Tag Archives: hike

Central Europe: Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia 

After four weeks traveling around Central Europe I finally found time to share what I’ve been seeing and doing. My plans have undergone numerous changes, most notably skipping the Tatras, but I have been having a great time with most days spent hiking or wandering cities. Either way, a lot of time spent outside!

I avoided coming to this part of Europe before because the language is really different from what I know and have studied. However, like most languages, you start to notice patterns quickly and it’s not impossible and depending on what you’re up to, your vocabulary might work across a few borders in the region (Vodopad is used in multiple languages in central Europe for the noun waterfall, pivo/piwo for beer,  and good sounds similar, so greetings like good morning, good day etc will sound similar). I would advise against relying on a general translation app, like Google for more than individual words because it’s incapable of changing grammar structures so a full sentence will come out a little weird. Young people are always helpful as the younger a person is the more likely it is that they will have studied English or had some informal exposure to it. There seems to be very low expectations for travelers’ Polish, Czech, Slovak or Croatian language skills but per usual, a good rule is to learn how to say please, thank you, hello, goodbye, yes and no.  I noticed that culturally, the people in Central Europe appreciate a modest and polite traveler; if they interpret your behavior as condescending they will not do anything for you, even if they are someone who would generally helps strangers.

I haven’t run into any safety issues. I see less other women traveling alone in these areas than Western or Southern Europe but we cross paths from time to time. For the most part getting around is easy using public transportation apps. Actually, I’m really impressed with the public bus networks of Poland and Czech Republic! It’s possible to stay in one central location and take a bus, quite cheaply, to any number of national forests, national park or other nature areas. Sometimes it takes one to two hours but the time goes quickly with a book or at the end of the day, just recovering. This is a great service and you see all kinds of people out hiking or biking – because wonderful natural areas are so accessible! What a dream it would be if I could do this at home and hop on a bus in Minneapolis and end up 40 miles away at one of the Minnesota state or regional parks! 

August was a heavy hiking month with about 400 kilometers covered in three countries. Forest, wetlands, mountains and sandstone labyrinths were my playgrounds. All the hiking meant an excuse to try a new beer almost every night and a wide variety of traditional and contemporary fusion dishes. My favorite things included blueberry ice cream and roasted duck.

Adršpach-Teplice Rocks National Park in Czech Republic is full of gorgeous blue lakes and sandstone formations (I loved the polar bear rock). This was one of the most crowded natural areas I visited but it was definitely worth seeing. I visited on a day with on-and-off rain which made all the colors of moss and lichen throughout the park pop.

View from the top of Sněžka (1602 m) which is the highest mountain in the Czech Republic. Located in Krkonoše National Park which is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve it offers sweeping views over both Czech Republic and Poland. The mountain range and park offer numerous (and absolutely free) hiking opportunuties and I covered about 75 kilometers in three days on the lovely trails.

Enjoying the view after a 1,000 meter ascent. Turning 30 at the end of August meant an interest in abusing my knees and hips while they were still “young.”

A view of Cesky Krumlov, UNESCO Heritage Site and the number two tourist destination in Czech Republic. A very beautiful and charming city with a castle set on a winding river. This was the perfect setting for relaxing outside after a long day of hiking the nearby wood trails.

The castle tower in Cesky Krumlov with beautiful coloring and ornate reliefs. It apparently has the nickname “Birthday Cake.”

A picture from the Wawel Castle grounds in Krakow. I have avoided this city in the past do to its popularity; I feared it would feel very crowded. The old town is heavily trafficked but there is much to see, do and eat while still feeling like you’re getting a modern, authentic experience. The older parts of the city are nice for wandering and have a rich yet disturbing history.

A view of Bratislava Castle. I spent a long weekend in Bratislava, Slovakia and found it to be more enjoyable than some of the other major cities I’ve visited. Notably the smaller crowds, cleaner streets and very efficient public transportation. History blends perfectly with modern urban life here. Also the surrounding forests are a nice place to spend a day getting lost on foot or cycling.

Right now I’m in Croatia waiting out a long rain spell and recovering from 19 hour travel marathon to arrive at Plitvice Lakes National Park. I’m beyond excited to visit this park and share the experience.

Thanks for reading!

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Spain: Basque Beaches (Road Trip Part 2)

Writing to you from Santiago de Compostela, with my feet up, hoping to get some rest after a long, hot day exploring the city. It’s a charming place with a rich cultural scene, history, and even though a bit inland, still has delicious seafood.

Now it’s time to finally catch up on some posts. Spain has been a bit chillier and more rainy than usual, which wouldn’t bother me at all had I been a bit more prepared. The rain coat (bright blue and bound to make several appearances in photos) and sweatshirt have been a daily wardrobe staple and my poor hiking shoes are constantly damp. The breeze is strong and the weather changes every fifteen minutes but I find it beautiful and very powerful. The two week trip across the northern coast from Santander to San Sebastian (and a quick stop in France) to Gijón and A Coruña is about 1,600 km.

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The coast a few kilometers East of Bilbao.

 

The Basque area was really beautiful with many small roads hugging the coast and frequent beaches with hiking routes. Gentle mountains to the south and the ocean to the north provided contrast and wonderful landscapes all the way. I’d heard Basque food cannot be missed and ate out as often as possible. The delicious fish, cheeses and wines, as well as Basque cakes, were all very good. Nights with a cool air coming off the of the ocean made a warm or heavy dish tolerable.

Playa de Laga

 

The next day I took a short hike beginning just outside of  Urdaibai –  Biosfera Erreserba beginning at Playa de Laga. This was such a beautful views of the coast. I’ve been using Wikiloc with mixed success for finding hikes. My main issue is not having quite good enough Spanish to understand routes or using the correct Spanish hiking jargon while searching. Almost the entire coast has a hiking path, official or not and numerous networks exist slightly inland. Northern Spain is a perfect place for  a “choose you own adventure” kind of hike. 

 

Where a river meets the ocean.

 

Weather was challenging during the section between Zauritz and Biarritz  (FR) with full clouds or rain most days. San Sebastian looked cute even in a storm but there was no time to wait for sun and take a look at the beach. The most easternly destination on the ride was Hossegor, France and the long sandy beaches that make it a surfer’s paradise. These days provided a nice opportunity for trying some local food, in particular, cheeses. Admittedly, I was delighted to score some Belgian beer in France a touch cheaper than it is other places. I enjoyed playing beach bum.

Playa de la Arnía, just West of Santander was a highlight. The day had been rainy from the start but the evening cleared up a bit for a visit to the iconic beach. The Urros that thrust out of the ocean and have been shaped by waves and wind over time are amazing. Some rock appears razor thin at some points and the features seem to defy gravity! Around this area there are so many beaches it’s almost overwhelming. I love walking along beaches with interesting geologic features and thought I might fall in love with all of Spain’s northern coast.

At Playa de la Arnía

Thank you for reading!