Zakopane is a small city of 30,000 residents and 300,000 tourists. At least, that’s the way it seemed. The town is an artist colony and ski resort in the beautiful High Tatras, which are a sub-range of the Carpathians. It’s famous for its distinctive architecture of steep-roofed, timber-framed houses decorated with elaborately carved wood. The local cuisine is hearty, delicious, and cheap. There’s an excellent market featuring smoked cheeses and hand-made crafts at excellent prices. About the only drawback is the abominable weather, but even that is an advantage during ski season and Christmas time, when the place is a winter wonderland. Perfect, right?
NO! The problem is, everyone has discovered this charming mountain village, and the place is completely overrun. The roads through town were clogged with heavy traffic. The extensive pedestrian areas were so crowded, I found it hard to walk. A supposedly scenic walk along a mountain ridge turned out to be lined with souvenir stalls selling plastic and charging for photo-ops. Whatever open space is left is already under construction with new vacation homes and hotels.
There was still a lot to love. The mountains and houses were truly pretty, if you didn’t mind the trucks and cars roaring by a few inches behind you as you looked at them. Our hotel had a rustic ski lodge feel, complete with broken down furniture and antique plumbing that sort-of worked. The receptionist was utterly flabbergasted when I requested an extra pillow. Karel accidentally muddied the sheets while carrying in his suitcase (it was raining when we arrived), but the staff was ready to call a labor strike rather than hand over a clean sheet (they finally remade the bed after some arm-twisting by our tour leader). In restaurants, the waitresses were like grumpy mothers—sighing with exasperation at requests for water or sour cream (that’s how the Hungarians eat this, I was told condescendingly), on the one hand, but plying you with generous helpings of meat, beer, vodka, and goodies on the other, and happy to pantomime or point to their own body parts to help translate menu items (leg of lamb, anyone?).
Part of the reason the town was so jam-packed was the Tour of Poland bicycle race was going through. However, Karel and I were beginning to discover that there is a festival or special event of one kind or another happening in practically every town worth visiting throughout Europe during the summer holiday season. It’s relentless.This entry was posted in Vacation 2014: Europe