A Travellerspoint blog

February 2020

Boy gorge

semi-overcast 12 °C
View Urban Reverie Late 2019 on urbanreverie's travel map.

When I met my Airbnb hosts Natalija and Jure on my first morning at Lake Bled, they strongly encouraged me to visit Vintgar Gorge, a ravine several kilometres north of Bled town. They did warn me, however, that there was no public transport there, the shuttle bus to the gorge only runs in summer, and that I would have to seek alternative means of getting there.

I had a lazy Monday morning, I had some leftover snacks I had taken with me on yesterday’s hike at Lake Bohinj for breakfast, and I spent a couple of tedious hours at a laundromat just up the hill. Being the first weekday after a four-day long weekend, the town was suddenly D-E-A-D dead dead dead. I could have lain down in the middle of one of the main streets for hours and not get hit by a car.

I had lunch at a bakery-café opposite the bus interchange near my apartment. While I was having my coffee and pastries for lunch, I saw something I had never seen before – sunshine in Slovenia. Sun, glorious sun! I revelled in it, I turned my chair slightly at my outdoor table so my face could get the full force of that weird yellow object in the sky I hadn’t seen for a week since I was in Hungary.

In Australia I avoid the sun like the plague. Being of mostly British heritage, I have extremely fair skin and I burn to a crisp after a few minutes in the harsh Australian sun, even with sunscreen. I schedule my outdoor activities to late afternoons or after dark or days forecast to be cloudy in order to avoid the dreadful excoriating Australian sunlight. I hate being out in the sun and I simply don’t understand what goes on in the brains of Australians who love spending their days at the beach or playing sports or doing other activities that require being scorched by that blinding fireball in the sky. But in Europe, things are different. The European sun is gentle and golden and reassuring and wholesome. The European sun is simply nice. After a week of being denied the innocent joy of having my skin tickled by those life-giving rays, sipping my coffee in the sun was just too marvellous.

There was a small tour agency inside the bus interchange that advertised tours to Vintgar Gorge, I think for about ten euros they would drive you in a van out there and back and entrance was included in the price. I went inside and asked if I could go that afternoon. The tour agency owner sighed and said, yes, he would take me. He made it clear through his body language and tone of voice that he rather wouldn’t. I guess that having only one person in the van wasn’t very economic.

He told me to meet him at the tour office at three, when he picked me up in a van from the bus interchange and drove me north to Vintgar Gorge. The van travelled through gloriously green countryside in the sunshine. Slovenia looks even more bewitching when the sun is out. The Karavanke mountain range to the north, a forbiddingly solid range of mountains topped with snow, loomed in front of the windscreen. The top of the Karavanke range is the Austrian border.

After about ten minutes I arrived at the Vintgar Gorge car park. The driver said he would meet me back there at five o’clock. I showed my ticket to the park ranger at the entrance and entered the canyon.

Vintgar Gorge is a mile-long ravine carved from the rock by the Radovna river through a ridge that separates Lake Bled from the Sava valley around Jesenice. There is a path the entire way, much of it on a timber boardwalk suspended over the rushing river swollen by the heavy rain of the past week. The opaque river was the colour of turquoise, rushing down the gorge like liquified gems. The water bounced form rock to rock, over logs, through whirlpools, down flumes and into caverns along the side of the gorge. Above the river were limestone cliffs and trees at the seasonal pinnacle of riotous autumn colours.

About three-quarters of the way down the gorge was a beautiful bridge, a high stone arch span so far above I had to crane my neck to look at it. I opened Google Maps on my phone. It was a railway bridge on the famous Bohinj Railway. I opened up the Slovenske železnice website and looked up the timetable. A train was coming in eight minutes! Should I wait around to take a video of a train going over the bridge high above the rushing rapids? Well, duh! So I did.

At the downstream end of Vintgar Gorge, the gorge ends in a waterfall, Slap Šum, where the Radovna river falls down to the plains of the Sava valley. It wasn’t a very high waterfall but it was loud and powerful and very pretty. If Margaret & David At The Movies reviewed waterfalls rather than films, they would have given Slap Šum four and a half out of five stars.

It’s such a pity that I had to meet the driver back at the car park at a fixed time because I could have spent forever in Vintgar Gorge. It was just what I needed with my cold, an easy stroll in the pure mountain air along a stupendous white-water canyon on a brilliant autumn afternoon. So I walked back up the gorge along the boardwalks and rocky paths.

