When we woke up we were very excited to see that there was no chance of rain for the time that we were planning on being at Spišský hrad, Spiš Castle that morning. We had breakfast in the dining room of Boutique Hotel Pracháreň and we quickly returned to our room, finished getting ready for the day, and maybe snapped a couple of parting scenic photos out of our bedroom window.
We then hurriedly went down the ladder, I mean steps, from our third-floor bedroom as we were anxious to head off to Spiš Castle. Even though we were headed down, the angle that we were headed still left us, well at least Walter and I, winded. Walter organized our luggage and off we went.
We knew that the grounds opened at 9:00 a.m. and were eager to get there when they opened. We followed Betty-ski’s directions to a parking area and were excited with the route that she brought us in on as the views were spectacular. From the parking lot it was about a 10-minute walk up a hill to the castle. On the way we discussed whether we would get there and find that there was a parking lot or a shuttle that we could have taken to castle. I am pretty sure in all of travels up hills this was the only occasion we did find out that we did have to walk!
Once we reached the castle we rented an audio player and headphones that allowed us to listen to the story of the castle in English. The castle was is one of the largest castle sites in Central Europe and is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
It was built in the 12th century on the site of an earlier castle. It was owned by the Kings of Hungary and then several different families. The last family that owned it abandoned it in the early 18th century as they felt that it was too uncomfortable to live in. In 1780 the castle was destroyed by fire and it sat abandoned until the 2nd half of the 20th century. There have been two films that were shot at the castle “Dragonheart” in 1996 and “The Last Legion” in 2007.
While viewing the neighboring town of Spišské Podhradie we noticed that people were hiking up a long trail, probably at least 4-5 times longer than the trail that we walked to the castle. As there was no way for us to drive to the castle and we had chosen the shortest route to walk there it seemed like we had won a moral victory, yay us!
During the tour of the castle we decided to climb the steps of the tower to check out the view. They were very narrow and quite step. It was very hard to imagine that soldiers would be able to easily maneuver their way up and down the steps with weapons. I started wondering if it were even possible for them to make the trip dressed in armor or chainmail as I moved at a snail’s pace always wary of falling or hitting my head.
With the reconstruction of the several areas of the castle we were able to see a medieval arsenal, torture chamber, chapel, kitchen and bedroom. I especially enjoyed the serenade we had while we looked around by a young woman on a violin and a young man on an acoustic guitar who played “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from the Disney movie “Lion King” among other Disney movie songs.
After a return walk to the car we started our last long trip to Kraków.
Within an hour or so of driving we decided to take a lunch break. After looking at some places that were pinned on Google Maps we pulled into Kežmarok. It took several minutes to figure out the meter for parking and this is where I left the figuring out to Sue and Walter, they conquered the meter and then we walked into the U Jakuba Reštaurácia – Penzión for lunch. What luck that we arrived when we did, within minutes there were people waiting in line for tables.
The atmosphere was charming with wooden beams and rustic wooden tables. Mounted on the walls were traditional Slovak outfits. Sue and I had a traditional Slovak soup, fazuľovica, which had beans, hunks of pork, potatoes and carrots. It was delicious and very filling. Just as our parking time limit arrived we finished our lunch. On the way out of town we drove past the Kežmarský hrad, (castle) just to take a quick peek.
The trip to Kraków was started out with beautiful weather, the sky was crystal blue with puffy clouds. As we got a little further north we were able to see the Tatra mountains. Again, it seemed to me like when we saw them earlier that they erupt from the earth so abruptly. On both the Slovakia and Poland sides of the border, in the mountains, we saw several ski resorts each with chair lifts and chalet style homes. The towns as we drove through them seemed to look as if they could have been in the mountains of Switzerland.
Unfortunately, we got stuck in two very long traffic construction jams. One was in Nowy Targ, Poland and the other was north of Chabówka, Poland. I was concerned as I had made plans to meet with Aga Pawlus, the tour manager for the genealogical tour group PolishOrigins. Aga had facilitated and organized our trip with Lucjan and I didn’t want to be late or maybe not be able to meet at all. I really didn’t want to miss the opportunity to thank her in person for all her hard work and to tell how wonderful of a trip we had had.
The closer that we got to Kraków the cloudier and grayer the sky became. Upon arriving in Kraków Betty-ski, in her usual manner, told us that we had “arrived at our destination” the Hotel Wyspianski, without the hotel’s parking lot being in sight. We drove around the block for a little while and then noticed a parking area, fortunately it was the right one. As we were checking I noticed a sweet-expression young woman entering the lobby of the hotel. I immediately recognized Aga from the pictures I had seen of her and was so relieved that we had made it in time to visit with her.
We quickly took out luggage upstairs to the room. I was kind of disappointed that there wasn’t any air-conditioning, but there was miraculously an elevator! I was relieved as we had to bring all our luggage into the hotel to get it organized and repacked for our trip home the next day.
I ran a brush through my hair, splashed some water on my face and then Walter and I excitedly joined Aga in the hotel bar. I could hardly wait to tell her about how much fun and how enlightening the genealogical portion of our trip had been and that it was all due to PolishOrigins. I wanted her to know that Lucjan had been helpful, friendly and patient. It was also important for me to share with her that the trip had been life changing.
After our visit with Aga we decided that it was time for dinner and we started our walk around Krakow. By this time it had started to rain, and people were scurrying along the sidewalks. I hate having wet glasses, so I had my head down and had no idea where we were walking to, I just looked at Sue’s shoes and followed her. We found an intimate restaurant that served Polish cuisine and decided to eat there. Though the food was okay we were thrilled with the amount of ice that received in our drinks. It honestly didn’t matter what I was drinking it was just great to have it cold and to be able to chew on an ice cube!
As it was our last night on vacation and with Sue we decided to visit our favorite 2-for-1 bar, Movida. Perhaps the idea is that two people should share the two cocktails, but it seemed like so much work to have to find two cocktails that we could agree upon. Walter chose the Long Island Iced Tea, Sue had Cosmopolitans and I had Voo Voos to drink, no problem with having to share. It was a refreshing way for us to chill out.
We headed back to the hotel and spent the rest of the evening organizing and packing our luggage. Time to return to reality!