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Ness keeps a lookout...
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... and exclaimed "I saw a bear!" (several, actually). This was one of the most memorable moments of our entire trip, seeing a mother bear and her cubs, in the wild, at close range!
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Polish "babushka"

We managed an early start and went down to the large wooden open breakfast room, and afterwards got into Eddie to drive a short way south of the town centre to Kuźnice. Lots of people were already up and about, hikers walking all the way from the town centre and those who, like us, preferred the lazy option of driving to the car parking area at the border of the Tatras national park. We were guided to the next available space. The roadsides were already filling up and we parked on the car park of the rather sorry looking Zakopane Sports Hotel, a hangover from communist days when “summer camps” must have been held here. There were signs of occupation, like the football shirts and sports socks which dangled from some windows on the upper floors, but on the whole the hotel looked rather past it now.

From the car park it was a good walk, on a slow uphill, along the tree-lined road to the start of the cable car. Ness was soon huffing and puffing, not having realised that there was a long walk. Many others were headed in the same direction, as were horse and carts, the drivers conveniently positioned just beyond the car park, but we resisted the temptation. The walk was longer than we had bargained on, and on a steady incline, and we felt pretty knackered when we reached the top. There was a long queue for the cable car and it didn’t move. While Ness stayed in the queue I went to ask how long the wait would be and was told four hours! That decided it for us, and we decided to walk up instead. After all, that was what we were here for in the first place! But first … coffee and tea at the cafeteria, and then we were ready to go. We were going to follow the blue trail. First we had to join another queue, to get into the national park! We bought our tickets from the tiny sentry post-sized little log cabin that served as a ticket office and then started the walk. As usual on hikes, I had my yellow eTrex GPS to hand, to keep us informed with facts and stats on the walk.

The first section led through dense dark pines, steeply and steadily uphill on a path that was slippery with moisture as well as the smoothly worn rocks from the many hikers. It was a tough slog but very enjoyable. Well, I was almost grinning from ear to ear, Ness seemed ok with it but was more focused on just getting to the top! With all the other hikers around we weren’t really “getting away from it all” and into nature as such, but there was nonetheless a relaxed family day out atmosphere, a collective enjoyment of nature. It did strike me how keen the Poles are on things like walking in forests or on paddling in a lake.

We climbed and climbed, and climbed, and stopped often for short breaks for Ness to catch her breath, but I was glad to have the frequent stops too! After the forested climb we came out on a ridge. The path was just below the ridge on one side, and from here we had stunning views over the valleys, fields, forests and villages far below and far out into the distance. The ridge was open, covered in grass but without any trees. We stopped for a little break and then continued, still climbing up and up, and we got views over the other side of the ridge. Below it was a deep, narrow and thickly wooded valley through which we could see the “yellow” trail. It looked pretty flat from up here, except for the last part where it climbed steeply up the end of the valley, through woods, to join our trail further up on a saddle between two peaks.

There were lots of people on this trail too, all slowly walking up. A little further along the ridge we had a surprise animal spotting: three bears! A mother and two cubs, slowly going about their business in the tall grass and moving slowly, far enough from the path. They must have been conditioned, accustomed to the incessant stream of visitors and seemed to ignore us. A few people jumped off the trail into the bushes alongside the path, to have their pictures taken with the bears in the background, and another guy left some food, hoping to entice the bears nearer! It was an incredible sight to see these big furry wild animals at such close range, and genuinely in the wild. (Stats looked up later – there are estimated to be about 50 bears in the national park, so we must have been exceptionally lucky to see any at all, never mind three of them!) We continued to climb along the ridge and then up to a saddle between higher peaks.

At the saddle we stopped and had our lunch. We had brought some bread, sausage and the local smoked cheese. It was a super spot, which we shared along with several dozen other hikers! The views looking down the valley and north towards Zakopane and far beyond were unbeatable. We crossed the saddle and on the other side descended into a very pastoral and picturesque landscape, gently folding curves between the peaks, covered in greenery, bushes, pink and yellow and blue and white flowers, and picturesque log cabins dotted here and there. At the end of the trail we came to a very large log cabin which was a café, restaurant, cafeteria, doing brisk business catering to the hordes of hikers. We had a tea and coffee and then made our way back along the same route to the saddle and then down along the yellow trail, steeply downhill and into the forests and along the bottom of the valley. What had looked like a nice flat bit to us earlier was still a steep downhill, coming this way, and our legs had to work hard! At first it was narrow and rocky and then in the valley the trail joined up with a stream running along the bottom.

When we finally got back to where the walk had started, I couldn’t resist the temptation of the little rocky pond/lake and dipped my feet in. Aaahh!, instant relief, but it was very, very cold! Before heading back from Kuźnice we stopped to have a beer and shaslik from one of the cafés and their adjoining barbecue stands. Then the last leg of the walk, down along the main road to the car park and then back to the hotel. We went for the sauna and pool, sharing it with three uncommunicative young Poles who obviously were joking among themselves, probably at our expense. I made sure I got a comment about one of them in to Ness, for their benefit. After the sauna and swim we relaxed in our room for a while, I wrote my diary, and we had dinner in the hotel, tasty highland cooking.