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Morskie Oko (Tatra National Park, Poland)

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Morskie Oko (Morské oko) is the largest and fourth deepest lake in the Tatra Mountains. It is located in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship. It is situated in the Rybi Potok Valley, at the base of the Mięguszowiecki Summits, and deep within the Tatra National Park. Morskie Oko is one of the most popular destinations in the Tatras, often receiving over 50,000 visitors during the vacation season. It is reached by foot in about two hours from the nearest road that allows motorized access. Many other tourists opt to take the journey by horse-drawn cart, a large number of which are operated by the local Górale inhabitants. In winter, a short section of the journey is in an avalanche danger zone, and the area can remain cold and rainy even in summer. In the advent of its popularity, visitors have been forbidden from swimming in the lake or feeding the trout.

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      10.03.2013 11:57
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      Accessing the Tatry all year round!

      One of the must-do walks in Zakopane regardless of age and walking ability is the walk up to Morskie Oko, a lake surrounded by mountain peaks. Mini buses from the town itself marked for Morskie Oko head up to the gates of the Tatry National Park. Having a car, we decided to drive up there. After passing the ski slope '"Nosal" on the right, the road tended to have only been half cleared of snow. Sporting winter tyres, this wasn't much of an issue. There had been heavy snowfall over the previous weeks and once the main road veered left to Bukowian, the remaining leg to the disused Slovak border crossing Lysa Polana was pure snow. A small road to the right heads up through the trees and men in yellow uniforms hover around the gates, waiting to marshal you into the car park and collect a fee for the paid parking. 10zl for cars, 5zl for motorbikes and 20zl for camper vans.They pack the cars quite tightly and I found the huge walls of snow separating rows quite a magnificent structure.

      Next up is the ticket office where a small entry fee is payable to enter the National Park - 4zl for adults, 2zl for concessions. If you intend on walking further and staying the night, then a 7 day ticket is available for 18zl. The path resembled a bridle way in the UK and walkers would shift to the sides to enable sweaty horses, puffing out air in the cold weather to pass through with their cargo - sleighs carrying 6 to 8 people or travelling back empty. The path shows views into the valleys below, which were, well, very white. So white that by the end of the jaunt, I was suffering from a mild headache and regretting not having taken sunglasses. A popular location to have some snaps taken was on a bend where walkers could pose with a waterfall behind them, the opposite side had views down to the valleys below. This was slightly less than 1/3 of the way up.

      The next stretch featured several sweeping bends that could be avoided by the courageous for there were steeper paths that cut out the bends. Despite having railings to the left (if ascending), the paths looked like a death trap due to their icy nature and we gave them a miss. Though not as choc-a-bloc as it may be in the summer, it was relatively busy and several running teams were practicing on the route. After an hour and a half, we'd made it to what looked like the summit but was in fact a restaurant, shop and toilet stop. They served expensive hot dogs, snacks and drinks, by Polish standards it was pretty extortionate but I can imagine the location is dear to run.

      The final section seemed to go on longer than first thought, our pace was slowed by cross-country skiiers that were coming hurtling towards us, most of them kids on some kind of winter camp. A group of people were gathered near the refuge and a somewhat tame barrier acted as support for people to lean on while they had photos taken of them with the peaks behind. The drop below was softened by metres of snow and the lake itself was being walked on, as it was frozen. The trip back down was slightly faster but the risk of slipping was much higher. Including enjoying the view at the top, the trip took about 5 hours. It could be windy in places and the top section has quite a high avalanche risk, in fact a couple of people were killed nearby just a couple of days later

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        26.11.2012 13:59
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        I've seen the Eye of the Sea!

        Lake Morskie Oko, Tatra National Park, Poland
        A few months ago we took a trip to the Tatra Mountains in the South of Poland. On the Sunday of our weekend we decided to visit the famous Eye of the Sea, or as it is more commonly known "Morskie Oko".

        As we were more than aware of the touristic appeal of Morskie Oko we prepared ourselves for the crowds and tacky souvenirs and left our hostel just outside the main city of Zakopane. From the hostel we took a mini bus for 10zl (Polish Zloty) to the entrance to the Tatras National Park nearest Morskie Oko.

        When the mini bus pulled into the car park we could see both the crowds of people and a 'lovely' selection of tacky souvenirs. We had to pay to enter the National Park. This was a mere 4zl paid to one of the people standing by the park entrance near the corner of the car park.


