Slowenien – Seen

The next day we slept in a little, due to a forecast of rain. Unsure how to spend the grey day, we spent the morning researching some options before settling on a recommendation from a local: checking out a nearby waterfall.

We ate a small breakfast before heading out. We were staying very close to the lake, so after a very short drive we found ourselves ready to begin. Our walk started out uneventful; we talked about random different things, circling the lake and making our way through alternating patches of grass and forest alongside the lake shore. It was a grey day and not many people were outside, though we saw a few families playing in the park. When we reached the far side of the lake we crossed a beautiful bright-crystal stream. Our goal was to make it upstream where the water feeds into lake Bohinj.

DSC09797.JPG
Bohinj

DSC09825.JPG

We walked uphill from there, passing a few small hotels and neighborhoods. It seemed a little odd that the park was so developed with inhabitants, but I suppose many of them likely lived there before the park existed. We climbed until Chelsea began having pain in her knee, having tweaked it from canyoning the day before. Naturally she wanted to keep going, so we pressed on for a bit until I made her sit down and rest. While she was taking it easy I ran ahead to see if the falls were close, but after a few hundred meters I decided to turn back because it was evident she was in considerable pain walking. She took some painkillers and I helped support some of her weight as we started the return journey, because she wouldn’t let me carry her.

Doubling back, we ran into an older couple from California. We didn’t think much of it at first but I eventually decided we should try to ask them for a ride, since our hike had been farther than we’d realized and we ended up walking about 5 miles from our car. I ran ahead again and they were happy to help. The man talked to us about our academic backgrounds a bit and explained he was a computer engineer who had done a lot of work in automation. I was grateful that they took us back to our car, as it would have been a long walk back for Chelsea to manage.

After our mistaken hike, we actually did have a rest day. We spent most of the rest of the inside. We looked up a few things on my computer, talked and just hung out. Even though we were in a beautiful vacation destination, I enjoyed a bit of normalcy in our day. Chelsea and I don’t get to do that together often, since we tend to have plans whenever we see each other.

We had one more activity planned in Slovenia for the next day: paddleboarding on Lake bled! Our morning began much like the other days, with a drive out to our meeting point. This time we were on the other side of Bled, near the little island with the church. Our goal was to make it to that island. We got out of the car and walked a short way to a rowing center, where instructions said we would meet our guide outside. We ended up beating the guide there by a few minutes and were consequently confused when we couldn’t find anyone. Eventually a small hatchback with boards strapped to the top drove up, and we met our guide, a small woman from a nearby town who was very friendly and helpful.

1.JPG

She got us set up with wet suits (which was good, seeing as the water was cold) and explained the technique. She helped us onto our boards and before long we were on our way. At first, I stayed on my knees for a bit as I got used to the feeling of the board beneath me. There are fins underneath which greatly help with stability, but I still felt like I was a bit heavy for the board and had to be cautious with where I shifted my weight.

3.JPG
Easy does it..

We made our way from the dock timidly around to the shore nearby. After a little bit I decided to try my hand at standing, and found that with considerable effort I was able to. Chelsea later informed me that women tend to have an easier time with this, because more of their weight is distributed lower towards the board. I had to be very careful with my footing and balance and had a few near-misses just on the way over towards the shore. Our guide and Chelsea didn’t seem to be having as hard a time as I was.

At the nearby shore we stopped briefly at a small little pier. With solid ground (ok, maybe wood) under me I took the opportunity to admire the scenery. We didn’t stay long at the dock however and before long we were back at it again, this time with the island in our sights. During this stretch of paddling I decided that it was a good idea to get a more intimate experience with the water (ahem) and fell in. Twice. It was cold but I wasn’t too upset, it actually felt quite refreshing due to the wet suit providing some insulation.

GOPR5343.JPG

Despite my dips in the lake we did eventually make it to the island and pulled our boards ashore. Our first priority as we landed was of course gelato. Our guide treated us, something I wasn’t sure how to handle. Was this included in what we had paid for the excursion? I had brought my wallet along thinking we might snack on the island. It was a little awkward to say the least as I wasn’t sure whether to offer to pay. Nonetheless we enjoyed the treat sitting in the shade surrounded by pristine waters and crowds of tourists. Our guide explained how many Korean and Chinese visitors came to the island every summer. We were seeing just the first of them in mid-May.

