A bike ride round Lake Constance 3 Uberlingen to Wasserburg

A misty morning that turned into a sunny pleasant day. There was a definite feeling of autumn in the air, leaves turning colour and wet grass first thing from a dew fall. We started with an extensive buffet breakfast. I had muesli with yoghurt, bacon and egg, chocolate pain, fruit and bread and jam. Despite this ample meal we still managed to be on our bikes by about 8.30.

We rode through Uberlingen and stopped by the rather grotesque fountain in the centre of the town. It was completed in 1995 and is by Peter Lenk a local artist who also produced the large statue of Imperia that we had seen on the harbour at Konstanz.

Bodenseereiter by Peter Lenk featuring several aged creatures

Bodenseereiter by Peter Lenk featuring several aged creatures

We were close by the lake almost all day although it was often hidden behind bushes or trees. The mist never really cleared completely so although we passed many houses with names that implied views of the Alps we never caught a glimpse of them. Much of the route took us alongside a railway track often with narrow allotment plots between us and the railtrack. As always with allotments there was a wide variety of crops and a diversity of garden sheds and “summer houses”. The wild autumn crocus flowers growing in fields and by the side of the path were also quite splendid.

We passed below the impressive pilgrimage church of Birnau soon after leaving Uberlingen.

Basilika Birnau

Basilika Birnau with vineyards

Soon after this church, and wending our way through more vineyards, we arrived at Meersburg, which had a busy port with strangely-shaped car ferries arriving to dock at  great speed.

Ferry at Meersburg

Ferry at Meersburg

Meersburg is an attractive old town built into a steep hillside. The lower town, the only one we investigated, has a pedestrian only shopping road with many old buildings; an obvious touristic highlight. Several small lanes lead onto a lakeside promenade lined with pollarded plane trees.

Main entrance to the lower town through the old town walls

Main medieval entrance to the lower town through the old town walls

Leaving the town we had to crane our necks to see the Keithof and another unidentified enormous building above more vineyards.img_20160923_100442829_hdr

Our next main town was Hagnau. Like other towns it had a mixture of very old houses like this one claiming to be from 1578 img_20160923_105642089with other distinctly modernistic Bauhaus designs and some few that were crumbling neglected wooden constructions.

Our guidebook warned us that between Immenstaad and Friedrichshafen the cycle track was a 10km stretch beside a motorway and that this could be easily avoided by taking a ferry between the two. We took the recommended avoidance action. In Immenstaad we nearly missed the ferry terminal and had to turn back on ourselves. We then had a wait of just over an hour on the quayside which we spent taking a coffee, a bite to eat and a small bike tour of the town.

A view of the jetty and ferry at Innenstaad from along the coast

A view of the jetty and ferry at Immenstaad from along the coast

The ferry ride was very comfortable and it was nice to get views from out on the lake. Friedrichshafen was very busy and a bit of a disappointment. One of the “attractions” in our guidebook was the Zeppelin Museum. We were not enticed there but over the coming weekend we spotted Zeppelins doing tourist flights over the lake on many occasions. We had sailed past the castle on our way into the harbour so did not fancy a detour to visit that, and in the absence of other attractions we simply “saddled up and rode out of town”.

We stopped to look at the harbour and castle in Langenargen and ate an ice cream while watching wedding guests assemble.

Schloss Monfort built in 1866

Schloss Monfort at Langenargen built in 1866

Leaving Langenargen we cycled past a rather extravagant maypole-like structure. It was difficult to see exactly but the dangling figures seemed to be in different occupations.img_20160923_143117476

Later we saw the oldest suspension bridge in Germany, built in 1897. It is said to be the model for the George Washington bridge in New York.img_20160923_144426656

Our destination that day was a hamlet called Hege, near the town of Wasserburg. Approaching the Hotel Gierer we were surprised to see lots of white towelling-clad elderly people wandering to and fro across the road in flip flops. It looked to me as though we might have strayed into some kind of asylum. Not so! It was our hotel which had apartments on one side of the road and spa facilities in the hotel on the other, and people were moving between the two. img_20160923_181032525_hdrOur room was quite comfortable but there were no toweling gowns. We took a swim and, because the hotel was out of town, booked a table to eat there that evening; it was Friday night and very busy so booking seemed a good idea. We had our best meal of the trip that evening, tomato soup, salad, rosti, veal in mushroom sauce followed by pineapple ice cream with cream and a bottle of local wine – terrific and 30 Euro each with a tip for the waiter.

