Saturday, September 12, 2015

Slovenia, part two: Bled

After the Alzheimer Europe Conference closed (you can read Susan’s description of the conference at we took the train to Slovenia’s celebrated resort town of Bled.  At least we tried to take the train.  We had purchased tickets in advance, knowing the train would take us to a town near Bled from which we could get a bus.  But the trains don’t run to that town on weekends, so we took the train to a bus that took us to another bus, but it all worked in the end.

We had never visited a European resort town before, but we chose a very nice one.  Bled is nestled on “the sunny side of the Alps” and features a beautiful alpine lake (oddly enough called “Lake Bled).  A walking/biking trail meanders around the lake (on our first stroll we ran into a friend from Rome), and there is an island one can ride to in traditional boats called pletnas ( that are rowed by a man standing in the rear of the boat – all quite romantic.  On the island is a church perched atop a hill (many steps to climb) that every Slovenian couple wishes to be married in.  It is traditional for the groom to carry his bride-to-be up the steps in his arms, a feat at which about ¾ of grooms succeed.  During the Communist era, church weddings were forbidden, but in the waning days of the regime weddings resumed on the sly.

There is also a castle ( above the lake that dates to 1004.  To reach the castle from the lake one negotiates a long series of switchbacks and then climbs 226 steps (a lady who was quite proud of herself counted them on her way up).  It is lit at night in orange, and the sheer cliff below it is lit in white: simply breathtaking.  

Behind the castle loom the Julian Alps.  It was raining when we first arrived, but snowing at higher elevations.  We watched the snow recede over the next few days.  Have I mentioned that it is simply a beautiful setting?

We visited the summer palace of Marshall Tito, now a hotel with glorious grounds.  It features, among other things, a gigantic slingshot.  I assume Tito enjoyed picking off the occasional Pletna to relax from the stress of being dictator.

So in Bled one walks and boats and climbs.  Those who are so minded can scream down a steep hillside on a kind of toboggan thingie, but we were not so minded.  Rather, we focused on the other things one does in Bled, which is to eat wonderful food and drink Slovenian wine.  When we first arrived we were fortunate enough to find Okarina (, the restaurant Rick Steves calls the best in Bled, and obtain a reservation for that evening.  It is small, features eclectic art (including Egon Schiele prints in the bathrooms), and the odd combination of Slovenian and Tibetan food.  Okarina alone would justify a visit to Bled.  Hey, Paul McCartney ate there!  We hit it off with the manager, a delightful lady, who squeezed us in again for our final night even though the restaurant was fully booked by two private parties (we ate in a small nook while the rest of the room was occupied by 14 British diplomats who were there for a conference on Europe’s migration crisis). 

We also developed an odd fondness for the bar in the Grand Hotel Toplice, where most of the guest appeared to be elderly Brits; a nice spot for a nightcap while gazing up at the lights on the castle.  All in all, it was relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable to be in this beautiful setting.  While waiting for the bus that would take us back to Ljubljana we ran into the manager of Okarina.  “So, you are really leaving?”  Yes we were; it was time to get to know Ljubljana better.

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