Slovenia – Hidden gem of the Balkans: Part 2

When I entered “Where to go in Europe in January” into Google one of the results that came back said “Lake Bled” I’d seen this place before, the church on an island in the middle of a lake. I always thought to myself “Yeah sure it’d be neat to visit there” but never thought I’d go out of my way and dedicate a holiday to it, after seeing images of the white fields and snow-covered island through a computer screen waking up on the morning we were to go to Bled was pretty exciting, to get out of the city and do some real exploring, my kind of trip. We were planning on going to just Lake Bled, a friend told me she’d been to another lake as well but couldn’t remember the name but we just brushed that aside, when we were telling the hostel worker about our plans she told us that we had to go to Lake Bohinj as well, so we did. As it turns out this was the other lake my friend was thinking of, and it was 100% worth it.

So we get on the bus to Lake Bled, you can buy your tickets either in the bus station or on the bus itself, I would recommend going into the station as they point you to the right bus terminal, can’t buy your ticket on the bus if you don’t know which bus to get on to. The bus goes from Ljubljana to Bled then Bohinj before turning around so to visit both lakes you can buy your tickets in multiple different ways just depending on the order you’re visiting the lakes, we just asked in the bus station for this and they helped us out, also the bus drivers were happy enough to tell us where to get off at the two lakes. The bus station at Bled has a map outside showing you the way up to the castle, we obviously paid no attention to that and just aimed ourselves towards the big hill we could see.

See that big hill?! We’re going up it!

The day before had drenched my shoes so I had to use my spare pair, they happened to be Converse; definitely not at the top of any budding mountaineers list, I persevered and we managed to get to the castle clambering up a steep, icy, unmarked path with only a few minor slips. We arrived at the top to see people that had been on the same bus as us coming up a large, gritted gravel road; the lesson here is to read the signs. Or don’t, we all agreed this was much more fun, getting off the beaten path is always a bit more exciting. The castle which dates back to the 11th century, although most of what is there now is 16th century, is the typical medieval fairytale castle standing atop a precipice over 100m above the lake containing all the necessities to be considered a real castle: a moat, towers, ramparts and a viewing deck giving the most stunning views. You can explore the walls of the castle, look out over the lake from the viewing terrace; unfortunately for us there was a lot of mist in the direction the terrace faces so there aren’t any good photos. Aside from the castle itself the main feature is the museum that depicts Slovenian history all the way back to the 6th century, although there are rocks and minerals dated back tens of thousands of years; you can receive a small souvenir coin from the forge, a visit to the wine cellar means you can pour, cork and wax your own bottle of wine served to you by an actual castle monk, he shunned me when I told him I wasn’t a massive wine drinker. The last feature of the castle is a printing press which houses a reconstructed Gutenberg press, the world’s first, here you can make yourself a certificate using the press. Overall, the castle was a great visit, there’s also a restaurant at the top I can only imagine is gorgeous in the summer, however it wasn’t for us, so we descended back down to the lake, this time we picked a different treacherous path, apparently falling up a big hill isn’t as scary as falling down one.

Don’t worry they said, you’ll be fine they said

So for this entire trip we’d been excited about the snow and ice because it was totally new to us, so we reach the bottom of the hill and come out on the lakeside and realise it’s entirely frozen and we just stand in awe for a couple of seconds until the silence was broken by “I’m standing on it!” followed by shouts of “No!”, “Don’t you dare” and “Stop it, you’re gonna die!” all the typical buzzkill things. Boring. After trying to stand on it I realised they were definitely right, however, this did not stop me trying in different spots all the while all three of us finding the biggest, heaviest thing we could and throwing it; humans are clearly very similar creatures as there was tons of debris all over the lake. If you’ve never done it before skim a coin or a stone on a frozen lake, there’s something unexplainable about the eerie noise it makes as it sails off into the distance ringing out.

You can take the boy out of England but you can’t take England out of the boy

Cremeschnitte (Cream slice) is a popular, mostly, Central European dessert that consists of puff pastry with Chantilly and custard cream; in Slovenia it is associated with Bled where the original cake was brought to the Hotel Park in 1953 by the chief confectioner and since then over 10 million have been sold at the home of the “original Bled cake”. Being English we normally find ourselves subject to jokes like “I bet you’ve been looking for a cup of tea since you got here.” Working in pubs also makes me aware that the people that say it think they’re the first person to ever come up with that joke; and for all you trainee comedians out there, you aren’t, sorry. I had been craving a cup of coffee since arriving, seeing as the tea on mainland Europe isn’t tea, it’s hot fruit drink and that doesn’t count! Also one of us had never had a coffee so he decided if he were to have one it should be with a cake that some regard as a national dish so we set about finding the Hotel Park, tea/ coffee and cake is basically a national pastime in England so this was pretty special for us. So 3 slices of the traditional recipe, they also had a chocolate variety, 3 lattes… and 1 disappointed idiot later we ventured back to the bus stop and headed to Bohinj.

As breathtakingly huge as Bohinj was, and we live next to the sea it takes a lot for a large body of water to impress us, the best bit of the journey there was the journey itself; as the bus weaved in and out of mountain passes, alongside rivers, farms and even through a village where the buildings had sections taken out of them so larger vehicles could get through. Lots of water might not amaze us, mountains however blew us away; personally I’d never seen any so close I could reach out and touch them but going through them as the sun set and mist rolled in to cover the snow tipped caps was something else and was an incredible sight to behold.

Obviously these aren’t the ones I could touch
These are…

While our spontaneous trip to Bohinj worked out well and didn’t require any alterations to our plans we definitely should’ve arrived earlier; it was an already misty day and by the time we got there the sun had almost set and the lake was enormous, it’d take an entire day to explore on a normal day so arriving at 5:30pm in the winter wasn’t the best idea. It was worth the trip though; we were the last people on the bus when we got there so it clearly wasn’t a popular idea either, the driver assured us that there would be a bus every hour headed back to Ljubljana so we hopped off and headed for the lake which was right next to the stop, no sign needed this time. So we thought Bled was pretty frozen, and then we saw Bohinj: at least 2 or 3 inches thick at the shore, the shore which was made of small, rounded pebbles was also entirely frozen and pulling them out of the ground was impossible. I decided to hop across a few rocks sticking out because “It’s still not safe to walk on.” I get a few feet out, turn around and they’re both walking towards me across the ice; I was not pleased, and if they’re reading this you’re both never being forgiven for that.

After letting them know how heartbroken and betrayed I was we explored a little more of the lake but figured we’d better get back to the bus stop just in case it arrived a little early. While heading back to the bus stop we decided to try out our wolf calls, where else better than a misty, ice-covered mountain valley? It was all great until we heard a call come back, I’m not saying it was definitely a wolf, but wolves are occasionally observed in Triglav Park, oh, and then we tried another howl and heard one back… again. We got back to the bus stop with what we thought was 20 minutes until the bus was due to arrive, 20 minutes later and no bus, 30 minutes, 40 minutes, after about an hour of waiting we started to get a bit worried; we were in the middle of nowhere, in the pitch black, temperatures of -7C and there was probably a pack of wolves looking for us. So I did what any wannabe vagabond would do: I rolled a cigarette, put my hood up and laid back on the bench. A lot of people ask me “Did the bus turn up eventually?” obviously it did, as we headed back I just thought to myself how many memories I’d made in just 2 days in Slovenia and prepared to say goodbye to the country the next day…

Took me an entire day but I stood on the damn frozen water! Bigger than Jesus

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