Zakopane’s bus station is a busy stage of commotion, a single roomy hallway that incorporates ticket sales offices, a newspaper kiosk and a couple of fast food vendors and pizza joints. As one leaves the terminus and tags along behind those who are already acquainted with the whereabouts to the opposite side, one comes face to face with teams of backpackers loaded beyond capacity with all sorts of mountain gear, manifestly anticipating days of trekking in an attempt to reach the peaks. Those less daring are not burdened with any equipment but are likewise looking forward to reach the mighty peaks, not by way of walking or climbing but with the assistance of the cable-cars or chair lifts that thrive so profusely in the area.
Once in the open, one will find oneself on the extreme edge of Ul Kosciuszki, Zakopane’s alternative tireless day-and-night promenade which regrettably functions as well as a traffic shortcut to the centre. It’s however easy to disregard the humming vehicles and concentrate on the endless rows of spectacular sights that skirt the spacious sidewalks.
Right in front of the main entranceway to the bus station on the other side of Ul Kosciuszki is Bar Fis, a basic eatery half-hidden amidst a leafy setting. Nothing to talk about back home (although the cheese pierogi I ate here were tasty and delicious beyond comparison) but the knowledgeable attendants who work inside seem to act as an unofficial information office, dishing out besides the obvious plates of fare, valuable advice about anything one needs to know concerning the city.
A walk along Ul Kosciuszki is an encounter with some of the most stylish village-type houses that characterize Zakopane. For grandness, eloquence and tradition, look no further than Hotel Grand Stamary, a magnificent Zakopane-style building that combines beautiful century-old architecture with green spaces for recreation and sports. For plain rustic architecture so typical of Zakopane, ogle the all-wood construction that accommodates the main branch of the city’s tourist office. Located only a stone’s throw west of the bus station, it is a graceful rural structure supported on thick wooden vertical posts, its triangular thatched roof sustained on a charming framework of beams and struts.
A few steps further west of the tourist office, the Bystra canal is a portrait-pretty streaming watercourse that cuts across the city, draining the excess mountain water into the narrow ridgy depths of the Dolina Strazyska and the Dolina Bialego valleys. The foaming water flow is strong enough to drive anything in its path even large woody branches and tree trunks but kids are perfectly content with limiting their casting launch to a paper boat which they observe getting out of sight in a jiffy. Those amazed by the scenic sight of the watery ambience can linger on one of the canal’s wooden bridges or if time is on hand stroll at leisure along pretty Ul Sienkiewicza, a non-pedestrianized street that runs in close proximity to the waterway.
The western edge of Ul Kosciuszki is a bustling scene of people on the move. Brimming with activity, it is the place to linger if one wants to develop a taste for trendy clothes and fashionable accoutrements. To add to the exquisite air of stylishness and panache, several renowned cafeterias and trattorias have opened a branch here. Appealing to passers-by with their glistening interiors and strong aroma of coffee, pastry and sweets, they are distinctly tempting and inviting beyond abstinence. Amidst this conglomeration of welcoming spots of coffee and confections is the Orbis-run Hotel Giewont, a good-value no-nonsense place of accommodation considered by many as Zakopane’s most traditional legendary institution of hospitality. The three-floor structure is architecturally plain and unpretentious; yet its corner location between Zakopane’s two most popular streets gives it an air of glory and impressiveness.
The westernmost edge of Ul Kosciuszki heralds the spot where the real Zakopane begins. An up-and-down glance from this vantage point at the visible stretch of Ul Krupowki is enough to bear witness to the popularity of this lengthy pedestrianized walkway. Sloping gently upwards from its northwest edge right at the foot of Mount Gubalowka, it cuts across the most fashionable part of town, terminating at a junction point where it meets Al 3 Maja, a parallel non-identical twin, soulless and featureless but time-sparing for anybody who needs to go across by car.
