If you want to stay overnight in the mountains, without the need to climb down to Zakopane for accommodation, you should consider staying at a 'schronisko'. It is a kind of hiker-oriented mountain hostel situated conveniently for climbing the most popular peaks, providing accommodation of ususally very basic standard, and food and drinks of rather limited choice. There are a few of them scattered across the whole area of the national park. If you want to get a bed in summertime you'll probably have to make a reservation a few months in advance. If you don't, there's one more option: they will usually let you sleep on the floor in either the dinning room or a corridor, for which you'll pay about two thirds of the bed price. Of course, this means you'll have to bring your own sleeping bag and a kind of mat to lie on (sometimes the floor is just polished stone). This year we had problems even getting the floor, not to mention the beds we had hoped for initially! I had the impression that the hostel management tried to discourage this kind of on-the-floor-stay as much as possible. When we turned up at our schronisko at about 1 p.m. asking for rooms, the receptionist said that they had none available and that we should climb down back to Zakopane as no other form of accommodation was possible in the hostel, not even the floor. But we stubbornly stayed there, not one but two nights. And what fun we had :)
I realise that what I have written so far may scare you off staying in a schronisko but just have a look at the pictures. These views will compensate for any hardship you are bound to experience. And nothing can convey that friendly and congenial atmosphere of the dinning-room when the evening comes, starngers sitting together round big tables, sharing their food and stories, becoming friends... It makes you feel spacial to be part of that.
We stayed at the schronisko situated in the picturesque Dolina Pięciu Stawów Polskich (the Valley of Five Polish Lakes) at the height of 1671 m. The place offers 70 beds, has a medium-sized dinning-room (which is a bar at the same time and turns into a dormitory after 10 p.m), too few toilets (long queues, especially at weekends) and a cold shower (the first time I had it I was lucky to have lukewarm water, the next time I overconfidently stepped into it I choked and was paralysed by its icy temperature). Last but not least the hostel has got its own mini-shop (even 'mini-shop' is a big exaggeration) where you can get sweets, bottled or canned drinks, souvenirs like postcards, booklets, maps, even T-shirts with the logo of the hostel. You also can have your postcard stamped with the hostel's official stamp, which is a nice thing to send to a friend or bring back home as a souvenir. Just remember the things you buy there are usually much more expensive than in Zakopane, especially drinks.
For the most unique quality of the place have a look at the pictures. Imagine stepping outside into a view like that in a sunny, early morning, say at 6 a.m., when it's still relatively quiet, with most hikers sleeping, a few bustling inside without a word, and you yourself not quite awake yet...
Most people who visit Tatrzański Park Narodowy take their accommodation in Zakopane, which lies at the foot of the mountains. Once a small and obscure mountain village Zakopane has now become probably the most famous Polish mountain resort for both summer and winter holidays. Finding accommodation in Zakopane is usually easy. The place is full of hotels and guesthouses of various sorts. Also almost every private house in the region offers separate guest rooms charging anything from about $10 up per night. If you arrive in Zakopane by bus or by train, you'll most probably be approached by people offering you 'Pokoje' (Rooms) or asking 'Potrzebujecie pokoju?' (Do you need a room?) If you accept they will usually provide you with transportation as well. However, always check the exact location of the house before you take the room or else you might end up miles from the centre (Krupówki) or even outside Zakopane. And the guys will always say it's not far, so it's best to consult the map first and set the price in advance. Usually the longer you stay the lower price you can bargain.
Taking a guest room might be a good way to meet some 'Górale' - mountaineers, famous for their shrewdness, temperament and liking for spirits. There might be problems with communication, though. In the pictures you'll see the house in which we found a double room, quite basic and far from the centre but incredibly cheap, with beautiful view from the window, from which we could gaze at Giewont.
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