go to the kitchen counter and order from the menu, when it's ready you go pick it up. 1d334e90-0784-11e9-a0d5-558b90c1001b.jpeg But beautiful, hearty, well-prepared - Delicious - food for reasonable prices. In fact, on the first night, I bought a bowl of borscht and had to use credit card as I hadn't found a bank machine yet - it was $6.75 CAD! IMG_2228.JPG
And of course, in Krakow, the food offerings at the Christmas Market were amazing - Shashlik (pork & bacon grilled on a skewer - about $10 for a big plate), kielbasa on a bun, ocypek (grilled sheep cheese). On my last night, I got a lovely mushroom soup for 7 zloty - that's only about $2.50!
Music - most radio stations we heard in hotels or cars play a number of English language songs. And of course, they throw in some Christmas. BUT why is it that they seem to only play 'Last Christmas' by Wham! and 'All I Want for Christmas is You' by Mariah Carey?! I have nothing against either song but they already get so much air time but when you hear pretty much only those two, sometime multiple times in a day - it was just getting too much (at least for me - actually became a bit of a joke in our group - 'Mary Ann, here's your favourite again!' LOL)
So I began my airport day: in Krakow, with a few zloty left, I found Kielbasa Jerky! Didn't try it until home but - yum!
2 hours later, I was again in Amsterdam, this time for a 4 hour layover. I now know that with the EU, there was only one passport checkpoint and I could have easily booked flights with shorter connection time. Even 4 hours was way more than I needed at Schiphol. Toronto return passport and declaration checks were a maze of line-ups but the lines actually moved fairly quickly. Got my car back from the lot and headed home. I had a panic thought that I'd be hitting rush hour - then I remembered it was Sunday!! Light traffic - Phew!

That was a terrific trip! Beautiful scenery (I think that's worldwide though!), beautiful Christmas feeling,
fullsizeoutput_d0a.jpeg terrific activities, group and transportation. Although our trip itinerary included snowshoeing, a kulig ride with mountain hut visit, cross country skiing, we had to be flexible. The kulig (horse-drawn sleigh) we were supposed to ride had mechanical issues so we took a shorter ride around the town. In retrospect, we should have waited for the next day but it was a group decision. We also took the advice of our guide who said the snow in Jasna wasn't enough for snowshoeing but that we were going to have wonderful weather in Zakopane for a hike in the national park. fullsizeoutput_d22.jpegIMG_2304.JPGf2fd12e0-0784-11e9-834c-ab64cc8ba835.JPG
It delayed our drive to Jasna but as none of us were downhill skiers, it was the BEST decision. We all probably enjoyed that as the best outdoor activity we did. Such beauty - I'd love to go back & hike that park again.
Our last night, the pierogi making experience was a wonderful chance to bond as a group too with fantastic memories.
Done! I love doing these blogs when I travel - it's a great way for me to look back on some of my trips. Thanks for taking the journey with me!
Wesolych Swiat! Vesele Vianoce! Merry Christmas!

Posted by otisandma 05:51 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

My Extra Day

Salt, Wine and Carols

rain 7 °C

Oh, And the Dragon again LOL!

I decided to stay an extra day after my tour was over - used up some of my last Aeorplan miles for a hotel room night. I left my luggage at our hotel from last night and after breakfast, I went across the road to the train station to head out to Wieliczka (Vee-el-eech-ka) where there's a famous Polish salt mine. What an exercise waiting for the train!! It was late coming in from the Airport and then they kept changing the platform & track. I climbed up & down about a dozen times before I finally managed to get on board. PHEW!!!
Salt mine tower view from the railway platform.
I made it to the mine and got my ticket just in time to join the English language tour. (WHY do some people feel they need to practically bathe in cologne/aftershave?! There was one guy in the group - could smell him the whole time - uggh) Although they stopped actually mining the salt 22 years ago, parts of the mine have been open to tourists for over a century. Over the years, the miners, who were a religious group, would work in the mine after their shift was over, to carve chapels and statues. Some have been maintained, and form part of the tour. A few statues were added in recent years, carved by professional sculptors - like Pope John Paul II. The caverns & chapels were quite dark and I'd read reviews saying not to bother taking photos because of this. I think they keep the areas dark to make you feel more like you've 100+ metres below ground...and to get you to pay 10 zloty for the photo permit! I didn't take photos except at the very end in a well-lit space. IMG_2456.JPG
Salt miners made from salt!
I did buy a few postcards and you can see how well the rooms were lit for them. Sheesh!
fullsizeoutput_d58.jpegfullsizeoutput_d59.jpegfullsizeoutput_d56.jpegIt was a good tour and beautiful work to see. And although they're not mining any longer, when the restore or repair areas enough salt is collected and processed to sell in the shops.

