one of the most beautiful places I've been
07.06.2009 - 09.06.2009
After leaving the isle of Rab we climbed the mountains we dropped off of a couple days earlier and crossed the border into Slovenia. Croatia isn't part of the EU so we had passport controls both entering and departing Croatia. Entering Croatia we didn't have to get off the bus. Exiting we had to get off the bus and file one by one with our passports back into the EU. Then board our bus (which had crossed ahead of us).
I have been very extremely impressed with the scenery the whole way. The driver takes interesting routes - two lane routes - that take us through mountainsides, valleys and beautiful beautiful scenery. So in fact the bus rides have been something I have very much enjoyed and look forward to. I never sleep. Eyes always glued to the window to see what new and never before seen by me thing there is around the next corner. Most of the group sleeps on the bus. I'm not sure why. Everyone seems to go to bed at 9pm. So they aren't suffering from the lack of sleep.
We stopped for lunch in Slovenia at a castle. A castle built in front of a cave system.
Apparently this gave the occupants a huge advantage when under siege. The castle had been renovated (as renovated as castles go) and returned to it's original 'look' or so we were told. We poked around and took in the views.The castle was in some fairly gorgeous countryside. Oh and it was raining. The green pastures leading out of the castle valley to the poofy trees with cows munching the ultra green grass was really pleasing to take in. The guide arranged lunch at some sheltered tables at the one and only cafe and arranged a lovely spread of fresh cut veg, some local meat pastries from Rab and the usual bread, meats and cheeses. The local meat pastry was great. filo like dough with a spiced meat inside. Yum.
Our trip is scheduled to have a quick stop in Ljubljana. Ljubljana is a place I considered spending a day or two after lake bled. At the last moment I switched deciding instead to head directly from Lake Bled directly to Vienna. I am extremely pleased I did. After the major capitals and fantastic cities we have seen Ljubljana is a very quaint, but small college town. We basically had an extended potty stop here. The bus dropped us off and we were given a quick orientation and told "be back here in two hours" after a couple minutes I was ready to get back on the bus. No disrespect meant. It was Sunday, late afternoon and I still had a cold. There was no market and few shops were open. The town is small and aside from a couple buildings to glance at...well there really wasn't much else to do Okay there was a bridge with some dragons on it. oooooh.. Fortunately for me I bumped into Keven and Mari thinking the same thing. So we went and had a Cappuccino I was in dire need of a pick-me-up.
Many of us were waiting to pile on the bus and head to our next destination when Anton drove up. Once we were all accounted for we headed for the 30 min drive to lake bled. We took the expressway and as we left the flat lands mountains quickly appeared on both sides. Once we hit lake bled our eyes popped out of our heads.
Take a blue green lake with a cliff on one side. Have this lake be in the alps. Throw a castle on top of the cliff. Throw an island in the lake.Throw a church on the island and voila you have the fairy tale makings that create the resort town of Lake Bled.
Surrounded by soaring alpine mountains on all sides, having, once again, blue green water and all the makings of something from Disney, you wouldn't know that a castle in some from has been in the location for over 1000 years. White swans inhabit the lake and terrorize unwary tourists that think "oh I'll just go touch it" uh...no. Swans are huge and would just as soon peck your eyes out than let you get near them. Graceful yes. Domesticated? Not on your life. They are very protective of their swans - signs circle the lake telling folks in 3 or 4 languages to please don't feed the birds. AND what does everyone do. Feed the birds. People are funny.
Lake Bled, is as you can imagine a resort playground. They don't allow motorized boats and in fact we were told the only boats that are allowed in the lake must be approved. The hotels and shops are concentrated on one side of the lake leaving the rest of the lake area fairly free of development. There are the occasional palace and they did extend the one end a bit for Olympic rowing. But other than that the area is really gorgeous. They had one of those tobogganing things you ride a chair lift up on and then ride this track down...sadly it is only open on weekends and we were there on a Monday. Boogers.
We had one organized feature for our day at the Lake and that was a boat ride propelled by a gondolier to the island. It was early morning (as all our tour activities tend to be to beat crowds) and the water was gorgeous and reflective. We got in in the hotel area and the gondolier shimmied us in our flat bottom boat (read VERY TIPPY) to the island - one of the only ways to get there. The boat men, according to the book, are part of a "union" that has been run in the family for years. The union has something worked out with the bled officials and they are the only ones providing boats on the lake. The boats design and everything being passed down from generation to generation. So if you wanted to throw a boat in and hawk some boat rides you would be unable to - even if you provided a wood bottom boat. That's what we're told. More on that later.
