Bled to the Rescue

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

I hate to admit it, but I was starting to get a little down on Slovenia. I mean, I loved Ljubljana, with the Plečnik and Art Nouveau architecture, and the ballet was definitely memorable, but the various small towns I'd spent the past few days visiting were not overwhelming. Don't get me wrong, they had their moments, but the guidebook (combined with my imagination) built them up a little much. I felt more like "that's nice" than "wow". I was thinking maybe I should have spent the whole week in the capital...

But then, I arrived in Bled. Bled knows how to bring the "wow". Bled is a small tourist town on a medium-sized lake. The town itself is nothing special, but medieval notables saw fit to grace the lake with a castle and two churches. Now, I know what you're thinking, "Castle and two churches? Sounds a lot like the towns you were getting tired of." But Bled is in the mountains. Its castle is high on a hill with a steep drop down to the lake. Still sounds like the same old thing? I know, but when you see the pictures, you'll understand. As for its churches, one is on a smaller hill, also overlooking the lake. But the second, Bled's main attraction, is on an island in the middle of the lake.

I actually arrived last night, and Slovenia was doing it's usual (to me) thing of nice day, rainy evening. The gray clouds, fog, and mountain mist lent an anachronistic medieval feeling to the scene. I could imagine dreary, oppressed peasants staring out at the lake and hoping some horrible lake monster didn't emerge to steal their cattle. Way high up on a hill, the knights wouldn't have been able to make it down from the castle in time to save poor Bessie and her calves...

Just so you don't get the wrong idea, Slovenia isn't as gloomy and gray as I make it sound. The people are warm and friendly, the buildings are colorful and the natural landmarks are full of life. I've just hit the country in the middle of an unusual (so I'm told) streak of bad weather that's been going on since May. The afternoons are a little dreary, but so far all of the mornings have given me sunshine.

With that pattern in mind, I decided to get up early and catch the first boat out to the island church to avoid getting caught out on the lake during the inevitable afternoon shower. The main way to get to the island is by gondola. You can also rent a canoe, and I saw some swimmers playing around the island, although I have trouble imagining they actually swam to get there.

The gondolas depart from several docks, and I boarded at one of the two farthest from the island. It was a good 20-minute ride across 3/4ths of the lake. Our gondolier was working hard, although he confided in me that he snuck quick breaks under the pretense of slowing down to let us take pictures.

The boat ride was relaxing and scenic. Once we got to the island, we had 30 minutes until our gondola headed for home, although we were allowed to board any gondola that had room, for the return trip. The trip over was free, but it was $12 to get back to shore.

Thirty minutes was plenty of time to see the island, unless you wanted to just hang-out and relax for a while. There was a church, a small museum and a cafe (oh, and a gift shop of course). I did a quick pass through the museum: first floor creche scenes (my favorite was an abstract set done in simple red clay), second floor clay dolls with "the traditional folk costumes of the countries of the European Union", and took a look inside of the church.

The Church of Mary the Queen (Cerkev Marije Kraljice) contained several Baroque altars and some Gothic frescoes. It also had a rope you could pull to ring a bell. According to legend, a woman had a bell cast in honor of her dead husband. When workers were taking the bell out to the island, their boat sank, the bell was lost and they all drowned. The woman was now extra distraught and became a nun. When she died, the pope donated the current bell in her name.

It cost a few euros to get into the church, so I went ahead and pulled the bell to get my moneys worth. Later I read the pamphlet I had been given containing the above story and saw that the bell was a wishing bell, and I should have made a wish. I made a retroactive wish, but I don't know if it will come true if I tell you what it was.

Back on dry land, you may recall the bike race I was stopped by yesterday, well last night I noticed someone bikes out of a van in Bled. I did some investigating on the internet and found out today's stage for the Tour de Slovenia started a block from my hotel. The gondola got back to the mainland a few minutes before the scheduled start, so I decided to go over and check things out.

It turns out the start of a 171 km bike race isn't very interesting. The racers start out under a caution flag for a few kilometers to prevent accidents leaving the starting line. Also, I noticed yesterday the middle of a bike race isn't very interesting because the racers zoom by at 40km/h (which doesn't sound quite as fast when you convert to 25 mph, but it's fast enough). I've decided the best place to watch a bike road race is probably in front of the TV.

Having seen the bikers off, I decided to head up to the castle while the weather held, although the clouds were starting to once again dominate the sky. There were two ways to get up to the castle: drive or walk. I chose to drive. You may think that makes me lazy, but when I saw three red-faced Japanese guys who walked up from the lake looking like they were about to have heart attacks, I knew I made the right decision.

Bled Castle (Blejski Grad), dates from at least 1011, although it underwent several renovations due to a few earthquakes (including  the big 1511 quake) and general periods of disrepair. I spent some time walking the castle grounds, admiring my future kingdom. As seems to be the norm, admission to the castle included admission to a museum. This one was fairly interesting, with multilingual (English, German, Italian, and Slovenian) descriptions and videos. It went through the history of the castle and Bled, mainly using items excavated from the area.

As I left the castle, rain began to fall. It was only a light rain, so I took a stroll around the lake, pausing frequently to admire cute ducks, and up to the non-island church (Sv Martin), before grabbing dinner and heading back to my hotel.
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