Friday, August 30, 2013

Vary Cool

After my trip to Dresden I turned right around and went to another great place.
On the western edge of Bohemia there is a spa town called Karloy Vary. At one time it was a destination for Germans, which makes perfect sense since it is really close to the border. That has changed and now the spa town is a destination for Russians. Lots and lots of Russians. So many in fact that most of the signs for stores and restaurants are written in azbuka. In the States we call it cyrillic but no one hear calls it that. 
I had been to this town before, but it was on a lark with some friends who were running a half marathon. The town was quite crowded with runners and many of the streets and shops were closed for the race so it wasn't a good representation of what the place is really like. Since I was not running in the race I wandered around a bit and decided that I would have to return when the place was a bit more "real."Plus, I had a Czech friend who had never been and she had some free time, so we went. 
It turns out many Czechs put a lot of stock in the healing qualities of various spas throughout the country. At the heart of it, the town appears to have been built around some hot springs. 
I can't really think of anywhere I've been in the States that is quite the same. Sure, I've been to some hot springs but never anywhere where a town is built around them.
These springs have even been certified by some government agency and I'm told doctors will prescribe a trip to a certain spa town to help with a particular ailment. Karlovy Vary is for digestive problems and a few other things I can't remember.
While there are dozens of springs around the town, there are 14 main ones and the deal is you buy a special vessel and walk from spring to spring drinking the iron-rich and sometimes naturally-carbonated water. The vessel is a ceramic mug with the handle doubling as a straw. 
The central spring is a geyser enclosed in a colonnade -- or at least what was once a colonnade. It's not really a column structure now. The original building may have been, but it was destroyed a few times and what stands there now is still called a colonnade. 
So, there is a geyser enclosed in this building and the thing spurts steaming, 70+ degree water skyward to heights around 12 meters at times. That's 70 degrees Celsius which is somewhere around hot Fahrenheit ejaculating 35 feet into the air. Why anyone would construct a building around such a thing is confusing to me, but whatever.

Karlovy Vary, geyser, main colonnade, Czech Republic
As you can see from this better-than-what-I've-done-before HDR image it's a geyser -- in a building. It doesn't always blast water to 35 feet, but there's a domed roof to accommodate it. 
Those crazy-looking devices in the back of the photo are there to blow off carbon dioxide before the water reaches some other springs in the colonnade. While I've seen people doing it, I don't think trying to fill your drinking vessel from this thing is a wise idea. Add this to the list of things that would never fly in the US. Allowing Americans to get anywhere near something launching water the temperature of scaling-hot coffee 35 feet in the air would just be begging for a series of tort actions. There would be law offices outside with ambulance-chasing attorneys salivating on themselves. 
Karlovy Vary, geyser, main colonnade, Czech Republic

So, here is a detail of the CO2 orby capturey thingies. I know, it's technical talk, but I don't know what else to call them. They also serve to heat the room quite well. 
So, as I discovered on a very-interesting tour of the bowels of the colonnade, the hot water from this main spring is pumped all over town to commercial spas and resorts, like the famous Hotel Thermal.

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, Hotel Thermal

The Hotel Thermal is the completely out-of-place building on the right of this strangely-stitched together panoramic photo. It's famous, but probably not the most famous one in town. If you've seen the Bond film Casino Royale then you've seen the Pupp Hotel in Karlovy Vary. I didn't photograph it, do a Google search. Incidentally, a small beer at the Pupp will cost you 100kc, ouch.
Anyway, as you can see the architecture is pretty interesting and the way buildings are set among the hills surrounding the town is impressive. 

The buildings are stuck right along the river, which must make things complicated if there is a flood. There are also grand colonnades, actual ones, with springs in them as well as gazebos with springs as well.
Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic

It's a spring in a colonnade. You can't really wax to poetic about it. As my Spanish-speaking friends will tell you "es o si que es" it is what it is. I will say it is pretty impressive to walk though this massive structure that really has no other purpose than to contain these springs. 
Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic

The gazebo style spring is much more my style. There's a nice place to sit and enjoy your health-restoring water. 

