Have you ever heard of the Tatras? They are a mountain range forming a natural border between Poland and Slovakia. They also happen to be the highest in the Carpathian Mountains. The highest Polish peak is called Rysy and rises up 2499 meters. And at 1395 meters high lies Morskie Oko, a beautiful lake 35 ha large.
As my friends and I were staying in Zakopane, the most notorious ski resort and winter sports place in Poland, we decided to go on a hike in the Tatrzanski Park Narodowy (Tatras National Park) to take a look at this beauty. From the train station in Zakopane, you can easily find a bus that will take you down the entrancy of the national park. It takes about 8 km of walking to get to the main lake, Morskie Oko. Its name can be translated as “Sea Eye” or “Eye of the Ocean” and at this time of year (spring) it was still frozen, but slowly melting.
The walk up to the lake is a rather easy one, there are usually many other walkers, it’s a popular spot. The surroundings are very lovely with endless forests of pine trees, waterfalls, freshwater you can drink from and snow down on the soils or up on the peaks around you. The way is pretty much a road, which was a little disappointing but the natural sights are all around nonetheless. I especially like the smell of pine trees and it is always delightful to walk among them.
Now the weather is rather uncertain still in the spring time but we were lucky to get some bright sunshine while walking up the path. Later on things became more tricky when it started raining as we were hiking in the snow (with unsuitable shoes, although my Dr. Martens always do the job, me dressed in my only warm clothes which consisted in my plaid pyjamas, my Christmas socks and a pair of tights, although as it turned out it was not even cold, basically we had no proper equipment but, hey, we survived)!
It is indeed a massive lake, said to be one of the most beautiful in Europe, with crystal clear water and mountains all around. It is truly beautiful and I would definitely tell you to go see it for yourself. The reflections of the mountains on the surface of the freshwater were incredible and the lake slowly coming out of its frozen state are quite a sight to see. I would love to see it in the summer or the winter time.
And if you are a bit of an adventurer like myself then you must go around Morskie Oko and up the second lake : Czarny Staw pod Rysami. This second lake was still completely frozen on the surface and lies at the feet of Mount Rysy. Needless to say it’s beautiful up there and the view over Morskie Oko is incredible. We sure took a risk climbing up there, since it was no longer hiking but rather rock climbing in the snow, the hidden cavities gave us a fright. Especially as the rain started falling in the middle of our climb and the snow started melting, then became almost liquid and going down became dangerous.
I would say that in the summer it is meant to take about 40 minutes to go from one lake to the other, but because of the snow and the rain it took us an hour to get up there and an hour something to come down. We had a good laugh, though, falling on our bums and surfing the snow like idiots. The Polish hikers told us we were silly and that the guards would catch us. All good, they never caught us!
You know, there is a very nice feeling of reward after making an effort to reach the top of a mountain in the air your breathe, the view you are offered and the silence. We were even treated to a tiny waterfall (which I tried to approach and fell one meter down, getting my leg stuck in a hole).
It is such a beautiful place, you can get there easily from Krakow too if you are not staying in Zakopane.
Now, I thought Zakopane was very touristy, after all it’s one of the Polish’s favourite destination for a getaway. The typical wooden houses were lovely though and you see the mountains all around. It’s easy to get there by bus or train. Polskibus are comfortable and cheap if you want to make your way across Eastern Europe and/from Poland.
We did have a marvellous dinner out in Zakopane though with folk music and two little girls started dancing, wearing traditional outfits. Also as a vegan I was wondering if I would find anything to eat deep south of Poland, but I was nicely surprised with the options for vegetables (they make incredible kraut salads) and you can easily gorge yourself with vegetables (local and cheap). My friends enjoyed huge plates with fancy meat (cheap too compared to French prices). And along with the sounds of folklore and my vegan meal I had a hot beer, which was really good. You have to know that the Polish make amazing tea (Herbata in Polish) and they add fresh herbs and fruits, you can drink it with a meal!
If you enjoy ice cream you might want to check out the main street in Zakopane : Krupowki Street. There are restaurants and shops everywhere, not my cup of tea, but they have “lody” (ice cream) everywhere in Poland and they are GOOD! (Often vegan too)!
Poland is extremely welcoming and the people are warm. People don’t always speak English, although in the city they usually do, so if you learn a few words beforehand they will appreciate it. I did two years of Polish at university and practiced my rusty grammar and vocabulary in Poland almost ten years later, well they were so enthusiastic about it that I almost spoke no English during my trip 🙂
I hope you enjoyed this article, I think the mountains of Eastern Europe deserve to be known better.
Oh by the way, here is some fantastic finger picking & singing to listen to while in the mountains:
Peace and light.