BootsnAll Travel Network

Bled: Row row row your boat

A few years ago, back when travelling was something that other people did, more adventurous and assured people, I remember speaking to a mate who had just spent two years overseas.He spoke to me about a town in the Northwest of Slovenia, a sleepy little town nestled at the foot of the Julian Alps. It wrapped itself around a small lake, he said, in the centre of which was the tiniest of islands with nothing but a church on it.And you could hire yourself a boat and row out to this island and ring the church bell, which was said to grant your wish. The reason I remembered all this so clearly was because the name of the town was Bled. And how can you forget a name like that. So on September 26th, Bec and I travelled just 2 hours Northwest of Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana (for those who have been struggling, it’s pronounced something like Loo Biana), and arrived in the town of Bled.

There was a hostel in town, but at 20 Euros each for a dorm room, was dreaming if it thought we’d go there. Especially when for just 21 Euros each, we could get ourselves a self-contained apartment with double bed, bathroom, kitchen, living room, and balcony. The local travel agency hooked us up with an apartment, and the owner came to pick us up and drove us the couple of minutes from the town centre into what seemed like a fairytale land. Hmmm, how to describe it? I think if you pictured a small village in Austria or Switzerland, with mountains rising all around, and two and three storey white cottages with steeply sloping roofs and smoke slowly rising from chimneys sitting beside winding quiet streets, you might be pretty close to picturing the outskirts of Bled.

We were shown into the apartment, which sat above the car port separate from the main residence, by the elderly couple who owned it. Neither spoke any English, and the old man, whilst friendly, soon made himsalf scarce. The old lady, on the other hand, immediately took a shine to Bec. She took Bec by the hand and began showing her around the 4 room apartment – here’s the bed, she indicated, smoothing down the doona smiling. She led us into the kitchen, where she showed us everything fromthe bottle opener to the tea towels, all the time smiling and laughing. By the time she’d shown us each room twice, her and Bec were like best friends, and the two had a hug before she’d even left. We’d only been at the place for 10 minutes!

Before she left, she took our passports – standard practice so she could register us with the local police. We organised ourselves to walk into town, and were soon ready to go, but the old lady had not returned, and we weren’t sure if she was coming back with our passports or not.

“Maybe we should just wait a couple more minutes.” Bec suggested.

Not 2 minutes later, she returned, carrying more than just our passports. Cradled in her arms was a basket full of fresh bread, a plate covered in ham, chesse, and prosciutto, a caraffe of red wine, and a cold bottle of beer. That’s lunch covered then. Each place we go, the welcomes seem to get warmer, and the people more generous. You can’t help but smile and shake your head. We hadn’t even been to the famous lake yet, and Bled had won us over.

That afternoon we took a leisurely stroll around the lake, snapping away with our camera. The lake is surrounded on all sides by tree covered hills. But on the Western shore, breaking through the treetops like a fist through a door, was a vertical cliff face, atop which sat Bled castle. Reflected in the still lake, it was as dramatic as it was peaceful.

I’m not normally much of a hiker – bushwalking and hiking were things I had generally only done on school camps, back in the day when when Will Smith was still the Fresh Prince.But after our day at the Plitvi√®ka Lakes in Croatia, I was looking forward to seeing some of Slovenia’s Julian Alps on foot. First was the Vintgar Gorge, about an hours hike from Bled.The walk there took us out of Bled, walking on a quiet road running between open paddocks, the mountains looming ahead of us, and then through Podhom. The curiously named Podhom seemed like a massive deserted farm, but with 50 houses instead of one. Narrow roads led us behind sheds and past tractors, and the village was almost silent, but for the laughter of a young girl playing near a trailer full of hay. She gave us a shy smile as we walked past, and we grinned back at her, probably looking like aliens with our colourful backpacks and weird hair.

Past Podhom, and we reached the entrance to the gorge. Emerald green water ran quietly underneath us as we walked on a narrow, rickety wooden footbridge. The wooden path then began hugging the cliffs, raised just above the water level, and we followed the current as it turned from gentle stream into raging torrent, the brilliantly clear water crashing down rocks into pools full of fish. For 1600 metres we followed the water as it swerved and carved and crashed and paused, ending at the top of a 30 metre water fall. Yeah, I could get used to this hiking caper.

Our second and last day in Bled, and all we did was hire a little boat, row out to the tiny island, and ring the church bell. And that was enough. Sitting out on the calm lake, slowly pulling oars through the water and watching clouds float above us, the grins on our faces were stuck, like kids at the circus.

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