Or you can just relax right by the spring if you want. The literature you get at the tourist info place suggests you don't sit down though, but rather you drink the water while you walk from one spring to the next. It also tells you not to dump the water you don't drink upon the local fauna. I messed that one up. Each spring tastes different and some of them are pretty gross.
And it's pretty common to sit and relax while you're drinking the stuff. Like these Russian ladies outside the grand colonnade.

I have to admit, I thought people like this only existed in American movies. This really shocked me. I had to try hard not to stare. Clearly my amazement didn't stop me from taking a photo. This was even more amazing than the first time I saw a hairy-chested Italian man wearing a half-zipped track suit and gold chains driving a Camaro. Cпасибо ladies.

This is the wooden colonnade. I liked it better than the big concrete job, but there is only one spring in it and other than the ridiculously-good wood work there isn't much to say about it. Hey, it's time for another panoramic photo.

There are some paths up on the hills around town and it's a great place to walk and take in the great view of the place. I never found a vantage point for a truly epic pano of the place. I did discover that the town puts a lot of stock in facades though. As I was walking back down off the hill I walked passed a building that was pretty beat up with bars on the windows. Upon walking around to the front of the building, which is across the street from the library, I saw that it was painted and looked fairly descent. From the back it looked like an old abandoned city jail. The front showed signs that is had been some sort of government building, but I have no idea what. I have a friend from Karlovy Vary and she knows the building, but not what it used to be.

Also, once you get away from the main drag you will see more of the Kentucky-style satellite dish placement. I really wonder if pigeons screw with signal reception.

 This is just a random fun photo I took outside the central geyser building. No reason for it I just liked the composition.
Under the central geyser building there are some control pipes valves for all the springs in town. Evidently they drilled some wells and can somehow control how much pressure forces the water up from the ground. There is also a facility where they do something called stone casting.
What they do is make a form out of paper or some other material and place it under flowing water from the spring. After about a week the minerals in the water solidify and create a stone version of your form. Like with these Becherovka bottles.

Still want to drink the stuff? Me either, it gets better. Evidently they have been stone casting for something like 600 years and the rose is the most famous thing they make.

This is where they do the stone casting and control the pressure. It's really a kind of museum showing the stuff. Notice the mineral deposits. There are stalagmites in here that are quite large, but didn't take the requisite million years to form. More like 60 years or so. Reason two not to drink the stuff.
Then you have this:

This is an iron pipe that used to carry the water to the various commercial spas. Once again, we're not talking about a hundred years or so of gunk but perhaps a few decades. Don't get me wrong, I drank the water and it didn't kill me. It didn't make me feel any better either. All I really got out of drinking the water is a snazzy mug that I'll probably send to my niece as a gift. 
So, Karlovy Vary really is a beautiful town know for it's spas, hotels, colonnades, Russians, stone casting and health-giving water. There are a few other famous things about this town like the fact the Mozart's son is buried there and of course Becherovka.
Becherovka, the ch is pronounced huh, is a spirit that tastes like Christmas. It's a bit cinnamon schnapps, but thinner and herbier. The other famous thing about this place, and probably the best is the oplatka or spa wafer. If you go, don't be a sucker and buy wafers from some stand outside the main colonnade. Turns out the only place to get real-deal oplatky is in the main building. They use water from that central spring in the recipe and all the other ones are not made with this water. Also, a stand will charge you something like 35kc for one oplatka that is a fake while the bonafide article is only 9kc.   
It's a great place. I'm glad I went back. And it's only two hours from Prague. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Dresden Day Trip

