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Fantastic day out in the Tatras.
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On our way down we met this procession of devout Poles taking their cross for a walk.
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Girls from ... (Turkey? Dagestan? Bosnia? Uzbekistan? Belarus?) in traditional costumes at the highland festival.
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Oooff, should have gone easy on that Polish wodka!
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One of my favourite photos, for the movement in the performers. The composition is almost like a painting. Lucky shot and technically flawed, but still a great snapshot!

We managed to haul ourselves out of bed for the early start – a 5.30am alarm call – and were at reception for 6.15am. At least we had prepared our packs last night before going to bed. We picked up the packed lunches that had been organised for us by the friendly receptionist as a freebie in lieu of breakfast (and Ness had been so looking forward to the hotel egg-chef’s excellent omelette here, never mind). Our cab was there, ready and waiting for us, and we zoomed, well, spluttered but swiftly at least, through town and uphill to the cable car station at Kuźnice. Lots of schadenfreude as we saw people stood at bus stops, waiting for the first bus at 6.35am, and they saw us streaming past, and even more schadenfreude as we sped uphill past the slogging walkers. At the top I let out a victorious exclamation, and the cab driver knew exactly what I meant!

Despite getting here so early, well before the 7am opening, there was already a queue, but much shorter than last time. We waited patiently and eventually shuffled into the terminus to buy our tickets, one-way, and then squeezed into the single car, along with twenty or thirty others. Up we went, climbing high above the valley and suspended high above the ground. In some parts we were only slightly above the top of the tall pine trees, able to watch this part of the forest at our leisure, the “roof” of the forest. In other parts we were high above the ground below, on the long stretches between the massive pylons. There was a halfway station where we had to change to another car, and then we continued up again, even more steeply, rising far above the landscape. Inside the station at the top we were greeted by the smell of … popcorn  from the only place that was open so early. The main cafeteria was still closed, scuppering my plans for a morning pre-walk coffee. We sat at one of the benches outside and had part of our lunch packs for breakfast, breathing in the fresh morning air and taking in the outstanding views. Aaahh, this felt good.

We set out on our planned hike along the ridge, heading west towards the peak of Kondracka Kopka, and from there up to Giewont, another peak, at the “front” of the range (i.e. north, facing out over the Polish plains). Giewont was topped by a tall cross and looks down over Zakopane, dominating the town, despite not being the tallest of the mountains here, at only around two thousand metres. On the open ridge and early in the day, it was cold and fresh and we resorted to our fleeces and jackets, even thinking how nice it would be to have our hats! On one side, to our left, we looked down into Slovakia. On the other side was Poland. We were basically walking along the borderline. Red and white border markers were placed on the high points along the ridge, with “S” on one side and “P” on the other. Based on the map, I had programmed a few waypoints in my GPS.

We made rapid progress on the first part, which was mostly level or downhill, with steep sharp drops on either side of us, hundreds of metres down. Steady footing was definitely required! We had fabulous views on either side. To the north were the populated Polish lowlands. On the other side was the interior of the High Tatras, with more mountains and deep valleys covered in carpets of pine trees, and far beyond, looking deep into Slovakia, beyond the Tatra mountains, towards green farmlands. Wow! We took it slowly. There were only a few walkers around when we set out but later we were overtaken by some faster walkers from later cable cars up. The climb up to Kondracka Kopka was a tough section, and we were both feeling puffed, and proud, when we got to the top. We made a stop here to enjoy the views and had another bite, and then we set off down, on the other side, towards the saddle lower down which was behind Giewont.

From up here we could see how this saddle was a busy meeting point for hikers from several trails which joined here, and they looked like ants from up here. Downhill was tough too, and we were careful not to slip, and at the saddle we made another stop. By this stage we had already decided against the last climb, up Giewont itself. This last bit just looked so steep and having once gone downhill for a good stretch it seemed “counterintuitive” to go up again. We followed the green (or was it the yellow?) trail, down, going against the flow. There was a continuous stream of hikers coming up. The last bit, for them, was a steep winding path up. It was tough for us too, but far less strenuous! The path gradually levelled out but remained tough on our knees. We encountered a long procession, a cross being borne at the front. They had already made a very long hike to get here, and the toughest bit was still to come for them. We continued to go down and reached the log cabin where we stopped for a coffee and sat on the bench outside.

From here I called Mama and Mischa, responding to a voicemail Mischa had left me the other day to say she had gone over to see Mama with Woody. We completed the rest of the walk, which was still a long way, and finally reached Kuźnice, and stopped for a well-earned beer with syrup, and a shaslick, and then we caught a bus back into Zakopane. At the hotel we kicked off our shoes and took a short break before going out again. We wanted to catch the “highland wedding” at 5pm. We crossed to the open park area, where the focus of the festival was going to be. There didn’t seem to be a lot going on, certainly not on the scale and enthusiasm of Tartu’s Hanseatic Days (see Estonia). There were a few stalls selling handicrafts, and one or two outlets of beer and food, some seating, and a blue and yellow “big top”, and a small open-air stage, by the green. We got ourselves beers with syrup in plastic glasses, just in time, we thought, for the start of the “wedding”.

Well, we took seats at the back by the open-air stage and the wedding started a little later. The wedding processions came in from the back of the field, accompanied by typical “górale” (highlander) singing. It’s hard to describe the sound – we bought a CD. They were dressed in the typical highlander clothes of thick pressed wool – see pictures for these. The wedding was enacted, with lots of dancing, twirling, stomping, kissing, and of course górale singing and whistling, with a Polish commentary that would have been lost on us if it hadn’t been for the helpful translations from the Polish-Dutch woman sat next to Ness. We were about to return to the hotel as we had planned to head for the sauna, but instead stayed around for the next “act” and were glad we did! We were treated to a series of short performances from a wide range of nationalities, all putting on a brief but spirited introduction to themselves and their national styles of dancing/singing/music. It was a kind of parade of highland dancing and music from, in order: Turkey, Romania, Turkmenistan, Sicily, Serbia, another Górale piece, Peru, Russia (I think), Belarus, Bulgaria, Dagestan, Macedonia, Hungary and finally, France. I tried to take lots of pictures but these simply can’t capture the music, the twirling and stomping and dancing, and the general mood. Suffice to say, each act was colourful, different in its own way, and applauded enthusiastically, with an encore from the jumping Peruvians. It was quite late by the time this spectacle had finished, and we returned to the hotel where we had a tasty dinner in the large cosy wooden dining room, with more live górale music, and then off to bed, knackered and happy. Another fantastic day, yippee!