High in the Tatras – From Poland to Slovakia

Morskie Oko

The title sounds promising, doesn’t it? 😉 There is one more summer adventure I want to share with you: Instead of a surfing holiday in Portugal (as I originally planned), I spent about two weeks “working away” in a hostel in Poland. In between the shifts I hiked around the High Tatras of Poland and Slovakia. The highlight of my trip was definitely climbing Mount Rysy – up the polish side and down the slovakian. Scroll down and skip the jabbering, if you just want to see the pictures. 😉

Arrival at the Hight Tatras tourist paradise Zakopane

It is 9 pm on a warm August evening. With a slightly painful back, incredibly tired and hungry after 22 hours of bus rides I stranded at the busstation in Zakopane – a city at the borders of the High Tatras in Poland.

When I took a taxi to the hostel, where I’m going to work and live during the next 10 days I found out that Zakopane is not quite the tiny mountain village I imagined: Zakopane is paved with restaurants, souvenir shops and even shopping malls, that invite polish families to spend their money. It is actually the nightmare for every hiker, who wants to spend time in nature surrounded by like-minded people. Zakopane is the polish tourist paradise. What Mallorca is (or used to be?) for the basic german tourist is Zakopane for the polish population.

entrance sign high tatras nationalpark
Entrance sign to High Tatras Nationalpark.

Nevertheless it is the entrance to High Tatras Nationalpark and if you take your time to research locally you still find some peace in nature. It’s peaks form the smallest alpine mountain range in Europe offer hikes and climbs for every skill level. So it is definitely worth to pay a visit – probably it is even an obligation, if you travel Poland.

Goate Goodbye Lenin Hostel Zakopane
Hostellife at Goodbye Lenin Hostel Zakopane.

Okay, so I arrived at Good Bye Lenin hostel around 10 pm. There was no turning back and I was looking forward to get back to travel life – working in a backpackers, having these conversations you can only have with backpackers. I didn’t know what to expect, but I felt so relaxed, because this is what I love about travelling – You never know what you get. A situation, a mood, an atmosphere can invert within one blink of the eye.

When I met Martha and Julia, two of the other volunteers, I knew it is going to be a positive experience and an enrichment. Especially with Julia from Germany I klicked immediately and we would find a lot of time for deep conversations during the next days. Julia is turning 30 soon and she quit her job in spring to travel the world for an uncertain time. – You can imagine, that we have a lot in common.

hiking workawayers
Hiking in High Tatras Nationalpark with the workawayers.

As our volunteer-schedule at the hostel allowed us a lot of time to explore the mountains, we made use of this opportunity as often as possible to explore the beautiful nature around us. I didn’t have the time to climb all of the mountains I wanted to, but I made acquaintance with Mount Giewont, where Anton, a russian guy was my hiking buddy in crime.

Approaching Rysy the tourist way

It was Monday 7th August when I studied the map in the living room of the hostel. I already knew about Rysy – the highest mountain of Poland. The track on the map looked very compelling as it passes Morskie Oko and a second lake. And finally the peak was located on the border between Poland and Slovakia. Basically Rysy has even two peaks – one on the polish side (2600 m) and one on the slovakian (2349 m).

The weather forecast for Tuesday was just perfect for this hike – even if I already knew it would be busy due to the peak holiday season, we had to give it a go: “Julia, tomorrow we go to Rysy.” The decision was made and we would go for nothing less than the highest mountain of Poland the next morning.

horse carriage
Selfie of Julia and me at the horse carriage.

At 7 am we took the bus towards Morskie Oko Lake. In order to save time and energy and to skip the long road part of the track we decided to take the horse carriage to the beginning of our track up to Mount Rysy. On the way we already.

lake high tatras
The beauty of High Tatras Nationalpark.

The track started off like a dream: We rounded Morskie Oko Lake with only a couple of other tourists. The lake was flawlessly clear like a mirror. Nature showed its loveliest face. So we climbed and climbed – not even noticing that we already mastered some altitude.

selfie rysy
First lookout point, where we took a break.

