Zakopane Accommodations Hunting
It's miserably cold and rainy—I'm doubtful that it's even 50° out, and so dark that noon looks like dusk. I'm soaked from head to toe—where my shoes are twice the weight and squishing with water every time step. Thanks to the numbness in my feet, all I'm feeling below the ankle is the blister growing on the sole of my right foot.
I'd been tramping around in the rain and cold for a while, searching for accommodations, or for information sources on rooms for rent in town. Thought we've both got umbrellas, Tatiana called it quits after about 10 minutes and sent me off to deal with our living situation while she stayed under cover with the baby and bags.
Zakopane is Poland's Aspen equivalent, and looks every bit the compact, wealthy mountain town tourist trap that it should. Even in the rain there are swarms of Polish tourists milling about in brightly colored ponchos. No matter what the rain protection, no one was dry this day.
Unable to find anything but a single lead on a place to stay using the Internet, I'd hedged our bets on two things: Locals at the bus station who hang out, idling soliciting their rooms for rent, and a helpful town information office.
I found message board threads that confirmed what my guidebook was saying:
Given the abundance of private rooms and decent hostels, few travelers actually stay in hotels. The tourist office usually knows of great bargains in guesthouses. Some travel agencies in Zakopane can arrange private rooms. Expect a double room to cost about 70zl in the peak season in the town center, and about 50zl further out.
Locals offering private rooms may approach you at the bus or train stations; alternatively, just look out for signs posted in the front of private homes—noclegi and pokoje both mean 'rooms available'.
The frigid downpour meant that no one was hanging around the bus terminal with room for rent signs when we arrived, so we walked to the information office. Inside the warm, cramped room, a surly teenage girl insisted that she had no information on guesthouses, and pointed me in the direction of the nearest travel agent.
While I wrestled with the travel agent, Tatiana took refuge from the rain in front of a local gazette's office. She was later invited inside by some nice young folks and given some tea whilst I continued the battle for our room.
The travel agent was calling everyone in her rolodex that she could think of, and after 15 minutes or so I left her to check on my fallback hotel option (instructing her to keep dialing in my absence). The Dom Turysty had double rooms for tourists (no bathroom or sink en suite) so low on their Web site I figured they were a typo, but was within walking distance and paid them a visit anyway.
The Dom Turysty advertises that it has the largest wooden roof in the country, and the creepy, dimly lit interior looks every bit the scary hotel from the movie The Shining. There was a mess of people at the reception, and after waiting for a while my patience ran thin and I clawed my way past the queue of Polish and European guests checking in and out.
The overwhelmed staffer spoke little English, but we communicated on the important issues: No rooms available, except for the pricy double with TV and shower, and the 7-person dormitory (but only for two nights, as it was booked solid after that). That was it. I didn't even get to ask if she had two beds available in the dorm.
Shit. So, my options were to either pack up the show and bus off to another town (and repeat the process all over again), or to work with the travel agent on securing a room. Back across town to Tatiana and the travel agent I went.
Everything the lady travel agent was suggesting was well over our budget, so I gave her range to work with (the same one listed in the book, quoted above). I told her about the Dom Turysty, and asked why she hadn't suggested the place to me (as she was surely quite aware of their rates, which were indeed accurate on their Web site).
"Oh, well that's a hostel, and I knew it'd be full," was her almost chipper reply. mmhmm—and of course she wouldn't be getting a commission off that referral then, would she. This woman was clearly not playing in today's game as a Good Samaritan, and my inability to understand Polish certainly made it easier for her to negotiate over the phone without my understanding.
Looking like she was close to giving up, she finally found an option for us. She circled the location on a tourism map of the area, informing me that it wasn't exactly in the city. I didn't really care, I was more interested in the price—70 zloty per night (about US$35).
The stone-faced woman that owns the home picked us up, but also ran the taximeter in her VW Passat on the way there. There's no way in hell I'm going to pay $10 for that ride, and expect to have words about that should she insist we pay for that fare.
What I didn't realize was how badly drawn (to scale) the map she showed me was—we're way out here, on the outskirts of town, perhaps a 45-minute walk to the popular part of the city. But this is also very good, because we're away from the mess of town, in a wonderful three-story wooden home that borders the nature preserve. Plus, buses run about once an hour or so if the weather doesn't clear up or we don't feel like walking.
A Belgian man lives here that we're under the impression is the woman's boyfriend of 20-years. (Neither of them are particularly young.) He's a jovial fellow, well traveled, and speaks quite a few languages.
Since the woman isn't speaking any English to us (though think she knows some, but it's letting on), Karel, the boyfriend spoke and translated for us. The place looked like hadn't been rented for several months—perhaps since the last ski season—but does have a small guest kitchen and hot water on demand. No Wi-Fi signal though (as expected), and we had to ask for a space heater because our room was so cold.
So, there we have it. We're in a really lovely, albeit small, room in a very picturesque part of Poland—booked for three nights. There are over a dozen ski lifts on the map, and this place certainly gives me the impression that it's winter sport central during the snowy times of year.
I've got this mental image of the three of us in a warm wooden cabin, illuminated by fire, with snow outside. One day, perhaps; but for now we've got this, and it's quite nice.