Once i was through the mine and shop, I got a taxi to take me out about 3 kms from town to a winery I'd read about. Yes! they apparently are making pretty good wines in Poland. Unfortunately, the winery was closed!! Booo!
The scenery in the area is lovely though - sure wish I could have visited. fullsizeoutput_d31.jpegSo I had the driver take me back to the train station where again the train was delayed - but only one platform this time.
I got back into Krakow, in the rain, got my luggage and moved a few blocks West for my last night. I relaxed a little, got most of my luggage packed and then went out for a last evening in the city. When I'm moving around from a different base, I check for landmarks so I know how to get back. This is on the corner of the street for tonight's hotel:
IMG_2462.JPG No problem getting back - just look for the crucifixion scene!
That Christmas Market is such fun! I enjoyed another cup of Christmas Tea - the good stuff with Slivovice (ya, that plum brandy), some grilled cheese and a lovely mushroom soup.
I wandered around a little and encountered a Christian group singing in the square.IMG_2463.JPG A little farther along, within a crowded hall of shops (Cloth Hall - lots of amber jewellery, woollens and general Polish souvenirs) was a group of musicians and singers.
They had printed up song sheets - Christmas carols - and were leading a sing-along! IMG_2467.JPGIMG_2474.JPGHOW WONDERFUL!! Some of the songs I knew from a record my parents had - such a treat. I knew some of the tunes and tried to sing along as best I could. The snow may be gone in Krakow but I'm feeling Christmas now.

I also went back down to the Castle to see if I could see the dragon breathing fire. So disappointed to see that he wasn't even lit up at night. I went a little farther and got a shot of the Krakow lights with Wawel Castle in the background - quite lovely.
As I was making my way back, a tour group was around the dragon. I was going to take a silhouette shot of him but suddenly a hissing noise began - and the fire came!!! IMG_2480.JPG(It reminded me of the fire swamp in The Princess Bride! LOL)

I also discovered a walk of fame along the river by the castle. Saw stars for many Polish celebrities but also some well-knowns like Roman Polanski, Josh Hartnett, David Thewlis and Tim Roth.

Got back to my hotel, showered and finished packing. I've got an early flight in the morning and making my way back home for Christmas.
LOVE this bag!!!

Posted by otisandma 13:05 Archived in Poland Tagged train wine salt Comments (0)

On the Road Again...

Ride back to Krakow to make Pierogis!!

overcast 0 °C

Today started out sleepily & quietly with a 4-hour car ride from Jasna back to our starting point in Krakow. Nice scenery to an extent - but it was an overcast day so mountain and valley views were unfortunately a little underwhelming.
Ah well.
We had a few free hours in Krakow before the main event of the day. Darlene & I did some last minute shopping IMG_2413.JPGfullsizeoutput_d29.jpegfullsizeoutput_d25.jpeg
and photo-taking in the Christmas Market where we also watched a troupe of musicians in traditional dress from Zakopane.
fullsizeoutput_d2c.jpegThen we chilled in one of the outdoor 'tents' for a bit of tea. IMG_2433.JPGLovely and warm, an orange slice and a little marmalade helped flavour the tea.IMG_2434.JPG
Look! I'm an angel LOL!!!IMG_2424.JPG

We met our group back at the hotel at 5 with another guide who works for Intrepid. Thomas lives in Krakow and is a city guide here - doing day tours and our experience - going to his home to make pierogi! We took the tram part way then drove out to his house (about 8 km out of the main downtown area) so we could start our class. We peeled potatoes, cut onions,
IMG_2437.JPGmade the dough. While the potatoes cooked and the dough rested, we had some appetizers local to the area - grilled Ocypek (smoked) sheep milk cheese, a milder sheep cheese, Brinsa - a spreadable sheep cheese, pickles and sauerkraut.
IMG_2441.JPGIMG_2444.JPGIMG_2446.JPGThen it was time to roll & fill the pierogis - of course I've been doing this for years but the rest of the group, including Tomi our main guide, had never. It was fun! Thomas cooked them, topped with sautéed onions and we feasted!!! Such a wonderful addition to this tour.

Alas, this was the last full day of our tour. We'll meet in the morning at breakfast but Darlene will depart early afternoon and then Amanda & David in the evening. I'm staying one extra day for a tour of the salt mine and then make my way home too.

Posted by otisandma 14:53 Archived in Poland Tagged market christmas musicians pierogi Comments (0)


A free day in Slovakia

overcast -3 °C

We're on the end half of our tour now - sadly! None of us on this tour are really skiers but we're visiting the ski resort here in Jasna. Not much to do in this village so a few of us took a bus ride to the nearest town. David & Amanda explored Liptovsky Mikulas the town at the base of the hills. I went from there to Besenova to a water park with an amazing sounding spa.

