Lake Bled & Another Traumatic Drive Through the Alps

Lake Bled, Slovenia, is one of the most stunning and picturesque lakes I’ve ever visited. While the Lake itself is charming, the town lost its charm when Communism held rein and built ugly block-like hotels along an otherwise stunning backdrop.

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As mentioned in my hotel review, our B&B was an exception to most buildings around the Lake. Luckily, most of the lake is surrounded by greenery, a castle and Tito’s hotel (the old ruler definitely built a place meant for Kings). Only one side of the Lake is dotted with the ugliness of leftover communism, but look in every other direction and you see a stunning church, a medieval castle on a hill and crystal clear water that shimmers.

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We drove from Germany to Lake Bled in about 7 hours and checked into the hotel in the early evening. Our only goal after a long day in the car was to wander the lake, get dinner and go to bed.

Our first views of the Lake at sunset on a peaceful Friday afternoon were both awe inspiring and cringe worthy.

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Time out!

We loved the Lake and admired its beauty. Nathan wanted to throw rocks-and I mean tons of teeny tiny rocks-into the lake endlessly. So we both admired and admonished at the same time.After 7 hours in the car, Nathan needed to burn serious energy and that meant he was in full defiance mode. There may have been a time out or six….but I digress.

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Nathan eventually calmed down and we headed to dinner at the hotel. I basically had dessert for dinner-a cheese blintz with vanilla sauce and strawberries and Dan had nettles soup (and a main I can’t recall). Nathan’s chicken and fries weren’t a huge hit-but he drank up his juice to give him one more burst of energy before bed!

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Having the balcony made it easier to put Nathan to bed and hang out with a view of the lit up castle. Nathan only came out to us a few times and then fell asleep (after Dan sat in there for 30 minutes until he fell asleep).

The next day we decided the whole day would be dedicated to this gorgeous lake. We would hike around the entire circle, with a stop to boat to the church in the center and a hike up to the castle at the end of the walk.

Our first stop was The Island to see The Church. According to Rick Steves’ guidebook, this is the fifth church to occupy this spot, the first being a Slavic pagan temple. During the Communist era, weddings were illegal here but in 1989 the tradition was allowed once again. There 99 steps up to the church and a giant hanging rope in the middle of the church. One is supposed to ring it three times for all your dreams to come true. Nathan rang it about a hundred times, so I think all of our dreams will come true along with the entire Japanese tour group that was with us! The boat we took across was an old fashioned “pletna” which is a wooden row boat with an umbrella like top. It reminded me of Disney’s Jungle Cruise boats actually! It was a lovely, serene ride as we glided across to and from the church.

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The walk around the lake is about 3 and half hours, and with Nathan in the stroller, relaxing, we took our time until we got to the ducks! You’ve never seen a kid this excited to feed ducks. It was the highlight of his day, no doubt in my mind. After our duck-y adventures, we headed to the castle.

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Some more pictures around the lake:

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After a 3 hour hike it’s hard to imagine climbing a steep hill with a stroller. So we took a lunch break instead. We were right down the path from a cafe and we grabbed sandwiches and a local specialty-the infamous creme cake. It consists of delicious layers of custard, crust and powdered sugar. Nathan ate his first ice cream cone. No we are not cruel parents who have never allowed it, but Nathan always complained that ice cream was “too cold,” I guess he is over that now!

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After we filled ourselves with sugar to burn, poor Dan carried the stroller while Nathan and I braved a hike that often had no railings, much to my dismay, up to the castle for some stunning views. The inside of the castle was not as impressive as the views from the outside! A small museum inside that didn’t make a ton of sense to me, but mostly I just liked the views. We also spent some time in the wine cellar where Nathan was practically knighted and we bought terrible wine that was supposed to align with our astrological sign (Aquarius for us both).

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Seriously, the only potty this kid will sit on!

Our relaxing day ended with dinner at a local place called “Ostarija Peglez” where we had sausages and fries and lots of wine! We were tired after a long day pf walking in the sun and Nathan fell asleep quickly with us following along shortly-dreaming of our day to follow in the Julian Alps.

The Julian Alps

An extremely important detail we missed in researching our trip was the fact that the Vrsic Pass (the road to the top of the Alps)is closed until May. Every year. it’s a small sentence in the middle of the guidebook that’s in parenthesis that states simply (open May-Oct), easily missed. If there had been one more sentence stating “PLan your time carefully as this pass isn’t open until May, and here is an alternative route if traveling at that time-we may have not been so surprised!!!

