Slovenia's Lake Bled
16.08.2013 - 19.08.2013 28 °C
Before I start talking about my travels here, I just want to highly recommend Slovenia to anyone.
I travelled here with my girlfriend, Lydia, for a little break after I'd just came back from Benidorm on a stag do and didn't really want to stay in the UK. I'd read a bit on Slovenia before and was aware that it was a fairly mountainous region, especially to the north. The outdoors is something I'm found of and researched a bit more of the area. I then came across Lake Bled. The picture I found on Google doesn't even do it justice. The lake has no motorised engines, boats etc on it. Just oars.
I'll rewind a couple of hours or so to the beginning of the journey. We had to travel from North East England down to Stansted airport just north of London at about 2 in the morning. I was a tad hungover and Lydia didn't seem that excited to go. Being the bad boyfriend I am, I was off work for 3 weeks but she was still working. I managed to convince her to leave her job and come away. Something that in hindsight was one of the best things she's done. Where she was working wasn't ideal for her. Long hours, basic pay and zero job satisfaction.
The drive down was horrendous. I was still feeling a bit rough from the stag do and was far too tired to concentrate properly. Lydia was worrying about work and what she'd just committed to. When we arrived at the airport, we headed straight for the pub and tried to get the holiday in to a positive frame. The plane journey wasn't the best either. Whilst I was on the there I've got to admit I was regretting the trip a little bit but it was far too late to do anything about it. The pilot announced that we weren't far from landed when out of nowhere luscious green mountains were appearing all around the plane. The whole area was just green and there were tiny towns and settlements dotted around. It looked gorgeous. On the descent in to Ljubljana we could just about make out Bled and the lake it sits on.
We landed safely and a few minutes ahead of time. Lydia smokes so the only thing she was bothered about at this point was to have a cigarette. We must have waited outside whilst she had a smoke for about half an hour. The sun was shining and it was a nice temperature but I was keen to get there. By this point it must have only been about 10 in the morning, so we hailed a taxi down and asked how much to Bled. €30 he told us so we jumped in and began the journey.
We passed a lot of billboards for outdoor activities; hiking, white water rafting etc. One thing that did stand out was the amount of billboards for casinos. I wouldn't have associated Slovenia with casinos and was quite surprised as to how many there were. On the final stretch of the journey, we passed loads of camp sites,log cabins, smaller hotels and apartments and then out of nowhere we drove over the top of this hill to see the lake in all it's glory. It looked stunning. The mountains in the backdrop still with a bit of snow on, turquoise water and a typical European picturesque town. We looked at each other and were instantly overwhelmed with it all.
We were dropped off at our hotel (Hotel Trst) which was just set back from the lake front, behind another hotel. We booked in to our room to find that we had been given a lake view room which was to our delight. The views from that room encompassed a large portion of the Julian Alps and also Bled's castle. As we only had 3 nights here, we wanted to get on with exploring so with a quick shower and change parade we were out the door to see what the place had to offer.
Walking out of the hotel we were straight on the main road that loops around the lake and following that anti clockwise took us lakeside. I honestly could not believe the colour and tranquility of the water. Towards the western edge of the lake is a tiny island that houses a church and with passenger boats powered by one mans oar taking you there, we couldn't resist. It took about 15-20 minutes to get to the island where the boat docked and everyone disembarked. We were greeted instantly by a number steps leading up to the church itself. On the left as you walk up is a Christian little shrine. To be honest, we probably should have paid more attention to the church and found out the history behind it but we were too enthral led by the views. At the top you could see Bled in it's glory. The famous tabogoning could be heard with people screaming at their enjoyment. The beached area which was packed full of travellers. The castle over looking the lake and the restaurants and bars at it's feet. We roughly had half an hour on the island before we were ferried back.
We wanted to scope more of the area out so began seeing what restaurants were around for us to eat in tonight but knowing Lydia, we ended up in a bar having a social few before carrying on looking. Somewhere to eat is easy to find around there, the place is littered with different restaurants and street food tenders selling great food at decent prices. We settled for a restaurant just off the initial front row of lakeside shops and it was lovely. It reminded me of a little Tapas place you'd expect to see in Spain.
After eating we realised it was getting late so we headed back to the hotel to get ready and enjoy our first night here. The sunset is nothing to be shunned about. You see it casually dressing behind the Alps with an extraordinary glow coming through the cravasses. That night we relaxed in "Devil's Bar" just off the lakeside and enjoyed a few vodkas and lagers before calling it a night.