Living in the U.S. it is difficult to take a day trip to another country. Sure if you live up north by Canada it's not a problem and if you live down south by Mexico, it's pretty easy too. Sadly, most of your Mexican day trip will be consumed by you waiting in line to drive back across the border and telling little kids, "no quero chicklets" every 20 seconds. The secret is to park in the U.S. and walk across. The line to get back is much shorter. Either way, you're going to need a passport; not that it's any different in Europe.
I've been trying to find the time to check out Dresden for a few months now and had never gotten around to it. So, I looked into the pricing and saw how cheap it was and went for it. This really was a trip to explore the city and see what it was like. I hardly went in to any buildings. I figure I'll go back with some more money and check out a few museums, namely the military history museum.
So I plunked down the 40 Euros for a round-trip train ticket, conned my German-speaking Australian/British flatmate into going with me and headed out at 06:29 on a Saturday morning.
The train ride takes a little over two hours; it's only like 90 miles for Christ's sake; and was scenic, relaxing and afforded much more leg room that a bus ticket of the same price. Sure the bus is a bit faster, but I'm tall. I had plenty of leg room, but the "head" rests only came up to my shoulders. Fortunately, they are side head rests and didn't bother me at all.
I didn't run up to the window on the outward journey and snap photos because some Czech guy and his INSANELY excited ten year-old daughter had taken the window seats. I didn't mind, kids always get the window seats in my book. I didn't even mind the little girl's incessant rambling because her enunciation was quite good and I was actually able to understand some of her Czech. That's how I was able to find out how old she was: She took some time to tell her father in Czech and German that she was ten and spoke Czech, German and English. I don't know why she did this, but I understood it and was impressed with myself. I'm guessing this was a big deal trip for her and she was über stoked.
The train follows two rivers pretty much the whole way: The Vlatva out of Prague and the Elbe (or Labe in Czech) the rest of the way into Germany, they meet somewhere in the Czech Republic and I've been told where, but I forgot. I didn't see the change in the rivers until I looked at the water and could tell it was moving much faster that the Vlatava. We passed some large locks and a pretty big shipping terminal, but I can't tell you which river they were on. What I can tell you is that at the border there was an abandoned checkpoint along the tracks and a drastic change in architecture. Oh yeah, and all the signs were in German.
We rolled into Dresden a little after 08:30 and started making our way to the center. It's a straight shot down Prager Straße through a shopping plaza called, he he, Wiener Platz. I know, I know, it's "Vienna Place" but mentally I'm like 13 on a good day and I'm pretty sure I didn't make a single dick joke in any of my Vienna posts. My self restraint is tapped out. It was interesting to travel two hours from Prague to end up on Prague Street.
We made it a few hundred meters through the shopping plaza and came to something I hope is uniquely German: A set of stairs leading to part of the sewer with a glass window in it so everyone could see the majesty and perfection that is a German sewer. It was a nice sewer as far as I can tell, I don't know for sure I don't really frequent sewers. It smelled remotely better that the Slovak outhouse.
A few meters after that we were met with something that reminded me that we were in what used to be East Germany. It's been so long, I really forgot there was once a difference.

This testament to the power of the worker remains on the side of a building in Kulturplatz. When I saw this I woke up and said, "oh yeah this used to be East Germany." It's a pretty nice mosaic and I have to say I liked it. My exposure to overt communist propaganda art has been pretty limited up to this point. So far, I've really only seen posters and stuff. I suppose this is the equivalent of a giant Uncle Sam.
From here we ended up at the Zwinger Gardens and it was early and not very crowded at all. The light was totally fantastic and there was a guy painting en plein air taking advantage of the incredible light. From the look of what he was working on he was pretty good.

This is one of my favorite photos from the whole trip. The light is great, this dude has a wicked tan and the statue on the left of the frame is peeking over to check out the painting. A few clouds in the sky would have made it that much better.
I decided that I would experiment a bit more with some HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography. For those of you who don't know, you take several photos of the same thing all with different exposures then put them all together with the computer. I knew I'd get better dynamic range, duh, but I was suprised to find that there is generally a better level of detail to the images. You're going to see a lot of them and I'm still finding the best way to do the process but I was impressed with what I've been able to do so far. There is no way I would have wanted to take the time to make all these photos look the same way by processing one RAW file. Ideally, this is done better if you use a tripod to keep the camera still, but whatever. Also, there are some pretty cool "ghosts" or moving people that I think I know how to deal with now. Alright, enough nerding out over HDR.