The crowd of hikers was still reasonable – okay, there were people, but they didn’t hold us back from enjoying the view. Rysy is like all the other peaks on the polish side of the Tatra very very busy during the summer season. It seems like half of Poland is on holidays in their only alpine mountainous range.

chains mount rysy
The steep part secured by chains at Mount Rysy.

Well, after about two hours the peace was over. The hard part of the track started. The last 400 meteres of altitude have to be proceeded by a rope secured track. On this part we saw all sorts of surprises – guys chaining their crying girlfriends around their hips, fully-equipped (wanna-be) mountaineers in their 60ies, south american backpackers with massive packs on there backs, business-man gesturing on their phone and smoking a cigarette while hanging on the edge of a cliff. Jules called it tenderly “the hiking traffic” – man, it was just crazy.

polish soldier
We even met a polish soldier at Rysy 😉

At the beginning I found it quite entertaining, but when the track got more narrow and airy, my nosey enthusiasm yields slight panic. I was afraid of falling down arm in arm with one of the smartphone users.

Luckily we met Tania from Canada, who stayed at Goodbye Lenin Hostel like us. She is one of the most optimistic and inspiring women I’ve ever met. I would have some intense conversations with her the next day about how to live, what to consume and so on and so on. She didn’t only provide us with additional snack supplies that day, but also with warm words of motivation, when I needed them the most. Thanks for that, Tania. 😉

Slovakian Peak Rysy
Slovakian Peak of Rysy.

Rysy – From Poland to Slovakia

Well, at the end of course we made it, but one thing was for sure: We wouldn’t go back the same way. So even if we didn’t know, where exactly we would end up that night we decided to cross the border and check out the slovakian side of High Tatras Nationalpark as we wouldn’t have to work the next day.

Slovakian High Tatras
Julia and me in front of a mountain range on the Slovakian Side of High Tatras.

It turned out to be a brilliant decision, because all of a sudden we were actually surrounded by peaceful mountainous atmosphere. Only a few locals from Slovakia chose the same path and very few polish tourists were impeding our trek. Because we were so happy, we celebrated our day at the next hut with a drink – still three hours away from the valley. It is especially famous for the toilet with a view. (Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture.)

Slovakian flank rysy
Slovakian flank of Rysy – just breathtaking mountain views.

As the sun was setting when we proceeded through the breathtaking landscape hoping to find a car or any other connection to Zakopane that day. The lack of options brought us to Poprad, where we found out that we missed the last bus to Zakopane about two hours. We stayed in a cheap hotel and when we ate chips and drank beer unwillingly my desire grew to come back to Poprad as soon as possible. But first of all we had to go back to Zakopane: The next day, after a good nights sleep in a really comfortable bed we took the first bus back to the hostel.

hotel room Poprad
Our hotel room in Poprad:)

Bursting the hostel bubble

Two days later I would travel further to Slovakia again, where I would stay with great couchsurfers. When I arrived in Zakopane about two weeks earlier I had no idea where this journey would end. I was prepared to clean at the hostel every day, but I ended up walking across the border of two countries. I thought I would be in the hostel bubble, but I ended up meeting an incredible family via couchsurfing (whose children can sing a goodnight song in 56 languages). Apart from that I learnt about Israeli Cuisine from another couchsurfer who also stayed that night.

batizovske pleso slovakia high tatras
Slovakian Side of High Tatras Nationalpark – the smallest alpine mountain range in Europe.

Even if I only caught a glimpse of the castles, the forests and the lakes my plan manifested to go back to Slovakia sooner than later.

I fell in love with many places, but this country seems to be very mystical (in a way) and compelling to me. I’m very grateful that I have such great countries close by and the opportunity to actually visit them. See you soon Slovakia. <3

How can I not love to travel?

selfie slovakia


    1. Thanks for reading :))) Yes, workaway is an amazing opportunity for travelling cheaply. In the future I will post more about my travel resources here.. Cheers from Germany :*

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