The driver met me back at the car park, drove me back to Bled town as the sun began to set, and I farewelled Bled with another stroll around the east end of the lake. I had one more kremšnita, this time at an open-air restaurant on a terrace looking over the lake opposite the castle. This restaurant claims to have invented the kremšnita back in the 1950s. It was very nice, but I still maintain and I don’t care what Slovenes think – the kremšnita is nothing but an Australian vanilla slice with a layer of whipped cream between the custard layer and the top crust.

After doing some packing and another hearty dinner at a traditional Slovenian restaurant – farmer’s sausage, stewed apples, baked millet porridge – I went back to the gostilna near my apartment. This pub is awesome, and not only because the walls are completely covered with licence plates from all around the world, including several from my home state of New South Wales. I had a stimulating farewell conversation with the bartender, the geography nerd whose company and conversation I had thoroughly enjoyed a few nights earlier. I did a very stupid thing – I forgot to ask if we could add each other to social media. I only dimly remember his name. So if anybody meets a friendly, talkative and somewhat awkward bartender with a slight lisp and a tremendous memory for geographic facts at a pub near the Lake Bled bus interchange, tell him that the fat bearded Aussie guy with glasses who used to live in Bathurst and told him all about Australian licence plates says hello and that I want to send him a jar of Vegemite because I found it difficult to explain what it tastes like.

Sun, glorious sun!

Sun, glorious sun!

Karavanke mountains and countryside north of Bled

Karavanke mountains and countryside north of Bled

Vintgar Gorge

Vintgar Gorge

Vintgar Gorge

Vintgar Gorge

Vintgar Gorge

Vintgar Gorge

Vintgar Gorge

Vintgar Gorge

Vintgar Gorge

Vintgar Gorge

Vintgar Gorge

Vintgar Gorge

Vintgar Gorge

Vintgar Gorge

Bohinj Railway bridge over Vintgar Gorge

Bohinj Railway bridge over Vintgar Gorge

Karawanks from the top of Slap Šum waterfall

Karawanks from the top of Slap Šum waterfall

Slap Šum waterfall

Slap Šum waterfall

Kremšnita and Bled Castle

Kremšnita and Bled Castle

Farmer’s sausage, baked millet porridge and stewed apples

Farmer’s sausage, baked millet porridge and stewed apples

Posted by urbanreverie 06:58 Archived in Slovenia Tagged waterfalls cuisine slovenia gorges Comments (0)

Slap in the face

rain 8 °C
View Urban Reverie Late 2019 on urbanreverie's travel map.

I am the kind of person who likes to have everything planned in advance. This includes holidays. I might not plan exactly what I am doing on every single day, but before leaving Australia I like at the very least to know how many nights I will be spending in each destination.

But I have learned from previous trips. Sometimes I have given myself far too little time in a place I ended up falling in love with (*cough* Taiwan *cough*), and spent far too much time in a place that I found less than pleasant (*cough* South Korea *cough*).

I have fallen in love with Slovenia in a way I had not anticipated and if it wasn’t for the fact that I had already booked my flight home from Italy months before leaving home, I would have been perfectly content to spend the rest of my time in this magical alpine republic.

With my blasted cold accompanied by persistent coughing, I had not been able to do all the things in the Lake Bled region I had intended to do. Also, Slovenia is full of Italian tourists. In contrast to the rather more congenial Slovenes, many of the Italians I encountered were quarrelsome, rude, disorderly, can’t drive for shit and can’t queue for shit. Motorists on Slovenian roads are on the whole very competent, safe drivers, but every time I nearly got killed by a driver going the wrong way down a one-way street or not stopping at a zebra crossing while going thirty kilometres an hour over the limit, the car always – ALWAYS – had Italian plates.

So despite my preference to have things planned beforehand, I am prepared to be flexible. Italy could wait. Thus it was with very little regret that I sent Natalija and Jure a message on the Airbnb app to ask if I could book another two nights at their holiday apartment in Bled. They joyfully agreed.

Not that I was planning to spend the extra two days in Slovenia moping around in the apartment. It was time to go chase waterfalls. Of course, perhaps going on a long hike in torrential rain on an 8 °C day isn’t the wisest course of action for someone recovering from a respiratory infection. But I have spent a lot of money on this holiday, I only get four weeks a year off work, and damned if I’m going to let some stupid microbes stop me. Also, the weather forecast for Slovenia showed rain every single day for the foreseeable future – it had barely stopped raining since I crossed the border with Hungary. If I wanted to see stuff, I had to brave the rain and suck it up.