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A bike ride round Lake Constance 1 Konstanz to Stein am Rhein

We booked this tour through Rad & Reisen, a tour company we had been with before and always found  to give excellent service. This tour was no exception. They organise accomodation. In this case we had half board, luggage transfer, bike hire and tour information with maps etc included in the tour price. All the logistics worked perfectly.

Our tour started in Konstanz, a German town on the lake just over the border from Switzerland. We flew from Luton to Zurich and took a train to Konstanz, the train station is under Zurich airport and there are frequent trains direct to Konstanz so it was an easy transfer. When we checked into our hotel we found all our briefing material waiting for us. Hotel Barbarossa is in the old town of Konstanz and reputedly dates back to the 14th century. It is full of character and very comfortable; we had a four poster bed. The old town has many impressive buildings and remains of old town walls and evidence of occupation going back to Roman times. We arrived late afternoon and did not have that much time to look around before seeking out a German burger restaurant for supper.

Next day, there was a superb breakfast bar including eggs and bacon so we ate well then left for a short bus ride to pick up our bikes and set off round the lake. The bike pick up point was at a sizable warehouse with what must have been hundreds of bikes in racks. Ours were ready for us, correctly adjusted to our height and with panniers attached. We had a quick ride around the yard to check all was OK then had a brief talk about where to go, how to operate the bike and odometer, and how to get help if needed. There was a group of ladies in team blue track suits also being briefed. We later met them on several occasions and discovered they were from Iceland. And there was another quartet, just leaving, who we also kept meeting on the tour. We later discovered they were Germans from Ulm.

To start with, the bike track was alongside the railway, leaving Konstanz in a northerly direction towards the Island of Reichenau. The English spelling of the German name of the town Konstanz is Constance but the German name for Lake Constance is Bodensee; a little curious. The lake is the third largest lake in western Europe; it is about 60km long and 15km wide, its average depth is 12m and its deepest part is 250m.

In general terms, land to the north of the lake is Germany, land to the south east is Austria, and that to the south west is Switzerland as seen below

Just before we reached Reichenau we crossed the railway line and took a good cycle path more or less parallel to a road. At this stage we had only distant views of the lake but soon the views opened outimg_20160921_101028193 and we could see Reichenau Island across reed beds. Later we passed pretty villages like Allenbach

Allenbach

Allenbach

and had wider views across the full width of the lake. We arrived at the top of this arm of the lake at Rudolfzell around lunch time. We took a stroll around the market place close by the Munster

Münster Unserer Lieben Frau - Rudolfzell

Münster Unserer Lieben Frau – Rudolfzell

We then crossed the railway line and went down to the lakeside and took a coffee. It was very peaceful. The water, throughout our visit, was notable for its clarity.img_20160920_231306630

After our rest we continued on round the lake and through a tree-lined path alongside a road.

Cycle path by the side of the road just out of Rudolfzell

Cycle path by the side of the road just out of Rudolfzell

We were soon at Moos where we watched as a crane lifted a very smart wooden boat out of the water, ready for winter storage.

View from Moos Marina looking back to Rudolfzell

View from Moos Marina looking back to Rudolfzell

The next section of the route was more agricultural through vineyards and orchards before passing through a park like area at Horn. From Horn the water became slowly more like a river than a lake, you could sense the steady flow of the river Rhine as the banks gradually converged.

Small marina at Gaienhofen

Small marina at Gaienhofen

We passed through more small villages and the odd marina. This was one of the few places on the trip with hills of any significance but they were fairly short. Just before we arrived at our destination for the day, Stein am Rhein, we crossed the border into Switzerland but we were not sure precisely where this happened. There did not seem to be any marker.

Our Hotel in Stein was 4 star Hotel Chlosterhof.

Hotel Chlosterhof

Hotel Chlosterhof

Extremely comfortable, our room had a balcony with a river view and there was a swimming pool and sauna etc. We arrived just before 4 so had a chance to take a good look around before nightfall; just as well because it has a beautifully preserved old town.

img_20160921_164356495_hdr img_20160921_164714624_hdr img_20160921_164914990_hdr img_20160921_170024041_hdr

We were lucky to get into the Burgersyl just before it closed for the day. The main building is medieval, renovated to an extremely high standard. It was built in the 14th century and had a wide variety of uses in its past, most notably a poor house and hospital. After this we visited St Georges Abbey. an old Bendictine building first established in Roman times.

St George's Abbey Stein um Rhein

St George’s Abbey Stein um Rhein

The lake becomes a river at Stein and while we quaffed a beer by the ferry landing we watched the crowds of tourists and cyclists pass by, including our fellow German and Icelandic cycling groups. The path along the river offers pleasant views.