I bought a 3 hour pass to the Harmonia area of the park where there are 3 steam rooms, 2 saunas, 2 thermal hot tubs, a whirlpool, various cool and cold plunge pools, massage showers and foot massage pools. fullsizeoutput_d21.jpeg
You spend time in any one at a time and move through the various areas, revisiting spots that were most enjoyable, getting cooled down rapidly and basically just relaxing. I only managed waist high in the icy plunge pool but I did take the 50m walk outside to the thermal hot tub! My favourites were the Menthol sauna - kinda like inhaling mild Vicks Vaporub and the salt sauna. There was salt there to exfoliate as well. What a WONDERFUL afternoon. (Of course I couldn't take photos inside but I did manage a couple of screen shots from the website.)
IMG_2402.JPG The cold plunge pool
IMG_2403.JPG the Roman Sauna - of course without all the steam - it was actually difficult to see, the steam was that thick!

I got a taxi back to the town where I had just enough time to explore the central square and buy a little souvenir for my Christmas tree.
IMG_2397.JPGIMG_2398.JPGIt's a little corn husk doll - the kind my Grampa used to bring back from his trips to Slovakia!!! Makes me SMILE!
She's got a chicken under her arm!

Liptovsky Mikulas is infamous for the site of the hanging death of one of the region's most famous outlaws. Here's a link to the tale of Jánošík (yan-o-sheek) https://www.slavorum.org/juraj-janosik-legendary-slovak-thief-turned-hero/
but in the end, Juraj Jánošík ended his young and thrilling life in Liptovský Mikuláš on May 18 1713, when he was executed by hanging on a hook speared through his left side – this is how he was left to die. EEEWWW!

The walk back up to the hotel from the bus stop was lovely - the resorts all lit up for night. The groomers were also out on the ski hill getting it ready for tomorrow.
That's it for the Slovak part of our tour. We head back to Krakow tomorrow.

Posted by otisandma 11:52 Archived in Slovakia Tagged sauna spa thermal relax janosik Comments (0)

Tatrzanski Park Narodowy

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

sunny -6 °C

Tatra National Park, Zakopane Poland

Our guide for this tour has been 'keeping-a-weather-eye"; pretty important for a tour that is to include winter activities. Tomi determined a couple days ago that the weather in Jasna wasn't going to work for snowshoeing (boo) but that we could do a Nordic pole hike here in the National Park. Weather forecast was spectacular for Zakopane so we agreed to delay our ride to Jasna for a few hours and hike instead. Absolutely Fantastic!
It was a chilly -10C when we started, with clear, sunny skies. Tomi had rented poles for us all and we started off from the hotel and walked about 1km to the end of town and the roadway to the park. Another 2 or so kms along that trail bought us some lovely views of the southern part of town and over to the West side hills we'd seen 2 days earlier.
We reached the main gate to the park and after paying our entrance fees, made our way along the well-groomed trail IMG_2313.JPGup to a meadow with a hut that's often open with tea & snacks for hikers the Herbaciarnia. This was in a pretty open valley space where views of the mountains were spectacular.
That's Tomi on the bridge!
From there, we trekked higher another km or so to a mostly-frozen waterfall called Siklawica. Just so much beauty. Mountains, mountain streams, snow-covered trees, quiet forest.
I keep telling myself I need to get out into the woods more often at home...and today was no different.
Before we came back down, I left a little Inukshuk near the waterfall to commemorate my visit :)IMG_2358.JPG

Once we were back to the hotel (Hey! we did almost 9kms on that trek!!) we got our bags loaded into a private car for our trip to Jasna (yah-s-nah), a ski resort in Slovakia. A few minutes south of Zakopane, we crossed into Slovakia and then, BOY did we start seeing even more mountains. If we'd been able to drive a straight line, we likely could have been to the resort in 45 minutes. But with mountains & valleys to climb, it was 2 1/2 hours - of more beautiful scenery.
After we arrived, we stopped for lunch at a local place then went off to our hotel. This one is owned by a Scandinavian company & you can tell - trying to fit as many teeny rooms as possible to maximise the guest count for sure. It's efficient but pretty tight.
IMG_2392.JPGIMG_2393.JPGSupper in the hotel and then a quiet evening. Tomorrow is a free day - if the weather holds, we'll take the gondola to the top of the mountain (coming down the same way!!).

Posted by otisandma 23:02 Archived in Poland Tagged mountains day hike poles nordic tatra snowy Comments (0)

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