Zakopane , Part 1 – The hike to Morskie Oko on a rare non rainy day in the Tatras

This post is a continuation of the series documenting our travel across the Central European country of Poland. We had spent a short time in the pretty city of Krakow before heading to our southern most destination of the trip – The Tatra mountain resort town of Zakopane. (Krakow, Part 1 – First impressions of the Stare Miasto on an overcast, crowded evening)

The bad weather had finally caught up with us when we wanted it the least. It had started to rain heavily when we were in Krakow & it had followed us to Zakopane. We reached the Zakopane bus station after a comfortable two and a half hour bus ride to Zakopane. Both of us were sighing with disappoint all the way as the grey skies seemed to get darker as we approached Zakopane.

With the falling rain and not that great public transport system in this town I didn’t want to risk it and we took a taxi from the station to the Willa Malinowa. The Malinowa was a small bed and breakfast that we had booked a room at slightly away from the main tourist drag. The reason for doing so was that the rates were excellent, it had a view of the Tatra mountains & the main street known as Krupòwki is known to get loud and noisy on weekends and we were here on a weekend.

We got to the Willa in the pouring rain and got to the door to find it locked. The reception only functioned in the morning and we were here in the afternoon. Luckily a couple staying in another room came out after some time and let us in. ( Apparently the owner had sent me a sms with the door passkey, but since we had not taken any international roaming on our phones we never received it!). The couple also very helpfully showed us where the key cards were placed and found our room card for us. So with a healthy dollop of luck we finally got into our room at the Willa Malinowa.

The Willa was made in the typical style of the region with fully wooden interiors with all the modern amenities.

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Our comfortable room at the Willa Malinowa

The rain continued to pour that day and the view that was one of the reasons for booking this place was fully covered with grey clouds. If I didn’t know any better, no one could guess that a snow covered range lay just behind that layer of clouds.

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Nothing but clouds from our balcony

We decided to use this weather enforced break to sleep and recharge our batteries. We just ventured out in the evening when the rain decreased to a mild drizzle and go get an early dinner and get some supplies to eat on the coming days in case we were too tired to walk into town since it was a 2 km walk.

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Walking to town as the rains relent momentarily

We had done some research about the closest restaurants in town that had good ratings and came up with the Cristina Ristorante & Pizzeria.

We got into the nicely warm restaurant and put away our rain gear on the provided racks. Since it was an Italian restaurant the better half got a break from her Polish staple of Pierogis and went back to her Italian staple of Gnocchi! I ordered the tenderloin steak with pepper sauce and vegetables and my standard Zywiec beer. The food was amazing and the prices were decent too. So it’s no wonder that we would frequent this place multiple times during our stay in Zakopane.

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The better half’s delicious plate of Gnocchi
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My super delicious Steak with Pepper sauce
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The standard glass of Zywiec beer

After that filling meal we bought supplies from the Zapka supermarket on the way back. As if on cue it started to rain again and we trudged back to the Willa Malinowa for an early night. We decided to make plans for the next day after looking out of the window since all activities in such places are weather dependant.

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Walking back in the rain with supplies

I woke up the next morning with a prayer on my lip. Sadly the prayers were not answered. It was still cloudy and gloomy as the previous day, the only saving grace was that it wasn’t raining!

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Waking up to find the clouds still in place

The main activities which we wanted to do in Zakopane was the cable car up to Kasprowy Wierch and the trek to the beautiful Morskie Oko lake. The cable car made no sense in such a weather as the only view we would have was a curtain of endless clouds. So we decided to make the most of it not raining and go to Morskie Oko. It wasn’t ideal, but we had lost a day to the weather already and the forecast for the remainder of our stay wasn’t looking rosy too. So we had a filling breakfast at the Willa and headed out.

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Our beautiful Willa Malinowa on a rare rain free morning in Zakopane

Since there was no view in sight I decided to put on the 300mm and try and capture any of the birds that I could find. I had seen a lot of fieldfares and blackbirds on the road to the Malinowa on the previous day but dared not risk the gear in the rain. Thankfully could spot both of them that morning as we walked to the station for our bus to the start of the Morskie Oko trek.

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A fieldfare on a dreary grey morning
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A local cat sees who dares invade his territory
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A common blackbird in Zakopane

We then reached the Krupowki street where I changed back to the ultra wide and took some photos of an empty Zakopane and some of the famous landmarks we would visit later.

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One of the numerous streams that cut across town
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The Holy family Church in Zakopane
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Krupowki sans people on an early morning in Zakopane

We then passed through Krupowki and reached the meadows through which a path leads to the train station.

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The meadows on the way to the Zakopane train station
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The Kuras memorial close to the station

We reached the station from where the small buses to the Morskie Oko parking lot run. We paid the driver our fare of 10 PLN each and got into our seats. A relatively unremarkable bus ride later we were in the Morskie Oko parking lot. It started to drizzle again and I kept my gear in and bought tickets to enter the trail headed to Morskie Oko. There was an option to take a horse driven carriage to the lake but both me and the better half thought that would be criminal since it was an easy trail and the weather was perfect for walking.

Even on such an overcast day there were scores of people on the trail. Most of the 9km trail is a tar road that passes through forest of coniferous trees with some streams and rivers crossing. No great views to speak of right till the end. So after a few photos of the forest I had kept my ultra wide in and kept my 300mm attached hoping to get some birds and photos of some flowers along the trail.

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The typical scenery on the way to Morskie Oko

Sure enough after some time the better half spotted a song thrush on the side of the road. And the pretty bird was king enough to pose for me.

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A Song Thrush on the way to Morskie Oko

Although spring had set-in in all the other parts of Poland it was still making its entry into the Tatra mountains. The wild flowers were just starting to bloom and although we didn’t see any of the famed crocuses we did see pretty flowers blossoming in patches on the side of the road.

