Tag Archives: hiking vacations

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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Lucerne

Hello from Lucerne! I’m approaching the end of a restorative week in Lucerne, Switzerland. Rainy days encouraged the slow pace, however, the goal of the week was to simply rest, eat right and relax on a level not quite possible moving from place to place – and it was achieved. I’ve been feeling a bit worn down from travel, having an erratic sleep schedule and not eating as well as usual. Getting the right variety of nutrients had been an unexpected challenge during constant travel. 

Well, not exactly healthy a food, but I appreciated the extra time to bake a Nectarine Pie

The luxury of having free time meant home cooking every meal, something I have missed a lot over the last month. Of course the week involved plenty of treats! After a few tries, I figured out a decent pancake breakfast by converting an American recipe to metric measurements that better fit the kitchen equipment. Math was never my strength but I’m a bit ashamed of the disasters I created my first two attempts. A nectarine pie made for another sweet treat near the closing of the week. I must confess though that I didn’t intend to bake a pie at all but was forced to when I realized the pizza dough that I bought was actually dessert dough! 

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A performance after a long rain.

Aside from wonderful tastes the week offered amazing sound as a music festival was on at the lakefront. The week-long Blue Balls festival meant free shows and art performances took place every night along the beautiful lakefront and brought out all sorts of people. The festival provided an excuse to walk around the old town and to the shores of Lake Lucerne after dinner or try food from a variety of food stalls selling everything from roasted nuts or cheesecake to spicy curry. Aside from the major stages, smaller-scale performances were on a few street corners or mini-stages, giving the festival goers a nice variety of sound and styles. Bands come from all over and a fair number performed with English lyrics so I was able to follow along very well. 

Lucerne is a wonderful base for challenging mountain routes and public transportation makes it easy  (but not cheap) to reach trail heads. Only the final full day of the stay was clear enough to for a day hike and I chose Pilatus. The mountain looms over the city and the dragon tales associated with it made it seem like the perfect Lucerne experience. I visited the city once before and did not have time to hike the mountain. So, I was really happy to do it on a second visit.

The hike began at Alpnachstad, an uncomplicated place to reach from Luzern while being less than an eight hour round trip. Alpnachstad is the start of the famous cogwheel railway which goes to the top of Pilatus and drops passengers off at viewing platforms and a cafe. I would have to really work for my coffee and walked the route starting behind the cogwheel rail station. The six kilometers up is very steep, winding through forest, pasture with happy cows and then a series of rocky switchbacks.

Following the steep footpath up from Alpnachstad took 3.5 hours and the views are amazing.

After gaining almost 1,700 meters, at the top I felt a mix of awe and relief. To the west and south are views of beautiful snowy peaks; To the east is glistening Lake Lucerne. I wish there had been another day for exploring the network of different trails around the mountain and beyond but I’m very happy with how the week progressed. 

Now I’m a bit sore, still hungry and planning a few days exploring Prague!

As always, thank you for reading!