Zwinger carillon, Zwinger, Dresden

This the the carillon at one end of the Zwinger, and some pretty impressive lens flare. Point your camera at the sun and it's what happens. The carillon goes off on the quarter hour and plays a happy little tune. It plays the same tune every time, fun once but if you're expecting something different you're in for a letdown.

Zwinger, Dresden

Here we have a view from the passageway under the carillon. Yup, it's some pretty serious HDR toning, but hey I'm still learning and I think it looks cool, so there. The writing on the wall describes the history of the place. It was once a residence and I assume they had some pretty zwinging parties there. After spending about and hour at the Zwinger it was time for some breakfast. Oh yeah, the Zwinger even has a moat -- kind of, it doesn't go all the way around.

Zwinger, Dresden

After breakfast we wandered into this plaza, I have no idea what it is called. The wall on the right is like some kind of outdoor hunting lodge with all manner of mounted heads. They looked to be iron and some of them had what appeared to be real antlers in them. The antlers might have been resin or something, but they looked real enough to me.

I don't care what country you're in, that's a nice rack. I'd be happy to bag just one deer like that in my life. There were at least five of similar quality.
What trip to Dresden would be complete without seeing the Frauenkirche? If you have forgotten your history; the Allied forces turned most of the city center into a giant parking lot on 13 February 1945. Kurt Vonnegut wrote a book about it, kind of. Anyway this church was leveled in the bombing and left as an anti-war memorial until 1995. It was finished in 2005 and the construction was funded entirely by private donations. Some American even donated his entire million-dollar reward for winning the Nobel Prize for Medicine to the project. Read the Wikipedia link, it's informative. Anyway, they didn't have all the old bricks, so they made new ones. When you look at the photo all the dark bricks are original and the light ones are new. Yes, only a German could achieve the insane precision to turn a fifty year-old pile of bricks back into the structure it once was. Maybe a Swiss person could do it, but this ain't no watch.

 Frauenkirche, Dresden

As you can see we blowed it up good. Notice the left side which has a lot more original bricks. All the "old" buildings around the center have this look of old and new bricks since the Germans really liked them just fine before the B-17 powered urban-renewal project. So, they put it back the way it was. It's really a more impressive feat than the demolition was. Of course it took 80 years to undo a few days worth of work, but what else are bored communists going to do?
Now, I'll admit here that I don't know the names of all these buildings I photographed. I was really just wandering around and seeing what the city was like.

I know that's Frauenkirche on the left and the glass dome is really cool. I think it's a museum.


Basically, after wandering around the city center for a few hours we made out way to Neustad or New Town. It's across the river and we were drawn by the Drei Königs Kirche Turm. It's the tower on another church that was destroyed in the bombing. The church was pretty much a complete loss, but the tower was pretty salvageable. It looks strange with an old tower on a brand-new church. But I digress and will get to the tower shortly. The next photo is from a bridge over the Elbe.


As you can see we got further and further away from the center. Then we were at the tower. As I've said before I'm a sucker for a clock-tower climb and this was no different. It was 2 Euros, why not? The only miscalculation was that, being eager to climb the tower, I took no notice of the time. The clock struck noon right when we got to the bells. Guess what. THEY ARE LOUD. On the bright side, after I got over my tinititus-induced paralysis, I realized I was able to photograph the bells in a position not many people will dare to duplicate.

This bell only rings for a few minutes, your ears will ring for a while after. There were three of them.

After the bells you get to the clock chamber. There are four faces. Notice the rods on the beams through the frame. They synchronize all the clocks and as you stand there you can see the whole thing work. Granted, it's not pretty but it's really efficient and effective. Should have called the Swiss.

Once you get to the top, you are treated to an amazing view of the whole city. I made a panoramic photo and it really doesn't do the place justice.