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Beautiful flowers blossoming on the road side

Since the path was a paved road it wasn’t that demanding of a trek. We kept moving along at a brisk pace stopping only if we spotted some bird or at a waterfall along the way. Intermittently there were shortcuts which had steep stone steps in between the gradually curving road. At first we avoided these steps but as we got more and more confident we started taking these steps and reducing our trekking time.

We saw a few European Robins and coal tits along the way but most were skittish and the large number of trekkers on the road meant I got very few chances to get close to them. Inspite of that I managed to get a decent photo or two.

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A European Robin on the trail to Morskie Oko
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A Skittish Coal tit hides in the branches
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A few wildflower buds among the otherwise green landscape
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A black & white warbler high up in the trees

The trees reduced and the snow cover on the ground increased we got higher and closer to the lake. There were no flowers here and very few birds. The only one we saw for quite some distance was a lone raven perched on the top of a dry tree.

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A lone raven perched on top of a tree

Finally we got to the place where even the horse drawn carriages stop and everyone has to walk the remaining path to the lake.

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The point where the horse carriages stop

After this point it was a snow covered landscape. There was slippery slurry on the road and we had to be very careful, lest we land on our butts and hurt ourselves.

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Snow covered path with slippery slurry on the road.

We could see the end point of the trail and suddenly we saw the fog lifting and I asked the better half to hurry up since the fog may roll back in anytime. So we rushed in to the lake and got down the wooden steps to the lake itself.

It was the end of April and while planning this trip I had seen photos of the lake in spring. This was nothing like what I had seen, it was way better. The lake was frozen and there was snow lining all the mountains surrounding the lake. With fog occluding all else from view. It was like the lake manifested out of nowhere!

I started clicking photos left, right and centre. There were a lot of people at the lake side but everyone was polite enough to let the others have a clear frame in their photos and no one was jostling for photos. If this was India I can imagine the pushing that would have ensued at the lake margin.

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Everyone takes their turn for a clear shot of the lake

Finally it was our turn and I took photos of the better half against this surreal background. When I was satisfied taking these a Polish family offered to take photos of both of us. It was an offer too good to refuse and we got one of the most memorable photos of this vacation.

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Morskie Oko – the Eye of the Sea
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At the Morskie Oko – Photo courtesy a kind Polish Family

After taking the photos we just stood there a good 10 – 15 mins in the side and enjoyed the beauty of the lake itself. Right before our eyes the fog started to roll in and in 15 mins the whole lake surface was covered in fog. It was like the fog had lifted just for us. We thanked our lucky stars and moved up the wooden stairs.

There was a cafeteria at the lake side & as expected it was very popular. We were famished after the 9 km walk and we had just brought some chocolate croissants with us. So I stood in the self service line as the better half managed to nab us a seat in the crowded cafe.

We had a simple meal of traditional fried cheese & potato pancakes. I couldn’t resist having a beer at the lake side. A quiet celebration for successfully reaching the lake and getting a clear view of it!

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A traditional polish snack – Fried Cheese & Potato pancakes

There was a light drizzle which had started when we had entered the cafe but even that had stopped now as we finished our meal. The outdoor tables were empty and we decided to linger on for some more time and finish our croissants with the foggy lake below.

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Having a chocolate croissant at the outdoor tables

A thick billed nutcracker was enjoying the scraps that invariably are present wherever humans eat and the bird was used to humans so it got close enough for a good portrait.

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A thick billed nutcracker at the outdoor tables.

It was now time to start our walk back. We had to walk back the 9 km that we had walked to the lake. But the sheer pleasure of being at the lake side and the hot food in the tummy meant that we were not complaining about the walk back. We spotted a snowman built by some traveller and it brought back memories of our last trip where we had built a snowman at the Grossglockner High Alpine road in Austria courtesy our friends the Thapar – Sanghvis.

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A lonely snowman on the road side

It drizzled intermittently on our walk back but it never got as bad as it was the previous day so we kept a good pace. We did stop intermittently for a view or when a Chaffinch or a warbler showed up in the branches.

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Walking back to the parking lot of Morskie Oko
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A female Chaffinch has its meal
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A male chaffinch puffs up to protect it against the cold wind
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A warbler hides among the branches of the conifers

The drizzle got more and more steady as we got closer so we kept our gear inside and got the umbrellas out. But I would need to get the camera out one more time as a beautiful Chaffinch materialised out of nowhere and started feeding on the crumbs on a roadside table. It was too good a chance to resist for getting a good photo of this common but pretty bird.

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The camera comes out again for a posing Chaffinch

After getting the pretty bird in my camera to my satisfaction I kept the camera away for good and completed our walk back to the parking lot. We had taken 6 hours in total on the 18 km trail including our meal and innumerable photo stops on the way.

We got into the first waiting bus and soon we were back in Zakopane. It had been a memorable day in less than ideal circumstances. But maybe that’s what made it all the more special.

The trek to Morskie Oko was one of the things I was looking forward to the most and the lake had certainly lived up to the hype. We hoped that the weather would get better the next day.

Our hopes would be dashed in the cruelest way. But that is a story for another post, some other time, some other day. I have gone way over my self set word limit this time, but the lake certainly deserved all the hyperboles that I have showered on it.

Till next time,

Do Widzenia!

8 comments

  1. The town, the trek, the birds and the lake, all deserved the hyperboles. I feel you got the lake in the best possible weather. Such a stunning place! Your choice of hotel was outstanding too. Oh and yes, your trek pictures reminded me of the Grossglockner too. Loved this post.

    Liked by 1 person

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