Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Alpine Loveliness of Slovenia's Mountain Town of Bled.

Wed, September 28, 2016:
Ljubljana-Lake Bled-Ljubljana.

The Alpine Loveliness of Slovenia's Mountain Town of Bled.

            Both Chriselle and I were very happy about our excursion to Bled, one of the most iconic parts of Slovenia and the one most projected by its tourist authorities. Without meaning to waste any time, we awoke, showered quickly, had a repeat of the breakfast we had yesterday in the youth hostel—a very substantial, very delicious one—and then we were off, heading towards the Bus station as we had been informed that the bus takes visitors closer to the lake than does the train. We booked our bus tickets and set off for the 90 minute ride to the town of Bled.

 Arrival at Bled:

     It was hard to know when we had arrived at Bled as we did not see the Lake from the bus stop. The driver had to tell us that we were at the last stop. Once we alighted, we went to Mamut, the Tourist agency for Slovenia and were most courteously helped by the attendant there. At his suggestion, we booked tickets immediately for a van ride that would take us to a place he recommended very warmly—the Vintgar Gorge—which was a 15 minute ride away.

 Off to the Vintgar Gorge:

     The Vintgar Gorge was not on the cards for us at all, but by the end of the morning, both of us were absolutely delighted that we had taken the tip and booked the van ticket to get there. It turned out to be a natural gorge that followed the bends of the Radovna River with its white water rapids and waterfalls and towering mountain peaks beautifully clad in thick forests. Once we got off the van in which there were five other people with us, we gave ourselves up fully to the delights that only Nature can offer. We followed a well-constructed path that often hung over the rapids of the river as we smelled the fresh Alpine air and enjoyed the conifers that covered the slopes. Crowds were rather thick for this time of year, but everyone was in superb spirits. It was not a challenging walk at all, but it was long—a total of 45 minutes to get to the end where the highest waterfall was located and then an easy 45 minute walk back. There were lot of places where we stopped to take photos, but we still did it in good time. As trekking is one of my great joys, this was easily another highlight of our trip and I was so glad we had the chance to undertake the challenge.

 Lunch in Bled:

As soon as we returned by van to Bled, we walked towards the Lake as we had not yet seen it. It turned out to be a really lovely sight—surrounded by hills, encircled by a walking path --and bang in the middle of it, there was an island with a church easily visible on it. Since Chriselle and I were hungry, we pulled out the sandwiches we had carried from our breakfast buffet and ate them in the shade of a beautiful gazebo in a flower-filled park that reminded us very much of the Mirabel Gardens in Salzburg. After a while, we decided to stretch our legs again and go for a walk around the lake.

 A Boat Ride to the Island:

It was while we were heading to the lake, that a young woman asked us if we would be willing to join her party for a boat ride to the island—they needed 8 people and had only four. We’d bring the party up to six. We agreed as we had intended to get to the island anyway. A few minutes later, we found 3 more people willing to row with us and with our oarsman Martin taking controls, off we went with Kitty, her companion, two British women and a family from northern Slovenia.

            We reached the island in about half an hour after a lovely boat ride that was thrilling in every respect. The scenery was spectacular as we took in the castle, the church spires and the hotels that stud the lake’s banks. Once on the island, we climbed steep steps that took us to the entrance of the Church (which is deconsecrated). However, it has become a tourist attraction as it is said to contain a Wishing Bell. You pay 6 euros to enter the church and once inside, you head towards the altar. The Baroque interior decoration of the altar is just stupendous—it is entirely gilded. Two beautiful paintings flank the main altar. Hanging in the center is a thick rope from which you need to literally hang in order to get the bell to ring. You make a wish and ring the bell three times in hopes of getting your wish. Needless to say, both Chriselle and I had a go—but I forgot to make my wish as I was too busy getting pictures taken!

            After we left the church, we decided to climb hundreds of steps (or so it seemed) to get to the Bell Tower—and at the end of it, we were disappointed as we were not rewarded with the stunning views we expected. The windows were all grilled over and there was little we could actually see from the top—so it was a wasted effort. However, to soothe ourselves, we found the time to eat the delicious local cake called Potica that is made on the island—it is a Swiss roll sort of cake made with figs and hazelnuts. Together with a cup of coffee, it was a delicious treat and it just hit the spot.

 Toy Train Ride Around the Lake:

            Back in the boat, Martin rowed us to the jetty where we decided to hop into a toy train that took us on a 45 minute ride around the entire periphery of the lake. This was probably one of the best decisions we made as we saw the entire town of Bled from different corners of it. Had we stayed in the Lake area, we’d only have seen that little bit. The toy train filled with people at various stops and as it chugged slowly along, it exposed us to chalets, lakeside retreats, hotels, tea shops, etc. that dot the entire area. We also had the chance to get closer to the island and to see the church perched upon it from varied perspectives. As it was a beautiful day, we thoroughly enjoyed the Alpine loveliness of the area and could easily see why this lovely town is so popular among visitors. It reminded me very often of Salzburg in Austria which is one of my favorite places in the world.

 Visiting the Church of St. Martin:

            The Church of St. Martin is rather prominent in the town as its spire is easily visible from varied points. We decided to pay a visit inside and were required to climb a vast number of stairs again to get to the entrance. Inside, we were quite pleased to find that Mass in English was in progress. We found a group of people congregated in the front and it immediately occurred to me that it was a private Mass being said only for them. However, we decided to stay on and receive Communion and after Mass, had a chance to talk to some of the members of the group. They informed us that they were from Florida and were traveling to varied centers of pilgrimage in Europe. They were very pleased indeed to meet and chat with us and thanked us for joining them for Mass! This church too was visually gorgeous—filled with exquisite carvings and paintings on the ceiling and along the walls.

 Coffee and Cake for Afternoon Tea:

            By this time, we had covered the town quite thoroughly but were still loathe to leave it as it was so beautiful. We decided to take Lonely Planet’s tip and head to a coffee shop they had recommended for really delicious Lake Bled traditional cream cake called Kremnista. We found the place at the end of another long walk and climb that took us into a part of the town behind the church that we would not otherwise have explored.

            Seated in a little booth in a very quiet part of the coffee shop gave Chriselle and me another pause in our wanderings and a chance to talk and discuss the amazing sights we were seeing and the lovely experiences to which we were being subjected. About an hour later, after we felt refreshed and sustained by our cake and coffee, we left the restaurant and began the walk towards the bus stop.

 Return to Ljubljana:

            We had about a 20 minute wait before our bus arrived to take us back to Ljubljana. We’d had a very eventful day and were tired but in a very nice way. Since we were so full with our substantial and rather late “tea’, we picked up sausage rolls from the bus station in the capital city and munching those, we made our way back to our hostel—deciding that they would suffice well for dinner. It was not long before we arrived at our hostel and began to organize ourselves for our fairly early departure, the next morning, by coach to Croatia.  

                Slovenia had been a lovely introduction to Eastern Europe and we felt satisfied and happy by our sojourn. We looked forward very much to even more adventures in Croatia.

            Until tomorrow, cheerio…              


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