        By Horse or By Foot?
        Once you have paid your entrance to the National Park you will then have the option of going to Morskie Oko by foot or by horse drawn carriage. Being the adventurers... or crazy people that we are, we decided to go by foot. Another reason for this choice was that we had previously read an article regarding the horses at Morskie Oko and their poor treatment so we did not want to encourage their use.

        I'm unsure of the cost of the horse and carriage ride as it isn't advertised and people seemed to be bartering with the men who were running the service. Each carriage holds around 20 people and while I personally wouldn't use it I can definitely see the bonus for people with kids or wheelchairs.


        Only 9km To Go!
        Upon entering the park I noticed a sign telling me that Morskie Oko was 9km in the direction of the arrow! The weather for the whole weekend was a bit rainy and cold so while I was prepared with my waterproof I found that on the Sunday morning the sun was peeping through the endless clouds and I was warm enough in my t-shirt. The walk began through a forest area, however unlike our walk on Saturday along the rock paths, this path was basically a tarmac road leading up through the forest. The forest was very nice with amazingly tall trees which occasionally parted to allow you to stop and take in the amazing views of surrounding mountains.

        After a short while we reached a turn in the road with a bridge over a beautiful waterfall. We stopped here to take some photos and have a nice hot chocolate from the Thermos.

        From the waterfall we continued round past some portaloos, we some how managed to resist using them, possibly due to the strong aroma seeping out of them. From this point on we simply followed the road and the masses of other people walking around us. Quite often we had to walk to the side of the road to make way for the horses passing by. About halfway to Morskie Oko we found that we had the option to skip large parts of the tarmac road and take a more rocky path through the forest, as we were bored of simply walking along a road we made our way onto the stoned path. This path was quite steep but had wooden hand rails on each side. These forest paths were made from large uneven rocks and stones and because of the weather they were very wet, surprisingly though they weren't that slippy underfoot.

        The forest paths were intermittent and often crossed the tarmac road before heading back into the forest. After about 4 or 5 of these paths we came out on the tarmac road close to where the horses stop to let people off. At this point my knee was really hurting and I got quite excited that if the horses stopped at this point then we must be quite close to Morskie Oko. The views from here were nice of the surrounding mountains, however like the previous day the weather was putting a stop to the scenery and we were seeing more and more clouds with the occasional mountain popping through.


        Morskie Oko
        My excitement was a little short lived when I discovered that we still had around 20 to 30 minutes walking to do. I think for everyone else it was around 15 minutes but as my knee hurt we took it easy. Nevertheless we soon had the Morskie Oko shelter in view and my pace quickened with excitement.

        Morskie Oko is basically a huge, but beautiful lake situated in a mountainous landscape. It is the largest lake in the Tatra mountain range and I could now see why it is such a huge tourist attraction for despite the bad weather I was now standing looking out over a lovely blue lake with huge mountains in the background. At first glance the lake didn't look as massive as I was expecting but as I took a closer look I could see distant dots on the other side of the lake which resembled people walking. I am told that the distance to walk around the lake is 2km and it takes around 45 minutes to an hour.

        After taking a few photos we had a wonder down the rocky steps to the edge of the lake and enjoyed the beauty of the area. Unfortunately this beauty was a little disrupted with so many people around and I have to admit that by the time we had reached the lake I was sick of seeing the multi-coloured ponchos that seemed to be so popular!

        Slightly to the left of Morskie Oko we could just about see Mount Rysy, the tallest mountain in the Tatra's peeping though the clouds. Usually you are able to visit Mount Rysy but it is currently closed due to recent rock avalanches.


        Have a Break
        After so much walking we decided to take a break in the Morskie Oko shelter. In the shelter we found a small restaurant offering various meals and soups to warm you up, the usual tourist souvenirs and a small counter where you could buy a range of Tatra's maps and cold drinks. We each had a bottle of Fanta at a cost of 5zl each and decided that we should sit outside and enjoy the view while we were here. Outside there were plenty of places to sit or stand if you preferred and although it was a little chilly and overcrowded I was still in my element being surrounded by the mountains.

        We sat here for around an hour before deciding to head back. I think this decision was mainly due to the fact that we knew if we stayed sitting much longer then we simply wouldn't move!


        The Long Road Back...
        Coming back from Morskie Oko was pretty easy with regards to the path we needed to take as we had to walk back down the tarmac road all the way to the car park.

