Zakopane in the Polish Tatras

I first came to the Polish Tatra village of Zakopane in 1971, when my father drove us from England to Poland for a holiday. I remember the wooden buildings that lined the streets, and the time my father drank from a mountain stream that gave him a severe stomach upset; grey-faced, he lay on the hotel bed while my mother fretted that we’d miss the Ostende ferry back to England. But the image that clung most tightly to my memory was of a mountain peak looming over the town.

How fitting, then, that the highlight of my return 50+ years later was to stand alongside the iron cross on the summit of that very peak: Giewont. Not the highest (at 1894m) but an icon of Zakopane and a well-known profile of the Polish Tatras.

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Haystack Rakhiv Carpathians

The Ukrainian Centre of Europe: a visit to Carpathian Rakhiv

“Don’t forget to look after your bag and watch out for thieves!”

I reassured my cousins that I’d take care and I boarded the bus to Rakhiv, wiping condensation from the window to give one last wave. I fought an urge to haul my backpack off the bus and ask if I could stay another day or so. But I had a reservation in the mountains of Transcarpathia that could no longer be cancelled.

One of the best things about Rakhiv is the journey in and out. I was on a bus heading south from the Ivano-Frankivsk region and we were soon winding through the forests and open pasture of the Carpathians, past traditional wooden structures. More surprising was the billboard for Erotic Massage and the bizarre row of brand new terraced houses painted in primary colours that wouldn’t be out of place in Bristol.

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