Getting here is never much fun, this time highlighted by ferocious thunderstorms on the way to Dulles and a tight connection in Frankfurt that had us racing through the airport, panting all the way, but we – and our luggage -made it with minutes to spare. Our driver from Ljulbjana to Bled got us here quickly, despite texting all the way.
After a much needed nap, we spent more than half an hour on my phone trying to get Alison’s phone enabled to place as well as receive calls. No luck, though the Verizon rep promised she would keep working on it. Luckily, it was pouring down rain and we were exhausted, so it was really the best way we could have spent our time. The technology will drive you crazy if you let it… An early dinner in the hotel – venison, wild boar, and very Central European dumplings – hit the spot.And so to bed for almost twelve hours.
We awoke this morning to clouds that quickly dissipated to reveal sparkling sunshine and a fresh breeze, a real Sunapee day. While Alison went to the bank and the grocery store (really), I took the tourist bus to Vintgar Gorge, a half-hour ride through small villages and up and down switchbacks to Bled Castle and so to the gorge. And it was gorgeous! I had been a little concerned about the high bridges and narrow path, but it was so beautiful and easy to navigate that the height didn’t bother me much at all. The Vintgar river roared down a narrow way with steep cliffs on either side, or proceeded placidly down stream, revealing its clear green water above a sandy, rocky bottom. Building the trail must have been rare fun – wooden walkways directly over the water, multiple bridges, back and forth for almost two miles. It was so beautiful that you just have to look at the pictures. At the end of the trail (though I could have continued through the mountains) there was a beautiful view of the river and the alps. On the way back, I noticed all the cairns along the river bank and added my stone to one of them.
Thanks to the couple from northern Virginia who took my picture! Alison and I met for lunch, then wandered down to the lakeside to get a pletna (rowboat) to the island. The rowers wait until a boat is full, then set off across the lake at a leisurely pace – though they still get a good workout. The church on the island is so photogenic that we both had to take dozens of pictures, of which this is the best. Arriving at the island, we climbed the 99 steps – shades of the Tuscan hill towns! – up to the church. Inside are baroque altars and the remains of older frescoes depicting the life of Jesus, complete with his bris. The tradition is that you ring the bell three times, if you can do it, and get your wish. Alison named this the Crossfit challenge, so of course I had to jump with all my strength to show my strength. A quick stop at the gift shop and we had exhausted the pleasures of the island.
We took a different boat back so that we could, at Rick Steves’s suggestion, visit the former villa of Marshal Tito. It’s been a hotel since 1984 and it’s hard to tell how different it might have looked back in the good old days of Yugoslavian communism, but for one feature: the Soviet Realist style murals that have been carefully preserved in an otherwise empty room on the second floor. We enjoyed this view of the Partisans conquering the Nazis, although as I recently read (in Jan Morris’s Trieste book?), they were no kinder to their Yugoslav enemies when the time came… Here are Tito conquering the Nazis, and the triumph of Communism, complete with farmer and factory worker walking hand in hand and the vigorous mother and child waving the flag.
We strolled in a leisurely way back around the lake to Bled, enjoying the mute swans and the incredible views of the castle and the Julian alps, barely covered in snow at the very top. Then back to the room for a rest before dinner.