We didn't really know what we wanted to do the following morning so we headed to the little square where the shop was to grab something to eat. In this little area different cafés offering (what we could only interpret) as traditional Slovene breakfast - hot dogs. Neither of us were complaining like as we both love hot dogs. After quickly scoffing them down, I had a quick look at the shops encorparated in to this area. There was all sorts. Jewellers, clothes shops, tattoo shop and a taxi rank to name a few. Lydia seems to be obsessed with jewellery and one little shop caught her eye straight away. We wandered over and whilst she was looking through this little chics stock, I noticed that they also hire out bikes. This was a perfect way to see what the western and northern edges of the lake had to offer.
"How much for 2 bikes please?" I asked. The lady told me that it was €4 per bike for the day. I was a bit taken aback by that as I was expecting more like €20 each for the day. I looked at Lydia and with her little smile that she does when she knows I've got my own way, the bikes were ours for the day. The road going round Bled is pretty busy especially mid morning to mid afternoon so I told her to ride in front and to head for that little beached area we saw the day previous. On the way, there was more cafés and restaurants dotted about on the south western edge of the lake but nowhere near as built up as where we had just rode from. We stopped for a split second to take in what was around us. I spotted a house set amongst the trees that looked like it had been featured on Grand Designs and is something I aspire to live in in my later life.
We carried on riding round towards this beached area only to find that is was already full. It literally looked like no one else could fit on this tiny area so we parked up in a cafe on the other side of the road. Behind this cafe was a massive camp site that couldn't be seen until you were practically at it's front gate and there was a lot of people coming in and out of it. We sipped our well deserved drinks and soaked up the sun. This is what holidays are about. Relaxing with those closest to you and creating memories.
We continued riding clockwise and found a grassed area where there were more people taking in the relaxed atmosphere and enjoying the sun. We decided to stop for a while but by this point, grey clouds came from nowhere and it began to rain. Luckily next to this open grassed area was a little tree line that sheltered us and everyone around this area for about 20 minutes. It didn't look like it was going to die down so I said to Lydia let's just go, it's only a bit of rain water. She reluctantly agreed and we hopped on our now soaking bikes to crack on with the journey. As you approach the northern edge of the lake, it raises it's elevation every so slightly which then creates a gradual climb up to the foot steps if the castle. Before the climb ventured away from the lake, there was a lot of people scrambling around two men. Being the nose beggar I am, I wanted in on this and find out what was going on. One man was holding an Itallian flag whilst the other was holding a massive fish that they'd just caught from the lake. Both of them were jumping for joy.
The rain at this point had eased off but it was still cloudy and looked as though it could turn for the worse at any point. We found another cafe that overlooked the lake which on further looking, had it's own private swimming area for guests to take a dip. It had a couple of slides for kids wanting to have some fun (wasn't just restricted to kids, adults were allowed on too) and seating area for people to bask. We sat down and ordered a couple of drinks when the clouds were starting to clear and the sun and warmth were returning. I reckon we must have been at this cafe for a good 3 hours before I mentioned that it's probably time we head back and get ready to go out for a meal.
On the approach to the lake on our first day, there's a lot more hotels dotted alongside his route that are a good 5 minute walk from the lakeside. I mentioned that we should maybe eat up there tonight and explore a bit more. On walking up there, we were both unaware at the time that the restaurant we had chosen to eat at was a Best Western hotel; a chain that we were both farmiliar with by living in England. We sat on the terrace with views of the lake and once again the sunset was fantastic. For some strange reason, we were both in the mood for fish. I think it might have been the big fish tank that they had on display and I joked about that being our food. In all fairness, the fish that we had was gorgeous. Neither of us could fault it.
Once the plates had been collected and the bill settled we walked back to the lake. We felt as though there wasn't much happening further up that road so didn't bother with it. As we approached the lake there was a sign in massive letters: "CASINO". I hadn't told Lydia about my gambling times, wasting thousands on FaceBook's Zynga poker game so I hinted that we went. She seemed quite excited to go in and after we both registered, we entered the tropical themed casino. It was tiny and nothing I'd experienced the year before in Vegas but what can I expect, it's not a gambling scene is it so of course it wasn't going to be like Vegas?!
I changed €50 and began playing on the BlackJack table when a woman approached us and asked if we'd like any drinks. This WAS like Vegas! I ordered two lagers and Lydia got a double vodka lemonade. The money was constantly up and down as I was becoming more and more intoxicated by these free alcoholic drinks. I moved on and tried explaining poker to Lydia whilst I played my first hand. I didn't realise how hard and complex Texas Hold 'Em is when explaining the rules to someone. I gave up in the end as she was a bit drunk too. Flittering between these two games, it was safe to say I must have lost €150 that night. Never mind.