GOPR5371.JPG

After our ice cream we did a quick lap of the island. Our guide’s husband ran one of the larger boats, rowing groups of tourists across the lake. She explained how she sometimes would hang out here with her son, who was an aspiring fisherman. We walked by the shoreline and the church, where we learned weddings and major Catholic holidays were celebrated.

GOPR5360.JPG

We rounded the island near the shore and hopped back on the paddle boards. The wind was against us now, making steering and control that much more difficult. I’m happy to say I only fell in once on the return journey, but Chelsea and I also decided (intentionally!) to take a dip in the lake, so it was twice in the water for me again.

GOPR5414.JPG

Fighting the wind, we made our way back to the rowing center and climbed onto the pier. We changed out of the wet suits and packed up the equipment, taking a minute to dip our feet in the water and enjoy the cool sensation. As we were getting ready to leave the guide kindly offered to give us a ride back to our car. We took her up on this, and she made an even nicer offer: suggesting we take a slight detour to check out a nearby viewpoint. She drove us through a small neighborhood we never would have found on our own, then parked at a small trail head next to someone’s house. A short (3 minute) walk treated us to the following splendid view of lake Bled:

IMG_20170521_124552179_HDR.jpg
Lake Bled from above

IMG_20170521_124456639_HDR.jpg

After we took in the view, we got dropped off at our car. Following a recommendation from our guide, we went around to the other side of the lake to check out a festival going on to grab some lunch. There we tried a few local dishes, enjoyed the music, and took our time doing some people-watching as well as window-shopping. There was some kind of accordion theme going on and we saw hundreds of people playing their instruments, parading, and having fun. It was a neat experience to see music so different than contemporary popular music being so celebrated and admired.

IMG_20170521_144314502.jpg
I was good, I promise

IMG_20170521_144444855_TOP.jpg

We spent a few hours at the festival, after which we got in the car to continue our return journey. We were bound for Germany, but only barely. We’d picked a place to stay just a few kilometers past the Austrian border. First we had to cross the last few kilometers in Slovenia and all of Austria, however. Our toll vignette expired the prior day, but given that we had only a few minutes ride in the car in Slovenia I decided to chance it. My gamble paid off, but not without a bit of stress – we actually did get stopped at the Austrian border but when we told him we were coming from Bled we were let off with a warning. Score!

Next time, we’ll be wrapping up my vacation with Chelsea.

Slowenien – der Canyon

We left Croatia. Due to how we had planned out our drive we didn’t have too far to go, as we had been working our way back north all week. We passed Ljubljana on the highway, and before we knew it we found ourselves passing lake Bled on our way towards lodging. We had picked out an apartment within the boundaries of Triglav National Park in the tiny little village of Stara Fužina. We made our way to the town only to find that all the street names were literally just “Stara Fužina”. Tiny alleyways, narrow passages, and sharp turns made the whole layout all the more confusing. Eventually we managed to find our apartment and checked in by getting the key from a neighbor. Chelsea got out to the car and walked to find the place because the roads were so tight. The place was cozy with room for 4 or 5 guests and a full kitchen.

After checking in we looked up a place for dinner and settled on a pizza joint a few minutes down the road back towards Bled. I ordered a strange pizza with onions, mushrooms, peppers, sausage, and other toppings. Chelsea got pasta with hot-dogs mixed in.  The food was good and we both liked the atmosphere, if not the decorations. We spent some time at dinner picking out the artwork on the walls to determine whether we’d want them hanging in our apartments. We usually said no, but in some cases we agreed that the art looked good when presented in the appropriate context.

After dinner we didn’t have much else planned – we set up our bags for the next day and went to bed in anticipation of an early start the following day.

The next day started with a quick fruit breakfast before we drove to Bled where we had made prior arrangements. Our destination was actually back in Triglav NP, but our guided excursion departed from Bled. When we arrived in town we parked on the street near the office, only to find that we couldn’t stay parked there. Our first challenge of the day was finding parking – I trusted Chelsea to find the lot and we only got lost a little 🙂 We found a lot nearby which cost 5EUR for daily parking but we had beaten the attendant to the lot and consequently didn’t have to pay.

