Trip Start Sep 01, 2005
72Trip End Ongoing
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Mical, our guide was a godsend, a drunk on the verge of a hangover godsend, but a godsend nonetheless. We weaved through old town, got on a street car, exited several kilometers away, took a left down on empty street, then just as the sun came up turned into a signless, walled in parking lot with several buses
Zakopane sits at the base of the Tatra Mountains in Southern Poland. Mike said to expect something like a small Breckenridge; just a little more run down. Tiago asked us if the house that we were going to had electricity. We arrived around 8:30 AM, tired, hungry and cold. The closest place to eat was just down the street at a diner on the corner of an intersection. We couldn't really make out anything on the menu besides kakao and pirogue (a sort of dumpling stuffed with potato, onions and cheese.) We both thought that we were pretty tough sitting I a diner eating pirogues for breakfast... until the Polish came in. One couple came in and ordered a tall draft beer, poured a shot of maroon beet juice in it, stirred it, then took it outside to drink through a straw on the patio. It was cold out. A group of men came in, ordered pirogues, salads, beers and beet juice. They all sat outside in the cold eating the meal and sipping the beers through straws. We could tell that the Polish led hearty lives.
Mike had sent an email saying that the neighbor, Mr.
The taxi dropped us off with our backpacks and seven bags of groceries standing in the middle of the street. We tried to find house numbers, but none jumped at us. I entered a fenced in yard and rang a group of hanging bells by a door and stood with my friendliest smile waiting. Two women answered looking at me curiously. "Mr. Konstanty?" I asked, shrugging my shoulders. They tilted their heads to the left in unison. "Golinski? Konstanty?" A spark on recognition, and they pointed to go around the house, where I knocked on the next door. It took long enough for me to doubt that anyone was home, but eventually someone did answer. A stout looking man with short, grayish hair and a thin mustache that turned at the corners of his mouth and shot down his chin. "Mr.Konstanty?" I asked with a smile. He squinted his eyes in half a scowl and said something in Polish. I shrugged and said "Michael Golinski?" Then he smiled and said, "Oh, you are the friend of Mical?" pronouncing the name in Polish. "Yes, I am Josh."
"Yes, Mical said that you were coming
" I would love to, but I've left my girlfriend standing in the street with a lot of groceries. Can we get her first?"
He seemed a little confused by my reply. I couldn't blame him. Then I pointed around the house and said "my girlfriend."
"Oh, yes of course, let me get the keys, then you can come for tea."
"Perfect. Thank you."
Mr.Konstanty let us into the house, and it was beautiful. Mike had only mentioned that his parents had a place near Zakopane and that there was nothing to do in the little town. He didn't say that it was a beautiful big house that his parents had remodeled with a large modern, lofted flat, two complete kitchens, several fire places, a large bathroom with a big bathtub, balconies, views of the mountains, and a large TV with a big collection of DVD's. As Mr.Konstanty showed us around we were impressed with just how nice it was, and our plans to stay got longer. After turning on the boiler and opening the heat register valves he turned to return to his house saying, "please, after you are ready, come to my house for a small tea."
"Thank you very much Mr. Konstanty" we replied
"Konstanty is my sur name. Please, I am Ludomir." He smiled and walked away.
Erin and I gaped at how nice everything was, and then began to unpack. With everything packed so tightly, as soon as you remove one thing a large pile automatically appears. Like tubes of prank "peanut brittle" that are stuffed with spring-loaded snakes
After a while we went next door. Ludomir had to leave for work, but his wife Dorota was there and she happily invited us in. We sat in the living room next to the fire as she made tea. Though she spoke very little English we could still communicate fairly well. We petted their beagles Kaya and Figa, and looked through photo albums. She fed us cookies and told us about Martin, Mike's cousin, the surgeon. "Martin, no see," she said. We looked at each other and repeated her statement. "Martin no see?" she nodded in reply. "How incredible" we both thought, looking at each other. A blind surgeon! Then we realized that she was asking if we had seen Martin. After an hour or so Ludomir returned. They wouldn't let us leave with out food in our stomach and we happily took them up on the offer.
