Hedgehogs are big here in Czech culture. You see cute depictions of them everywhere, often with an apple speared on their spines. The word for hedgehog in Czech sounds similar to the word for Baby Jesus, who is the one who brings the presents on Christmas. So one of my students, when she was little, thought that a hedgehog carried her gifts to her, all stuck on his back like that traditional apple. She still likes the image, and so do I. I think hedgehogs are adorable. Yet I NEVER see them. I caught a glimpse of the back end of one once, the first time I lived here. And that's all. Until...Friday! Here he is! It was dark, so the picture's not as darling as the reality. But soooo cute.
Ruined castles are my favorite, especially when they still rather look like castle and have little nooks and crannies you can explore. Choustnik fits the bill. Even cooler, the castle's main tower still stands strong, and you can climb up for great views.
Then if you follow the green trail a little ways around the castle, you'll come to some cool rock formations you can climb around on. Instead of keeping to the trail, follow the rocks for as long as you want along this natural playground. Danger: between the castle and these perfect forest-ambush areas, you might start feeling like you've strayed into a Robin Hood movie.
. If you go...
To get to Choustnik Castle, take one of the infrequent buses from Tabor or other nearby towns to the village of Choustnik. Be sure to check bus schedules for the return trip. The castle is a pleasant walk along the green trail, just over a kilometer away.
Entry fee: currently 40 Czech Crowns for adults, 20 for children
Open: July and August--every day. May, June, September, and October--only weekends and holidays.
This is Hincovo Pleso, the biggest glacial tarn in the Slovakian side of the High Tatras. Just look at the clarity of that water. Gorgeous!
I spent a lot of time watching the fish and simply staring at my surroundings in wonder.
And this is me high above the same lake, on the rocky tippy top of Koprovsky Stit (2367m / 7766ft)
It's amazing to me how low these stunning "high" alpine areas are in Europe. Koprovsky Stit is almost exactly as high as Pinal Peak near Globe, Arizona, where I grew up. Yet Pinal Peak is nowhere near the tree line. The world is amazing.
Hike Details (Round Trip) from Popradske Pleso (the lake and mountain chalet, not the train stop):
Length: 8.8 km
Climb: 812 m
Estimated time: 3 hrs 50 min
Hike Details (Round Trip) from Strbske Pleso
Length: 18.2 km
Climb: 1209 m
Estimated time: 7 hrs
Difficulty: For people like me, the very end is a little scary, because you're so high and you're just sort of clambering over rocks. The trail also has some steep switchback parts. Just take it slow. Trail is closed in winter.