It’s been a while since we’ve done any hiking. Actually, after sitting at our friend’s parent’s place the last week, it’s been a while since we’ve done anything.
We finally got Gunter back late last night, and after cleaning and packing, and several extended goodbyes, we were back on the road just before lunch. It was incredible how much quieter Gunter was now that the exhaust leak had been repaired. Also, the assortment of rattles had gone, which I can only guess was related to the exhaust, too. But, it was still a little loud inside to hold a comfortable conversation or listen to an audiobook – but at least we didn’t have to yell anymore. I was also hoping for a miracle of receiving a few extra horsepower, but sadly it didn’t feel any faster.
We’d left the fridge running (on gas) while it was in the garage. It ran out some time in the past week, and now we have to find a new gas bottle – the most annoying of the maintenance chores. The first few places we visited refused to swap, as the Norwegian bottle was quite different in shape. The tragedy is the Slovakian bottle is quite similar to the Italian bottle that we’d had a hard time swapping in Norway…
Unperturbed, we made do with the 12v while driving, and continued on our path towards the High Tatras to get a little hiking in. There are countless options available, but we chose to go with one of the most popular – it’s got to be popular for a reason, right? I wanted to do some of the more adventurous routes, but it required a guide – and appropriate equipment. If we’d really wanted to do it, we could have been organised, hired a guide/gear, and done it, but I guess it shows our casual attitude to it all, and that we were happy just to be out in the nature.
We drove back past Spis Castle, past Levoca, and continued towards Poprad. It came out of nowhere, but suddenly we could see the giant rocky peaks of the High Tatras off in the distance. They looked so out of place. Out of nowhere this short, but tall, mountain range explodes out of the rolling hills. I didn’t expect it to be such a small range – and I don’t even know if you can call it a range?
The plan was to catch the gondola up from Tatranska Lomnica, and then hike down to the neighbouring town of Stary Smokovec. Of course, we’re cheating by taking the gondola up and walking back down, but we are now short of time, and don’t want to waste time/energy just for the sake of principles.
The gondola only took us 2/3 of the way up the mountain. There is a further gondola available that whisks tourists right to the summit of Lomnicky Štit, one of the highest peaks in the region – but it was sold out for the next few days, unless you wish to bid in an auction for the last two seats in each slot. We saw the restaurant perched high up on the peak, gleaming in the sunshine, and were jealous to be so far down below. I didn’t quite understand why the access to the summit was so restricted, but I guess there isn’t much space up there – nor in the tiny gondolas.
We started on our short hike, which felt disappointingly easy. It was a gentle downward slope following the contour of the mountain. The trail was really well made out of large stones, making it even easier. To begin with we had solitude, and beautiful views over the patchwork of fields below, towards and beyond Poprad, but eventually we descended below the tree line, with little to see beyond the trail itself. It however feel good to be active again after a short hibernation.
From within the tree line, there was one solitary viewpoint where we could clearly see the rugged neighbouring peaks – we just had to squint into the sun. These were the views that I was hoping for today, and they were stunning. I was just hoping for more than this mere glimpse to sustain ourselves on a two-hour descent.
From this point onwards, we joined another trail towards Hrebienok, and suddenly the trail became crowded. Crowds can be tolerable, but not when they are slow and also blocking the path. It was turning into the London Underground, which everyone knows isn’t fun.
We reached one of the highlights of this trail, which was a series of waterfalls. If I didn’t already sound like a disillusioned arsehole, I will now. It was tiny, no more than 5m tall. It sounded quite raucous from a distance, but up close it became quite timid.
The trail flattened out greatly from this point on, and it was a bit of a grind to Hrebienok, from where it was possible to take a funicular to Stary Smokovec, though we chose to continue on foot, even though it was rather flat and featureless.
I know this is full of complaints, but it’s how we were feeling on the day. We could see that there was some stunning scenery around, but from what I had researched, it wasn’t advisable to ascend without a guide – and mountaineering equipment. We were stuck doing a trail for the families and the elderly. At least I got a taste of what the High Tatras are about.
We had a short amount of time before the next train that would take us back to our starting point at Tatranska Lomnicka, so we briskly walked around the beautiful wooden old town of Stary Smokovec. The buildings were beautifully grand, with enormous wooden hotels, all painted in lovely shades of colour. Even the church was painted in a shade of pink, and the rose-coloured stained glass made the interior glow with ferocity in the late afternoon sun. We would have loved to spend more time walking around town, but the connecting train was hourly – and we decided we’d rather not miss it.
We had a quick meal of duck confit and beans from a can we’d bought in France (I miss the French supermarkets), hoping for a glorious sunset. Instead, we finished the meal in darkness, and now had a long drive to Poland. I immediately began to regret that decision, and probably should have stayed for the night in that car park. The roads were exceptionally dark, and we saw no shortage of nervous deer off to the side of the road. It turned out that the natural animals weren’t to be feared, but shortly after crossing back into Poland, some arsehole in an oncoming car threw gravel/rocks at us, leaving a large chip in the windscreen. It was such a senseless act, and we were powerless to do anything about it, especially in the dark.
We also missed out on seeing the mountains while driving. But, I was a man on a mission – and that was to get to Krakow.