I’ve always wanted to to tell a travel story that begins with deciding to go on an adventure with someone I had just met.
It’s finally happened.
I met a Californian named Joe who immediately invited me on a trip with him to get out of the city, go hiking in the mountains, and relax. His exact words were something like,
I know this is sudden but I’m going to the Tatra Mountains tomorrow. The Airbnb is already booked. You should come with me. I promise I won’t hurt you and maybe we’ll become lifelong friends.
I recognized the opportunity immediately. This was the story I’d been waiting for! This was my chance to make a carefree, spur of the moment decision. I was ready to take off on an adventure, throw my head back and laugh at the uncertainty of it all, and hopefully walk away better for it.
You know what? It was all that and more.
The day began with coffee, as all good days do, on our way to catch the 2.5 hour bus ride from Krakow to Bialka Tratrzanska. On the way there, we chatted and got to know each other. Joe was in Krakow for World Youth Day to see the Pope. He had been in the seminary for years studying theology before deciding to become a high school teacher. He asked all the questions you should ask a new travel companion.
Q: Do you get cranky?
A: When I’m hungry
Q: How much sleep do you need?
A: Lack of sleep is future Trish’s problem… not mine.
Q: Are you a planner or do you go with the flow?
A: I’m on a bus with a stranger headed to a place I’ve never heard of… what do you think?
There were so many smiles in the 24 hours that I spent with Joe. I will be telling this story for years to come.
Here are the best things that happened in Bialka Tatranzanska and the Tatra Mountains:
When we arrived in Bialka Tratrzanska, a small town 15 minutes outside of Zakopane, we were both delirious with fresh mountain air, chatting, and teetering our way down the street. Seeing a few little market stands, we decided to buy a delicious looking pastry. Joe asked about it and the man said “cheese”.
Amazing! We were going to split a cheese filled pastry!
It turns out, we bought a brick of smoked cheese. That alone had us giggling for the entire day. Come on though… that kind of looks like a pastry!
Buying that cheese was actually one of the most touristy things we could have done! The shepherd tradition still thrives in this town and many surrounding areas. Smoked cheese and other local delicacies, made according to old recipes, can be found throughout the village.
The Airbnb we stayed in was perfect. We were greeted with a full meal that could have been prepared by a chef at a fancy hotel. Our host, Stan, offered to drive us to the mountains and pick us up after our hike. Talk about hospitality!
It was like staying at a super professional, clean, homey, and friendly bed and breakfast. The exceptional difference was that by the time we left, his wife had given us all three meals, we met his adorable granddaughter (who knows all of her colors in English!), and sat around together laughing about our accidental cheese purchase.
Ladies and gentleman, the main attraction!
I gasped. I held my breath. I squealed. I took five million pictures and none of them show how beautiful this place really is.
We decided to pass up the horse and carriage ride to Morskie Oko and hoof the two hour walk to the pond on our own. After over an hour of walking, the rain started. It came slowly at first and then, all at once, it felt like we were standing underneath a waterfall. With encouragement from some dry locals in a carriage, we ran and jumped onto the ride we had previously declined, promising to pay the driver when we stopped.
By the time we got to Morskie Oko, the rain had stopped, the clouds had started to clear, and the sun was shining down on the stunning backdrop in front of us.
I’m not usually a big fan of swimming pools and it certainly wouldn’t be something I seek out when visiting a new place but this was a completely unique experience for me.
We showed up to the Terma Baia an hour before closing time and were told it was too late to get in. You don’t understand; we HAD to get in. We succeeded with our charming grins and negotiating skills (I mean we pouted our lips, begged, and paid full price).
I felt like a kid who was visiting a park for the first time. We did everything. The spinny-around area, the massage jets, the wave pool, the waterfall, the hot tub, and then… then we found the water-slides. I lost my voice from laughing and “Weeeeoooo”ing so much.
No perfect day in Poland would be complete without some beer and vodka.
I’m not suggesting that you walk off into the sunset with every stranger that offers you their hand. You should always use common sense, let family and/or friends know what you’re planning, and trust your gut (which has proved, every time, to be much better advice than it sounds).