We had to have a couple boats for our entire group and we carefully unloaded onto the island where you are presented with a gigantic stair case up to the church. It's customary for folks who get married in the area to bring their brides to the island and carry their brides up the monumental flight of stairs. As we were leaving another group was just arriving and some guy tried with his wife. I was hoping the island had an AED (automatic electronic defibrillator) cuz this guy was goin' down. Well, sadly, he gave up before entering the cardiac arrest zone. Would have made for a much better story had he keeled over and rolled down the stairs. There is a church on the island that is popular with weddings. Tourists can ring the bell for good luck - I rang it.
We piled back in our boats and headed back to shore. Our Gondolier - Roger - had gone to school in Baltimore, but he was born and raised in Bled. Grandfather and father did the boat thing. He was fun to chat with and had a great sense of humor. I asked why he wasn't singing...he reminded me I wasn't in Italy.
After the boat ride we had free time in Lake Bled. Part of my time was spent going to the pharmacy.
It used to be I would, for whatever reason, vomit in each country or continent Jimmy and I visit. I think it's part of a jet lag thing for me. My tummy gets upset with the time change. So far I have escaped it the last few visits and this one. This trip, however, I seem to have to have the pleasure of visiting the Chemist, Apothecary or pharmacists in each country. Sadly my cold didn't start until AFTER Poland. So I didn't have the bonus of having to use their system and getting to check them off my list...but I used them in all the rest. As I mentioned in Hungary I got some cold meds that weren't terribly effective, In Croatia I got some cold meds that were effective but decided against stocking up hoping I would be over my cold. When we got to Lake Bled I was decidedly NOT over my cold and had run out of my Croatian wonder drugs. Soooo first thing Monday morning I find the Chemist and do my usual song and dance "waters in nose" "sneezing" "Coughing" and present her with the box of the Croatian cold med variety. She did speak some English and told me they didn't carry that one. But had another with similar stuff but not with Patenol (You'll recall that really knocked down my cold aches). So I said fine. Give me a box of that junk and a box of patenol. She raised her eyebrows like "interesting, why didn't I think of that." and Gave me the dosage and I was off. I later had to go back to confirm the dosage because she didn't write it down and I could have sworn she said 1 tablet twice a day. She wrote it on the box. The dosage seemed weird. And indeed it was only moderately effective at drying my nose up. But using my Afrin for 3 days on/off seemed to be helping.
Of course we explored for food options.
walked around the lake.
There wasn't a whole lot to do but enjoy the views and relax so that's what we did. I walked around the lake and ran into this quirky artist on the far side of the lake doing 5X7 water colors of the island. He wasn't asking much for them so I bought one and he insisted on painting me (in silhouette) on the back. While he did so we chatted. He mentioned how living in such a beautiful place you would think the people who live and work there would be happy. He claimed they weren't. He had a nervous twitchy laugh but kind eyes and a harmless spirit. I said "well what about the boat guys - they must be happy" he said oooh they are the least happy of all. They are the local mob. And then he told me how they control the boats in the lake and how much money they make. All lore I suppose, but it was an interesting slant on it. He twitched on and giggled and grinned as he worked on the back side of the mini painting I had selected. He was a nice man. Ernest. He included some sort of "chart of bled" has circles and angles on it. No idea what it means. Went in the trash. I'm guessing it's some astrological chart thing. Too bad the other crap he included stuck to the little painting of me he did. Oh well.
I have been sweating a lot this trip. Sweating when it's cold because of walking with a bunch of clothing on generates heat but it's cold before you get going, sweating when you walk into European shops - for some reason they all seem to have their temps set at 90, sweating because it's just super hot. When I finished walking around the lake I walked by a shop that had some merchandise I wanted to buy. I went in and made my selections. It was on the way out only that I saw myself in a mirror and my face was shiny as wet high gloss paint. Streams of sweat were rolling down my forehead. I was mortified. It wasn't like I was jogging but lord I was a-sweatin. I'm sure the shopkeeper thought I was going through a heroin withdrawal or something. It was that bad.
We had our "farewell" dinner in Lake Bled. Peter organized a lovely meal. The group had a grand time eating and drinking. After dinner kind words and toasts were said. A tear appeared in an eye here and there. Peter gave us all a group picture taken at the winery some weeks before and some paprika. A sheet had gone around earlier for people to provide contact info. So everyone was just biding their farewells and lingering. You could tell there was a sense of not wanting it to end. The forced association of 27 folks for 17 days and 16 nights was suddenly going to be missed somewhat. You could tell folks didn't want to leave the restaurant because that would be the end. But it was. Our tour was over.
Earlier when Peter was organizing everyone's departures I discovered another couple and I had coincidentally purchased the exact same train tickets to Vienna and we were heading out in the morning from Lesc-Bled station. Peter the guide had arranged transport from the hotel to the train stop all we had to do was show up one last time.