We head off for a week in Zakopane: my daughter, Maja and Jaś, my son and my granddaughter. We catch the midnight train.
Waiting on Warsaw station: 11 pm
Our Zakopane house …
Not the whole house: it contains four apartments. Mountains tower in the background, unseen on the first day because of low fog. As it warms up the icicles on branches melt before I can photograph them successfully.
I’m charmed by the wooden houses, the chunky wooden poles, and the carved detail. I take one solitary walk to shop, and make the most of it. Usually I’m watching my footing and two children who aren’t always willing to walk, and worrying about not paying enough attention to my visiting granddaughter.
Up the top
Three times we climb higher, only once on our legs. That day is a day for lessons: Maja and Jaś have their first skiing lesson, and Hugo and Tahlia a snowboarding session. I make my way fumble-footed and hesitant through snow and ice, and snap at my most beloved senior granddaughter when she informs me my beanie is on back to front, the least of my worries as I try to force a small foot into a ski boot. I’m well outside my comfort zone and also very aware that my daughter is struggling with five dependents. Her husband is still in Warsaw, kept there by the pressure of work.
The day of the cable car is an experience in crowds and queues. We rise to 1959 metres, changing cars for the last steep haul. The ski slope looks horrendous and my daughter tell me that years ago she went down it on her third day of skiiing, crying bitterly all the way. Suddenly the slope is blotted out by fog. It’s cold, and we retreat to the restaurant and hot chocolate. I’m learning the power of babcia-shoving to achive a desired place, and I have a wonderful view of the rugged landscape as we descend: pine trees, rich with amber cones; slumps of snow on black rocks; smaller trees just poking up; and most enticing, a gentle ski trail through the forest.
The day of the little train is much easier. The twins are eager walkers for once and we maintain a pace, albeit slow, entertained by stilt walkers. We don’t go so high, and the path at the top is edged by stalls selling gloves, hats, grilled cheese, wooden toys, and fairy floss. A little wooden church draws the eye to gentler parts of the landscape.
Walking with a teenager
On our last morning my most beloved senior granddaughter inveigles me into a walk. We enter the Strążyska Valley in the Tatra National Park, an easy walk with my crampons. The path wanders between snow-ładen trees, deep snow banks, and grottos with iced leaves; and crosses a creek with frills of ice and a smaller frozen tributary. Ahead are steep mountains covered in snow that is beginning to slip.
Waiting for the Warsaw train
After a number of changes in plan, we all manage to book on the same afternoon train back to Warsaw. The wait begins with a visit to the Zakopane Aquatic Centre.
The twins aren’t impressed by the lack of space on the train, and have a few bouts of very vocal rage on the seven-hour trip. I’m in a compartment with Tahlia and we talk about family, friends and film. She wants to be a director and begins her university studies next week. She talks of her admiration for Tarantino and for parkour films.
Home at last, I almost relax and regale J with tales of our week away till past midnight