We ate pickles, cheeses, salami, bread, butter, scrambled eggs and jam. They told us about their children and showed us photos of the dogs. We talked about my connection with Mike and we told them about our trip. After a few hours and some Polish lessons we returned to our haven in the mountains. We made a fire and sipped hot chocolate, until Martin showed up with the Polish honey vodka.
We had both been looking forward to a quiet and relaxing evening, but having Martin there was fun too
It had been a long trip from Budapest to Murzaschicle, but we knew that we had arrived in a great place. That night we slept like rocks in the loft and did not wake up until 10 the next morning. The fruits of our labors in Colorado were paying off again. Mike had said that there was nothing to do there, and that sounded perfect to me. Taking a break from the touring that we had been doing is just what I wanted. We did however find several things to keep us busy for the six days that we stayed.
Ludomir and Dorota treated us like dignitaries. Each day we had tea and fun conversation with them. Ludomir is a survey engineer and seems to love maps. "Sometimes maps are more fun than vodka," he told us once. He said that had "been in the middle of the Sahara with only a map, a compass, and my brain for fun... and a Toyota Landcruiser... very good car." Dorota loved talking about her family. Their children, one in Krakow studying law, and another in Turkey with her husband, due to deliver their first grandchild in December. They both loved their babies as well, the award winning Kaya, and her daughter, the medalist Figa. At any point in our conversation, Ludomir would bound for a map and clear the table to add detail to whatever we were talking about, or Dorota would get up and find a photo album.
One day we joined Ludomir and the dogs for a walk through the forest. That was when he told us about surveying in the Sahara. There was no trail through the forest where we walked. Ludomir had large, waterproof snow boots on, we had our low-top hikers. He is an active man in his later fifties. Of the photos that we had seen of him in Libya, many were of him with a bushy beard, no shirt, small shorts, boots and puffy socks doing handstands over points that he had marked. He seemed spry as ever as he bound through the thick, bright green, sponge like moss that covered the forest floor. Trying to avoid marshy patches always left us many paces behind him and we would only catch up when he stopped to pick wild berries for the dogs. "Good veetamins," he would say, then bound off with his whistle and the dogs.
Adam, a large man with a bushy mustache, was another neighbor. He is the chief ranger of the Tatra mountain park. Ludomir introduced us and he drove the three of us to Moskie Oko, a beautiful glacial lake in the mountains. The road that we took is closed to automobiles, but when the rangers saw Adam coming they opened the gates. "Look at everybody else walking, and you in here like dignitaries," Lodumir said as we drove up the mountain. Adam told us that heaven would be nice, but he hoped to go to hell so that he could be with his friends. At the top of the mountain it began to snow. We had all of our layers on, and though about the Rockies in Colorado.
Twice we dinner with the Konstanty's eating soups and schnitzels. We also went out for dinner twice, and the food served only confirmed our observations of the Polish being hearty people. Bread with a potato, bacon, lard spread as appetizers. I ordered placsky with goulash. It was a pork goulash stew, thick enough to be served between two herbed potato pancakes. The first night, Erin ordered tomato soup with sour cream followed by the highly recommended fried regional goat cheese. To me, fried cheese is hard to beat, but like the Polish, this cheese was stout. Imagine three pungent smelling hockey pucks, but orange, and tasting like a rancid cheese that had the rancid taste smoked out of it for days. Heat up some oil in a pan and toss the pucks in. When they are brown on both sides, put them on a plate with a sprig of parsley and three wedges of the same cheese (not fried) to garnish, and serve luke warm. With my help she finished two, but a third would have been dangerous. We folded it in a napkin and smuggled it out for eggs the next morning. Leaving the restaurant I was moaning in gluttony over the richness of the meal. The next visit, I ordered the same and Erin had just the soup. It was delicious. So rich and so hearty that a salad and a beer watered down with beet juice just might be good for breakfast.
We left our luxury home and our new friends after six great days. It was getting cold and starting to snow, so we told the Konstatys that it was time for us to migrate. After a quick overnight stay with Martin in Krakow and a rollercoaster ride circling a roundabout in reverse twice, we sat on the overnight train headed back to Budapest. The next day we would catch the train to Ljubljana, Slovenia.