        The route back provided the same views with different clouds and in all honesty I simply wanted to reach the car park as my knee was really painful. I did enjoy coming back through the forest parts with the rocky paths although we had to take a little more care as the rocks seemed a lot slippier than on the way up.

        After around 2 hours of walking we eventually reached the car park where we were able to choose from multiple mini buses to take us back to Zakopane city centre. The trip back to the centre took around 40 minutes and provided more opportunities to take in the scenery and simply relax after a second day of walking.


        Do I recommend a Visit to Morskie Oko?
        While I found the whole day to be much too touristy for my liking I still really enjoyed our day and the experience of seeing the famous Morskie Oko. The lake and the mountains were fantastic and as long as you can deal with the large amounts of tourists then yes, I would recommend a visit here.

        Overall a fantastic day with fantastic views and regardless of the masses of tourists and crowds I would definitely go again as I need to see it in better weather as well!

        Thanks for reading! :)

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          05.12.2009 14:02
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          fantastically beautiful but extremely crowded

          The mountain lake of Morskie Oko (The Eye of the Sea) is widely known for its supreme beauty, boosted by being accessible to even least athletically inclined. The lake lies at the elevation of 1,395m and reaches depth of over 50m and is located at the base of Mieguszowieckie Szczyty massif.


          The nearest bus stop is at Polana Palenica, or there is a car park slightly further up. You can then walk the 6 miles to the lake on foot (it's an easy stretch with only a gentle ascent on a pleasantly wooded road) or take a horse and cart run by local Gorale population all the way to the end of the road and the lake itself.

          The lake is very beautiful, surrounded by rocky mountain faces and coniferous woods, its waters a s shimmering green, changing from emerald to aquamarine and back again into the deeper green. It's best seen in the summer, on the sunny day, though the winter views have their charms too.

          There is a mountain hostel at the lake, the oldest in Polish Tatras, and with an incredibly crowded restaurant in season. The further from the road and the hostel you get, the smaller the crowds. And as the area is cult with paths all around the lake, it's not that difficult to get a little bit away from other people - though it's never exactly a spot filled with solitude.

          One way to reduce the other tourists' density around you is to walk along the side of the lake and then up a steep path mixed with steps to Czarny Staw pod Rysami (literally, Black Loch under Rysy). In addition to a decent dose of exercise , needed especially if you took the cart , this short climb rewards with the most marvellous views of Morskie Oko from above, set like a precious gem among the wooded shores and rocky cliffs below.

          Czarny Staw, less than 200 metres higher than Morskie Oko at 1,580m, is surprisingly different: a seriously alpine lake, the land around it noticeably more austere, wilder, harsher, the water dark and cold, the boulders rather more forbidding. Above, rises the highest peak of the Polish Tatras, Rysy, whose ascent starts from here, but should not be taken lightly.

          Morskie Oko is the most popular trip destination from Zakopane together with the cable car to Kasprowy Wierch, and consequently can get extremely crowded in the high season, but despite that it's still such a gem that it's eminently worth visiting, especially if you are coming outside the Polish school holiday period (July - August) and on a weekday.

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            24.05.2009 19:48
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            The eye-candy of the Tatras, but not the only place worth seeing.

            ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
            The Eye of the Sea
            ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

            How the Sea's eye became separated from the rest of its body is unclear, but it certainly chose a good spot in which to hide away. Morskie Oko, "The Eye of the Sea" rests in a natural amphitheatre high in Poland's Tatra Mountains, overlooked by dense pine forests, snow drifts and the highest peak in the range, 2500-metre Mount Rysy.

            The rather poetic name given to the Lake is a fitting one, as the whole region seems to slumber in a faintly fairytale-atmosphere. The nearest town, Zakopane, is lined with gingerbread-houses and smoking fireplaces, while the surrounding forests, dark and silent, are almost certainly full of wolves, woodsmen and wicked witches up to no good.

            Reclusive as these are, though, you may well not see them on the path to Morskie Oko, one of the most popular attractions of the region. A combination of its beauty and its accessibility make it quite such a draw for tourists - a stunning location a mile above sea-level in the mountains made easily reachable by a paved track winding its way up from car-park to lake.
            Closed to cars, the six mile (nine kilometre) distance can be traversed either by foot or horse-drawn cart - in the latter case, the cart will drop its passengers about a mile away from the lake, although by this stage the gradient is pretty shallow.

            ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
            Reaching the Eye
            ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

            For the vast majority of visitors to Morskie Oko, Zakopane is the starting point, at least for the day's excursion. In terms of getting to the town, most will come from Krakow, two hours' coach journey to the north, or longer by train - either way, you will be dropped off fairly centrally, as Zakopane is a reasonably compact place, with everything of note happening on or around Ulice Krupowki (walk along Ulice Tadeusza Kosciuszki from either station for about ten minutes).

            Being a pretty tourist-orientated destination - catering for skiers in winter, hikers in summer - you won't have trouble finding accommodation, dining options or entertainment. There are some excellent restaurants serving tasty, filling food along Krupowki, including a couple featuring enormous barbecues and every kind of meat you can imagine - perfect for a cold night in the mountains! A local product worth trying is the cheese, Oszczypek (osh-ee-pek), which has a rubbery, squeaky texture and a distinctive, but not overpowering taste - faintly bitter, like a goat's cheese, but very much
            one that grows on you.

            Buses run from the main station up to Morskie Oko, although the best and quickest way up is to take one of the minibuses which typically wait just over the road for enough interested people before they set off. Expect to pay 10 Zlotys (around £2.50); the journey, through some attractive rising meadows and forests, takes about forty-five minutes, and drops off at the car park near Lysa Polana, the Slovakian border crossing. The buses making the return journey leave from the same place.

            The track onwards and upwards from here is obvious; side-step the barrier and continue up the road - now car-free - bearing right when a smaller track splits left. The road provides a fairly easy, shallow climb, although when you reach the switchbacks about a mile after the road crosses above a waterfall, those of surer foot can take a series of shortcuts rising steeply through the forest; rough, slippery paths that require sturdy footwear. Prior to reaching the u-bend the track takes above the waterfall, there's a signposted path that leads up and away from the road; this doesn't lead to Morskie Oko, but is a more challenging, much less-travelled track that cuts through the forest of the mountainside and opens out onto some fantastic views of the surrounding valleys and peaks.

            The established road to the lake ends in a clearing on the edge of the bowl in which Morskie Oko sits - the horses stop here, and everyone walks the last mile or so along a secondary track. For those who don't relish the prospect of a six-mile climb to the lake, the horse-and-carts leave from just past the car-park and will leave when full. The journey takes around an hour going up, half an hour or so coming back down, and the prices reflect this - about 40 Zlotys (£10) for the ascent, half that for the descent.
            Obviously, this saves a lot of effort, but the easy option doesn't come cheap, and it's hard not to harbour some concerns about how hard the horses are worked pulling a dozen people up an incline for such a length of time. However, it is claimed the horses are given plenty of time to rest and make only a maximum number of trips per day.

            ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
            The Lakes
            ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

            Morskie Oko takes on a starkly different appearance depending on the season, but always retains the same sense of drama and spectacle, whether the waters are the vivid blue of summer or frozen into the uniform white of winter. During the latter season, which lingers throughout April, the iced-over lake can be crossed by foot, although care should be taken as it starts to thaw out. If you do come up here during winter, it's certainly a memorable, slightly curious feeling to be standing in the centre of the lake looking outwards; an inverted perspective on the conventional view.

            The hut standing on the moraine overlooking the lake houses all the basic facilities visitors would need; functional accommodation, food, drink and toilets. Many visitors take in the panorama and leave - however, there are a wealth of walks in the area which merit exploration. Perhaps the most dramatic of these is the climb up to a second, higher and smaller lake, Czarny Slaw (The Black Lake), from where one can look down on Morskie Oko and up at Mount Rysy, on the Poland-Slovakia border.

            Getting to Czarny Staw in summer entails taking a more circuitous route around the lower lake (in itself a fine walk), although the shorter path directly across Morskie Oko in winter is offset by a challenging scramble up the snowy slope on the other side. Budget at least an hour to climb up to the Black Lake; less to come back down - it's certainly worth the effort, granting views not seen in the postcard shots from the vantage point by the hut. Plus, when the slopes are covered in snow, what is a sapping toil upwards is an easy seat-of-the-pants slide back down (provided the behind covered by said pants doesn't mind getting a bit cold).

            As with any easily-accessible attraction of such striking beauty, you're not going to be the only visitor here; there are usually considerable crowds buzzing around the moraine, meaning you'll have to go further afield to find the serenity one might like in which to consider the views. However, you needn't stray too far from the beaten track to lose the crowds - just step off the main path at any point and you'll be swallowed up by the forest within metres.

