GOODBYE LENIN HOSTEL: ZAKOPANE, POLAND
For the time being I am saying Ciao to Italy, and saying Dzień Dobry to Poland, estimating about a month in Poland, working at a hostel in the most southern part of Poland, right outside of the Tatra National Park. We have been to Poland before, read my blog on Travel Tips When Visiting Krakow, so first thought... Poland, it should not be such a shock, right? No never the case. There is always an adventure to uncover.
We set out and arrived to Katowice Airport, Poland. Another hour or so bus to Krakow, then another 2 hours (depending on your bus drivers willingness to run red lights) to Zakopane. To set the scene... It's pouring rain, one umbrella between the two of us, 10:30 PM, no knowledge of Polish, no phone service, luggage in hand, standing on the street, freezing. We just hoped we were in the correct city. It was only us and a small group of teenage girls who were waiting for their ride under the overhang as well. They were our only hope, if we wanted to get anywhere that night. The city buses stopped running for the night and that was the only other direction we received on how to arrive to the hostel. Thankfully they spoke some English and were kind enough to call a taxi for us. From there we waited for the taxi and he brought us to the hostel.
The taxi driver let us off about 200m before the door of the hostel because his car would not make it up the driveway. Finally, we made it to the hostel, about 11:40 or so. In that moment, all we wanted was a cozy bed, a warm comforter, and some heat and we were set. This was no where close to the reality we later received.
[SIDE NOTE: Don't get me wrong, the actual hostel is a nice place to spend a weekend or some vacation time off, and now looking back on it, it was not as bad as our first reaction.] So the worker (another volunteer from Iran), who was on duty the time we arrived, finished closing out for the night and showed us around before bringing us to our room. He showed us where the food was, where they keys were, where the dorms were, bathrooms, market etc. everything you would probably find out again on our first day (which not to mention was the next day @ 10 AM). We could find it all out in the morning, we just spend all day traveling and we were exhausted. We just wanted to go to bed.
He finally brought us to our room. The separate staff house was about 50m from the hostel down the driveway. We trekked down in the rain and mud and made it to the staff house. An almost 100 year old house where less than half the lights worked and even less outlets worked. He opened the door to our room and my stomach immediately dropped. There was one twin foam mattress on the floor, and half of a sectional couch. He told us there was no connection to WiFi at that house, but he did not seem too concerned about it. I asked if we were going to get at least another mattress and he said that they were planning on bringing it tomorrow. Again, he was not too concerned about it, he said goodnight, and we were on our own. At that point we just wanted somewhere to lay down and close our eyes, and that is immediately what we did.
The next day, still raining we set off to the hostel for the start of our first shift. The owner met us there and showed us everything we needed for the day. She could not stay with us for too long, as she had a busy day. She said goodbye, and we were again, left on our own. Check-in after check-in, we managed to do what we knew. Taking our best guess if anything came up that we did not know how to handle. Only a few mix-ups, but by the end of the day we were professionals. We knew the closest hiking trails for beginners or intermediate hikers. We knew the closes market. Directions to the town and anything else that came our way.
Located at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, a few kilometers to the border of Slovakia. The crowd traffic coming into the hostel was different from my previous experience in Italy. A quiet, cozy, little cabin located across the street from the entrance of the National Park. Hiker, outdoorsy, and active people were the majority of the guests that came into the Goodbye Lenin Hostel in Zakopane, Poland. If I had to compare it, it was the same kind of crowd that attended my college at the University of Vermont.
We worked from 8:00 in the morning to 11:30 at night, long shifts. Our work was to basically keep the hostel in check. We checked in guests, we cleaned the rooms and bathrooms, and we changed the beds of guests that already checked out that day. We had one long day like this and then one half day and that was it for the week. Since we wanted to be together during the work we had total 3 long days throughout the week, and then we had the rest of the time to ourselves. A different way to allow the time, not sure if I liked it better or if I liked smaller shifts more frequent throughout the week like in Italy.
[TIP: Visit Zakopane, Poland during the winter months (Dec, Jan, Feb). The city was just ready for the winter season; skiing, warm food & drinks, cozy restaurants, and overall aesthetic]
UPDATE: We spent almost 3 weeks working in the hostel in Zakopane. Met some cool people, and then were off to Budapest.