Since my childhood, I was fortunate enough to find myself in several countries, visiting many towns and regions. This love for exploration, as if it was implanted in me, continued to grow more in my student years. The result: always looking for ways to get the first airplane for other places I may had seen in a documentary, I had read in travel books or had seen in pictures and then on the internet.
So, in early December (who, youwould think, chooses to go to a cold place at the beginning of winter – oh me, and others so!) I found myself getting flights for Athens, because there wasn’t still direct flight from Thessaloniki to Warsaw ! I was fortunate to be chosen for a European program and together with another group of Greeks, we were flying to the frozen north! With a backpack, a handluggae, and dressed like an onion, I arrived in Poland!
Arriving in Warsaw
First stop, the capital, Warsaw. Nobody had in mind that skyscapers could be found among the buildings of the city. And as the feeling of the cold weather was getting more and more intense, these grandiose, in architecture and height, constructions seemed to be more lonesome and immense than ever.
Of course, we couldn’t just explore the area, even though our map was kind of misleading from time to time. At least, we found our way to the main area with many restaurants and pubs, with one lucky enough to be our temporary place to quench our thirst and hunger.Traditinal dishes with beer and hot wine as our first beverages in Poland. But the first night in Warsaw didn’t last until the midnight: a bus was waiting for us, just in the outskirts of the city, for a 7-hour trip to Zakopane!
What to choose, Bansko or Zakopane?
You probably do not know Zakopane, you have not heard anything about this area, never mentioned by a travel agency! Well, it’s logical, unless you have Polish roots or you are a resident of a neighboring country of Poland (like Slovakia located in the South). This is place is called “the winter capital of Poland”, since it is known for its hiking opportunities, practicing skiing skills for aspiring athletes, and the pioneering architecture in their homes that make them stand out!
The trip was long (and tiresome, I might say) and the darkness of the night didn’t leave anything visible to the eye to observe during our journey. But, as we entered the city, a veil of snow welcomed us, with houses (named highland houses or Podhale in Zakopane style) and shops covered from the top to the bottom. We took a taxi directly outside the bus station and, with a mixture of split English and body language, we managed to contact the driver to take us to our hotel: a traditional wooden house with many rooms and mountain views! Τhe temperature was even colder (-7° ) than in the North but we knew that we weren’t going to Hawaii. Funny thing, one friend from our group had never (as he claimed) come across that white, frozen, dense thing! You must have seen his face when he tried to take a snowball, scratching the small white hills with his gloves. And so the snowballing begun!
Within walking distance of the city center, ideal for a walk, to a huge pedestrian street along the Krupowki street with many shops for all tastes. From traditional products, several wooden creations, bags, mugs, but also their own cheeses (the so-called Oscypek) and sausages! Moreover, their prices are quite low, ideal for someone who has a specific and not so high budget!
In one of our excursions, just outside the city center, we found ourselves behind the church of the Holy Cross (Kościół Matki Bożej Częstochowskiej w Zakopanem), built in 1845. But what made a special impression on us was the cemetery behind it: compared to the classic cemeteries, especially in the Western countries, was not dominated by the classic coldness, which inspired fear and anxiety for the visitor. The decoration was distinct in every corner, with statues and creations made of wood, giving the impression that you are in a rather pagan rather than a Christian cemetery!
Nearby is the local market of the city! Here you can find as many local products as possible, a variety of wood-carved items and woolen clothes for the cold! Luckily we had some Poles with us who helped us to communicate, since most locals did not speak English.
To the mountains, to the wildness on the top
In addition, we had the chance to explore Tatra Mountains (the highest mountain range in the Carpathian Mountains) and Morski Osko (the largest and fourth-deepest lake in the Tatra Mountains), hoping that we could take amazing photographs (or even selfies) of the lake. Unfortunately, a similar pattern was found: a frozen environment with pure snow covering the surface of the lake. But that wasn’t enough to break our morale, so we took more photographs!
Zakopane was meant to be our small base for a week while we were exploring the city, its culture, history and magic. From the first day we arrived until the very end, pavements, mountains and valleys were “dressed” with a shine white costume as forefeast for the upcoming Christmas while snowflakes adorned the scenery around us. Like powdered with caster sugar, houses seemed like they have sprang up from a fairytale!
If I ever find myself again in Zakopane:
- I would like to climb on Gubałówka hill. Even though it is difficult trip, you can always get the cable car!
- to explore another lake, called Czarny Staw Gąsienicowy Lake, equally impressive with Morski Osko!
- to do, or else try to do, ski. In the end, I also get a sled to be there!
- to admire the city in the summer, as it will really be completely different!
As for some tips that I can share:
- make sure to change from euro to zloty (złoty), the national currency of Poland!
- if you want to try their cheese, make sure you have someone who speaks Polish – every cheese has a more intense flavor
- look for warm clothing – the cold is intense in the winter!
- taxis are hardly needed, although there is no public transport. If you do not feel exhausted, walk, you will enjoy it more and the distances are not short!
- if you want to be in Zakopane, there are daily buses from Warsaw (which are quite tiresome), as well as from Krakow, which take about half an hour!
Do zobaczenia Zakopane!