Looking back down the river at Stein am Rhein

Looking back down the river at Stein am Rhein

Since this was Switzerland everything seemed pretty expensive and we chose to eat in town at a restaurant bar in the Market square after we had swam in our hotel pool.

 

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A bike ride round Lake Constance 2 Stein am Rhein to Uberlingen

A very full breakfast at Hotel Chlosterhof, consumed with views over the mist-shrouded river Rhine, then off into the subterranean garage to retrieve our bikes. Our route this day took us over the river and back into Konstanz riding through Swiss countryside until, at Konstanz, we returned to Germany. The current bridge was built in 1971 and is on the site of a Roman stone bridge replaced in 1250 by a wooden one that was burnt in 1799 by French troops. It is a one way bridge controlled by traffic lights and bikes need to get a speed up to get over before the lights change.

Once again we rode for a considerable distance by the side of the railway line. It was misty or cloudy almost all morning and quite autumnal with a chill in the air. The cycleway for much of the way was freshly laid tarmac which made the occasional stony paths seem a rough and unwelcome intrusion. We passed lots of orchards with very laden apple and pear trees, some of which were being harvested. Views across the lake were limited by the mist.

View across lake from just after village of Eschenz

View across lake from just after village of Eschenz

We arrived at Steckborn just after 10 and took the opportunity of looking round this attractive village, apparently home of Bernina sewing machines. We walked along the shore front with its water spout (one of several around Constance)
img_20160922_100949948

and wondered at the Turmhof museum on the shore of the lake.img_20160922_101705749

Finally, we walked through the archway and appreciated the Town Hall.

 

By © Wikipedia User: Samschtig / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31615737

By © Wikipedia User: Samschtig / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31615737

Back on our bikes, we rode through more orchards and villages before crossing a large polder-like agricultural area on the outskirts of Kreuzlingen. There was a great deal of harvesting going on there; crowds of people down on their hands and knees slowly moving across the fields. Shortly after, we crossed the border into Germany and Konstanz. It was quite a shock to suddenly encounter a motorway bridge and the hustle and bustle of crowds.

We joined the stream of pedestrians and bikes crossing the motor-free bridge over the Rhine in Konstanz and promptly lost track of our correct route. There was no shortage of cycleway signs. It was just that we were not sure which one we should take. While we were pondering at different crossings and junctions we kept being asked by fellow cyclists if they could assist and in this way we found our way out of Konstanz and up along the coast towards Insel Mainau.

Mainau Island seemed to be a real tourist honeypot.  There were large car parks, luggage lockers, bike racks and souvenir stalls and crowds of people. No doubt the Island is impressive but we really did not have the time to do it justice so did not visit. I think it really needs half a day at least to walk around. Bikes or cars are not allowed, and we needed to catch a ferry and wanted some time at the end of the day to look around Uberlingen. So, after a brief stop we were on our way to Wallhausen our ferry station and looked back towards Mainau and the causeway that takes you there.

Insel Mainau from Litzenstetten

Insel Mainau from Litzenstetten

In the right hand side, middle of this picture you might just make out a solar powered robot lawnmower one of many we saw during our trip.

At Wallhausen we had about thirty minutes to wait for our ferry. By this time the mist and cloud had long gone so we sat in the sun and ate some energy bars and admired the views.

Wallhausen Marina and ferry port

Wallhausen Marina and ferry port

It was a 15 minute boat journey on the ferry Seegold, with about 30 passengers and a dozen cycles. At Uberlingen we had only a few hundred metres to reach our hotel, the quite grand Bad-hotel und Villa Seeburg. Our bikes were stored in their own lockup garage and we were treated to a welcome glass of bubbly ‘Kress’ and given keys to our quite ancient but extremely comfortable room.img_20160922_182106904

After a shower etc. we were off to explore the attractive town (and to accidentally lose my sunglasses somewhere along the way!). A visit to the tourist office ensured we were equipped with a local map and we used this to tour the old city. There are still remnants of fortifications dating back to the 16th century in the form of round defensive towers.img_20160922_162320573_hdr

Once up the steps the views over the lake were spectacular.

View over Uberlingen old town

View over Uberlingen old town

We also visited the cathedral (Munster St Nikolaus) with its very sumptuous interior, the small harbour area, and strolled along the busy Seepromenade where the ferries landed and people sat around consuming drinks and food at the many outlets. We decided to eat at our hotel that evening. We approached it from the lake looking very impressive

Bad Hotel Villa Seeburg

Bad Hotel Villa Seeburg

and walked back there through its attractive gardens.img_20160922_181920700_hdr

The evening meal ‘special’ featured fish from the lake, excellent with a bottle of local white wine. A very good way to end a lovely day.

