Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Feeling Love" in Bled, Slovenia

We flew from Romania to Budapest and drove immediately back out of Hungary and into the country of Slovenia. Slovenia? You may ask. Not to be confused with Slovakia. Truly Slovenia is a hip and happening Eastern European country post Communism. It felt even more modern than Belgium! Clean, organized and almost a bit Scandanavian (except with less English). It ended up being one of our favorite places. The map with the arrows shows our route. In true Willingham style we covered a lot of ground!

The Slovenes have done an excellent job of branding their country. Their logo is this catchy "I Feel Love/SLOVEnia" saying posted all over the country and tourist materials.
The travel bureau is working double time. My interest for the country first peaked when a Slovene rep made a 'pitch for travel' presentation at the American Women's Club. The photos of the mountains, quaint towns, and wonderful food were enough to hook me!

After a grocery store run in a superstore as sophisticated and with as much variety as any American chain, we made it to our hotel, Penzion Berc. It was an ambitious day of travel and we were all three pleased for a hotel floor picnic dinner and early bedtime.This first Slovenian stop was 2 nights in the town of Bled (a.k.a. Lake Bled since it circles the lake). Rick describes Bled best as "Slovenia's leading mountain resort, complete with a sweeping alpine panorama, fairy-tale island, cliff-hanging medieval castle, lakeside promenade, and the country's most sought-after desserts." Sounded like our kind of place!The Julian Alps are all around. And the castle punctuates the lake scenery up on its dramatic perch.
Unfortunately our first day thick clouds and strong rains descended. We managed to walk around a bit and take the last boat to the little island in the middle of the lake before storms came.The little island is the site of weddings and wedding traditions. The adorable Church of the Assumption atop comes complete with a rope and a bell pull right at the altar. Kirk rang it for good luck - the clang, clang, clang pealed out over Lake Bled! As Rick instructs, "Don't leave without a trip out to the island, reachable by charming pletna boats — or if you're game, a brisk swim. The little island, topped with a super-cute church, nudges the lake's quaintness level over the top. The island has long been a sacred site with a romantic twist. On summer Saturdays, a steady procession of brides and grooms cheered on by their entourages head for the island. It is traditional for the groom to carry — or try to carry — his bride up the 98 steps from the island's dock to the Church of the Assumption. About four out of five are successful (proving themselves 'fit for marriage'). The church was closed and weddings here outlawed during the communist era. But the tradition reemerged even before the regime ended, with an illegal, clandestine ceremony in 1989. Superstitious locals (and every tour guide in town) claim that ringing the church bell will make your dreams come true. Close your eyes and give it a ring. When you open them, you'll find yourself on an enchanting island in the middle of a stunning alpine lake." These panels of Christ's crucifixion was a particular marvel.The rains came but didn't ruin our parade. Our fellow boatriders remembered to bring umbrellas from their hotel and were kind enough to share with us!
After our island journey in the rain we beelined it to a pizzeria warm with its brick oven. The pizzas were delicious. We thought it especially creative the way they cut Connor's pizza like a checkerboard! Slovenia is renowned for its "Slow Food" movement. Food is prepared locally and organically - it strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and promotes farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem. Not sure this pizza place exactly qualified, but the Slow Food movement is just one other way this country is a irresistable destination.All three of us took long afternoon naps - the month of nonstop travel started to catch up with us and the rainy day was perfect for deep daytime sleep. Then it was time for even more eating! We didn't want to miss out on one of the area specialties.
While you're in Bled, be sure to enjoy the town's specialty, a vanilla-custard-and-cream cake called kremšnita. This dish was first created right here in Bled, at the big, red Park Hotel. Slovenes travel from all over the country to sample this famous dessert. This pastry melted in my mouth. It was delicious!!! Perfect with the Slovenia soft drink, Cockta.
We left with smiling bellyaches and decided the pastries would count as our dinner.

We walked around the lake in the intermittant rain to try to get some exercise and counteract all that sugar!
Thankfully the next day was as blue-skied and clear as the prior one was cloudy and rainy. I skipped down to Lake Bled from our hotel to photograph all the areas that had been so foggy the day before. Honestly it was like someone had pulled back a stunning alpine curtain revealing the beauty all around us. It felt footloose and fancy free to be nestled right where we were!
The colors and wonder of Bled were unforgettable. What a travel highlight!


Sara said...

Absolutely beautiful!

Rezal said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog.

Best of luck to you!