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Guest Post: Tatra

Written by Philipp. Find out more about the (Co-)Authors here.

Just before Maria put life first, we had agreed to go hiking in the Tatra Mountains. While she went the Polish route, I wanted to travel via Budapest. On that Tuesday evening, I had booked a direct connection from Munich to Budapest, which existed, to my surprise. Scheduled arrival time: 00:19 am. Actual arrival time: 12:27pm. A storm had hit the route somewhere between Vienna and Budapest, so the Railjet terminated its journey in Vienna. But a spontaneous stop in one of my favorite cities was a nice surprise rather than a nuisance, even on this ordinary Tuesday evening. The only thing planned in Budapest was a layover anyway, without fixed plans. If you don't have a plan, it can't go wrong. The only challenge on that evening was finding a hotel. As it turns out, hotels near Vienna's main station were completely booked out, even on that ordinary Tuesday evening. However, a hotel voucher from ÖBB and a hotel at the Westbahnhof later, I had a place to stay for the night.

The following day, I took the next Railjet to Budapest - fortunately, the route was fixed again. At this point, shoutout to the ÖBB employees who made that possible the previous night. After a stay in Budapest with Langos and chimney cake, but not worth mentioning any further, I continued by Flixbus to Poprad, where I would meet Maria. Before I even arrived, I had already booked the next Flixbus: From Poprad to Zakopane, on the Polish side of the Tatra Mountains. A hiking tour had caught our attention spontaneously, so we wanted to meet there.

At the beginning of our tour of the Five Polish Ponds, we noticed a mountain rescue helicopter in the distance, which, as it turned out, was heading right for our destination. A few hours later we found out why, but for now we just kept walking. The sun shone in bright yellow, the sky in blue, so I applied sunscreen. I also offered the UV protection to Maria, but she politely declined. It's just sun!

The rough trails, slopes, sticks and (especially) stones, as well as in every combination with snow, made the ascent a challenge. We passed a mighty waterfall, fed by one of the five lakes, which we reached a little later. Covered by melting ice floes, the lake looked particularly impressive in the snow-covered mountain landscape, which we wandered about in our shirts. These sights evoked the feeling of being in a pristine environment barely touched by humans, one that has hardly changed for immense periods of time. It felt like we were truly deep in nature. This almost magical ability of hiking in the mountains is what makes it so appealing.

Along the lake, we reached the last part of the route: a steep slope to the summit, completely covered by a thick layer of snow. Naturally, we decided to climb it and on the way up, we encountered mountaineers with crampons and ice axes: equipment we did not have. During the ascent, which was still moderately steep at the beginning, we were UV-grilled by the sun in our necks and the reflections of the snow in our faces. Now, even Maria applied sunscreen, but only on her face. Let's not overdo it. As it got steeper and steeper, it finally dawned on us that we couldn't reach the summit without taking a big risk. The decision was sealed by a conversation with a descending climber, who told us that the helicopter we had seen before had rescued two hikers without equipment. So the ascent turned into the descent. Nevertheless, this part of the route was the most memorable for me, not only because of the exhausting yet satisfying climb in the snow, but especially because of the incredible view of the thawing lake and the snow-covered mountains that surrounded it.

Be it a spontaneous visit to Vienna, the termination of a too-risky route or a Brazilian knocking on your door at half past ten at night: surprises are certain when traveling. Planning makes sense, but so does planning for the fact that not all plans will work out. If you don't cling to expectations and take it as it comes, that's exactly what can make travel worth experiencing. So, in addition to good music on the road and more sunscreen, I hope Maria will have just the right amount of serenity for unexpected and surprising moments.

Editor's note: Not that I learned from it, but I regretted the whole sunscreen thing shortly after, because I shed my skin like a reptile. Well, on that note, another music recommendation to you all:


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