If you read my journal entry from this morning, you know that today I took a day trip out of Ljubljana that visited Vintgar Gorge and Lake Bohinj in the morning. In that post, I kept you in suspense as to the afternoon destination. All can now be revealed. I went to Lake Bled, Slovenia’s most visited tourist sight.
On top of a craggy hill beside Lake Bled sits an old castle. We drove up there first. Our tour guide (I’m calling him Rocco, but that probably misspells his name), told us that if anyone wanted to go inside, he would leave them there, drive down to Lake Bled, and then come back to pick up the castle-goers in an hour. (We had almost three and a half hours at Lake Bled in total.)
He said if we do that, and we want to take in one of the often-visited sights down at Lake Bled, we wouldn’t have time for a nice lunch. We’d have to just grab a sandwich or a slice of pizza to go. (This made up my mind in a direction you can guess.)
One of the women on the tour (I’ll call her LA because that’s what I called her in my morning post) asked Rocco if the castle was worth it. (There’s a €15 entry fee, but I think she meant worth the time, not the money.)
Rocco replied, “Well, in my opinion, it’s not much, but it has a million-dollar view. So for €15 you get a million dollar view.”
I think he meant a million U.S. dollars, which I believe are close to the euro in value now.
LA asked, “Can’t we just get out, look at the view, and then head down with you.”
“No, you can’t walk around the perimeter of the castle. There’s just a path to the entrance and you’d only see a sliver of Lake Bled. The view is from inside the castle.”
LA and one other woman opted to stay, but negotiated with Rocco to come back in 15 minutes to half an hour rather than an hour.
The rest of us, Rocco and the three remaining passengers including me, drove down to Lake Bled. It’s exceptionally scenic.
I choose a restaurant beside the lake because Rocco recommended it for a special menu item. No, not the main course.
The mains didn’t look exciting. I chose a rocket (aka arugula) salad with chicken. It was acceptable, but not exceptional.
I also had a glass of wine. Wine improves everything. Except maybe physical health. But never mind that.
The item Rocco recommended is a dessert. In 1953, the chef at Lake Bled’s Hotel Park adapted a cream cake to create something unique. In English, it’s called simply Lake Bled Cream Cake. The cake is so special has a geographically protected designation.
According to Rocco, the restaurant by the lake, which is in front of the Hotel Park, is the only one that uses the original recipe. That’s the one I ate at. Apparently, other restaurants around the lake do their best to replicate the cake, but the hotel keeps some of the ingredients secret.
They promote it as a three-layer cake, but I dispute that.
The bottom official layer is a reasonably thick layer of custard, stable enough to hold its shape.
The next layer up is even taller. It consists of vanilla cream that is likewise stable enough to hold its shape.
The top official layer is a thin, crispy, wafer-like component.
The way the restaurant cuts it, the layers together roughly form a cube. While I was there, I saw countless servings pass my table. And, of course, one stopped at mine. It was scrumptious.
Oh, and I think word has gotten around among the birds in Slovenia that I’m not such a bad sort. Like on my first day in Ljubljana, I had a friend join me while I was eating.
But I dispute that count. On the bottom there is an also thin layer of something like the crumbles you find on, say, the top of an apple crumble, but with a different taste. And they put so much icing sugar on top that I’d say it qualifies as a layer on its own. If it were up to me, I’d count both of those layers. But very little in this world is up to me. So, never mind.
Lunch taken care of, I spent some time gazing at Lake Bled. Picture a lakeside resort town. That won’t give you the specifics, but it gives you a sense.
There are hotels, spas, villas, restaurants, and such clustered around where we stopped. The hotels aren’t mammoth, but some aren’t tiny either.
It wasn’t near where Rocco let us off, but one section of the shoreline appeared to have a number of single family structures by the shore and up the hill behind it.
And there are some more isolated structures dotted around the lake.
I can understand why people want to come to Lake Bled. With the lake and the treed mountains behind it, it’s tranquilly beautiful. I don’t know if I’d say the same thing if I visited in the high season. It wasn’t terribly crowded today.