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A walking trek in the High Tatras Mountains in Slovakia – 4 Popradske Pleso to Poprad and summary

The refuge/hotel was really busy this Saturday night and there were people sleeping in the corridors. Although our dorm had two spare bunks, later we understood why.

Sunday morning and four people sleeping in (the corridor)

Sunday morning and three people sleeping in (the corridor)

We were planning an easy last day of walking and did not rush to breakfast. Before we went down I heard some distinctly English voices in our corridor. I went to chat with them. They had to bed down in our corridor because they arrived after dark and were told the place was fully booked. They had walked over Rysy from Poland and had not known that this hotel existed. I asked where they were hoping to stay last night and they said they had reservations at Popradske Pleso refuge, where they were staying for two nights. I told them they were there already. They said it can’t be. Where is the lake? I told them it was just 20m away from where we were standing. So, probably our two empty bunks were actually theirs and there were two others elsewhere in the refuge/hotel. I left them quickly to seethe.

We had another filling fried breakfast with fruit and bread and honey and discussed where to go. Eventually, because we both had legs sore with lactic acid build up, we decided on a gentle walk down the track in the direction of Popradske Pleso train station.

Path to the station during a lull in the crowds

Path to the station during a lull in the crowds

There were hordes coming up the track in clusters, eager to get to the lake and perhaps up the mountain. It was another lovely sunny morning. At the station we took the train to Strbske Pleso. The ticket cost 0.5 Euros and we had to buy it at a drinks kiosk near the station. Strbske Pleso is a thorough-going holiday resort with two lakes, lots of hotels, ski and bike hire shops. It was very busy and quite a contrast for us. We walked around the larger of the two lakes and admired the views

Ski jump and one of the large hotels of Strbske Pleso

Ski jump and one of the large hotels of Strbske Pleso

strbske-pleso

More hotels and rowing boats at Strbske Pleso

One of the wonderful features, for me, was the grand hotel Kaminsky. I did not get a good picture but the following website gives you an idea of its’ grandeur. https://www.kempinski.com/en/strba-strbske-pleso/grand-hotel-high-tatras/

After a coffee we returned to the station and took the great little narrow gauge train to Poprad.the-tatra-train-in-poprad

It took nearly an hour. It was a very picturesque ride and cost only 2 Euros, excellent value even if only for the views.

Back in Poprad we walked back to the Pension we stayed in a week previously. On the way, we crossed the river Poprad and noticed a lonely fisherman under a road bridgelonely-fisherman-in-river-poprad

At our Pension we took a beer in their garden before cleaning up and taking a walk around the attractive village square with its ancient “Burgher houses”

Burgher houses of Spisska Sobota

Burgher houses of Spisska Sobota

and old-burghers-houses-spisska-sobota

We had an excellent dinner with two beers and wine (drinks cost an unbelievable 6.30 Euros). Next day we took a taxi (fare 6 Euros) to Poprad-Tatry airport a tiny airportpoprad-airport

with a fine final view of the High Tatras.

high-tatras-from-airport

Summary

We were lucky with the weather. It rained on the day we arrived but was dry for the remainder of the time and was mostly sunny but not too hot. The High Tatras is a brilliant rugged rocky area with spectacular views. We found the walking to be hard and anyone trying it shouldn’t be fooled by simple consideration of distances and elevations. The terrain we think is generally difficult and demanding and to avoid possible injury we had to spend almost all the time looking down at the ground rather than gazing around at the scenery. We found the times displayed on signposts and on the map very optimistic. although when walking by myself without a loaded backpack I found them pretty accurate. As part of our reservation we were presented with a 1:25000 walking map of the area. This was brilliant and it includes plenty of descriptive information in English on the reverse side. I cannot recommend it more highly. It is called “The High Tatras” and is map number 2502 ISBN 978-83-74990-89-9. Do take a torch and a sheet sleeping bag if you want to avoid sleeping in other peoples bedding. Take a universal sink plug with you if you like to fill a sink for washing. You can get by with just English but it is better to learn a few Slovak words like dobry den (good day or hello), dakujem (thank you), pleso (lake or tarn) and sedlo (saddle or col) If you are intending to climb Rysy try and avoid doing it at a weekend.

I had a very enjoyable week and came away very impressed with the High Tatras.

