Apologies for the delay in posting this entry (and the next and final one). Strangely for our expectations of Europe we have in fact struggled to find easily accessible internet with USB connection to upload blog entries and photos. For instance in the town of Bled, the only internet computers are located at the travel agencies and you can only use them to search the web!
But to return to our adventures.....
In order to have a truly wonderful time in Slovenia - and we heartily recommend that you come to this country if you ever have the chance - we suggest you do as we did. After farewelling Zagreb and its wonderful tofu-tasting fair and towering funicular, we caught the train to Ljubliana, the capital of Slovenia. We then exited the train station and immediately got on a bus to Bled and didnt really look back!
Bled is an exquisite town in the mountainous north of the country, up near the Austrian and Italian borders. The setting is almost laughably picturesque. A compact lake sits perched in a valley surrounded by the Julian Alps, some of which are still topped with snow. A village on
the eastern shore is overlooked by a castle on a craggy clifftop and situated west of centre of the lake is an island. On that island is an impossibly beautiful church. The lake is six kilometres around the edge and takes a couple of hours to walk around, a walk we ended up doing nearly four times!!
Now dont worry if upon alighting at Bled you are advised that all the hostels are full and that the only beds available are dorm bunks. We ignored this advice from the travel agencies and instead split up and Leah walked the streets knocking on the door of any house with an Apartmanji or Sobe sign until she found a fabulous self contained apartment complete with cable tv and well stocked kitchen, with an upper floor balcony that had marvellous village and mountain views.
Having secured truly wonderful accommodation and instantly determining to spend not three days but a whole week in Bled, we set about filling our days. There is something exciting and challenging about exploring new cities and interacting with new cultures but we really really love getting into nature and our day at Plitvice had shown us just
how much we had been missing the outdoors and how much we would get out of spending time in a beautiful natural setting.
We headed to the recommended Triglav travel agency to check out their adventure activities. Having missed out on rafting in Montengro this was one of our main priorities and we wanted to do it on the Soca (Sorcha) River. After some back and forth we settled on the twelve hour Emerald River Adventure tour. This packed day out takes people to various sites around and on the Soca River and included two hours of rafting down the Soca rapids.
We dont know if it was the proximity to Salzburg but we seemed to have an overwhelming urge to climb ev'ry mountain, particularly Mt Triglav (2864m), the hightest peak in Slovenia. Unfortunately at this time of the year the peak was still covered in fairly deep snow and we didnt have the right boots and equipment. Instead we decided to climb the shorter and drier Debla Pec (2014m) with a local guide and booked this in for our last day.
We spent our first full day completing the first of our circumnavigations of the lake
and taking in the scenery from every angle. We climbed up to the castle which was surprisingly steep and jagged to get to and discovered a medieval exhibition complete with authentically dressed lords and ladies, demonstrations of sword fighting and other knightly skills which was great fun to watch. The compact Bled castle is ideally located on the top of a crag with sweeping views of the lake and surrounding country side.
After lunch on our balcony we tried to hire a row boat to get to the island. Unfortunately we couldnt find a hire place open and instead we caught a ride on a gondola rowed by an energetic local guy who had to stop several times to catch his breath but who got us there and back in a relaxed style. On the island we queued up to ring the lucky bell in the church. Apparently if you ring the bell and think of your wish and the Virgin Mary your wish will come true. Fingers crossed.....
Next day was our epic Emerald River Adventure. We were first taken up to the Julian Alps to a small lake at a town called Kranska Gora where a
statue of a golden horned goat, the symbol of the Triglav National Park, sits. We all climbed on and had our pictures taken riding the goat and hearing the legends of this mystical animal who also lends his visage to our favourite Lasko beer : )
Then off to the Vrsic Pass - the highest mountain pass through the Alps and some truly remarkable scenery. And some SNOW!! Yes we saw snow. Very very excited little Australians skipped and frolicked in the snow much to the amusement of the English and Finnish contingent on our tour group. But our guide had forseen such an event and provided us all with little plastic sleds and we gleefully tobogganed down a nearby hill. Wheeeeeeee!!!!
Off to find the source of the Soca River next. This river is without a doubt the most exquisitely beautiful river we have ever seen. It is an intense aqua/turquoise colour that seems to come from the purity of the water combined with the white chalky rocks it runs over through its course. The photos really do not do the colour justice.
Now as we headed up to a small spring in the side of
a mountain that is the Soca source, we must ask Leah's friends and family to at least try and be suprised when they read the next section.
