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Colourful locals, at the shepherds market
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Wearing the typical "gorale" (highlander) headgear
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The younger generation remains to be convinced...
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Kebabs, wine, beer, etc. What more could you wish for?!
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Following the trails through the forests

Our comfy double bed made it difficult to have the early start we had in mind for a hike. A lie-in and lazy breakfast in the wooden airy and light breakfast room, with egg chef cooking up a decent omelette, got the vote instead. Both feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. We walked down the ul. Krupowki, already thronging with hundreds of people and so busy in places that it was a matter of shuffling rather than walking. By the church there was something going on. Barriers had been set up to provide space for dignitaries to get to the church and behind the barriers people had massed several layers deep. We shuffled along and then, out of curiosity, also stopped to see who would be turning up. I joked that it must be the Pope, in Madonna’s limo, or maybe the other way round?

We spent a long time waiting, over an hour. In the period we saw several groups arrive: a group of veterans, fiercely carrying a standard, as if they were headed into battle, and groups of soldiers, in tight formation, and a few individual invitees, including one in the typical highlander costume of funny hat, thick pressed woollen (itchy) trousers, and scouts who helped some of the veterans up the stairs. But after over an hour everyone was still waiting for the main visitor or dignitary. The police officer in charge spoke to the crowd, in Polska of course, and the crowd, disappointed, started to disperse. We wandered on, to the end of the street and across the road into a busy area full of market stalls selling tourist kitsch, including many of the local cheese stalls, as well as the typical axe-shaped walking sticks, children’s versions of the highlanders hats and so on. Hundreds and hundreds of people were all shuffling about. Quite a pleasant festival atmosphere.

We queued for the funicular to the top of the Gubotowka hill, despite the crowds it didn’t take all that long, especially when we found out that to get into the car, after having queued to buy your ticket, we didn’t have to queue… oh, whatever… We crawled effortlessly to the top of the hill, with fantastic views over the valley and looking towards the Tatra mountains beyond the town. At the top there were cafés, stalls, a fun-bobsleigh-type ride, and lots and lots of Poles on their weekend away. It reminded me a lot of the Teleferiqo above Quito, but this was a very Polish version, with kebabs and barbecue stalls, a highland version of the promenade at Międzyzdroje. We had a drink, coffee, at a terrace café, looking out over the valley views. Fresh air, windy even. Just as well that we had taken extra layers with us. It was still cloudy and grey but nicely fresh with it. A path followed the ridge, towards a chair lift down to the bottom (we had already bought tickets to return on this). All along the path there were more stalls, log cabins, and near the start we stopped for a plate of blood sausage, pork chop, groats and fried potatoes. We ended up with two, as did the British couple sharing the table with us. Along the walk I took a picture of a couple of con artists doing the trick with three cups, guess where the bean is – they didn’t like me taking a picture! From the ridge we could also see north, across a gentle green landscape, rolling hills, quite a lot of farm buildings, and on the other side of the ridge, the valley with Zakopane and the majestic Tatra mountains.

We walked the short walk, 15-20 minutes, to the chair lift which took us back down, with a nicer view going this way, in the open air and able to enjoy the views more leisurely. At the bottom there were the usual horse and cart rides available, ready and waiting to take us back to town. Rather than take the walk along the busy road full of traffic we decided to take the horse and cart option, lazy but nice, with our driver in his highlander costume and our cart creaking a little. Nice way of getting back. He dropped us just short of the centre as there was so much traffic. We walked through the car park, through a series of ordinary stalls selling clothes and bags and things, and ended up back at the touristic market area. Off to one side we noticed there was a festival, a podium with singing and dancing going on, and in front there seemed to be a cattle or sheep market. We went and took a look at the main stage and the action in the central area, and there was bungee jumping off to one side also. Lots of Poles, and lots of highlanders in their typical outfits. Great festival atmosphere. We watched the singing and dancing, the usual “folk” stuff – enacted courtship, pretty costumes, etc. And in the central area there was a pen with dozens of sheep and a group of highlanders, and a ring of onlookers, and we watched a bit of the sheep-shearing competition.

We walked back to town through the market stalls and Ness was sorely tempted to buy one of the puppies on sale. We walked up to ulica Krupowki, past our hotel and had a drink at a pavement café, while the shuffling crowds continued to flow past us. On the way back to the hotel I bought some new hiking boots at the North Face shop, and then we returned to our hotel room, and I wrote my diary for a little while. Later we went out again and rather than going for a sit-down dinner we had a drink at the simple bar in a basic log cabin at the bottom of the street, had a potato pancake on the go on the way back, followed by a tasty waffle with cream and chocolate sauce, ditto, and we watched a couple of street artists create their “space panoramas” with spray cans and then toddled back to our room, feeling very relaxed, happy and at ease. Another great day, and a lovely spot to just spend some time in. Oh, we have decided to come back to Zakopane next weekend, for the annual International Highlanders Festival, the highlight on the Zakopane diary, and were again glad to book a room at the same hotel. It just seemed silly to not spend some more time here, in these perfect surroundings and at the best time of year to be here, etc.