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A walking trek in the High Tatras Mountains in Slovakia – 3 Sliezsky Dom to Popradske Pleso

At the smart hotel of Sliesky Dom we phoned our travel company rep. She advised that we take a car from the hotel down into the valley, take a train from Tatranska Polianka to Podradske Pleso and walk up, about an hour, to our refuge and this is what we did. The courtesy car was run by the hotel and the fare was 15 Euro each for non-guests but this, curiously, included a hot drink and a piece of cake, which we eagerly consumed while we waited for the car. The car driver was extremely pleasant and chatted with us all the way down, about 20 minutes. His English was quite patchy but while driving down a steep, narrow and bendy road he told us he had visited his brother and mother in UK and sorted through and showed us pictures of his trip on his mobile phone. We tried to be politely interested while wanting him to concentrate on driving!

We bought tickets at the station (1.50 Euros for a trip of about 10 km – so cheap) and chatted to a delightful couple of visitors from Bratislava at the station. He worked for an American company and had excellent English. She was a dentist and also spoke English well. It was a pleasant interlude during a long days’ walk. The train came after a wait of about 20 minutes and from Popradske Pleso station we had a walk of just over an hour up to the refuge. We arrived around 7.30 in gathering gloom, about 12 hours after we set out that day.

popradske-pleso-lake-and-refuge

Popradske Pleso Refuge/Hotel is the building nearer the centre of the picture

Popradske Pleso Chata is also, confusingly. called Horsky Hotel. It is large with 165 beds. It offers many facilities and a wide variety of accommodation ranging from apartments to dorms. It is an attractive building in a glorious setting. We were in a dorm with four bunk beds, full up that night, Friday. After a shower and settling in we went to the restaurant, which seemed to be serving food all day and night, and had a very good meal; part of our half board reservation.

Next day a fried breakfast was an option that we took together with fruit and yoghurt. I was anxious to get off early to go up Rysy, the highest mountain in Slovakia accessible without a mountain guide, and I left just after 8 o’clock. My companion had a well-deserved rest day.

Rysy is 2499 m high, a climb of just over 1000m from the refuge. The track follows a blue path to start with through trees then joins a red path going up to the summit past a lake and Chata pod Rysmi refuge. The trail marker indicated a time of 3h 20m from the start of the path and that was just about how long it took me, despite the crowds, of which more anon. Much of my climb was in the shade of trees or the mountains which was welcome because it was sunny and quite warm. After about an hour I was passing the, apparently nameless, lakeabout-an-hour-up-rysy-path

After this I really started to notice the large number of walkers on the path. At about 90 minutes I took another picture showing the people up ahead of me.an-hour-and-a-half-and-the-crowds-gather

Not long after I came to the ladders and chains

Ladders on the way up Rysy

Ladders on the way up Rysy

Although quite lengthy they were not too scary. Shortly after this there was a welcome archway of Tibetan prayer flags and a welcome plaque on the rock facea-welcome-plaque-just-below-the-chata

The plaque is not far from the refuge and this porter, who stopped as I passed him and was sweating buckets, must have been very pleased to be “nearly there”.a-porter-on-way-to-chata-pod-rysmi

The refuge is the newest, built in 1933, and the highest, at 2250 m, in the High Tatras and it was very busy when I arrived. chata-pod-rysmiIt was so busy that I had to squeeze my way past the customers or those simply taking a breather. I did not stop but carried on up to a col called Vaha just in view to the right of the Chata in my picture. From Vaha there are tremendous views forward and down towards Zmrzle lake.

Looking down towards Zmrzle pleso from Vaha

Looking down towards Zmrzle pleso from Vaha

The mountains across from Vaha were also quite impressive,view-from-col-vaha

as was the view back to the refugelooking-back-to-chata-pod-rysmi-from-vaha

There was a climb of another 150 m or so to the summit. Actually, Rysy has three summits but they are close together.

View of the summits of Rysy from final section of path

View of the summits of Rysy from final section of path

There were some narrow exposed places on the way, made worse by the large number of people being squeezed onto a single track. At the top there were crowds and I was startled to see Kirk, the Canadian we met three days previously, calmly sitting on a ridge col between two of the peaks. It was packed and I hope that this picture shows this adequately

One of Rysy summits, crowded

One of Rysy summits, crowded

The views were stunningview-from-rysy-summit

and towards Polandview-towards-poland-from-rysy-summit

In view of the crowds, with more still arriving, and the start of some high cloud forming from the south,cloud-gathering-in-view-back-to-slovakia-from-rysy-summit I decided to start descending and Kirk joined me. We stopped for some lunch on the way down, a little above Vaha col. The walk down from there was quite long and busyas there were still plenty of people climbing up as you can see in this picture from just past Vaha.