Returning to the office, we took care of some paperwork, Chelsea paid (thank you!) and we got off on our way. We were spending the morning with another couple, whose names were Matt and Jess, who happened to be from Atlanta. Shortly before we got in the van I saw one of them had left a wallet in the office, it was lucky I noticed and was able to return it to them. We had about an hour drive out to our destination, during which our guide discussed Slovenia, activities and natural features in the area, and asked us about our background in the United States. The drive actually passed through Italy before passing back into Slovenia. Our guide talked about the skiing and climbing culture in the area. Given the staggering rock walls surrounding us as we drove, it was easy to see why the alpine culture ran deep in this part of Slovenia.

We passed a beautiful hidden lake banked by steep mountains on all sides. Shortly after that we arrived at our destination in Triglav NP, an unassuming valley with a small village nearby. Our guide parked on an open patch of gravel and laid out our equipment for the day: wet-suits, helmets, and shoes with decent grip. Our task for the day? Canyoning!

For the unfamiliar, canyoning is a recreational sport of following a river through a canyon (hence the name). It entails sliding, jumping, and climbing down waterfalls, brief bouts of swimming, and lots of climbing and scrambling. We started off with some easier obstacles; short slides, climbing over rocks, and wading through the stream. Before long we faced our first large waterfall. Unfortunately we had to be lowered down this. Our guide skillfully prepared the rope and deftly lowered us one by one.

After our first big descent we continued on. We crossed several more pools and took on more slides. We did a few that were taller than before, where our guide lowered us partially before allowing us to plunge into the icy cold water. It was a blast and the pristine blue waters and white rocks framed the experience beautifully.

Two parts of the trip stand out as being even more memorable than the rest. Our trip down the canyon featured a 50m waterfall descent. Obviously this is too high to jump or slide, so our guide tied us to a long stretch of rope we’d brought along and lowered us down. Hanging in the air with frigid water pouring over my head, I admit I worried about the integrity of his knots. It was one of the few times in recent memory I can recall fearing for my life. If something in that rope failed, I’d surely have died as there were rocks directly below the falls. The harness dug into my legs a little as it supported my weight, but I was treated to a beautiful alpine view in the clearing ahead. I was the first one down and watched as the rest of our group was lowered one-by-one. Afterwards, the guide skillfully made his way down quickly, hoisting himself.

The other experience that stuck out was when we were allowed to jump into one of the pools, skipping the waterfall entirely. I can recall vividly the rapid surge of icy water as I plunged into the deep little nook. I surfaced beaming, breathing heavily from the shock. The others followed me (though a few opted to slide rather than jump) and we pressed on.

We continued sliding, climbing, and weaving our way through the canyon. As we neared the end, things started to flatten out a little. While it was slightly disappointing that we were nearing the end, the widening of the canyon brought more spectacular views of the valley enveloping us.

We reached the end. We had survived – we thanked our guide and exchanged contact information with the other couple. As we were climbing out of our wet suits our ride back to Bled arrived. He had brought cold beer for us, and I indulged as Chelsea didn’t seem too interested in trying the alcohol. On the ride back we talked with the guide a bit about different things. Education came up and we learned he spoke at least 4 or 5 languages. His child was learning several at once as well. Europe always impresses me with its members’ tolerance of other cultures and languages.

We arrived back in Bled and found a nearby pizza place for lunch. We were eating late, so we had the place more-or-less to ourselves. The quiet atmosphere was a nice change after an exciting morning.

DSC09459.JPG

After lunch we spent some time walking around lake Bled. We climbed up to the castle entrance but found that the admittance was too expensive for our taste, so we circled back down and hung out by the shore for a bit. We didn’t stay too late before heading back to the apartment to relax and prep for the following day. We spent the evening by the nearby lake (Bohinj) skipping stones and enjoying a small picnic.

DSC09510.JPG

DSC09711.JPG

DSC09781.JPG

We’d only had a day in Slovenia, but we’d already had the opportunity to experience so much beauty and adventure. Next time I’ll tell you about the following two days we had in Slovenia and what else we got up to. Until then,

Best wishes and safe travels everyone,

– Ben

 

Note: We have pictures of the canyoning from the other couple we went with, but as they have not yet uploaded the pictures I haven’t been able to include them. I’ll edit this post accordingly when I have access to the photos.