Sun, Snow and Spis
Trip Start Sep 12, 2006
100Trip End Sep 08, 2008
We left a few hours behind schedule on the morning of the 9th, and made up for lost time as we zoomed down the Autostrada, Poland's rather pathetic equivalent of the German Autobahn. We reached the outskirts of Krakow just after 11am, but before we had a chance to get excited about the time we made up we found ourselves bumper to bumper on the highway south to the border, and Polish mountain resort town of Zakopane
Ania took the wheel from here, and after a bumpy drive along an unmaintained Polish road we crossed onto a freshly tarmacked road about three times the width in Slovakia some time around 4pm. The clouds had been hovering above us for most of the day, but in the late afternoon sun they began to part, and I had my first view of the Tatras from the Slovakian side of the border. Larger than their Polish counterparts, with Mt Rysy the highest peak at 2499m, the Slovakian Tatras had no less than 12 peaks topping 2500m. These were in full view as we reached the city of Vysoke Tatry, a collection of small villages adapted for winter tourism, and we stopped the car here to go for a short stroll before the sun went down. The scenery was stunning, but somewhat different to the Polish side, with less development and fewer trees. It was later on at our guesthouse, in the tiny village of Gerlachov, that we found out they had been destroyed by a freak gust of wind a few years earlier.
Private homestays were now our preferred choice of accommodation, given the cheap rates, privacy and tranquility, and the place we chose in Gerlachov was no exception
I was pleased to see clear skies when I woke on the Sunday, offering fantastic views over the Tatras, however once we had some breakfast the clouds had gathered and covered the huge peaks. A little disappointed with the weather, we decided instead to visit the medieval town of Levoca and Spis Castle some 35km to the east, before reassessing the weather situation and deciding what to do in the afternoon.
The drive out to Levoca was very pleasant, passing dry rolling hills which bared an uncanny resemblance to those in the midlands of Tasmania. I had read that Levoca was one of the best preserved medieval towns in the former Czechoslovakia, and as we decided against visiting the popular Bohemian town of Cesky Krumlov, I didn't want to miss it. By the time we arrived the sun was shining, and Ania and I were both impressed as we passed over the crest of a hill to see the red rooves of the town behind the centuries old fortifications
With the sun still shining we made our way a further 15km east to what was one of the largest ruined castles in all of Europe, Spis Castle. From a distance of 5km the photogenic ruin stood out like a beacon, and we stopped the car a little further on to get some photos of it above the town of Spissky Podhradie. When we returned to the car we found a man waiting for us, and both of us felt more than a little nervous as there was no one else around. Fortunately he didn't do anything, and we continued on around the medieval fortification of Spisska Kapitula to the foot of the hill which was home to the castle.
From here it was a short scramble up the muddy hillside to the castle, where yet again we found the gates locked, following a similar scenario at Orava Castle a month earlier. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic place to stop for lunch, with views over the surrounding countryside as far as the Tatra mountains.
As we set off that morning our plan was to visit Levoca, Spis Castle and the lowland National Park of Slovensky Raj, given the inclement weather. However, it had cleared to such a degree that we decided to ditch our idea of visiting the National Park, instead deciding to head back to the Tatras to do a short hike to the famous Popradske Pleso (Lake Poprad). We arrived around 3.30pm, and after having some trouble on the icy road we set off on the hour long hike. The trail was covered in snow, but wide enough for cars meaning it didn't take too long to reach our destination. I was expecting the lake to be iced over, similar to Morskie Oko in Poland, which I visited in May 2007, yet I couldn't have guessed what we would find. The lake was not only iced over, but snow had settled on it as well, freezing the lake to such a degree that we could walk out to the middle of it. With only half an hour of daylight remaining, the setting sun gave the soaring alpine peaks an amazing orange and then pink glow, and it was with some reluctance we dragged ourselves away, not wanting to spend too long hiking back in the dark. The views got the better of us though, and we found ourselves traversing the entire distance back to the car in complete darkness.
It was a long day, but we saw three amazing sites. The weather was stunning, and given it was a winter Sunday there weren't too many tourists about. We kept our fingers crossed that the weather would hold for the following day, as we planned to do more hiking in the stunning mountain range.