We dodged a bullet today. Or more to the point, if we had proceeded with what we had planned to do – we might well have felt like shooting ourselves.
It went like this. Jay had been out for an exploration walk the evening before, so we followed her advice and turned down a lonely-looking dirt track to get to the nearest train station – a country backwater called Pod Lesom. We managed to communicate to the non English speaking railway assistant that we required four tickets on the electric railway to Tatranska Lomnica. We were in plenty of time for the next train. So far – so good.
Then the station began to fill up with young families. That didn’t seem at all unusual until the train arrived – and we could not all fit on! We needed one of those Japanese train pushers. We scrambled up and down the platform looking for a door that was not already clogged with passengers. Eventually the four of us were left looking at each other as the train pulled away.
“Taxi?” We asked the ticket seller.
“No taxi,” he shook his head solemnly. But he did manage to let us know there was another train in half an hour. We took our chances and waited. This time we got on okay.
The train headed closer to the the mountain range. It was only a couple of stops to reach the junction at Stary Smokovec. This name has been a favourite of Waddy’s for months, even though he cannot pronounce it correctly. (He smacks his lips and emphasises something that sounds like Schmokovech) . We hung around there for a while for a connecting train, meantime discovering that all the crowds were on account of a children’ s day out. Some thing like a teddy bear’s picnic day. We had been looking at the programme of events while killing time at our starting point – but we hadn’t joined the dots. Even though it was all in Slovakian, we could have applied our language skills. Slovakian medvedi, is so close the Serbian word for bear, and put together with pictures of happy children having fun, plus all the children at the station – you reckon we could have worked that out earlier?
Lucky for us, at the rail junction we were heading in opposite directions, and so we rode comfortably to Tatranska Lomnica. The train pulls along across the base of the mountain range, linking all the small towns and villages. The Tatra Mountains, green on the lower reaches, and bare rock higher up, ran along one side. On the other were various smaller towns and green meadows.
Waddy was keen to get to the top of Lomnicky Stit, 2634m. It is accessed by an enclosed cabin cablecar. The information office told us all spaces were sold out until 3pm the following day. That’s right folks – sold out for more than the next twenty-four hours.
“But you can take the other cable car as far as Skalnate Pleso (1751m). Then there is a nice walk across to Hrebienok. It is an easy walk around two and a half hours. Then you can catch the cable car down that mountain, and get back on the train at Stary Smokovec.
We traced the route on the map in front of us. It looked achievable. We were all in our walking shoes, we had water, and backpacks – what more could we want?
Lucky for us we stopped for a coffee elsewhere before setting off.
“It’s a pity you have to do it from this side,” the waitress said.
“Oh. Because you will be walking downhill. And in the mountains it is always better to walk uphill.”
We discussed this further with her. Apparently it is easier to drag yourself up, than it is to handle the stress on the thighs and knees going down. But even her five year old could manage the walk. I suspect if you are born in the Tatras, you are born with a hiking gene.
As the conversation went on, it occurred to her that today was ‘Medvedi’ Day, and wouldn’t you know it, the carnival was being held at Hrebienok.
“Maybe the cable car will be fully booked,” she said. “In that case, you will have to walk down the mountain.”
Down the mountain? Was she nuts? Twelve hundred metres descent on foot? But apparently this was no joke.
Then she threw in another alternative.
“You can take the cablecar to Skalnate Pleso. Then you can take a chairlift to another level higher. It is still a good view.”
Thank goodness for stray conversations. When we got to the changeover point between cable car and chairlift, we walked around the area. We found the start of the 2.5 hour walk to the other mountain we had been talking about. The path was rocky and narrow – and that was the good part at the beginning. Worse still, on the way up we had noticed people walking down the mountain. It was long, slow, steep and arduous, and in this ongoing heat wave – hot and sticky rambling as well.
So that is why I say we dodged a bullet. We had all the experience of being in the mountains, without needing to get so familiar with the area that we were ready to start giving names to each rock we stumbled over.
When we returned to our lodge in the afternoon, we spoke with some of the families staying there. It had been so crowded at the children’s day, that they had come home early to escape the crowds. We knew then for sure that we would never have got a ticket to ride down the mountain. Could you have imagined us after a two and half hour scrabble across the mountain face, discovering that we now had to walk down the blessed thing.
It would have been a case of the mind making a promise that the body couldn’t keep 🙂
Saturday 3rd August 2013 , Garrulous Gwendoline, Tatra Mountains, Slovakia