Beyond the hut the ladders had become a traffic jam of people and it took us about 15 minutes to pass.congestion-on-way-down-rysy

Later I overheard someone saying they had waited there for 2 hours to get past! Lower down the path becomes gentlerlower-part-of-path-off-rysy

I was back at the refuge/hotel at about 2.30. I had a shower and changed then met my companion and took a stroll round Popradske lake and visited the chapel memorial to those killed in the Tatra mountains. There are, according to the display boards 50 hand-carved ornate crosses and 160 memorial plaques.tatras-107-symbolic-cemetery-chapel

One thing I found quite curious about the climb was the large number of people wearing sporty-looking gloves. This is something I think I have rarely seen in other walking areas and perhaps is a local trend associated with scrambling and/or the chains. Anyway, this was an excellent day concluded with a few beers and another excellent meal in the refuge.

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A walking trek in the High Tatras Mountains in Slovakia – 2 Zamkovskeho Chata to Sliezsky Dom

I have seen Zamkovskeho Chata referred to as Zamka hut and in the spirit of laziness will do so henceforth. I think Zamka hut is the prettiest of those we visited on this trek.

Zamka Hut

Zamka Hut

I thought it had a definite Alpine feel about it. We had a four bed bunk room which we shared with Kirk, a pleasant Canadian. As an aside, the vast majority of people we encountered appeared to be Slovak, so it was quite rare to hear English spoken. The regular greeting when passing other walkers was “dobry” or sometimes “dobry den”. while I am at it the Slovak word for thank you is Ďakujem (pronounced JAH-koo-yehm).

There was one shower at Zamka Hut and two toilets but it only had 28 places and it was not full so these facilities were quite adequate. Despite being smaller than many it still offered draft beer. Dinner was a little disappointing cabbage soup followed by sauerkraut and beef or pork stew. The most demanding part of our stay here was the night time trip to the toilet. There was absolutely no light whatsoever in the room or corridor and the narrow corridor had a steel ladder right in the middle. The ladder presumably went up to a loft dorm. Our torch had broken so we both had challenging journeys. (In my last post about this trek I will make some suggestions about useful kit to take and a torch will be one.)

Next day the breakfast was a cold meat salad with bread butter and jam and tea or coffee. A little unusual for me but quite good. We were walking by 08.30 but, based on what my partner found to be difficult terrain the previous day and with what looked to be almost impossible for the following day, we decided to select a route of our own design. One that might be a little less demanding. We took a red path down into the valley Velka Studena Dolina then the blue path all the way up the valley and over a col to our next refuge Zbojnicka Chata, a hut located at 1960 m.

Crossing the mountain stream in the valley

Crossing the Studeny stream in the valley

To reach the blue path we had to descend 200 metres or so through forest and cross, close by a water fall before eventually crossing the Studeny stream (Studeny Potok). Just after the bridge the blue trail sets off up the valley.

The start of the trail up valley

The start of the trail up valley

The path climbs steadily for several kms. We saw relatively few people but did see two porters heavily loaded with supplies for the refuge. I would love to know what weights they were carrying but one had a full metal beer barrel as well as other things on his back. As the forest thinned a bit we could see the massive mountains either side and we began to wonder how and where we were going to be able to find a route out of the valley and over to our destination.

Slavosky Stit seen from the valley

Slavosky Stit seen from the valley

Eventually, after we were well past the tree line we came to a small bridge that took us over the stream

Bridge over Studeny stream

Bridge over Studeny stream

and the path climbed more steeply to reach a col with a lake just beyond it Vareskova Pleso. From there we climbed a little further then had the welcome sight of the refuge in the distance.

Distant view of refuge

Distant view of refuge

zbojnicka-chata

This was the smallest and most remote of the refuges we visited.

Looking back down path we have just walked up

Looking back down path we have just walked up

It was also the most basic. There was no shower and just two non-flushing toilets in an outside hut. When we first arrived we were shown up to a low ceilinged loft. Bent double, we were invited to select thin mattresses lying on the floor. We asked about bedding, which we were told was supplied and shown a blanket and pillow. Later, we were told this was a mistake and we were shown to a downstairs dorm with bunk beds and sheets, duvet covers and a pillow case, although these looked as though they had probably been used before! Anticipating a nocturnal trip outside to the toilet shed we asked for and were loaned a lantern light.