It’s so lovely that Tito, a communist leader of Yugoslavia when there was a Yugoslavia, had a summer villa there. Today, it’s a hotel. He also had another building at Lake Bled just for his servants. It’s still there, but I don’t know what purpose it now serves.
On the other side of the lake from where Rocco let us off, a small hill of an island is not far from the distant shore.
There are only two ways for the general public to get to the island. One is an electric boat. I saw only one on the lake and I don’t know how frequently it runs.
The other way is a traditional Lake Bled boat. I took one of those to the island. They don’t run on a set schedule. Instead, they wait until they fill up a boat and then it leaves. There are a number of boats and they fill one at a time.
The boats share the same motive power as gondolas in Venice, namely human muscles. I think they call them rowers here, not gondoliers, but like gondoliers they stand on a platform at the back of the boat and row from there.
Unlike gondoliers, the rowers here use two oars, not one. They row by both pushing out their arms and simultaneously thrusting their bodies forward, and then pulling them back and repeating the process.
And the Lake Bled boats are quite different from gondolas. They have a canvas canopy over the passenger section. And their passenger configuration is different. They have a bench at the front of the boat big enough for two passengers. They also have benches facing each other on the sides of the boat that are long enough to accommodate seven passengers on each side. I was on a full boat with 16 passengers, plus the rower. He had to row all of us, plus a boat big enough to accommodate us, plus the canopy all by himself. I imagine that the rowers either get in shape or die trying.
I think the boats leave from a few points on the lake, but from the one near where Rocco took us, which is almost the farthest point on lake from the island, it took the rower 25 minutes to get us there and another 25 minutes to get us back.
When I boarded, the boat they were then loading had three empty spots on it, one on one side and two on the other. I sat in the single spot, figuring they don’t leave until they fill the boat and a couple might want to sit together. The rower asked me to move to the other side. Even though he wouldn’t leave until he filled all of the spaces, he wanted to keep the boat balanced despite still being at the dock.
Different people have different weights. He hadn’t rowed very far before the rower asked two people on opposite sides of the boat to switch sides so the boat would be better balanced.
When we arrived at the island, the rower asked that the two people at the front of the boat leave first (exiting off the stern). He then asked the rest of us to exit one at a time, from the front and alternating sides—one from the left, then the right, then left …—until we were all off.
They sell only round trip tickets. I went over with one rower, he gave everyone on the boat 40 minutes to look around, then everyone had to come back with same rower.
According to Rocco, the island in Lake Bled is Slovenia’s only island. He lamented that their neighbour, Croatia, has thousands. But Slovenia has only this one tiny island.
When we arrived at the island, a trio—two accordions and a guitar—played and sang what I assume were Slovenian folk songs to greet the arriving visitors.
The island is small. There are only a few buildings on it, and they pretty well fill up the island. There’s a church and a bell tower near it. There are also some small buildings that they use for a souvenir shop, a café, and a small museum.
It costs €12 to visit the church, the museum, and the bell tower. When I got to the ticket booth, the ticket seller told me that I could go into the museum and the tower, but I couldn’t go into the church for another 30 to 40 minutes because a wedding was going on in there. Of course, that would have been too late to get to the boat.
I think I’ve been museumed out on this trip. And the tower probably offered nice views, but not €12 worth. So, I wandered along the path around the perimeter of the tiny island, took in the views, and sat for a bit until it was time to get back on the boat.
The boat returned me to the mainland about 10 minutes before I had to meet Rocco for the ride back to Ljubljana, where I ended my day.
I head back home tomorrow. If all goes according to plan, I have a flight from Ljubljana to Frankfurt. I then have a little more than four hours in the Frankfurt airport until my flight back to Toronto leaves.
Barring either of my flights being cancelled, and barring my first flight being delayed so long that I miss my flight to Toronto, this will be my last post on this trip to Croatia and Slovenia.