Okay so as we near the source, Leah was attempting to join Evan on the other side of a small crevice when she, well she kind of fell INTO the source of the Soca river. Now stop sniggering!! It could have happend to anyone. Okay, according to our guide it actually hasnt ever happened to anyone on that tour before but there is still time and really the rocks were kind of slippery and unsteady. And my goodness that water was COLD. We are talking melted snow here people!!!
Back on the bus and heading off to our rafting adventure. Two hours of high energy rafting on the most beautiful river in the world?? Sign us up! This was such a highligiht of our holiday. So fun, so exciting, so much high adrenalin. We nearly fell out a couple of times and jumped out voluntarily another few times! At one point Evan got appointed stand in guide and had to navigate us through a rapid which he handled brilliantly. Things were
going fine until our new friends from Finland (perhaps in retribution of Ev's questions over lunch as to whether they had ever seen fresh fruit and vegetables or if they all came pickled in tins) started asking questions. "So Mr Guide, how did the Soca river get its name?" to which Ev quipped, "Because its Sucha nice river"!!
We traipsed around and under some gorgeous waterfalls (brrrrr) and other lakes until just before we headed home we stopped at the town of Most na Soca (bridge over the Soca river) where there is a small stone bridge with a diving platform 12m from the river below. Our guide assured us he had jumped off it before so didnt need to but if we wanted to we could - it was perfectly safe!! Once Mark from England had jumped first, Leah somewhat crazily decided to give it a go. Oh MY GOODNESS!! It was such a long way down that she had time to think, wow, I'm still falling, when will I hit the water? Before she plunged into the icy depths! Mad crazy girl moment that is for sure!
Having gained some dubious courage from this enterprise we
decided to book ourselves in for a half day of canyoning with a local identity known as Canyoning Bob who pretty much invented canyoning in these parts. Now aside from Ev having done this activity once before as a young boy, our only real association with this sport was hearing headlines such as "Twelve die in canyoning disaster in Switzerland" which is hardly a glowing endorsement. Canyoning, for the uninitiated, is a sport that involves wearing wetsuit, shoes, helmet and harness and climbing to the beginning of a canyon and following the flow of water through the crevices by climbing, abseiling, sliding or jumping off the tops of waterfalls. Now we both have an aversion to heights so this was a really sensible choice for a day out!!
The day was hot which was not a blessing as we slogged uphill in thick wetsuits and helmets! After an intial rapel down a gentle hill the real challenge began with our first jump from a low waterfall to a deep rocky pool below. Madness! But particularly after the final jump, almost of about 11 metres, we felt so proud and impressed with ourselves. Despite almost crippling fear at various points
during the day we had both conquered the canyon and lived to tell the tale! : ) To get back to the car we hopped into a river and floated on our backs - very relaxing way to travel.
We felt obliged to give Ljubliana a bit more than a passing glance so one morning we caught a bus back to the city to check it out. To be honest we were not greatly impressed with the capital and nothing we saw in the few hours we spent there made us regret our decision to bypass it for the pleasures of Bled! Admittedly there is a castle and a funicular but the funicular is a really modern one and the castle was actually pretty lame - particularly the "3D" movie about its history!
The highlight for Ev was the chance to visit the famed Hot Horse kiosk in the city park to try the local speciality of a Horse burger. : )
Our final morning we were up bright and early for our trek to Debla Pec summit. Our lovely guide took us part of the way by car and then we climbed through pine forrests, past
a mountain hut, snowy slopes and finally to the summit. We were entitled to write our names in the official list of persons who have reached the summit. From the top we had the most incredible views over the ridges of the Alps, inlcuding Mt Triglav. Wonderful experience. On the way down Ev enjoyed a beer and local sausage at the mountain hut. Mmmmm. Ev's Culinary Guide to the Fauna of Eastern Europe The European Brown Bear is a fine eating animal. Best consumed after the winter hibernation when the meat is nice and lean. Cut into thick steaks and serve rare and bloody with a nice pepper sauce.
The horse is a much underrated domestic animal best served in a burger formation. I also recommend wild boar, wild duck and goose. Served with at least three kinds of dumpling, these round out the fine game animals of Eastern Europe.
We hope you have enjoyed following our trip so far. We are heading home now and will post our final chapter when we get back.
Leah and Evan
PS Strudel has temporarily been pushed to the back burner in honour
of the local delicacy known as the Bled Cake. This insane cake features a layer of custard topped with whipped cream and sandwiched vanilla slice style between layers of flaky pastry. O. M. G. !!!
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