I Climbed that Mountain High

Bielsko-Biała, in addition to having an adorable texiles museum, also boasts another great attraction: a mountain.

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I mean, who doesn’t love a good mountain? When I was researching Bielsko-Biała, I came across an ad for Szyndzielnia, the mountain and winter wonderland of south western Poland, but I forgot about it pretty quickly. I don’t ski, so it didn’t really occur to me that it might be something I’d like to see. Then, a friend told me about the chairlift, and how there were hiking trails up on top of the mountain, and how there was a great view of the city from the top of the mountain, and I found myself looking up how to get to the top of the mountain.

First things first: Szyndzielnia (shin-jel-nee-ah) is the name of the mountain. There’s a chairlift-like thing – the Kolej Linowa Szyndzielnia (kohl-ey leen-oh-va shin-jel-nee-ah) – which takes people from the bottom of the mountain to the top, where hiking paths, ski trails, and a toboggan run are the main attractions.

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I’m not much of a mountains girl. When I got on the bus to head to the outpost where the chairlift is, I wasn’t really thinking about going to the mountain or anything which that entailed. I was thinking about that great view my friend had been telling me about.

The number 8 bus will take you out to the bottom of the mountain, and it stops where the road does – literally. There’s a patch of asphalt wide enough for the bus to turn around, and that’s it. There are a few signs that point out the direction of the chairlift, which lies about 200 meters farther along an unpaved, uphill path. It was very picturesque, I have to say. Wood beam buildings housed a tourist trap and a snack shack, and a little old man was grilling oscypek (os-sip-eck; mountain goat cheese and the epitome of delicious) over open flames. A stream gurgled down in the gully, and the sun shone off the hard-packed snow with blinding strength.

I bought my ticket for the chairlift – 22 złoty round-trip – and hopped into one of the little pods when it was my turn. That’s when I realized that I was climbing a mountain.

It was a steep climb, and it went, it seemed to me, excruciatingly slowly. I suppose that when there are so many people riding in little bubbles strung together on metal cables, a certain amount of safety precautions must be taken. Even so, a part of me was wishing the ride went just a teensy bit faster.

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The other part of me was snapping pictures through the scratched-up windows.

At the top, I hopped out of my little podule and set to exploring. It was when I was looking around at all the other people on top of the mountain that it became apparent that I had no idea what I was doing. Everyone else was wearing ski suits, snow pants, windbreakers, tinted goggles, and most of them were on skis. I was wearing jeans, a pea coat, and aviators, carrying a leather bag. At least, I thought, I remembered my gloves.

Despite my fashion faux pas, I was fascinated by what I found on the top of Szyndzielnia. The skiing and hiking paths were lovely – even for someone who wasn’t wearing snow boots – and the toboggan run was filled with little kids pulling each other in sleds and catching each other at the bottom.

I, however, took myself in search of that fantastic view that had sent a Great Lakes girl wandering up a mountain. I didn’t have to go far. Every turn I took, I was caught with another view that just needed to be photographed. It was absolutely gorgeous. Honestly, it had me wondering why I hadn’t spent more time in the mountains before. The sun was shining, the air was clear, the vistas were magnificent, the kids were laughing, the old folks were laid back –

Then I came back down the mountain.

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I went down the way I came up, in the chairlift, although the snow was packed hard enough that I could have slid all the way down without so much as the help of a toboggan (and almost did once or twice). Even so, I took the chairlift back down.

While I was up on the mountain, a bit of a breeze had kicked up, but I didn’t really think about it. When I was on the chairlift, I remembered it right quick. My podule was rocking back and forth, and I was sitting in the very middle of it, trying to act as a counterweight. In my head, it was perfectly safe; they wouldn’t let people do it if the chairlift wasn’t capable of handling a slight breeze. In my podule, though, things felt very different. Luckily for me, in the battle between my gut and my brains, my eyes got distracted and I started snapping pictures of the city of Bielsko-Biała below me.

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