After we alighted from the tower we realized the climb had made us a bit peckish and we should endeavor to seek sustenance in due course. Yep, I've been reading Jules Verne. Anyway, when you're in Germany what do you have a hankering for? And some Faulkner. Nothing but sauerkraut and sausage will do. We were on a mission. Sadly, not one our limited knowledge of Neustad could satisfy. So we continued to wander and make our way back to the city center. If you want to find stereotypical cuisine, head toward a tourist mecca. On the way we discovered another church, Protestant of course. That Martin Luther fellow really did a number on the Catholic population in Germany.

Behind this church is the first foreign (to me) World War I memorial I've ever seen. It just says "Our Fallen" with the dates. The kneeling man once held a sword as far as I can tell. I suppose when you lose a war your memorials aren't quite so braggardly built. I like the subtlety though.
Coming up goose eggs on our bratwurst and sauerkraut hunt we crossed the river again, but were a ways up from the center, so we walked back toward it along the river.

We spied this impressive structure commanding the landscape. I don't know what it is, but it was cool so I took a photo.
After a trip through a tourist alley, which I refused to stay in, we actually found a nice traditional restaurant with what we were looking for and wheat beer. Success tastes divine. Every bit of it was delicious.
Then we passed by another cool building I can't identify. I took a photo.

You can really see the HDR ghosting with the carriage. Then we came to another church that had been destroyed in the bombing and rebuilt. Nope, I don't know the name and I didn't photograph the outside. The thing that is striking about this church is that they decided not to repaint the inside and just leave it white. The Allied bombing marked the fifth time in this church's history that it had been destroyed and they decided to leave the walls bare this time. Also, very solemn.

After this place it was getting late and about time to head back to the Bahnhoff and stop off and have a beer on the way. It's Germany, you gotta do it.
As we made our way back through the Wiener Platz it was much more crowded and the crazy Sputnik fountain was on.

Sometimes you wanna play around a fountain and not get wet. Sure.
So we had a few beers and got to the station with time to spare where I stopped to snap a photo of one of the biggest differences between Dresden and Prague, other than a welcome lack of pigeons, bicycles -- everywhere.

This really is a small sample of how many bikes you'll see around the town.
So back on the train and cruising though the German and Czech countrysides we were. Actually, I only took photos of the German countryside. There's a nice one of the Elbe and then we were treated to a pretty spectacular rainbow. After that what is there to do but put your feet up and enjoy the ride watching the sunset out the window in a compartment with only two people in it?

While we lay in repose in the train cabin our rest was abruptly interrupted for some official business. It was time for the dreaded German border check. Having escaped such scrutiny on the outward journey I was hopeful to repeat such luck. The compartment door opened and I expected to find myself in a scene from The Great Escape: You know, jackbooted no-nonsense German ball busters devoid of anything resembling a sense of humor. Well, turns out jackboots are a bit gauche in Germany and the police most definitely will not wear them. Imagine my surprise when I saw what is most likely the second-most beautiful police officer I have ever seen (the disaffected Czech border-control officer at the Prague airport takes the cake). I did still expect to hear, "papers please" in some gruff German accent. Instead she asked "sprechen zie Deutch?" My companion of course replied with something they could understand and I busted out with "Ich spreche Bahnhoff." The blonde amazon officer replied that she also spoke train station, that makes her a perfect match for me in my book -- speaking the same language and all. Then she and my friend made some jokes at my expense, in German of course, she and her partner checked out passports and she walked out of my life forever. So, it turns out Germans have a sense of humor after all. Maybe I'll run into her on my next trip to the das Vaterland. All I know is she can check my papers anytime.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Not Czechoslovakia; just Slovakia

