To travel by sleepy, sluggish train to southern Poland’s Tetra Mountains is to leaf through a child’s dusty fairy tale book, passed down from generations or possibly picked up as a bargain garage sale treasure. High, pointy wooden roof tops showcase chimneys swirling smoke from what’s most definitely the cozy atmosphere below. Lily of the Valley stands tall, guarding grassy hillsides and spotted cows graze among it all. The train squeaks and rumbles as I gaze out at the countryside, becoming more and more certain that I am following the path that once led Little Red Riding Hood to Granny’s house in the woods.
Above: Wood heats many cabins in Southern Poland.
As the train zips by, I see fly fishermen in tall rubber boots casting their lines into a winding stream and large piles of chopped timber lining most yards. Fluffy clouds hover just above the peaked roofs, casting a cool climate on the land. Once in a while, the sun wins the battle and illuminates a strip of crops, bordered by spiky purple flowers and overgrown grass. But for the most part, the gardens are shielded from direct light, soaking up moist nutrients from wet soil. All of this rolls past me at a perfect speed as I bend my knees to my chest and nestle into my seat. The day is a sweatshirt and worn-in jeans occasion, perfect for a good book and a hot drink- so that is just what I do. Curling up on the red velvet train bench, I decide it’s time to sip some tea from my thermos and read my own fairy tale to pass the time.
Above: Log cabins speckle the hillside.
In the outskirts of the ski resort village of Zakopane lies Jaszyzurowka, a quieter village close to the National Park. Tiny log cabins pop up among hills, and rivers wind between trees and trails. A three-story hostel called Good Bye Lenin resembles a family vacation cottage- its hard wood floors and feather comforters with fresh duvets give this cabin a home-like appeal.
Invited to join three 18-year-old English girls who were traveling after their graduation, we hiked for a solid eight hours to the ridge between Slovakia and Poland. One of the highlights of the trek was meeting a little old Polish lady who sold hand-made woolen mittens and Polish cheese called oscypek.
Above: A Polish lady wears her babushka and sells oscypek.
The rain held off the entire trip and patches of light illuminated the grassy valleys below. After many natural stairs and walkways were climbed, we arrived back at the hostel famished. Four pizzas later, the five of us rested, feet up, discussing our aching calves and the day’s trek.
Above: Patches of light brighten the ridge between Slovakia and Poland.
Above: Jason and I after hiking many natural stairs (behind us to the right.)
One night at the log cabin hostel, we rounded up everyone and put together a BBQ, complete with Polish sausage, sauerkraut, home-made mac and cheese, red potatoes with onion and garlic, and dill pickles.
Above: One guy’s plate at Polish fest night…and there were left-overs!
For 6 zloty ($3) everyone feasted and the cooks were given high honors since we performed with only a tiny hot plate stove, no oven and one cutting board! A 20-kilometer walk to Lake Morskie the next day made us thankful for the carbo-loading we’d done the prior night.
Above: Lake Moskie in the Tetra Mountains of Poland.