Our walk took about twice the time advertised on the way marker signs but this was not a problem and we were there by 4pm. As we were taking a drink on arrival we noticed a pair of hot dogs on one of the tables in the common room of the hut. These moved from table to table during our stay and were still around when we had breakfast next morning, We didn’t like to ask…

Dinner was a pork and rice dish, tasty and very welcome; one of the best evening meals we had. Next day was predicted to be a long-to-impossible one so we retired early. Not everyone did though and despite a distinct lack of lighting talking and singing went on until after ten. That night I visited the toilet and was nearly overcome from the ammonia fumes coming up from the dry toilet. My eyes were watering and I had to hold my breath. Afterwards, I took several minutes to look at the stars, and Milky Way glittering brightly in a clear moonless sky; not a sight I have often seen. Absolutely magnificent.

If dinner had been a culinary high spot, breakfast was a nadir. A few slices of bread and a plate with 3 frankfurters and a squidge of mustard sauce. My brave companion requested and was given some butter and jam. I managed one sausage then shared some of the jam. Several other hut occupants, including a group of 6 girls just returned all the sausages. What a waste, especially considering that they were manually portered up to the refuge.

Next day we set off continuing up the valley trail, a blue path.

Path away from Refuge

Path away from Refuge

We knew we had to climb out of the valley but there did not seem to be a feasible exit until we walked round a bend in the path and we could see a path going steeply up to a bare col. It looked a very challenging climb to a height of about 2200 m.tatras-70-climb-up-from-chata-to-sedlo-prielo

and so it was.

The route was waymarked but the path frequently disappeared;

The "path" up

The “path” up

a good deal of the ascent was hands-on scrambling. We were very relieved when we reached the top and looked back down the way we came up.

View back down from sedlo Prielom

View back down from sedlo Prielom

Until we looked down the way we had yet to go

Quite scary view of route down, note the chains

Quite scary view of route down, note the chains

There was the start of a set of chains and an alternative set of rungs set into the rock. Presumably one is designed for ascent and the other for descent in the event of crowds. We had no crowds; only saw 5 people on this stretch. I was unsure and admit to being rather nervous. I started down the rungs then decided the chains offered a safer route. Full marks to my companion who had had a few grumbles on the way up but here just got stuck in and did it. The descent really required hands on attention. descent-is-really-hands-on-stuffAfter the chains there was some loose rock and stones then we reached a scree slope. The views were fantastic all the way up and down but this wonderful view over Zamrznute Pleso is one of my favourite from the entire tour.fantastic-view-of-zamrznute-pleso

No sooner were we down and across the scree slope than we went up again and over another scree slope to reach Slo’sky Hreben 2200 m. We could not resist a look back and a photo of the col we had just crossed.tatras-77-backward-view-where-we-had-survived-the-col-crossingThe latter part of the path up to the new col had been recently pitched with pine logs and crude steps so it was much easier underfoot (although it might not look like it in this pic).the-path-up-to-polsky-hreben-with-the-completed-part-of-the-path

From the top we now had a descent of about 600 m an hotel at Sliezsky Dom. This started with a set of tricky chains but soon levelled out somewhat.the-start-of-the-path-down-to-sliesky-dom

By the time we reached the hotel it was nearly 4pm. We were tired and there was still about 5 km to go with a 500 m sharp descent at the end. We were not going to get there in daylight. When we reached Sliezsky Dom we decided to adopt Plan B.

Sliezsky Dom and Velicka Pleso

Sliezsky Dom and Velicka Pleso

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A walking trek in the High Tatras Mountains in Slovakia – 1 Biela Voda to Zamkovskeho Chata

This was a 6 day self-guided trek offered by Travelslovakia and booked and paid for direct from UK. I originally offered it to several friends but for one reason or another it ended up being just me and my partner. In retrospect I am pleased that this was the result because the total trip was much more demanding than I had envisaged and I would not have liked to have taken the responsibility for others. The High Tatras is a wonderful and beautifully wild place with spectacular scenery, but paths are almost all stones and boulders and there are several quite exposed places with ladders and chains that are impossible to avoid. In my opinion this is definitely an area for experienced, fit mountain walkers. When considering the tour I was lured into a false sense of security by simply looking at the distances and heights involved. The killer detail I had not accounted for was the terrain. With paths over large stones and boulders it is not possible to walk and look around and extra time is needed because such terrain is more tiring than less rugged mountain tracks. Nevertheless, we had a great time and really appreciated the very special area of the High Tatras National Park.

