By train to the Tatras

September 2, 2008

Last night our room was full, but luckily nobody was snoring, so we slept well. At 8 am we got up to start our travel day. We didn’t have to rush because our train didn’t leave until 10:10 am. So after packing our bags we went down to the kitchen to have breakfast, which consisted of sweet pastries and banana-strawberry juice which we had bought last night at Tesco.

Then we paid our hostel bill, put on our packs, and walked up to the station. When we got there it was only about 9:30 am. Our train hadn’t been assigned a platform yet, so we sat on the steps in the station foyer with a lot of other people. After a while we saw that our train was at Platform 2, so we headed over to find it. The next step was to find Car 409, then seats 25 and 26. We stored our packs on the overhead shelf and settled in for the four-hour journey to Poprad.

By train through SlovakiaAt first the train went through some industrial slums, as railways tend to do, but soon it went out into agricultural areas. They would have been lovely a month ago, because many of the fields were sown with sunflowers, but now the flowers were dried out. We followed the Váh River, passing through narrow canyons and pine forests among the farm fields. On some of the hills there were ruined castles, of which the one near Trenčin was the most impressive. Finally arriving in Poprad, we hurried up the stairs to get on the little red and white narrow-gauge electric train which went up to the mountain resorts.

The end of our rideChecking the route map, we found that our destination, Popradské pleso, was the second to last stop, so we settled in for the next hour. The little train climbed up and up, passing through all kinds of hotels and resorts before finally nearing Popradské pleso. This was a “halt” and not a “station”, so there was only an empty wooden shelter there. We put on our packs and started out on the one-hour hike through the forest to our hut, Chata pri Popradskom plese. There was a muddy section near the bottom of the trail, but otherwise it was just a regular trail up through the woods. We were a bit confused, though, as we had expected to be walking up the hut’s access road. And we weren’t looking forward to walking through the muddy section in the dark when we met Matthew later in the evening.

Popradské plesoAnyway, it did take about an hour to get to the hut. Its setting was very lovely, situated on the edge of the lake. We checked in about 4:30 pm and the mystery of the parking permit was cleared up. There had been several e-mails on this topic, but neither of the two parties had understood the other party. We had expected them to give us a voucher for a parking lot in Štrbské pleso, but no. To our delight we found out that Matthew was allowed to drive up the service road and park right behind the hut. Excellent!

After settling into our room, we went for a walk around the lake before going for dinner in the restaurant. Both of us had the goulash with dumplings, but much to Rosemary’s dismay, it was not Hungarian goulash, but another goulash containing a lot of sauerkraut. The meat was very tasty, though.

First close-up of the TatrasAbout 7 pm we headed down the service road, ignoring the sign forbidding hikers from using it, to meet Matthew. By halfway down it was getting dark, and by the time we got to the train halt it was dark. We had arranged to meet Matthew here between 8 and 8:30 pm, but he would be driving from Munich after flying from San Francisco, so that time was by no means guaranteed. But we sat down to wait in the dark, cold, deserted parking lot and at 8:25 pm along came Matthew in his little rental car. He was just as happy as us to learn that hiking up the trail in the dark was unnecessary. We piled into the car and were quickly transported up the road.

Back at the hut, we sat in the restaurant and talked for a while before going to bed.

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