Our Czech/Hungary tour has now taken our group of 14 from Budapest to the High Tatras in the north of Slovakia, then for a couple days in Krakow, Poland. Budapest was a real treat, and now in the Tatras we again rode into mountains. The town of Stary Smokovec, where we stayed one night, is a ski resort in winter with high alpen-like mountains ringing the area, this day with clouds caught in their peaks.
As we walked down the hill from our hotel to a local pub, suddenly the ground began to sputter with big, wet splotches that bounced…it was hailing! However, the hailstones were so soft and melted that they immediately splattered into little white, wet balls.
Back in our hotel, the lounge was old-style and classy, like out of the 1920s, and from its overstuffed leather furnishings and bookshelves I expected Ernest Hemingway to suddenly appear and talk of his experiences in WWI. Though Ernest was not currently available, what did appear as we dined in at the hotel dining room was a troupe of dancers: two men on clarinet and accordion, with two couples in a frenzy of local traditional dance. For 20 minutes, they entertained us with leaps and whirls and the intricacy of their moves.
A highlight of Friday’s ride was a stop at the Wieliczka Salt Mine. When I was a child my parents used to joke that if my sister and I didn’t behave, we’d be sent to work in the salt mines. Well, apparently my checkered past had caught up with me. I was initially skeptical that a three-hour tour of a salt mine would be very entertaining, but far underground here (the tour requires a good bit of walking) were enormous rooms full of carving and monuments, one room complete with chandeliers, and also a dining hall.
On to Krakow, Poland, a country I expected to be a bit poorer and slower than the others we’d traveled through. Granted, we came upon two horse-drawn carts hauling hay within the first few miles, but beyond that Poland seemed as alive and prosperous as the other places we had visited. For our rest day here, the guides strongly suggested a trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Though obviously a somber trip, it also filled in and gave credence to what we have heard about all our lives. Our local guide spoke excellent English and we saw it all, from the gallows and pockmarked wall where prisoners were shot, to the gas chambers and ovens.
Sunday we rode from Krakow to Olomouc, in the Czech Republic, and encountered our first rain on this tour. But at least it broke the awful heat and humidity of the first week, and was much more pleasant. Now it’s on to Prague for two days, and I can’t wait!