From 1918 until 1993 the Czech Republic and Slovakia were one country. It was Czechoslovakia. Sadly, there are some Americans who think this place still exists. If you click the link back there you will go to some verbose article in the U.S. Library of Congress about the history of the place. I assume it's going to be more accurate than Wikipedia, the free and unreliable online encyclopedia that I cite quite a lot.
Anyway, there are some differences between the two now-independent states. Most of the differences I can think of are things I have been told by my Czech friends. Evidently the language is a bit different, but I'll be damned if I can notice any discernible distinction. Generally, I'm told, people from the two countries can understand each other pretty well. It looks and sounds the same to be, but I'm pretty ignorant and I believe there is a difference. Also Slovakia seems to have a larger rural population. Some of my Czech friends joke that Slovakia is a nation full of rednecks. None of the Slovak people have appeared to be rednecks to me, but perhaps that is because all the ones I actually know are living in Prague and may have put on some highfalutin airs when compared to their more vídlak brethren.
Slovakia has a larger religious population, I know some Slovaks who attend mass regularly, some stricter laws and different borders. From my limited experience I have seen that most Slovaks have two legs, two arms, ten toes (except for the six-toed girl I met in a bar) and ten fingers just like nearly every other human on the planet.
So, when I had the chance to visit Slovakia with some friends of mine I was more interested in getting out of the city for a while and being in "the nature" for a few days rather than experiencing some completely different culture that may or may not have adopted some kind of Lord of the Flies governmental structure after the fall of communism.
Oh yeah, and they have bears in Slovakia where there aren't any in the Czech Republic.
I went to a place called Poprad-Tatry. At least that was the name of the town where the train was going to take me. It's in the Tatras Mountains on the border with Poland.
I planned out a three-day weekend, figured out the best train to take, the night train leaving at 12:06 from Prague, and then promptly procrastinated purchasing a ticket until there were no more sleeper compartments available. The trip takes about eight hours.
I boarded the train, found my seat and promptly took my repose in a seated position. Other than waking from time to time when the train stopped, I slept rather well. I awoke to find myself traveling through Slovakia to watch the sun come up in the mountains and in a few hours I was met by the rest of my party at the train station.
It was at the station that I was informed that the day's activity involved a ten-hour hike to the top of the third-highest mountain in the country. So I changed my shirt and off we went. I'd never hopped of a train and bagged a peak before so this was new to me. I was promised that from this peak I would be able to see into Poland, so I was excited.
We began at some ski area and climbed a gentle trail to a high mountain lake where we would take another trail and ascend the rest of the way. Down low the weather was really pretty nice but we could see that the higher elevations were socked in with a bit of nastiness.

As you can see, there wasn't much sun up high. No matter we soldiered on hoping it would clear up or wouldn't be that bad at the top. Notice the other intrepid adventurers I was with on the left.
I was immediately struck by how amazingly common it is for people to just post up a few feet from the trail and relieve themselves. I've done a fair amount of hiking in the states and never have I seen an ad hoc latrine right along the trail. On this one hike I saw several, or there is some sort of Slovak tradition of tossing wadded up toilet paper in pre-determined places along the trail. I suppose a cat hole was out of the question. I didn't pack an e-tool, why would anyone else? It does seem however, that relieving yourself in public is pretty common in this part of the world and I attribute this to the extreme lack of free public toilets, unless the exterior wall of a 600 year-old church counts as a free public toilet. This trend is a topic for another discussion though.
After some time we reached our turn-off point where we would start the more challenging acclivities of our journey. It was at a lake called Popradské pleso and while we did not stop this time to gaze upon it's placid splendor we did venture back the next day.

From this point the trail turned into a winding track across mostly talus and a the same river a few times. I took this opportunity to ask my Czech friends what the translation for talus was and was met by everyone in the group with the same response: "what is talus?" Evidently, Mountaineering is not required reading for, well anyone really. After I explained talus to everyone I was told, by English and Czechs alike, that "we just call those 'rocks,' or 'kámen.'" 

We crossed this river three times. Each time on a well-built wooden bridge. The views from the crossings, and really during the whole hike were phenomenal. 

As we made our way toward the top I started to notice something else I was not accustomed to while hiking in the states -- people. Lots and lots of people. This trail was like a freaking superhighway. Where it really became apparent was when we hit a bottleneck in the form of a brief technical section equipped with chains to aid whoever needed it. It was raining a bit at this point and the chained, moderate class four section seemed treacherous, but really wasn't. People were clinging for dear life to the chains and while I was far from reckless, I just went around most of them.

