hiking in the tatra mountains

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Last year I traveled through Eastern Europe, through fairy tales, castles, medieval squares, expressionless communism, and the other side of Eastern Europe – the mighty High Tatra Mountain range with its granite bulk towering over the skyline of Slovakia and Poland, as I drove through gentle undulating hills to reach its midst.

And on the way was the magnificent Spis Castle. Oh well, one cannot really be in Eastern Europe and be cut off completely from the ‘fairy tale’, which keeps seeping in to charm both the initiated and the traveler.

The Spis Castle is one of the largest castle compounds in Central Europe, its ruins cascading over more than 4 hectares and a UNESCO listed site today. Going back to 1120, it started off as being a boundary fort of a feudal Hungarian Kingdom, was used as the seat of the Spis region for a few centuries, became the aristocratic residence of Stefan Zapol’sky, and finally the homes of the Thurzos’ and the Csakys’ families. It was destroyed by fire in 1780 and brought back to life in 1970.

Clambering over the worn steps, I entered once upon a time royal rooms echoing with endless vistas of the Slovakian countryside, the peaceful silence of the chapel, and the deafening silence of the dungeon.

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Castle with a view, the Slovakian countryside
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The 12th Century Spis Castle is one of the largest castles in Eastern Europe

My destination was still further ahead, Stary Smokovec in the High Tatras in Northern Slovakia with views from my room of the bulky grey Tatra reaching out to kiss heavy grey clouds…

With 17 peaks over 2,500 metres high, the alpine mountains are part of the Carpathian Mountains system and home to Europe’s first trans-national park – the Tatra National Park was established on the Slovakian side in 1948 and in Poland in 1954.

An early morning train to Tatranska Lomnica followed by a cable car ride to Skalnate Pleso (1,751 metres) promised a day long hike downhill in the National Park through beautiful waterfalls and mountain cottages where I stopped for a lunch of bean soup and freshly baked bread. A second day took me to Strbske Pleso with its glacial mountain lake and quiet walking trails.

This is the part of my travels I love.

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The alpine beauty of the High Tatras …
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Going up by cable car to come down hiking
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Through waterfalls and signposted forests
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With flowers for company
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Note: This blog post is part of a series from my travels to Central and Eastern Europe in 2012 covering six countries.

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