            Morskie Oko, then, is a stunning location and a fine centrepiece for this part of the Tatra Mountains. For those making only a short visit, it's certainly a good choice for a day trip, taking you into the heart of the dramatic surroundings. Do, though, if you've time, try to explore more of the less-travelled paths - there's some fantastic scenery, and some wonderful walks that are barely explored compared to attractions such as the lake, and have all the more appeal for it. Take in the view of Poland's eye of the sea, but don't make it your only stop in the Tatras.

            ***
            The name "The Eye of the Sea" comes from a traditional belief that all bodies of water were connected somehow to the ocean by subterranean passages - aquatic optic nerves, perhaps! The presence of fish in Morskie Oko only furthered the suspicions that the lake was a distant body part of the Baltic Sea.
            ***

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              12.09.2007 14:26

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              Thanks for your comments, useful, as have sat in that 7km line to slovak border, and gave up after 1 1/2hours. Returning, line was 12 km. Like to know what I missed but live in the Alps, so still asking myself if we should have sat there another hour or not. Maybe again some time in the future. Can we see the photos though?

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              01.07.2007 12:18
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              Probably the most outstanding "beauty spot" that I have ever visited.

              Whilst, naturally, our primary objective when holidaying in Poland is to spend time with my in-laws, we do also like to get away from the confines of their small flat and enjoy what the Polish do – the great outdoors.

              And indeed Poland has some GREAT outdoors to enjoy!

              Over the years I have written several reviews about Poland, my second home, some of its attractions and hotels. During the last six years that I have been visiting the country it has been possible to get under the skin of the place, talking to locals one tends to pick up on THE places to go. One of these places is known outside of Poland – the ski resort town of Zakopane, nestling under the Tatra Mountains, the highest and most accessible in Poland.

              As mountain areas go, this one is unusually accessible, being a mere 90 minute drive from Krakow airport. There is a huge variety of places to stay in the area – from hostels, B&B type rooms, cheap hotels, to up-market four star hotels in the centre of Zakopane.

              Last year we visited this area for the first time, discovered the wonderful Hotel Redyk in Zab, about 10km from the centre of Zakopane and were blessed with……pretty awful weather! The many of you who have spent time in the English Lake District, or Scotland perhaps, will know the difference that the weather can make when experiencing mountain and Lakeland scenery.

              In 2006 we made the big mistake of visiting the Tatra Mountains during the first week of August, the whole area was heaving with tourists – many of them English. Too many people as well as thick cloud covering all of the mountains is not a great recipe for sightseeing in my book.

              Being Polish, my wife was well aware of some of the beauties that the area had to offer, if at first you don’t succeed – return the next year!

              Welcome then, to the last week of May, 2007.

              The evening that we checked into the Hotel Redyk, the receptionist informed us that the cable car apparatus on Mount Kasprowy Wierch was currently being renewed and that it would not be running through the summer season. There goes Zakopane’s number one tourist attraction then - damn (probably not!) - my first cable car ride would have to wait for another year.

              The second tourist “must do” whilst in this area is a visit to Lake Morskie Oko, translated “Eye of the Sea”, probably Poland’s most well known beauty spot. Setting our hearts on seeing this, if nothing else, this year; we were not to be disappointed!

              Dooyoo's 50,000 visitor figure at the head of this review is a gross under-estimation, more like half a million visitors per year come here. Statistically 50% of all visitors to Zakopane visit Morskie Oko. We were about to prove that statistic.

              The Highlanders of ancient time christened this lake “Eye of the Sea” due to their belief, so legend would have it, that the mountain lakes (sometimes referred to by the Poles as “ponds”) were linked by underground rivers to the sea. In Morskie Oko’s case further evidence of this was offered by the presence of fish here!

              We had been advised to set out early in order to visit the famous lake as comfortably as possible, whilst May is not the high season – that actually starts around the first week of July – there were however many school parties out and about in the countryside at this time of year.

              We had an 8.00am breakfast and set out from the hotel before 9.00. From the Redyk in Zab – or indeed the centre of Zakopane, Morskie Oko is very easy to find, the car park is located immediately adjacent to the Slovakian border post at Lysa Polona. The road that approaches it is, by Polish standards, unusually well surfaced, if still very tortuous in nature, being steep in places and with several hairpin bends.

