The mountains create realizations. I don’t think I’ve ever been surrounded by mountains and not felt an indescribable peace. Venturing into them makes me feel human; like the ancient part of my brain recognizes them as home. When I arrived in Zakopane on Tuesday, I had this inkling that the next few days would bring this sense of calm I’ve been missing in the city. And I couldn’t have been more right.
Zakopane is a small town in the south of Poland near the border of Slovakia. Surrounded by the Tatra Mountains, it’s a popular destination for hikers, winter athletes, and anyone else who is in the mood for a mountain view. Walking around the town, you can find a ton of shops, cafes, and dozens of stands where the locals sell regional products, especially a traditional smoked cheese (pictured below- it’s beyond). Three years ago I did one of the best hikes of my life in the Tatra National Park and I was excited to have the opportunity to explore it again in snow.
But because of the snow, our hikes were quite mild. The first day, we tried hiking to a peak not far from our hostel only to be met with huge gusts of winds and snow that made us turn around 15 minutes from the top. On the upside we had a Canadian forestry major with us named Dan who could tell us about why all the trees were down (wind) and other fun facts that I have been sitting here trying to remember for 10 minutes (I do remember from an unrelated conversation that the best maple syrup comes from Ontario nomnomnom). So although the hiking ended up being less than expected, it was only a part of what made this trip so special.
The hostel. I had one of the best hostel experiences I’ve ever had there and I learned more about Canada and Australia than I thought I would being in the south of Poland. I hadn’t stayed in multi-person room since 2014 and had no desire to ever do that again (5 months of hostels will do that to a girl), but this was an exception and I had a good feeling about it. We stayed in a small hostel made of wood called Goodbye Lenin, and although is was close quarters, we were met with a great bunch of folks (mostly, you guessed it, from Canada and Australia). Going out for traditional Polish cuisine, playing card games, watching Black Mirror all together before going to bed, and all around good conversation, it was what you want from a hostel experience (especially if the New Year celebrations in Budapest were too rough and you need 3 days to recover- looking at you, Mikaela and Emma). Also two of the guys were both named Daniel Joseph and born in the same area of Canada and that’s just weird. AND a girl showed up who went to school in Australia with one of the guys working at the hostel- by coincidence! Whaaat??
But back to the realizations. I went out for a solo walk one day to take pictures. I was alone and surrounded by mountains. I couldn’t hear anything except the running water of the river. Then I was hit with a wave of “yes”. Yes to new possibilities, yes to change, yes to where I should go next. And just like that, it was all clear to me. 2018 just got a little more interesting. Details to come.
Note: I wish I had gotten a “yes” in terms of career, but my brain is still keeping that as a nice surprise for me. Isn’t she great.
Corrections: I’ve just been informed by Daniel Joseph 1 that the best maple syrup is from Quebec AND Ontario. My bad.