4th of July in the Tatras Mountains

Trip Start Jun 17, 2009
Trip End Jul 18, 2009

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Where I stayed
Mercure Hotel

Flag of Poland  , Southern Poland,
Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sunday, July 5, 2009 – Zakopane

I am sitting on the bus in Zakopane, in the Tatras mountains in the extreme south of Poland. It is hard to describe how beautiful this region is until you see it. We arrived here yesterday, the 4th of July, after a long bus trip from Krakow, where we had been for the past few days. I have not updated my travel blog as we have been kept very busy with our travel schedule, classes we have attended, and the obligatory evening dinners at 7 pm each night. Dinner usually takes about 2 hours or longer, and I can honestly say, there has been no shortage of wonderful food. Like being on a ship at sea, my motto for this trip seems to be, "Eat 'til you're tired, sleep ‘til you’re hungry."

As we hit the outskirts of Zakopane, we stopped at an old wooden church, which dates back several hundred years. The cultivated meadows, pastures, and mountain vistas are spectacular. We then drove another 30 minutes to a river raft ride on the Dunacja River. The locals lash five longboats together to form a raft, then one man in the back and one in the front use long poles to navigate down the river. The weather was spectacular, and we leisurely floated down the river, which twisted and turned through several miles of soaring rock formations. On the right bank of the river was Slovakia, my ancestral homeland. I was somewhat disappointed that there was no down time for me to drive 30 minutes to the village in Slovakia where my great grandfather, Anton Chapla was born and raised until he emigrated to the United States before 1900. On the positive side, however, I did get to see the homes, the people on the river and on the bank of the river, so I was satisfied with getting as close to my ancestral homeland as I could.

Our hotel in Zakopane was the nicest one we have seen in Poland. We were all in rooms on the third floor, walked out onto the balconies, and marveled at the view of the Tatras mountains, most of which are in the range of 2000 meters or higher. If you remember “The Sound of Music” movie starring Julie Andrews and the singing Von Trapp family, you would have some idea of expecting them to walk out in the meadow in front of you and start singing, it was that beautiful.

For dinner on July 4th, our Fulbright group was treated to a special dinner and an evening of Zakopane customs. I have posted many photos and a video of the Polish folk dancers and the band on this travel blog, so be sure to check out the photos and video. We had the most fun of any evening so far on the Poland tour, and I am proud to say that at the end of the evening, I was named Mr. Highlander and was presented a walking stick/axe for my efforts, lame as they were, at dancing Polish folk dances.

This morning, our group had the option of going on the cable car ride at Kurnowice. I opted to walk to the top of the mountain and wanted to take the cable car back down the mountain. As it turned out, I went up the mountain with another Fulbrighter at 8 a.m. and there was no one there at the ticket booth who spoke English (our Polish is not very good at this point), so we ended up taking the wrong trail to the top of what we thought was the path to the cable car at the top of the mountain. In the end, we walked to the huge metal cross on the top of Giewont, which is at 1873 meters. It took just over two hours of continuous walking, and I was completely shredded when I arrived at the top, drenched in sweat, and remembering that I was at a much higher altitude than normal. The view was breathtaking, and well worth the 45 million steps I took and the 57,000 calories I burned walking to the top of the peak.

I hope everyone at home had a wonderful 4th of July. It was a great day for me here on the 4th of July. If you ever have the means, bring your loved ones to Zakopane in the Tatras mountains, it is a really beautiful place.
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