We reached Slovakia by flying from Luton to Poprad-Tatry with Wizz air. The tiny airport of Poprad-Tatry is only about 5km from the town of Poprad and we were met by a Rep from Travelslovakia and given a lift to our Pension in Poprad, where we stayed for one night. On our return we took a taxi and the fare was only 6 Euros, which seemed ridiculously cheap. At our Pension, in the village centre of Spišská Sobota,our-hotel-in-poprad we were given a 1 in 25000 map of the area and vouchers for our different overnight stays, a briefing of the route and logistics, and our mountain recovery insurance cards. The Rep also explained that you are forbidden to walk in areas other than the well signed footpaths without a mountain guide. The paths are colour coded but there is no link between the colour and the path difficulty. After our briefing we went to our room and watched the rain fall in the large attractive square outside the window.

church-in-spisska-sobota-poprad

Church in Spisska Sobota a local area in Poprad, once visited by our Queen

Later the rain eased off and we walked into town. There was not a great deal to see but we stopped and had a coffee and cake and were shocked to find it cost only 1.90 Euros.

Next day we took a taxi to the bus station (it was about 1 mile away and the fare was 2 Euros!) and a bus headed for Tatranska Kotlina and alighted at Biela Voda. The day was cloudy and we were in waterproofs but we were lucky and it stayed dry and the cloud slowly lifted. The walk was up the Biela river valley called Dolina Kezmarskej Bielej Vody.

Track up from Biela Voda

Track up from Biela Voda

Views slowly opened out as we climbed but, with the mist and the trees, this was not the best day for views. The walk crossed the stream a few times and finally we had a view of our destination Chata pri Zelenom Pleso. We had walked for just over 4 hours.

Approaching Refuge with lake outfall

Approaching Refuge with lake outfall

This was one of the best equipped of our refuge stops. We had a dorm room with four beds for the two of us. The refuge offered a selection of 5 draft beers! and had space for 56 people. There was a 4×4 track to the refuge that eased their supply problem. After we cleaned up, the cloud lifted further and we took a walk around the lake.

Mountain cirque appearing as clouds lift

Mountain cirque appearing as clouds lift

clear-evening-view-of-zelenon-pleso

It was a spectacular setting and a very popular hut with people coming and going all the time, but of course the number of transient visitors diminished rapidly as night drew on. Dinner, we were told, was 7 to 9 but “best to be here at 7”. We had half board in all our accommodation so there was no choice but supper here was ample and good tomato soup with aniseed and cheese, pork with sauerkraut and bread dumplings followed by red fruit coulee. Beers were 2.20 Euros per half litre and I really enjoyed the Saris beer. There were crossbills and redpolls around the refuge.

Next day breakfast was a self-service buffet with cha, a herbal tea apparently made in each hut. We left at 8 for what was the first proper mountain day of the tour. We set off on a red marked track. It was a perfectly clear sunny morning showing the lake and the surrounding mountains off perfectly.

Morning sun over Zelenon Pleso

Morning sun over Zelenom Pleso

fixed-chains-after-zel-pleso

Looking back to stream bed with chains

There was a long climb, gentle at first then much steeper, of about 500 m. After about 1 km we arrived at an eroding stream bed with chains going up about 30 to 50 m after that the rocky path zig-zagged through dwarf pines giving better and better views around about and back to the refuge.path-through-typical-dwarf-pine

Distant Refuge and lake

Distant Refuge and lake

There were also excellent views to the mountains across the valley we had walked up the previous day, lost in the low cloud that day.across-zeleny-river-valley

At the top, a small col at about 2000m, there were some wisps of cloud

Nearly at col Sedo pod Svist'ovka

Nearly at col Sedlo pod Svist’ovka

The col was only a few metres down from the summit of Velka Svist’ovka and I couldn’t resist those few extra steps and went up to take some photos. The small clouds had cleared and the views were brilliant.

View towards Kezmarsky Stit

View towards Kezmarsky Stit

View of the col from the summit

View of the col from the summit

From the col there was a descent of around 300m to a cable car station Skalnate. The path is rocky all the way and crosses several scree slopes.

One of the scree slopes on way to Skalnate

One of the scree slopes on way to Skalnate

It starts with some zig-zags then straightens out giving distant views of the station

Cable car station and observatory in the distance

Cable car station and observatory in the distance

Closer still there are views of the lakeskalnate-pleso-lake-and-cable-car-station

We stopped for a late lunch at the station and gazed up at Lomnicky Stit (2634m), the top station of the cable car. Had we had more time we would have taken a ride to the top but we still had a way to go to our refuge. We had to be satisfied with gazing and taking pictures.

Lomnicky Stit

Lomnicky Stit

Our path then followed a belvedere ending with a descent through trees to Zamkovsheho Chata our refuge for that night. On the path we heard red deer rutting in the forest below us and a squirrel jumped onto our path before he saw us and scrammed. We arrived at the refuge at about 4.30.

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