Poprad: only worth it if you’re Tatra-bound

Get in, get directions, and then probably get out…

This nondescript town is your gateway to the Tatras. Yes, there’s nothing to do there and no you should probably avoid sticking around for the night, but once you’ve been in to visit the tourist information centre and asked a few questions – you can get on your merry way.

EAT

Hodovna: Actually, before you leave: make sure you check this place out. Down one of the main streets, sits this relatively-unassuming-from-street-level local restaurant; a shopfront that completely belies the wonder inside. And before you pick up a menu, don’t even bother. You are under instruction to order bryndzové halušky (Slovakian national dish, basically potato dumplings completely doused in sheep’s-milk cheese). The steaming pot is rich, hearty and by far the best example of this national dish that we had in our time in Slovakia. Sure, it also contains a week’s worth of calories – but let’s pick our battles here. There’s also a good selection of European classics (burgers, chicken, pasta) if you’re a complete fool and can’t read the above four lines.

STAY

If you have to, there’s a couple of decent-ish guesthouses near the train station, or you can try couchsurf but the community is fairly dormant here. We took our chances and messaged Lukas, whose profile was laying inactive, and it was the best thing we could have done. He vacated his own room so we could take it over, introduced us to his family, and fed and beer-ed us until we could consume no more. Furthermore, when one of us got sick, Luke went out of his way to drive us to the hospital. Absolute stand-up guy.

LEAVE AND GO ELSEWHERE

Spis Castle – the only photo we took in/ near/ around Poprad

Spis Castle: A 45-minute local bus ride away, is (another) one of the largest castle complexes in central Europe. SpisCastle appears on the horizon out of nowhere, essentially seeming like its just been plonked in the middle of the paddock. The UNESCO site sits above the surrounding town of Spisske Podhradie, which is not much of a draw in itself. While the castle is mainly ruins now, and well-maintained and upkept ruins at that, there’s cool points – the walls make a good walk around and outlook over the surrounding countryside, and the dungeon comes complete with torture instruments. You’ll get a, highly-entertaining and very well done, audio guide with your entrance ticket.

Somehow we made it and that’s all that matters

Getting from Zakopane to Poprad

Okay, while there is public transport – it’s patchy, if not sporadic. You can get a bus from the middle of Zakopane all the way to the middle of Poprad. However, if, like us, you have a slight obsession of living within your means two days before you’re due to depart a country and refuse to make another withdrawal of cash – you might take a leaf out of our book and make your way there a cheaper way. Which was actually free. Yes, this was where the Eastern European hitchhiking du jour began its first uneasy steps.

For starters, we got off to a bit of a rocky start. We walked along the main road out of town to the East, hoping to quickly thumb a lift to Lysa Polana, the border town. After half an hour unsuccessfully and uneasily standing with our A4 paper scrawled with our destination name outside of a petrol station, we walked on. Fifteen minutes later, we downed packs and tried again. After several drivers flew past either ignoring us, laughing at us, or pointing downwards furiously (?!) we moved on further. Finally, after about an hour, and as we flirted with the complete outskirts of the town, a driver stopped. As we tried to communicate, he speaking not a single word of English and us not knowing a bean of Slovakian, traffic piled up behind him as he hadn’t pulled completely off the road. Thank heavens for impatient tooting Slovakian drivers, because this meant a quick wave of acceptance and us bundled into his car.

Poprad
The border between Poland and Slovakia

Along the way, I’m 80% sure he was trying to tell us he was going nearby the border but not to it, but – understandably fed up with us simply repeating the same five words inEnglish – he took us right to the border. The plan from here was to get a bus (there’s a bus stop at the info centre at Lysa Polana) so we settled in for the next one which was in about an hour’s time. Hearing the hum of a vehicle approaching, I jokingly stuck out a thumb – and was horrified when the tiny purple hatchback screeched on its brakes and skidded to a stop on a shoulder just ahead. A topless torso emerged from the driver’s window and asked where we were headed. Lo and behold, the tanned Frenchman was headed nearish Poprad and was keen for some company. Added bonus: he spent time in New Zealand and the trip ended up being far more pleasant than a stuffy bus ride. For the second time that day, our driver went out of his way to take us to our final destination. This one, however, I’m sure was due to my sparkling personality rather than language barrier-induced inability to do otherwise. 

Note: Pointing downwards whilst driving apparently means “I’m not leaving town” in Eastern Europeans, so rather than questioning the sanity of furiously finger stabbing motorists, try your luck with the next one. 

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