Pieniny Mountains

Anticipation and angst

I can’t remember a trip when I was quite so angst-ridden.  I do angst very thoroughly, and most trips, unless it’s my beloved Algarve, as the date for departure approaches I lose sleep worrying over the ‘what ifs?’  In my head I’m a control freak, but reality is often far beyond my control.

Lake Czorsztyn in the Pieniny Mountains

I well remember being let loose by the Polish family in the Pieniny Mountains.  A trip river rafting in the Dunajec Gorge was in the offing, but where to catch the bus?  My other half always reads timetables meticulously and was unconvinced either that we were in the right place, or that the bus would turn up.  This despite a visit to Tourist Information to enquire.  ‘You’re the one who speaks Polish!’ he said, accusingly.  If only this were so!  The sun beat down, and we waited.  And waited.  Eventually a tiny minibus pulled to the curb, destination unknown.  We looked at each other.  This one?  Fortunately a good-hearted, English speaking couple had witnessed our confusion.  They were going hiking in the Gorge.  “Come on!  We’ll tell you where to get off.”  Huge relief and, ultimately, one of my best ever days in Poland.

But I digress.  What makes this particular trip so worrisome?  I had always known that I would return to Dad’s homeland one day, even though Dad was no longer with me.  The Polish family were so kind, and so accepting when we walked into their lives after all those years of absence.  Dad was welcomed with open arms.  Here I was, going back alone, and still without the benefit of Polish language, try as I might to make sense of it.

You might recall from My Call to Poland that I have elderly family.  The need to see them is pressing, but I want to cause the least possible inconvenience.  This means not flying into Kraków and expecting to be driven 3 and a half hours north to the family home, which is what always happened when Dad was alive.  A wild notion had occurred to me.  My lovely Australian friend, Meg, was back in Warsaw for 6 weeks.  This might be an opportunity to see her again, however briefly.  It all hinged on whether I could find transport from Warsaw to Bełchatów.  When Gilly leapt, with gay abandon, onto the scene, announcing she had booked 3 days in Warsaw and was going to see Meg, it was just the catalyst I needed.

A sequence of emails took place.  Kind Adam, in Kraków, declared that I was welcome in his home at any time.  Lovely Jadzia in Bełchatów said that my timing was perfect to celebrate her birthday with her.  Meg, more than generously, offered to put me up for the night on my arrival in Warsaw.  I didn’t contact Gilly,  hoping to surprise her.  Now all I had to do was pore over online timetables.  Endless timetables!  Until my head hurt.  It wasn’t simple, but finally I secured a prized bus ticket from a Russian company- the small print indecipherable.

And speaking of language, it was again time to seek out my ‘Colloquial Polish’.  I started a course at a local college about 10 years ago and purchased the required book.  The course was discontinued, due to funding, long before I reached the end of the book, but I did acquire a lasting friendship- another lady with a Polish Dad.  Each time I have visited Poland I have started the book again, with renewed enthusiasm.  Never have I reached the last page, but it has accompanied me proudly on each of my visits, and sat on the table as a declaration of intent.  This time it must stay home as I need to travel light.  A pocket dictionary will have to do.

Transferring from Bełchatów to Kraków is equally problematic.  The train service I relied on has changed providers and disappeared.  Buses go in random directions, sometimes taking as long as 13 hours.  I could reach the Pacific in less time.  Angst heightens.  Meantime, Gilly asks questions about my visit.  Nothing to do but confess and hope she won’t mind my gatecrashing her meeting with Meg.  Assuming I can find them in the teeming metropolis.

And just as I’m about to embark on this journey, I discover that I’ve lost the coach tickets to visit my daughter in Nottingham, scheduled just days after my return from Poland!  I can’t reprint them because I don’t have the ticket number.  Much hunting and an email to the coach company.  It can only get better?  By the time you read this I should know the answer.

Meantime I’m linking to Cathy’s Anticipation & Preparation: Spain and Portugal in 2013 on Wander.essence.  It holds many fond memories for me.

Jo’s Monday walk : the Dunajec Gorge

Shall we start at the chair lift?

Shall we start at the chair lift?

To be fair, I have so many photos it’s hard to know where to start!  After the wedding, my Polish family were wonderfully indulgent of my wandering ways.  I had booked into an old wooden villa for a couple of nights, in the upper part of the thermal spa town of Szczawnica, right down on the border with Slovakia.

Why there?  Well, I already knew that the scenery in nearby Zakopane was beautiful.  Part of the Tatra Mountain range, it is renowned for Summer hiking and for Winter sports.  But, as always, I wanted to see somewhere new, yet still within reasonable distance of Kraków.  The Pieniny Mountains are not so high, nor so busy, and they have a beauty all their own.