I packed my daypack with some drinks and groceries I had bought the night before from the Mercator supermarket, zipped up my Macpac hooded rain jacket, tightened the straps on my daypack, and walked across the road to the bus interchange. The bus to Lake Bohinj arrived on time and took me around the southern shore of Lake Bled then west up the Bohinj valley along roads lined with thick layers of autumn leaves.
Bohinj is a basin-shaped east-west valley surrounded by the soaring peaks of the Julian Alps. As the valley gets higher towards the west, the valley walls get narrower and steeper. The jewel of the valley is Lake Bohinj in the valley’s upper reaches, a perfect gem of a lake fringed with pines, framed by kilometre-high cliffs studded with waterfalls.

The most famous waterfall is Slap Savica – “slap” being the Slovene word for “waterfall” - at the westernmost extremity of the valley, where water collected across the Triglav plateau tumbles down to the lake far below. The bus terminated at Zlatorog, a campground at the western end of the lake. It was a four kilometre walk from the bus terminus up the valley to the waterfall.

The rain had been steady yet bearable all morning but a few minutes after disembarking from the bus it became almost indescribable. I used to live in Brisbane, a city with a humid subtropical climate notorious for its summer afternoon thunderstorms. Many afternoons around four o’clock in summer the heavens would open and rain would not fall from the sky as individual drops, but as sheets of water. At least the saving grace of Brisbane thunderstorms was that they were always over within fifteen minutes. The rain here in Bohinj was like a Brisbane storm, but it didn’t end.

Despite my rain jacket and wrapping things up in my backpack in plastic grocery bags and wearing good hiking boots, I got soaked to the bone within minutes. Every part of me, even the bits under three layers of clothing like my upper body, every single possession, were utterly saturated. My Lonely Planet guidebook for Slovenia was turned into mush. I am lucky that my passport was stored in a ziplock sandwich bag inside a passport pouch around my neck, it stayed dry.

Muttering self-admonitions under my breath along the lines of “I’m a f#$%ing idiot” and “what the f@#k was I thinking?”, I walked up the wide gravel bushwalking track from the Zlatorog campground. It paralleled the Sava Bohinjka river, a swollen cloudy grey torrent, the water impatient to reach the Black Sea off the Romanian coast via the Sava and Danube rivers.

After about forty-five minutes I reached a car park, this was the entrance to the Slap Savica in Triglav National Park. There was a small two-storey guesthouse and restaurant only open to guests, and a tiny little kiosk – a cabin that sold lollies, soft drinks and souvenirs. The lovely lady who operated the kiosk saw me trudge up the track dripping wet. I sought shelter for a little while under the tiny verandah at the front of the kiosk hoping that the rain would ease a little. Without me even asking for it, she offered me an umbrella. I love Slovenia.

The rain wasn’t getting any lighter, it was no use waiting any longer. I continued on my way up the steep track with plenty of stairs and tree roots to negotiate. About twenty minutes later, my efforts were copiously rewarded. Slap Savica is not the most powerful or majestic waterfall I have ever seen – thank you, Iceland, for spoiling every single waterfall I will ever see henceforth – but what a magical place nonetheless. It is one of the more unusual waterfalls I have encountered. My ears were nearly deafened by the enormous roar of water falling – no, not merely falling by mere gravity alone, but shooting – through a narrow limestone chute from the top of the Triglav alpine tundra plateau down into the Bohinj valley. The water was being ejected down the chute with such force that the spray assaulted my face like pins and needles. I guess you could call it a Slap in the face.

The sound was so uncomfortable and the spray was so annoying that I kept walking away, I couldn’t tolerate it for more than a minute at a time. But every time I started to walk back down the hill, I kept being drawn back. There was something almost magnetic about Slap Savica, it had a preternatural quality that I could not quite put my finger on.

There wasn’t much else around. The viewing platform was a small platform with a timber roof that did nothing to stop the spray attacking visitors. Inside the platform was a stone tablet erected in the nineteenth century commemorating the visit of some minor Austrian royal. Whoop-de-doo. Has there ever been a royal household so pompous, so narcissistic, as the Habsburgs?

I walked back down the hill and handed in the umbrella to the lady at the kiosk. I was so grateful that I bought some drinks even though I had brought plenty with me from Lake Bled. I even bought a Slap Savica fridge magnet which now graces my refrigerator. I then went back down the same track along the Sava Bohinjka to the Zlatorog campground and walked about another kilometre east along the south shore of Lake Bohinj. This lake is one of the most spectacular I have ever seen. It looked magnificent even in the low cloud and driving rain. I can’t imagine how great it would look on a sunny day. Lake Bohinj stretches east-west along the line of the Bohinj valley and on either side of the lake to the north and south the Julian Alps soar into the sky. The lower parts of the slopes are full of pine trees and autumn colours while the upper slopes are sheer limestone precipices with waterfalls rushing down the sides. It’s the kind of scenery Australians only ever see in deodorant commercials.