This photo is no where near a good representation of just how crowded the trail was. Nevertheless, you can still see a pretty good crowd waiting to navigate this perilous ascent.
The queue, that means line for those of us who speak the comprehensible vernacular common to the English-speaking residents of the Western hemisphere, was worth it as shortly after a small mountain lake was revealed, as was the stream that fed its icy waters. My comment on the temperature of the waters in the mountain lake is pure speculation, because it is protected and forbidden to get too close to it. And my sepia toning of the photo makes it look cold, so there is that.

The trail winds past this lake and you pass the small stream that feeds it as you continue to climb.

After this, many people reach their reward: A chalet perched at 2250 meters where weary climbers can get something to eat. I think there people can also sleep there too. I did not photograph the chalet, but I did photograph the outhouse. It has the best outhouse view I've ever seen and the front wall is plexiglass so you may revel in the beautiful scenery while you defecate. Guys, if your requirements are to micturate you're out of luck. The back wall is solid.

No, I did not take a photo from inside the contraption. The small, singular wire holding it to the rock face and the inherent olfactory affront which comes from never moving your outhouse were enough to dissuade me from prolonging my stay in the lofty lavatory. Besides, there was a line and no one wants to wait for some punter to take a photo in the bathroom.
We were also greeted by what I consider to be one of the coolest things I have seen in a long time.

This is a bus stop and the comedy doesn't stop there, but a little translation is in order. The word in red, "čsad" means "bus" in Czech and presumably Slovak*. "Zastávka" means "stop." And "na znamenie" means if you're on the bus you have to indicate to the driver you want to stop and if you're at the stop you have to wave the bus down. So basically what we have is a bus stop named, "Bus Stop" and if you happen to see the bus you have to let them know you want to get on.
We took some time at the chalet to dine on tepid goulash and rest our weary legs before setting out to climb the next 250 meters to the summit. We had an hour left to go.
When we arrived at the summit it was still socked in with fog.

This is the Slovak summit marker. As you can see, visibility was lacking. I proceeded to tease my friends that I was disappointed because I was promised I was going to be able to see Poland. Then the man in this photo with the beer spoke up and said, "sure you can, Poland is there." He was pointing about three meters away. Turns out this mountain, Rysy, while the third-highest in Slovakia is the highest point in Poland. So, I was able to see Poland and visit as well. So, it was a banner day for me. I fell asleep in one country, woke up in another and then walked to a third.

I took this photo from Poland, barely.

Occasionally, on the way up we saw people wearing these horribly uncomfortable looking wooden-framed apparatuses. It turns out, if you think you're man enough, you can haul supplies to the chalet. The minimum you have to carry for a reward is 5 kilograms. Sure, it doesn't seem like much but it's a long, steep trail; over mostly talus. I'm not sure what the reward is for carrying a pack up, but if you just grab a rack of bottled water you get a free cup of Sherpa Tea. It's wonderfully efficacious, I paid for mine.

You don't have to sign a waiver or anything. Just grab a load of cargo from the turn-off point at Popradské pleso and get your pack mule on. If you think a 15 kilo bag of stove pellets looks like a huge haul, just take a look at what the man on the right edge of this frame has.

The white box on top is a food processor and this guy is a badass.
The next afternoon we went back to Popradské pleso and ate at the hotel you can see in the photo of the lake above. After that we took the short hike to The Symbolic Cemetery, an area filled with memorials to fallen climbers. It is there as a remembrance to the dead and a warning to the living. While none of the climbers memorialized here have their final resting places here it is a very solemn place.

All in all this was a really great trip and I can't wait to go back. The trip back had some un-noteworthy complications. Really, I just hopped on the same train I took out, going in the opposite direction, arrived in Prague Monday morning, took a little nap and went to work. Perfect.

*Note: I have learned that čsad does not actually mean bus in a literal sense. It is an acronym for Czecho Slovak Autobus Department -- or some variant thereof. Czechs call busses "autobus" and pronounce it "outo boos." Calling a čsad a bus is a bit like pointing at a federal agent and saying "there is an FBI" it really isn't the same, but it's kinda right.