Szczawnica (rough pronounced ‘Sh-chav-nitsa’) sits in the river valley of the Grajcarek, a tributary of the Dunajec River which forms the border with Slovakia.

Come with me on my walk, and see what you think.

Ok- so from the chair lift we're going to walk alongside the river

From the chair lift we’re going to walk alongside the river

Using this lovely boulevard

Using this lovely boulevard

And crossing some of the many bridges

And crossing some of the many bridges

And sometimes looking back to check the view behind

Not forgetting to look back to check the view behind- peaceful, isn’t it?

This was one of my favourite houses- just look at that roof!

This was one of my favourite houses- just look at that roof!

And always, the river, rushing along beside

And always, the river, rushing along beside

After many twists and turns the Grajcarek flows into the Dunajec, and the beckoning scenery becomes much more dramatic.

One of my reasons for choosing Szczawnica is that it sits at the end of a stretch of the Dunajec famed for river rafting.  Not the white knuckle ride that phrase might conjure up for you, but nevertheless, a strong test of the skills of the boatmen.  The Dunajec Gorge drew me to the area.

Szczawnica przystan, or marina

Szczawnica przystan, or marina

The view from the landing stage

The view from the landing stage

A peaceful island lures you for a closer look

A frail bridge lures you for a closer look

A rather strange bird, guarding his territory

At this strange bird, guarding his territory

And the empty benches

No wonder the benches are empty!

And you never know what might lurk in the caves

I wonder what might lurk in these caves?

But the flora are delicate and pretty

But the flora are delicate and pretty

The water and trees are so many different shades

The trees and water are a myriad of colour

But what's this, patiently waiting?

And what do we find, patiently waiting on the river bank?

Wooden canoe trips have been organised through the Gorge since the early 19th Century, when customers came primarily from nearby castles at Niedzica and Czorstyn (more of these in a later post).  The Gorge loops through the valley, the limestone rock reaching 300 metres in height almost all the way.  It makes for some very beautiful walking and cycling, not to mention the opportunity to river raft.

Gentle aquamarine

Hues of gentle aquamarine

Still and smooth

Still, smooth water

And interesting patterns in the cliff face

And interesting patterns in the cliff face

Light and shade

Wandering through light and shade

The shadows adding a layer of mystery

The deeper shadow adding an air of mystery

Families, walkers and cyclists all have access to this dramatic beauty, though Spring and Autumn are probably the times to see it at its peaceful best.  In Summer and on public holidays there are mountain huts where you can find food and information.

An interesting sign appears

I found this sign quite interesting

And then a further clue

And then a further clue- welcome to Lesnica, written in Slovak

Without realising it I had crossed over the border into Slovakia, part of which is formed by the River Dunajec.  It felt quite strange, and looking at the remaining distance to Cerwony Klastor (approximately 2 hours, according to the sign)  it seemed a good time to retrace my steps.  But not without first paying homage to one of the nation’s favourite sons, who loved to hike and ski in the mountains.

Just one more sign- a view dedicated to Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II)

The view is dedicated to Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II)

In no time at all I was back at the marina with a hard-earned beer

In no time at all I was back at the marina, with a hard-earned beer

Fast approaching, round a bend in the river, some boatmen!

Where I saw, fast approaching round a bend in the river, the boatmen!

But that needs to be the subject for another post.  For now, I’m hoping that you’ve enjoyed our Monday walk.  I certainly did!

If you’d like to join in, you’re more than welcome to add a link to a walk you’ve enjoyed in the comments, or to link back to me from your post.  Either way, I really don’t mind.  I try to keep it free and easy so you can join in any day of the week.  The more beautiful walks, the better- right?

Whilst I was in Poland, kind people continued to contribute walks to cheer me up on my return. I’m delighted to be able to share them with you.  Enjoy your walking.  See you next time.


Way out in Western Australia we have Pauline, walking on the foreshore :


Sylvia is busy packing up her home in South Africa, but still found the time to cherish a few memories in her walk :


Tish Farrell brought me back to her home in Much Wenlock, a beautiful part of Shropshire :


A lovely surprise from a lady I’d not met, Gunilla, but will certainly spend some time with :


And last, but never least, my sunny friend from Virginia, USA- Cathy, with an arboretum walk :



Here are some of this week’s walkers,

Paula has been to the zoo :


And Elaine introduced me to Finsbury Park in London :


And who can resist Amy’s Iphoneography? (is that spelt right?)  What that girl can do with a flower!


We’re going to be busy reading this week, aren’t we?