              As we climbed up into the mountains our hearts began to sink and for two reasons. Firstly we seemed to be trapped in the middle of a very slow convoy of coaches – all of which were obviously heading for “our” destination, secondly, there was a heavy drizzle in the air, which I was assuming would mean low cloud enveloping the lake, once again thwarting our serious sightseeing intentions.

              Having read our, now rather out of date, “Lonely Planet Poland” guide last year, we were aware that there is no choice but to park 9km from the lake and either walk, or take one of the licensed horses and carts up there from the car park.

              We filed into the car park, the coaches being directed to the back – cars to the front and were issued a parking ticket, to be redeemed on the way out. The charge? 2PLN (Polish Zloty) / 34p per hour.

              Incidentally, if you are in Zakopane without your own transport, there are many public and private busses running up to Morskie Oko, all of which leave from the centrally located bus station and are very reasonably priced. Many however arrive here by chartered bus as part of a day excursion on a package holiday in the area.

              THIS IS POLAND – IT PAYS NOT TO BE PUT OFF BY YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF……

              ……THE WORLD’S WORST TOILET!

              Having had breakfast an hour previously, our first need was for a toilet.

              OK, I’ve not travelled the world extensively and I am sure that many of the globetrotters amongst you will contend the above statement. However, from this public toilet (no charge – they wouldn’t DARE!) both my wife and I staggered out of our respective sides, with fingers tightly pinching my nose – my comment was “My God I’ve just used the world’s worst toilet!” Mrs R was unable to utter – her eyes were watering from the smell!

              It actually looked lovely from the outside, an ecologically friendly mountain style log cabin, nestling under the trees……

              ……the horror lay within!

              Inside were sited a row of “Portaloos” – except that these had no form of flush system. The plastic seats, such that they were, were fixed, meaning that one had to urinate over them into the open cesspit below. There were piles of untreated sewage immediately under the seat.

              I was alone in the toilet cubicle apart that is, from the hundreds of flies in there with me – and no I was not going to close the door behind me! Looking up I realised that the “flush” system was provided by the drain pipe running off the roof of the log cabin! Quite where it drained to is anybody’s guess.

              This was 10.00am, it was not very hot (around 16deg.C) outside, later in the day when we returned to the car it was 23deg.C; we gave the toilets a very wide berth!

              TIME TO ENTER THE TATRZANSKIEGO PARKU NARODOWEGO (Tatra National Park)

              All of the Polish Tatra Mountains fall under the administration of the National Park, where special rules and regulations apply. One of these is that you have to pay a nominal charge to enter the park – on a daily or designated number of days ticket. Being May, we paid a mere 3.20PLN (57p) each to access the Park on that one day. Children and various concessionaires pay 1.60PLN.

              The “high season”, running from mid-June to mid-September sees this charge rise to 4.40PLN / 2.20PLN.

              TO WALK OR TO RIDE?

              The screaming hoards of schoolchildren were being marched off up the track. We spoke to the lady where we paid our admission charge to the National Park, she advised us that it would take around two and a half hours to walk up to the lake, as against an hour and twenty minutes by horse and cart. Had it not been for the noisy, jostling, school children, we may well have walked, as it was, we opted to pay 30PLN (£5.35) each and ride in a 15 seater open carriage pulled by two splendid shire type horses.

              The carriages climb the mountain from fairly early – 8.00am in the summer, the last ones setting out at around 4.00pm, and during the summer they make the return journey until about 8.00 in the evening. During the winter months, when snow is guaranteed, the horses pull four seater sleighs – and the trip costs a little more.

              In actual fact less time was saved than expected, the Highlanders who run the horses have to wait until all 15 seats are occupied before setting off up the mountain. Due to the levy that they pay to the National Park, to run less than full ensures that they make a loss. We waited approximately 25 minutes for the last three passengers to climb aboard the carriage.

              Our 7km (4.4 mile) journey, climbing 339 metres (1112ft), up the mountain in the horse cart was a great experience in its own right.

              Apart from one Polish couple, all of our fellow passengers were English, from the North Country, on a package trip to Zakapane. Obviously I had the advantage in having a Polish speaking wife! The driver, a genuine Highlander, who spoke not a word of English, was not only an amusing “host” but full of information about the workings of the National Park. The road used to be accessible by cars – and coaches, but the sheer weight (literally) of numbers saw the mountain road subsiding in places. Pollution too was an increasing concern, this combination of factors lead to the closure of the road to general traffic.