On the highway just east of Zlatorog on the south shore is a cable car station. I bought a ticket and didn’t have to wait too long for a cable car to take me up to Vogel, a ski resort in the southern Julian Alps.

The cable car ride up to Vogel was a tad scary thanks to the wind and rain. The view over the lake and valley was magnificent – what little I could see through the raindrops on the windows of the cable car was magnificent, I mean – but about two-thirds of the way up there was no view at all due to cloud. After a few minutes I arrived at Vogel. Being November there was very little snow on the ground and no skiers, I had the place to myself. I went outside to explore but lasted all of five seconds before I rushed back into the main building to hide from the dreadful wind and cold.

I spent about an hour up there, drinking coffee in the empty resort bar and restaurant. I tried to dry off. Downstairs there was an enormous public toilet, presumably with enough room for all the people to change in and out of their ski clothes. There was a bank of electric hand dryers along the wall. Since I had pretty much the entire resort to myself I stripped off to my underpants and tried to dry my clothes. I wrung my clothes out as best as I could but it was no use – the dryer was no match for my saturated clothing and footwear.

After about thirty minutes I thought I was making progress – at least my socks were semi-dry. It was no use for my pants or shirt or boots. As I was waving my clothes in front of the dryer the door to the restroom suddenly burst open. A whole army of garrulous Chinese tourists barged in and marched past while I was standing there almost naked waving my wet clothes in front of the hand dryer like a madman. Christ almighty.

There was absolutely nothing to detain me at Vogel so I caught the cable car back down to the lake. I hung around in the equally desolate base station waiting for the next bus back to Lake Bled. The bus was very empty at the lake but filled up at each little village the bus stopped at further down the valley, mostly university students returning to Ljubljana on a Sunday evening after a weekend at home. It was well after sunset when the bus got back to Lake Bled.

I went back into my apartment, spread out all my clothes on every single piece of furniture I could find, had the hottest, longest shower – I am amazed that I didn’t break the apartment building’s hot water system – and ate an enormous yet unsatisfying pizza at a nearby gostilna. I returned to my room coughing my lungs up, hoping that I hadn’t given myself pneumonia.

Bohinj valley at Zlatorog campground

Bohinj valley at Zlatorog campground

Track from Zlatorog campground up to Slap Savica waterfall

Track from Zlatorog campground up to Slap Savica waterfall

Sava Bohinjka river downstream from Slap Savica

Sava Bohinjka river downstream from Slap Savica

Slap Savica

Slap Savica

Slap Savica

Slap Savica

Slap Savica

Slap Savica

Slap Savica

Slap Savica

Sava Bohinjka river

Sava Bohinjka river

Sava Bohinjka river

Sava Bohinjka river

Lake Bohinj

Lake Bohinj

Lake Bohinj

Lake Bohinj

Vogel cable car

Vogel cable car

Zlatorog campground and Lake Bohinj from Vogel cable car

Zlatorog campground and Lake Bohinj from Vogel cable car

Lake Bohinj from Vogel cable car

Lake Bohinj from Vogel cable car

Posted by urbanreverie 05:00 Archived in Slovenia Tagged waterfalls mountains lakes rivers slovenia bohinj ski_resorts Comments (0)

Žive naj vsi narodi

overcast
View Urban Reverie Late 2019 on urbanreverie's travel map.

I woke up on Saturday the 2nd of November with my raging cold turning even worse. At least the pharmacy was open that day. So I got up, washed and shaved and dressed, and walked to the nearby pharmacy. The chemist told me to keep taking the tablets I bought in Ljubljana but he also sold me a severe-looking bottle of very strong cough syrup. I swallowed my first dose and expeirenced almost instant relief.

Still, all the things I had intended to do in Lake Bled and the surrounding region - bushwalking, chasing waterfalls, perhaps even cycling and mountain climbing - were still out of the question. I decided to just take it easy.

Now that I wasn't coughing my guts up so much and spraying my filthy germs everywhere, I decided it would be safe to go on a little cruise. Lake Bled is famous for its rowboats called "pletna". These are similar to Venetian gondolas but pletnas are propelled with two oars, not poles, and there is a canvas cover over the passenger benches.

