Visuals of white undulating slopes greet me when I arrive at Zakopane, at the foothills of Tatra Mountains in southern Poland. The streets are slowly filling up as the sun climbs, albeit unseen, due to the overcast sky. Zakopane, also called the winter capital of Poland, transforms into a veritable ski town.
I make my way through the slush of melting ice and snow. There are thick layers of snow on both sides of the road and on the sloped roofs of the chalets. There are small shops, cafes and restaurants on one side of the street and some vendors on the other. A restaurant owner writes his menu for the day on the board and watches me hopefully. A middle-aged woman carefully arranges the rate cards for the homemade cheese she’s selling on a handcart.
I am on Krupowki Street, the most popular place in Zakopane. Located in the centre of the town, Krupowki (pronounced crew-poof-key) is a pedestrian-only access. This is where most shops and restaurants are located and, even in sub-zero temperatures, the street is bustling with life, holidaying tourists or the locals.
At one end stands a monument of Count Zamoyski, who once owned large parts of Tatra Mountains, built institutions and hospitals and, upon his death, bequeathed everything to Poland.
The small romantic bridge further down offers a nice view of Mount Giewont, the most distinctive of the Tatra peaks. At the top is the famous cross erected by the highlanders over 100 years ago.
This street is truly a shopper’s paradise. The shopping centre built in traditional style sells handmade woollens, lace work, jackets, leather garments, and wooden artefacts… What’s more, most of the shopkeepers speak English! Much to my amazement, most things seem to be cheaper than in India. In the distance is a rank of horse-drawn carriages and a funicular to mount to Gubalowka Hill.
Next I head to Koscieliska Street, the second of the most impressive streets in Zakopane. On both sides, wooden houses, made in a style typical of Zakopane region, offer an artistic view. I can see snow-covered parked cars, wooden fences along the road and the artistic lampposts with sloping roofs. The oldest church, which is also the oldest existing structure in Zakopane, is made of stone, and is very small in size; just a single room with high sloping roof and a chimney.
Next to it stands the second-oldest church, appropriately named as Stary Koœciół (Old Church). It was built between 1845 and 1851. All its interiors — including the sculptures such as Black Madonna and Christ — are made of wood! It also has charming carved wooden decorations and pews. The stained glass windows depict the Stations of the Cross. The walls are made of wooden thick planks without any nails. Each plank is carefully fitted with pegs and gaps between them are filled with sawdust. The fully airtight walls also help keep the chapel warm. The body of the building rises into a steeply-pitched shingled roof with a single bell-tower.
Eventually the white carpet will make way for lush green mountains and blue lakes when summer comes. And I wonder will the two streets be as enchanting then?
Getting there: Nearest airport is at Krakow. Fast buses run every 40 minutes from Krakow to Zakopane.
Visa: You’ll need a Schengen visa to visit Poland.
Other info: The country has its own currency called Polish Złoty. From homestays and guest houses to premium hotels, there are plenty of options to stay in Zakopane.