              As we climbed the mountain on this twisting and, in places, steep and narrow road, the sky became progressively brighter – more blue than grey, more sun than clouds. On the way up there was less to see than I had been expecting, with fir trees clinging to the sides of the road, only fleeting glimpses were gained of the mountains ahead or occasionally the mountain stream below.

              It was not a particularly comfortable ride, the solid bench seat proving an uncomfortable perch on which to sit for such a long time – especially bumping over a mountain road! We were both glad to reach the car park at the top and be able to stretch our legs. From here, the last point at which the coaches can turn around, there is still a twenty minute walk, still on a fully metalled road, to the lake.

              Whilst the twenty minute walk is shared with hundreds of school children we are, at a comfortable walking pace, overtaking them all. Obviously having walked for over two hours up the steep road they are getting pretty tired, towards the top they are far less noisy than they were upon setting out!

              At this height – somewhere above 1200 metres (3930ft) the trees are more sparse and we are surrounded in mountains – several snow capped that are over 2300 metres (7500ft) in height. The lake however remains illusive, expecting at some stage to see it stretching out in front of us, we are first alerted to its presence by the only building here – the wooden hostel, built over 100 years ago, the first of its’ type in the Tatras.

              THE WHOLE WORLD AND HIS WIFE HAVE BEATEN US TO IT!

              Climbing the steps to the top of the ridge in front of us, it is not the stunning view of the lake and mountains now revealed, but that of the thousands of people thronging this north shore that first takes your breath away. A beauty spot, undoubtedly yes, but even at this time of day we are at the back of a queue of thousands!

              My heart sinks, I am not keen on crowds at the best of times and surely here, in this place of undeniably stunning beauty, their presence is incongruous to put it mildly. I have to pinch myself – this is the “low season” – what on earth can it be like when the crowds arrive?

              (In actual fact, as were leaving Poland some ten days later on the Saturday morning, by 10.30am there were pleas going out on the radio for people NOT to attempt to visit Morskie Oko. The car park had been full since 9.00am and the queue approaching it was seven kilometres long – the border crossing to Slovakia was closed thanks to the jam!)

              The world and his wife are exhausted! Having walked 9km, they are rewarded with a stunning view of Lake Morskie Oko and the surrounding mountains, but they have the energy to walk no further. We on the other hand decide to escape the maddening crowd and set out to walk around the lake.

              THE CIRCULAR LAKE PATH

              Approximately five minutes walk away from the hostel and the crowds are left behind, yes there are people walking the same stone laid path, but they are more serious walkers, of all nationalities. Within fifteen minutes we encounter the first serious “obstacle”, a huge snow drift across the path, stretching right down to the waters’ edge and high up the mountain above us. The snow was as hard as concrete and had a black layer of dirt – air pollution presumably – on top of it.

              At every twist and turn in the rocky path circling the lake there was yet another more stunning view than the last. This had turned into a perfect day, better even than a clear blue sky, a bright blue sky peppered with fluffy white clouds. A superb day for photography, especially as I had packed my polarizing filter!

              The lake itself is, under this sky at least, incredibly blue, or green, dependant on the direction you view it from. The pictures published below do not exaggerate the colour of it. There are stunning reflections of the snow and waterfalls leading into it, I can well understand why so many are drawn to visit this miracle of nature, it is incredibly beautiful.

              The path does not exactly follow the shoreline, dipping and twisting, climbing steeply in places too. All of it is comfortably walkable, providing you are wearing a pair of good walking shoes or boots. In several places you find yourself fording waterfalls, they are shallow, but obviously care is required in order not to slip or trip.

              According to the excellent maps available on the area, the walk around Morskie Oko takes a mere three quarters of an hour – from that you will gather that we are not talking about a lake the size of Windermere here! However, for Mrs R and I, it took more like two hours, so incredible is the scenery that we stopped frequently to simply drink it in – and of course to photograph it. My photo file on Morskie Oko contains no less than 226 pictures!

              At the far end – the southern point of the lake, there is a marked path up to another lake, a thirty minute climb taking you to the more remote Czarny Staw (Black Pond). We decided to leave this for another day, a good excuse to return here for another visit.

              Morskie Oko is unusual amongst Polish Tatra lakes in that it is actually inhabited by fish. These you can clearly see as the beautiful clear water allows you a good view of them. Quite how they survive through the frozen winter up here, apparently the lake always freezes over, is a mystery. No fishing is allowed.