On exited the casino, we noticed that "Devil's Bar" we were in the night before so we sat down and had a couple more in there. It was quite busy and I remember a trio of Irish girls sitting on the table next to us. They must have been on a trip around Europe as they were talking (rather loudly) about where they had been etc. Lydia got up to go to the toilet and at this point I was asked by one of the girls if I could take a picture of them. I agreed and she noticed I was English and asked the general "Where are you from? What are you doing here?" Etc etc. Once Lydia returned we moved on and at this point she was a bit piddled. When she's like this, it's quite hard to convince her she's had enough and it's time to call it a night. I thought I'd managed it at one point until, literally 50 metres from the hotel, there was an upstairs bar which seemed to have a but of an atmosphere. She dragged me up there excited but stumbling all over.
I got her a cocktail in this bar and myself a local pint of Union lager. I think the most I paid so far for a pint was €3 so I wasn't moaning when the whole thing came to €7. The bar wasn't anything special but seemed to be a popular one as when we left and got back to the hotel, I could hear the music blasting well after 4 in the morning.
The next morning, Lydia woke up rough and couldn't remember leaving the casino! I opened the curtains to find the same grey clouds meeting us and the rain soon started. We walked round to the same hot dog loving place and wondered what we could do today. This was after all our last full day here. One place we hadn't been yet was the castle so I suggested we ventured up there and see what it was all about. The route up took us past a smaller, more modern church before winding up and around some residential streets. We had a quick look in the church to see what it was about to find it had a little souvenir shop. I laughed and mentioned that we should get some "I love Bled" tee shirts which Lydia seemed to love. I was confused band said we'll come back tomorrow to get them. I thought we were lost and just climbing for the fun of it when we finally saw the castle gates. It reminded me of a smaller castle I had seen in Bratislava with the terrocota tiles and white walls. Little did we know by this point that the castle was a museum and it explained the history of Bled and it's surrounding area. Although the cloud sere in and it was raining, it was still humid and the views were great. We could see all of Bled and the neighbouring towns, the Julian Alps and the church island in the middle of the lake.
After looking round the museum, I found a different way to get back to the lake. It took us down a path through a massive over growth of trees and conifers. It was gorgeous but was soon over. When we emerged on the other side of the trees, we were nearly this hotel/restaurant that looked really modern and appealing. After doing something I wanted to do, it was Lydia's turn and she suggested we stop at this place for a drink and scope out the menu for maybe coming back tonight. We sat down outside but under a sheltered part as it was still raining. I went inside to use the toilet to find that the restaurant looked amazing and instantly wanted to try out the food tonight. We made reservations and asked the shift manager if we could get a really good outdoor seat. We were both excited and looked forward to our last night in Bled.
We returned a couple of hours later after being showered and changed and to much delight that the clouds had disappeared and the sun was beginning to set behind the mountains. We were sat down just outside the restaurants decking area with a band a matter of feet away from us. Before they started playing they introduced themselves and they turned out to be quite a successful Itallian band playing an array of styles of music. They started playing, the sun was setting and the food was brilliant. It was something like out of a romantic film and quite surreal. After the food, we stayed for a few extra drinks before heading to a bar.
The bar was perked above the casino and was packed. We got a bottle of wine and carried on with the romance that had been created naturally. This was how I wanted the final night to go. It was perfect and neither of us wanted it to end. That walk back to the hotel seemed to take an eternity as we were both walking slow to drag it out.
That morning was an awful morning as we wanted to stay longer. We now had the trouble of finding a lift back to Lljubjana airport but first, breakfast was needed. We went to same the place we had went to the previous mornings. Whilst sat down with our baggage and eating our hot dogs I noticed that the shop we hired the bikes from also did a taxi service so I asked about a lift to the airport. "€25" the same woman said and I agreed to pay the price. She told me that her son would meet round the corner and take us there. We didn't really know what to expect, vehicle wise and were greeted by a bright yellow van that resembled the mystery machine in shape. I was buzzing as it was a pretty cool car to own.
The journey back to London was horrible. We were both depressed and was already planning our trip back (which still needs to be arranged). If and when I am to return, I think a week is just enough to time to explore and do everything. Since I've left, it's been a never ending love story with Lake Bled and also Slovenia!