I’m not bitter (yes I am Rick Steves!!!), in fact, I am not sure i could have handled the ride all the way up-because after this day I realized I am still traumatized by our drive last year through the scariest road on a mountain cliff. (Note: not the road recommended for tourists).

A we headed towards to Vrsic pass to see how far we could go up before bad weather would force us to turn around, we actually came upon the road closed sign before we made it up a single hairpin turn, but not before we met our friendly goat:

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So we chose to go around the pass into the Soca River Valley via Italy and try going up the backside to see how far we could climb.

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The Soca River Valley is quite beautiful and I think we could have made almost all the way up those 50 hairpin turns, but I was starting to get really nervous and I just couldn’t handle the height anymore.

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We stopped to check out a statue of Julius Kugy, an italian botanist who wrote books on alpine flora-and Nathan ran around a little on a mountainside. Stunning views and actually not on a cliff so I was able to get fresh mountain air and not be terrified!

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We headed back down through what is called “Valley of the Cemeteries” because during WWI, this was the front of the war. There are beautiful clear blue waters streaming through this valley along with bridges that seemingly float on air (too scary to let Nathan even near it but we took a walk onto a couple of these suspension bridges just to see what the hype was all about).

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We stopped along the way to check out the Church of St Joseph which has interesting artwork depicting Hitler and Mussolini within the Stations of the Cross and a WWI cemetery behind it. This region, the is all inside the Triglav National Park and is all quite stunning.

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We also had lunch in a quaint little town, on an outside patio where Nathan could run wild. I had an amazing polenta-cheese-type omelette and discovered strawberry juice, which is like a smoothie and is amazing.

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Around 5PM we ended up in Kobarid, a town deep in the Julian Alps and further from Lake Bled than I realized. We wanted to spend some time there but due to time constraints and losing sunlight we decided to check out the Italian Mausoleum which was built in 1938, when this region was still Italy. It holds the remains of 7,014 italian soldiers. It’s amazing and massive.

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Prior to our trek through the Alps we went to our local Tourist Information center to ask about the best way to see the Alps after discovering the pass was mostly closed. I bring this up now because the TI employee told us about a wonderful train that you load your car onto near Kobarid, to quickly get you back to a town only 20 minutes from Lake Bled. So you can bypass about 90 minutes of driving. We told Nathan all about the train ride and he was very excited. He had fallen asleep on the drive to Kobarid and woke up hungry and super cranky. Butwe kept telling him, just wait until we get to put the car on a train!!!!

Let’s just say, if I could have found the TI employee at the very moment we found out that the train doesn’t start running until April 28th-two weeks AFTER our trip, I may have strangled him. If I had found him AFTER the 90 minute treacherous drive through scary mountains while losing daylight and almost running out of gas with a screaming child who made himself so upset he puked on himself, I DEFINITELY would have strangled him.

This was a concoction of bad luck. When Nathan wakes up from naps, he is at his most cranky and we made a promise we couldn’t deliver. On top of that, we had NO idea that the road we were about to travel would be similar to the Italian Alps drive that traumatized us last summer. Again, we didn’t read our guidebook meticulously and since we were rushing to beat the daylight we just followed google maps directions that showed us the quickest way back. If we had bothered to look at Rick Steves book before started driving, he mentions the treacherous ride back and states that if you want to avoid it, there is another route that’s “only a bit longer.”

Let me just say, it’s hard to think straight when your child is screaming so hard he is puking while trying to climb out of his carseat. We didn’t look at the book. We just drove. Dan was a ROCK STAR. He drove through scary mountain ridges all the while his child was screaming bloody murder and i had a grip on the seats that would leave marks. By the time we made it through the mountains to the small town of Bohinj, we were almost out of gas and the sun was setting. None of us had eaten dinner and it was almost 8PM. Nathan eventually calmed down and had the best bath of his life once we were in the hotel AND when Dan came back to the room with pizza, we told Nathan it was a picnic on the floor and he was dancing around the room like it was the best day of his life.  I was just happy to survive emotionally. Wine was consumed in large amounts that night and I vowed to take a break from drives through the Alps for a very long time.

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And so ended our time in Lake Bled. The next day we headed to Ljubljana! But that’s a story for the next blog…..

 

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