GRESHAM, Ore. -- Hikers who brave Poland's steep mountain trails
are as likely to pass families dressed up for church as they are to
see other hikers.
Poland's hilltop pathways can be arduous, said Beverly Russell,
travel consultant for Walker Travel & Cruises, based here. Some
of the trails are carved out of rocks, which get slippery on rainy
days, she said.
These conditions don't deter the locals, however, who use the
trails like sidewalks. Russell, who hiked Poland last summer on a
15-night Walking Softly Adventures tour, raved about a trek near
the resort town of Zakopane.
The group climbed a mountain called the Sleeping Knight, so
named because from a distance, the mountain looks like the face of
a knight. "Toward the top there are chains in the mountainside that
you pull yourself up with," Russell said. "When we finally made it
to the top, we found oodles of people up there."
Russell and her husband, Ron, chose Poland because they wanted
to roam a unique place. "Everybody goes to Paris," she said. "We
wanted to see something different."
Hiking brought them to the country's wooden churches, some of
which date to the 18th century. Inside, a priest gives the history
of the church, translated by a guide.
Treks lead to views of rolling hills, mountain lakes and
limestone peaks. One hike yields a view of Poland's neighbor,
Slovakia. Avid walkers, the Russells belong to a club called
Volkswalking that organizes 10K walks around the world (though it
has yet to reach Poland).
Although Poland's mountain trails can be daunting,
less-experienced walkers need not be leery of the destination, she
said. One elderly man on the Walking Softly tour adjusted by
walking a bit and then riding back to the hotel on the tour van.
The Russells skipped one extensive walk, opting to walk around town
on their own.
Russell found that locals were "very friendly and willing to
help," she added, so travelers needn't worry about getting lost. In
the countryside, however, she found that English speakers are
Russell's group discovered a password, however. They approached
an older woman to marvel at her garden. They pointed to themselves
and said, "America." The woman did not understand. "U.S.A.," they
tried. No response. "Chicago," one man said. The woman smiled and
nodded. The Windy City is home to more Poles than any place outside
Russell also was charmed by the horse-drawn carts rumbling down
country roads. She warned against driving a rental car through the
countryside, however, because Polish traffic signs are difficult to
The agent did have one regret: Arriving in Warsaw, Russell was
surprised to find the locals all dressed up. The midday scene was
reminiscent of 1950s America, with "75% of the men in suits and
ties," she said. "I wish I had taken nicer clothing."