              The path on the eastern shore offers a slightly different experience to the more rocky and twisting one on the west. To the east the terrain is a little less mountainous, there are more trees and you find yourself walking in the shade and taking photographs through the trees of the lake and mountain beyond. The views however are no less spectacular.

              You can hear the crowds before you actually see them as you approach the hostel and north shore of the lake, the path too starts to become more crowded. Nailed to a tree here we even find a tiny shrine dedicated to the safe return of those who have gone missing – many presumably in the mountains hereabouts.

              Reaching the hostel, having walked a full three hundred and sixty degree tour of the lake, one is not inclined to linger – that way the best memories are maintained of the relative solitude afforded along the way and of the fabulous views – unspoilt by the masses gathered here.

              THE FACILITIES

              Apart from the hostel, which doubles as an information centre, and serves a limited range of food, there are no facilities as such actually at the lake. A couple of kilometres below it, where the horses stop and turn around, is however a complex offering a choice of food and refreshments – good clean toilets too – at a cost of 3PLN for the two of us!

              Before returning down the mountain, and having worked up a fair appetite, I enjoyed a good kielbasa (Polish sausage), served, as tradition would dictate, in a slice of bread with mustard. This was cooked freshly on an open grille in front of us and after all that fresh air was the tastiest sausage I believe I have ever consumed!

              As well as the out door kielbasa bar, there is a more conventional café here as well as tables and chairs to eat outside – but under a wooden canopied roof. I was actually surprised that the prices were not higher in such a place, after all, they rather had a captive audience as far as trade was concerned.

              THE RUN BACK DOWN THE MOUNTAIN

              Lazy us! Yes, we chose to ride back down again in the horse-drawn cart! Our main excuse for doing this was that we wished to cross the border and spend a few hours in Slovakia – viewing the southern side of these same mountains. The two hour walk back to the car would not be the most economical use of our limited time here.

              Once again we waited maybe twenty minutes for a full compliment of passengers. Taking about 50 minutes, the return ride is naturally much swifter than the upward one – the driver having to brake the carriage almost all of the way down. Whilst 30PLN is charged to go up to the lake, 20PLN is charged coming away from it.

              Those amongst you who may share my concerns about the working horses here, may be reassured to know that each pair of horses only do one round trip per day and are rested, fed and watered for several hours before making the descent.

              RICHADA’S TIP!

              If you really want to see this lake at its’ best, I would recommend staying the night in the hostel there – get up early at dawn and hopefully you will see the lake without the crowds. Speaking to a Polish friend since returning to England, he was saying that you will pay 40 / 50 PLN per night for a bed in the hostel – likely to be in a dormitory type room. He had not stayed in this one, probably the most popular in all the Tatras, but apparently they are of a uniformly clean standard. Eating there is reportedly expensive by Polish standards though.

              Far be it for me to make any attempt to contain the numbers of visitors to Morskie Oko. If every single person who reads this actually goes, it will make precious little difference to the crowds already there.

              Rating this particular attraction is probably the most difficult task on any review that I have written. The lake itself and mountain views here are five star PLUS material. If like me you are not comfortable with huge crowds and disgusting toilets it would be easy to deduct several stars from that. As it is, after much thought, four stars hits the correct note.

              I do heartily recommend a visit to Morskie Oko, however, at all costs avoid attempting to go there at any time after the second week of July and before the second week of September and also on any other sunny weekend, or national holiday during the year. We were advised that Easter and the May Day Holiday were the busiest of all at Morskie Oko.

              © RICHADA: JULY 2007.

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              ""Morskie Oko (Morské oko) is the largest and fourth deepest lake in the Tatra Mountains. It is located in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship. It is situated in the Rybi Potok Valley, at the base of the Mięguszowiecki Summits, and deep within the Tatra National Park. Morskie Oko is one of the most popular destinations in the Tatras, often receiving over 50,000 visitors during the vacation season. It is reached by foot in about two hours from the nearest road that allows motorized access. Many other tourists opt to take the journey by horse-drawn cart, a large number of which are operated by the local Górale inhabitants. In winter, a short section of the journey is in an avalanche danger zone, and the area can remain cold and rainy even in summer. In the advent of its popularity, visitors have been forbidden from swimming in the lake or feeding the trout.""