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Fast service Zakopane - Kraków

Leaving_Zakopane46 degrees in the sun the thermometer read when leaving the hotel room. Together with our friends my wife and I handed in our room keys. Dragging our suitcases we started our 30 minute walk to the train station.

Zakopane station lacks nothing but offers nothing extra. The platforms are accessible from just about anywhere but tickets can only be bought from the main station building which has the classic station look.
When entering the main hall it becomes obvious that time has stood still at PKP, the national railway company of Poland. Nothing has changed much over the last 40 odd years in this station. We buy our tickets from a woman nearing her pension age, although very friendly she is slow and a queue builds up quickly. With 35 minutes to spare we were the proud owners of 4 first class train tickets on the fast service to Kraków.

As we made our way through the station we decided to stock-up on drinks and food for our 3 and a half hour journey. At the platform entrance there’s a small food stand where we wanted to buy a bag of traditional Polish donuts. A joy for every sweet tooth and one of the many good things a Polish baker has to offer. Searching in and around the food stand we find out there is no one to buy the donuts from. While wondering what’s going on an old lady with sweat on her forehead and a couple of front teeth missing, complains about our suitcases while making her way around them. With mixed feelings of delight we find out that she’s the owner of the food stand.
When she’s setup and sitting down we order, her frown quickly turned into a smile and we got what we came for. The heat was getting to everyone not excluding old and tired shop owners.

Train_viewThe train we’re taking is old and lacks not only air conditioning but also any form of insulation which means the sun is free to unleash it’s full potential on the metal roof. Of course there’s also a modern Intercity service between Zakopane and Kraków. However it leaves 2 hours after the fast service which means 2 hours less in Kraków, so the fast service is our compromise. Although it’s called the fast service it’s everything but that, the train rarely hits 90km/h and stops at about every station where it often has to decouple the engine so it can be driven to the other end of the train to be re-coupled on that side.

With still 20 minutes on the clock we walked to the train which was already waiting at the platform. I opened the door to the first class coach, a wall of heat greeted me. As the platform wasn’t any higher then 50cm we threw our suitcases in first before entering our selfs. We were free to pick one of the 6 person compartments. It didn’t really matter which one we would choose, they were all equally empty and hot. I wonder if I would be far off when saying the compartments were around 40 degrees Celsius. But however high the temperature, this train was going to be our home for the next 3 and a half hours. So with the Tatra mountains behind us we slowly pulled out of Zakopane station.

pkp_engineNow you might be fooled into thinking that I’m complaining about the discomfort of traveling with the before mentioned train service, however nothing could be further from the truth. I really love trains and traveling by them brings out the traveler in me. Seeing a country at a slower pace, the sights and sounds. A high speed train already looses that feeling, maybe even a very comfortable train with air conditioning as well. This train has all the ingredients to make you feel like an adventurer! Traveling shouldn’t be to easy, it has to fight back a little make you work for those kilometers or else all romance and satisfaction creep out and before you know it you’re reduced to a mere tourist a wondering sightseer with a guidebook to keep you safe. Not in this train!

The first 15 minutes we were all enjoying the views and with that saying goodbye to 3 really nice days in Zakopane. I concluded it was definitely worth visiting again but next time out of season. I would advice anyone considering to visit Zakopane in the months of July/August to or postpone or go earlier. The walking routes are beautiful but they definitely loose a lot of their charm when you have to cue up.
After that I spend an equal amount of time fighting with the curtain, trying to keep it closed and block out the sun while making it stop flying out of the window or wiping on of us in the face. Closing the window was certainly not one of the options.
After pretty much all was said and the donuts were eaten the heat really started to creep up on us. I tried to fall a sleep but couldn’t find the right position to do so. Soon we were all sitting on our backs while passing the bottles of water and lemonade which were already to warm to really refresh. 30 minutes travel time down, 3 hours more to go.

Kraków stationIt was about half an hour later when I decided that I couldn’t sit in the compartment anymore and I escaped to the hallway. All windows were pulled down and the train rocked gently from side to side over a single track crawling through fields and patches of forest. The wagon was still pretty much deserted so the only thing that I heard was the sound of the train rolling over the track, sometimes the sound echoed back out of the forrest accompanied by cool forest air, then a moment later the same rhythmic sound seemed to loose it self in the open fields. I stuck my head out of the window to feel the wind in my face. Even with all the sounds and sensations surrounding me I found my self in the quiet and simple world of train travel. This almost mediative experience made me forget all about the intense warmth of the train. What I found in those moments was exactly what I always expected from a train journey without knowing it; An objective view of the country while being an integrate part of it, something logically impossible but emotionally true. When passing a house I wasn’t waving at a person lying in the garden, I was waving at the country side which at that moment waved back at me.
For the remaining 2 hours of the train journey I stood there with my head sticking out of the window.

Hours after arriving in Kraków, while I was already sitting in the apartment we had rented, a part of me was still on the fast service between Zakopane and Kraków, Rocking from side to side with the wind in my face.

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