The weather forecast last night had promised that today was going to be a mixture of sunshine and clouds. We stepped out of the apartment this morning to find that it was definitely a lot drier than yesterday evening, but the clouds were very, very thick and there wasn't the slightest hint of sunshine. We decided we'd better make the most of the dryness at least, and so decided to go ahead with our plan to ride on the Tatra Electric Railway.
The Tatra Electric Railway is an electrified narrow-gauge railway which runs from Poprad up to some of the villages in the Tatra mountains. The first part of the line was built in 1896, with subsequent parts being completed by 1912. Little red trains continue to run on the route today, taking hikers and tourists up into the mountains. On days which aren't as cloudy as today, there are supposed to be some amazing views. And even on a cloudy day you can't complain, because the tickets are really really cheap
We started our journey in the main train station in Poprad, which has an elevation of 670m. The Tatra trains leave from a slightly different part of the station to the regular trains and you have to buy the tickets in special machines which only take Euro coins. As with the normal trains, the price you pay is based on the number of kilometres you are going to travel. A ticket to our first destination of Starý Smokovec cost us €1.50 each.
The journey to Starý Smokovec at 1,010m took around half an hour. The train started out at quite a fast pace as we pulled out of Poprad, before becoming slower and slower as the track became steeper. We were definitely getting closer to the clouds, but when we got off the train in Starý Smokovec around 10am it was still just about not raining.
The first building you see when you get off the train is this very grand hotel. The village has been a popular resort since the nineteenth century.
The guidebook had said that the church here was worth seeing, and it did indeed seem to be a very pretty building.
From beside it we just about had a view back down to Poprad.
There were quite a few interesting buildings in the village.
This one appeared to be the town hall.
And this one was called Švajčiarsky Dom (Swiss House). It did look rather Swiss
From Starý Smokovec the Tatra railway splits off into two directions. We were continuing our journey towards Štrbské Pleso, but I had read last night on the Slovak Railways website that part of the track on this route was damaged and we would have to switch to a replacement bus service at some point. The train arrived at the appointed time saying that it was heading for Štrbské Pleso though, so we jumped aboard and thought possibly I had got it wrong. We had to buy a separate ticket for this part of the journey, but it only cost us €2.
The train continued to climb until it got to a small station called Tatranská Polianka. This was where I had read that the track was damaged, but there were no announcements and none of the other passengers seemed to be moving, so we stayed sitting on the train. It didn't make any signs that it was going to depart though, and after a minute or so someone must have said something because suddenly everyone started piling off the train and dashing round the corner of the station to where there was a sign about the replacement bus service. A bus arrived after a few minutes and we (just about!) managed to squeeze our way onto it.
We were on the bus for about 15 minutes until we got to a small station called Vyšné Hágy. The track was fine again after this point, so we waited for a few minutes and then transferred onto another little train which would take us to Štrbské Pleso, at 1,350m.
The architecture in Štrbské Pleso isn't quite as pretty as in Starý Smokovec (there are some bigger, more Communist-style hotels and restaurants) but the attraction of the village is that it is near a lake which is supposed to be one of the prettiest in Slovakia. Unfortunately when we stepped off the train it was clear that we were well and truly in the clouds now, and they seemed to be increasingly damp clouds!
We decided to hope for the best and walk around the lake anyway.
It was really beautiful there, even though we couldn't see any of the mountains behind it.
At times we could see little misty clouds blowing over the lake.
Until eventually it got very misty indeed!
It seemed like it might start raining in earnest at this point so we headed back to the village in search of some lunch. We accidentally stopped at what was quite a posh hotel, enticed by the fact that its menu was translated into English. Almost everyone else we encountered were Slovaks though and the prices were still cheap by UK standards.
Tim tried the soup of the day (goulash soup!) and then we both had bryndzové halušky, which is the national dish of Slovakia. Halušky are small potato dumplings (a bit like gnocchi). They served in a sauce made from sheep's cheese (but it tastes fine, so long as you don't think about the fact that it is sheep's cheese) and sprinkled with bacon. The overall effect is a bit like a macaroni cheese.
For desert we had a pancake filled with ice-cream (and rather oddly served with some flower petals on the plate!).
By the time we had finished lunch it hadn't exactly brightened up but it had definitely decided not to rain, so we decided to walk another circuit of the lake.
We also saw a sign to a place called Jazierka lásky (the lakes of love) so we decided to investigate those as well.
We have no idea where the name comes from, but they were two very pretty little lakes not far outside the village.
The tickets we had bought earlier in the day entitled us to travel from Štrbské Pleso on to Štrba, back down at 850m. This wasn't on one of the electric trains but on something more like a funicular; the track was very steep! Once we had got to Štrba we had left the clouds behind and were able to transfer onto a normal train back to Poprad, for an extra €1.20 each
We had a fun day and the places we visited were beautiful, even with the clouds, but it would be lovely to come back some time and actually see the views