The northwest section of Ul Krupowki, undoubtedly visited by anybody who puts his feet on Zakopane ground is not just a showcase of outstanding restaurants, boutiques and souvenir shops but it comprises as well an accumulation of attractions that should in no case be left out of review. A few downward steps northwest of Hotel Gazda (the huge corner block facing the edge of Ul Kosciuszki), one can track down with some hunting around the quasi-hidden Museum Tatrzanskie. This multi-section display of anything one needs to know about the region includes historical artefacts related to the Tatra mountain district, collections of mineral rocks excavated from the area and heaps of flora and fauna-related material brought together and systematized over the years since the second half of the nineteenth century.
On the opposite side of Ul Krupowki, only a short distance further down from the museum is the parish church, a huge nineteenth-century stonework creation that externally appears more recent than it really is. Its exterior neo-Romanesque design, though older than a century seems fresh enough to be easily mistaken for one that is just coming out of the drawing board. Inside, no expense was spared to add the greatest and most varied collections of ornamentation possible. Every chapel is packed with statues, murals and glimmering friezes; every corner shines with a profusion of decorations intricately carved in wood, painted and gilded. Looking at the entirety of the interior at one go may seem a feast of colour, gaudiness and showiness beyond comprehension but looking into the details of a handful of preferred attractions is perhaps wiser and more insightful.
Ul Koscieliska, the street facing the church is Zakopane’s longest-standing part of town. A stroll along this untouched parading ground reveals a number of folksy wooden constructions, absolutely unusual elsewhere but definitely in place in Zakopane. Small and no longer able to cope with the number of inhabitants, the old parish church is a charming wooden rustic construction, its graceful roof framework supported on thick rafters being a masterpiece of skill and design. Behind the church, Zakopane’s cemetery contains more wood collections. Although obviously gloomy and melancholic, this burial ground is an impressive place crammed with numerous wooden tombs and an endless array of sculpted wooden niches standing on vertical posts as a timeless memorial to those laid to rest within.
The northwest edge of Ul Krupowki terminates with a bridge that spans the graceful Bialy Potok Canal. The bridge and its surrounding ground is the venue of a daily colourful open-air market where all sorts of inventive handiwork, speciality foods and carved-in-Zakopane wood items are put for sale. The soft mountain cheese wrapped in a yellowish-brown skin encrustation typical of Zakopane is everywhere, usually sold by women in colourful folk dresses. Likewise found everywhere are the hand-knitted sheep’s wool jumpers and the hand-assembled soft skin flat alpine footwear. Behind the market on Ul Nowotarska is the Mount Gubalowka funicular, a cable-car that provides access to the top of Zakopane’s most favourite tourist destination.
Go back to the intersection of Ul Kosciuszki and Ul Krupowki in the shadow of Hotel Giewont. Strolling uphill from here along Ul Krupowki is a feat of squeezing one’s way through crowds of parading hikers who come here to dine and lodge after a time in the mountains. Packed with all sorts of restaurants, basic and cheap or upmarket and expensive, this area is at times too wild and chaotic and leaves most first-time visitors exhausted and breathless. Occasionally, a section of the street is closed to pedestrian traffic and consequently the atmosphere becomes more confused and disorderly. The occurrence is merely a short-time show given by a group of street entertainers who decide to take to the middle of the street to perform.
As one proceeds uphill, Ul Krupowki becomes more appealing and captivating. The area in the neighbourhood of the Restauracja Kolorowa is needless to say more colourful and interesting, somewhat less crowded and more typical of a popular mountain resort.
The crossover of Ul Krupowki and Al 3 Maja marks the onset of Ul Zamoyskiego, a lengthy route that heads straight to a roundabout intersection (popularly called the Rondo) from where a two-mile stretch of country road leads to Kuznice. An endless procession of minivans and horse-drawn carriages ply the route for those who don’t feel like exercising their legs in excess of short distances. The twenty-minute cable-car trip from Kuznice to the top of Mount Kasprowy Wierch should indisputably be the prime reason for visiting Zakopane. The views all the way up are superb; the views from the top will leave you breathless and reluctant to leave.