A slovak mountain escape, part 1

#Travel

A while back, we were talking about places to see while we are in Slovakia, and the name High Tatras was mentioned. They are a mountain range on the border between Slovakia and Poland, and after seeing some pictures, it was decided that yes, we definitely had to go there. Jana, being the expert planner that she is, got (almost) straight to work, and last week we harvested the fruits of her labour.

 

To start off, the High Tatras is part of the Carpathian Mountain System, has 29 peaks above 2,500 metres (Where the highest is Gerlachovský štít, at 2,655 metres), and a wide range of alpine flora and fauna. The area is designated as a national park, which is why we had to be extra careful with the dogs. They are to be kept on a leash at all times, and in some areas the rules also state that dogs have to wear a mask over their mouths. We experienced that the rules were fairly lightly followed though... We didn't meet many dogs, but we made sure to keep ours on leash, or under strict orders to sit when posing for photos. If any of you decide to go there, be extra careful to look into local rules and regulations.

One important tip: If you are planning on heading to the Tatras, we strongly recommend visiting an insurance company in Slovakia and getting the "Tatras Insurance". As the pictures will show, the terrain up there can be difficult and sometimes dangerous to move around in, and as a result, anyone needing rescue without this insurance will have to pay for everything from his/her own pocket... We paid 7 euros total, for 5 days (66 Euro cents per day), from Allianz, which easily makes it worth it...

A detour on the way

Our destination in the Tatras was a "small" village called Zdiar, but on the way there we decided to make a detour to a small, idyllic place called Špania Dolina. This idyllic old village has a rich mining history, and a multitude of trails running around the forest where hikers can discover the old mining entrances. Marking roughly the midpoint of our drive to the Tatras, this was a perfect place to stop and give the dogs a stretch. Walking through the narrow streets and the forest trails was a good beginning for legs that hadn't been used properly for a while, and the view at the end proved to be worth it. With the temperature being well above the 20-mark, we were very happy to find one of the old mine entrances, which provided a nice, cool rest with good water for the dogs, and after a quick refreshment for the two-legged, the journey could continue.

 

Too crowded for comfort

After another 2 hours in the car, we arrived in Strbske Pleso *ominous music playing*. Anyone who knows us know that we do not play well with crowds, especially the tourist kind... Strbske Pleso itself is sort of a nice place, if you look past the modern-ish hotels, the ski jumps and the looooong line of wooden booths selling exactly the same souvenirs, and when we parked the car, both of us breathed a sigh of relief that we were not staying there, as the original plan was (more on that later). After a quick snack, we took the dogs with us for a planned walk along the lake ("Pleso" refers to mountain lake in Slovak), and were immediately reminded how small the world really is. A guy making belts and assorted leather items for the tourists caught an interest in our dogs, and after talking to him for a little bit, we found out he worked as a fisherman in Lofoten during the same time we lived there... After a nice chat and some questions about the place, we headed off for the lake, and almost immediately regretted it. It was a Monday, but still people almost everywhere... Luckily, Jana had a backup-plan called Popradske Pleso! We found the trail easily enough, as hiking trails around Slovakia are well marked, and we started climbing.

 

Popradske Pleso is a small lake situated at 1494 m.a.s.l., and you can either take a cable car most of the way, or walk a popular path from Strbske Pleso. This path is very well made and easy to follow, with a few opportunities for water along the way. The view, once you come out of the forest, is also quite spectacular, as the header image for this post can attest to. It takes about 1 hour to reach the top (4 km), which is well worth it. There's also a hotel there (slightly expensive), but a beer did taste very nice after the walk. The lake itself is very nice, and there's a trail running around it for a nice stroll. We were also positively surprised to find that we were mostly alone up there, having met a lot of people going down on the way up. A good tip, if you want to be more alone there, is to start walking later in the day.

     

And so, after getting down safely and back to the car, one more hour on the road got us to the place that would be our home for the week: Zdiar.

Stepping back in time

As mentioned earlier, we were exceedingly happy that we were not staying in Strbske Pleso. While planning, Jana found a dog-friendly hotel there, and after calling to book, was offered accomodation for 5 days, including breakfast and dinner, for a very reasonable price. We talked it over, and even though we slightly loathe hotels, we decided to go for it. But, fate seemed determined to intervene, because when Jana called back later to confirm, she was told that we suddenly had to pay 8 euros, per dog, per day, extra.... There was absolutely no way that was happening, and the search continued. A few frantic hours later, poor Jana suddenly stumbles upon something promising on AirBnB. In a small village called Zdiar there's a guy renting out an old cabin. No running water, no toilet and a wood-fired stove for cooking , but excellent reviews from former guests, and the pictures looked intriguing. And after contacting him, we find that the dogs were more than welcome, no extra charge. We are no strangers to that kind of living, and seeing that the price was reasonable, we went for it. And so, early in the evening, we arrive in Zdiar. Having looked at a few pictures, we had a good idea what to expect, and we were surprised to see that, for our needs, the expectations were exceeded. What we came to was an old barn, Slovak style. The building was square in shape with a central courtyard, and our quarters comprised almost one quarter of the total structure. The central yard was ours to use, and sealed off to the outside with a lockable door, which provided a perfect place for the dogs to rest, and the cabin itself was just our style, built with 150-year old, heavy logs. The hosts as well were absolutely lovely people, and didn't hesitate to answer questions about the area and tell us about the history of the village. They even made two beds, just for the dogs!

   

The village itself is a protected landmark because of the old architecture. In recent past, we were told it was home to more than 500 000 cattle, but now there's barely 15... They were 15 very happy cows though, with lots of space, shared with a few sheep here and there. The locals seem to mainly sustain themselves on tourism, as the many Pensions and private rooms attest to, but the restaurants we visited had reasonable prizes, good beer and local food. We were also visiting just before the summer season started, so it wasn't crowded at all. The surrounding scenery is definitely stunning as well, with flowing meadows and towering mountains all at once.

 

And with that we settled in to a very quiet night with barely a sound from outside, looking forward to what the next four days would bring us. More on that in the second part of this road-trip.

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