I paid a lot of money for my pletna ride, fifteen euros. There were eighteen passengers on my pletna, the pletnas only depart once full. I did the sums - two hundred and seventy euros is more than what I earn in a day. If a pletna owner does three or four trips a day, he would be living like a king, even accounting for the winter months when the lake ices over. I can't imagine there would be too many expenses apart from paying off the loan for the boat's construction. There are no engines to maintain, no moving parts that break down apart from the oars, and maybe a public liability insurance policy, a new coat of hull paint and deck varnish once a year and a new canvas cover every few years would be the only regular expenses. Still, I can't imagine these expenses would take up a huge proportion of the revenue. How do I become a pletna captain?

The boat took off from the main pletna wharf near the casino and the captain stood on top of the stern, rowing the boat using a very similar motion to butterfly swimming. It was very placid, there was no sound apart from the rhythmic gentle splashing of the oars.

After about fifteen minutes of rowing the pletna arrived at Bled Island, we were given forty-five minutes to explore before we had to take the same pletna back. This was ample time, it is only a small island. The seventeenth-century church is cute but is rather plain on the outside. But on the inside - wow. The gilded altar and apse is probably the most elaborately ornate I have ever seen in such a small church. The greatest thing about this church is that there is a rope dangling in the aisle. You make a wish and yank the rope, and the church bells ring. So this is why the bells are constantly ringing all day and echoing across the lake!

There are also the famous stairs leading up to the church. Tradition says that every Slovenian groom has to carry his bride up the ninety-nine stairs. I must ask my diminutive Slovenian colleague at work if he did this.

I caught the pletna back to town and pondered whether I should visit the castle. The only ways up to Bled Castle were by taxi or on foot. I decided to walk up the precipitous outcrop. I reasoned the exercise in the pure mountain air would help boost my immunity.

Bled Castle is one hundred and twenty metres above the lake shore. That's a long way up. There is a marked trail leading up to the castle from the town that zigzags up the outcrop's eastern side. I took it nice and slow, stopping often to catch my breath and admire the breathtaking view.

My efforts were rewarded with amazing views from an amazing castle. The place was busy, being a long weekend, but that didn't detract from the vista over the entire lake, the surrounding mountains, and the town of Bled far below. The castle itself was interesting, there was a mediaeval swordfight reenactment in the bailey as well as an excellent little museum with information about the history of Bled. A Swiss medical practitioner by the name of Dr Rikli founded what would now be called a "wellness retreat" by the lake in the mid-nineteenth century. What we now call "lifestyle diseases" were beginning to affect the European middle and upper classes thanks to the great wave of Victorian industrial prosperity: obesity, hypertension, diabetes. Dr Rikli built a health resort in which patients were required to undergo a strict regime of walking, sunbathing and a bland diet with no alcohol. This worked for many patients, of course, but some found the temptation to eat tasty food and drink alcohol too great, so they snuck out of Rikli's resort and frequented nearby inns. Soon a cottage indsutry of inns, hotels and baths sprang up to cater for all these visitors, and Lake Bled has been a popular tourist attraction ever since.

The sun had set by the time I finished with the castle, but the path was softly lit. I had dinner at a gostilna - a pub/restaurant combination that is common in Slovenia - and fell in conversation with an eccentric young bartender with a mild speech impediment and the most astounding capacity for amassing general knowledge. The barman was a geogrpahy nerd just like me, and I was so surprised when he let it be known that he had heard of Bathurst, a country town of thirty-five thousand people I once lived in for two years. He knew about Bathurst's annual car race and its goldrush history and that it was on the other side of the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. He could name every Australian state and territory as well as their capital cities. Keep in mind that he had never been to Australia. I was not expecting a Slovenian bartender to know so much about Bathurst. That would be like me knowing everything about Celje or Maribor. I might be a geography nerd but my skills only stretch so far. I dips me lid.

Pletna on Lake Bled

Pletna on Lake Bled

Pletna on Lake Bled

Pletna on Lake Bled

Bled Island from the approaching pletna

Bled Island from the approaching pletna

Church on Bled Island

Church on Bled Island

Interior of Bled Island church

Interior of Bled Island church

Bled Castle

Bled Castle

Bled Castle

Bled Castle

Bled Castle drawbridge

Bled Castle drawbridge

Bled Castle bailey

Bled Castle bailey

View southwest from Bled Castle

View southwest from Bled Castle

Bled town from Bled Castle

Bled town from Bled Castle

3D elevation model of Lake Bled district

3D elevation model of Lake Bled district

View from Bled Castle at night

View from Bled Castle at night

Posted by urbanreverie 02:46 Archived in Slovenia Tagged boat church lake pub castle bled pletna Comments (0)

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