In order to go to the Slovenian town of Bled, famous for its idyllic setting, we had to get back to Austria for a little bit. The town of Bled comes highly recommended by every guide book. One cannot go to Slovenia and not go to Bled. We needed a rest anyway from the cold and from riding every day so we thought about staying 2 nights. Entering Austria was as difficult as leaving Austria. Little did we know that Austria would not let us go in or out without going over some tricky roads! The passes we had to take to get in or out of Austria were not that high, Paulitsch Sattel at 1338 meters, Schaida Sattel at 1069 meters and Kleiner Loibl Pass at 720 meters, but all had their own tricks up their sleeves. Having passed our baptism last year in Italy we managed each pass just fine, albeit it was hard work getting through all the hairpin curves, the narrow roads, the sometimes scary drop offs. We got a great workout, our arms hurt, and our necks pained us from looking up and way over through each hairpin curve. Some passes were so isolated that I thought about what I might have to do to get help, just in case. We were just the 2 of us riding the tricky roads. No time to take pictures, just hang on, do the right thing, get past this dangerous section, then get ready for the next twisty. One by one, we managed yet I can tell you these not so high passes were surprisingly difficult. We entered Slovenia again and again I had to get used to the names. How to you pronounce “Trižič “?
Once we arrived in Bled we were determined to be in the center of town. We saw a sign on a nice looking hotel, room with breakfast, double occupancy for 50 Euro a night. Great! We could not park or even stop in front of this hotel and had to find the back alley first. Once there we got off the bike and… the hotel was closed. Nice looking place but closed. I guess you can put any price on a place if you are closed. I tried the hotel next door but there the price for a room was 120 Euros per night. Even crying a little only brought it down to 96 Euros. I passed. The young man behind the reception of the open 3 star hotel heard me cry so loudly and had pity on me and told me about an apartment nearby that rented on a daily basis so we checked there. We got the room for 40 Euros without breakfast. Parking was in front of the door, we had a kitchen and while there were 52 steps up to our room (Carol counted them) and the place was old, run by an older lady that needed extra income, it was just fine. The apartment had the best location in town, too. A supermarket one street over gave us what we needed for food. We were ready to explore the place.
One of the things to do here is to walk around the lake. About a 2 hour walk. We passed. We have seen lakes before. Another thing to do is a boat trip, one guy rowing you and others to a small Island near the center of the lake for 12 Euro per person. The Island had a few trees and was so small it only had a small Chapel in the center and nothing else. We passed on that one, too. I am not that fond of Churches, Cathedrals and/or Chapels. That leaves the main Church of St. Martin and the castle, high on the cliff to explore.
The first day we walked up to St. Martin and it was nice enough, yet, like I said, I am not keen in visiting one church after another. I went just to get some walking in after all the riding we did. Through a well laid out park along the edge of the lake we meandered, always uphill, to this church. Yet it was open, Carol took some pictures and now it was time to return to our loft and rest for the night.
The next morning, the weather was wonderful and mild; we looked at each other and the castle from below. We decided to take a taxi up and walk down. It was a good choice. Even after arriving at the castle by car, we still had a steep hike for the last few hundred yards. The old bones start to creak and the lungs wheeze after walking like that. The castle contained a small museum and showed an exhibit of the local history. This well done display gave us an insight back to the beginning of Bled but I would like to add something here.
Slovenia has always been a country of turmoil. It is said that the Greek Argonauts under Jason travelled through the land and founded cities such as Ljubjana (Laibach). Some ancient finds give proof of this, depending how one looks at things. In Bled, it is shown that men occupied Slovenia during the Ice age. Slovenia has a history that is very diverse and difficult to study and to remember. While the Romans definitely founded towns such as Ljubjiana (Emona in Latin), Ptuj (Poetovia), Celje (Celia), the history of Slovenia started with local tribes such as the Celts and the Illyrians. Attila the Hun ran across the land in the 5th Century, burning everything in his path. A lot of written documents were lost during Attila’s carnage. The Roman settlers retreated to the coastline during Attila’s attack and founded the cities of Trieste (now in Italy) and the towns of Piran (Piranum) and Koper (Capris). The coast remained a Roman/Italian strong hold for centuries and the port cities served Italian city states, such as Venice, as safe harbors. The inland of Slovenia remained purely agricultural and is even today, a very hilly, very lush, very productive agricultural area.
After Attila the Hun left this region (Attila could never find a way to cross the Alps to attack Vienna) the devastated area he left behind in the 6th Century, was occupied by Slavic tribes coming from the East. These tribes brought along their superstitious beliefs and agriculture and founded an area known then as Karantania. Not long after this formation of a Slavic ‘State’ the new Christians from the North, the Germanic Frankish tribes forced Christianity onto the new Slavic settlers. In the 14th Century the house of Habsburg (Austria) took over for the Franks. The ‘Heilige Römische Reich Deutscher Nations’ (Holy Roman Reich of German Nations) took over. Vienna, as headquarter of this Reich, ruled for the longest time. The Balkan countries were along the route of the Holy Crusades (the many takeover attempts of the Catholic Church to take back Palestine from the new religion, Islam). A tide of warfare ebbed back and forth through this region between the Christians from the North and the Muslims, especially the Turks, from the South. These back and forth battles made for a difficult life. The coastline towns searched for alliances and found protection from the City States in Italy, like Venice for example. The inland was unprotected and, like a ping pong ball, frequently changed hands. Napoleon in the 18th Century occupied Slovenia, too. After the Peace Treaty in 1812 in Vienna, the area reverted back to the Holy Roman Reich of German Nations. Vienna was in charge again. The Elite, spell Royalty, promoted the German culture. The peasantry however, spell farmers and workers, were the people of Slavic descent.
This back and forth went on and on. The history of Slovenia is difficult. The museum in Bled could only give the smallest picture of its history yet did a fairly good job. After World War 1 Austria lost Slovenia, After World War 2 Russia or the Eastern Block took over and Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia. Yet here we are today, Slovenia is now, since 1991, independent and doing a great job being part of the EU.
Not that I learned all this at the museum in Bled but it is essential to understand when visiting this great county.
The town of Bled is indeed a good illustration of what Slovenia is today. Clean, sophisticated, industrious and very educated, the town is worth a visit.
If only…… we had to walk down from the castle and it is a long walk. Not only is the way long but dangerously precarious, following a path established by mountain goats, it seems. We were glad to be back near the edge of the lake and in the sophisticated surroundings of modern society. The area in and around Bled is good for young people. Hiking, canoeing, parasailing, bungee jumping, white water rafting, etc. are the main activities. It is nice to watch the young do it, but why jump out of a perfectly good airplane to skydive? I am getting old!