I thought Amsterdam was supposed to be the bicycle capital of the world. Ljubljana can run a close second. The streets in the old part of the city are well suited for cyclists. I dodge them as we walk towards our pick up point for our day tour to Lake Bled. We have made it easy on our ourselves and taken an organised tour. There are seven of us tourists on the mini-bus.
Our driver / guide talks ninety to the dozen, filling our head with facts about Slovenia. I manage to take in that is has a land size of twenty thousand kilometres, and a population of two million people, who descend from Latin, Germanic and Slav tribes. 285,000 people live in Ljubljana, but the country is really made up of villages, which relate back to landholdings of rich foreign aristocracy at a point in time when native Slavonians were serfs working the land on their behalf. One interesting point is that much of the land was cleared for farming, and as people left the land, it became reforested. Now 60% of the country is forest, and this is now being cleared again as people return to the land. Since it is a small country, it is possible to work in the main cities and live in the countryside.
Lake Bled looks exactly as it does on chocolate box illustrations. We drive up to the castle, and gaze down onto the lake and the church in the island in the centre of it. It is only around 9am, and the morning cloud has not yet burnt off, so the view is slightly hazy. The castle is in good repair and has a museum and printing works inside. I am mildly interested, but not so much that I would have wanted to hike on foot up to it. It is the view that makes this stop interesting. And it is a beautiful view, the lake and township of Lake Bled spread out below.
Returning to the lakeside, we board a pletna boat to go out to the island. These are timber boats with a flat deck for carrying cargo. The capacity is around a dozen people, spread around evenly for stability. The oarsman stands at the rear and rows with two paddles using a figure-of-eight motion. After my experience in a rowboat I have a higher appreciation of his skill.
Later in the morning go into a hotel called Villa Bled. We are told this was Tito’s residence. Our guide said it was not Tito’s favourite, as he preferred the style of a hunting lodge, rather than the extensive marble of this villa. We are allowed to roam inside and see artefacts from his time. The most imposing is a four-walled mural depicting the partisan struggle in the Second World War. This room was a cinema in Tito’s time, and it leads out on to a long terrace with an expansive view of the lake.
We have chosen only a half-day tour, which allows time for only a short walk alongside the lake. The whole circuit would be around six kilometres, which one can walk or cycle. There is plenty of accommodation at Lake Bled, and we later discover that our train to Salzburg will pass by the local train station, so we could have just as easily chosen to stop here instead of Ljubljana.
I am not sorry with our choice though. Ljubljana is a great surprise to us. It is a very pretty city, with many fine bridges, including the famous triple bridge. That is to say, it is famous to anyone who had researched their destination. Exactly what purpose three bridges alongside each other was designed for is not clear to me, but they are very attractive and form the central hub and meeting place.
As in many places in Europe, the river winds through the centre of town. Around 7pm, Bill and I spend a lazy hour on one of the tourist boats plying the river. It gives us a good look at the buildings and the life in the parks, cafes and restaurants. The light is still good, night will not fall until around 9pm. We even see an otter, pushing his way through the ducks, accepting food from children on the river banks. I was not quick enough with the camera on that occasion.
After a simple meal at a riverside restaurant we stroll back to the apartment, winding our way through town squares with floodlit well kept official buildings. Just behind every view stands Ljubljana castle. Waddy and Jay had visited it earlier in the day, but that is one we have to say we missed. Castles, cathedrals and churches. It is easy to get overloaded on the grand European tour. But the music is always diverse. Tonight we listened to a group busking. Guitar, fiddle, recorder and oboe – traditional folk music, some of it even sounded Gaelic. Happy jaunty airs, just right for a happy summer’s evening.
Monday 15th July 2013, Garrulous Gwendoline, Ljubljana Slovenia