Towns / Cities Visited: 139
Countries Visited: 23
Steps Taken Today: 13,617
Steps Taken Around the World: 3,592,495
We had come to a travel crossroads once again. Today would see us make the journey from the southern Austrian town of Klagenfurt, to the northern Slovenian town of Bled, just across the border. Now, if you’ve ever looked at a map and noted these two towns, it would seem simple enough to get from one to the other; they are, by all intents and purposes, relatively close neighbours. However, as seems to be the norm the further east you go in Europe, it is rarely ever that simple to get where you want to go. We had hoped that there was a train connection, but alas, if it was a train we wanted, we would have been in for a four train saga over several hours, going into Slovenia’s capital before heading back out to Bled. With no other public transport option available to us, and no desire to lose half a day’s adventure to the whims of international locomotive travel, we footed the bill, once again, for a private transfer. Bags packed, and taking the short walk to the train station, we were soon greeted by our friendly driver. Bundling into the van, we were offered the option of taking the main motorway to Bled, or the more scenic route over the mountains. With both routes taking a similar amount of time, we opted for the latter and were away. Despite our hope of a beautiful autumn view as we scaled the Karawanks and descended to our destination, we were instead faced with a sudden downpour of rain. The pummeling on the roof of the vehicle, coupled with the successive hairpin turns, resulted in the three of us all feeling a little car sick for a fair chunk of the drive. A little over an hour after our journey had begun though, we were being delivered to the doorstep of our hostel on the outskirts of this stunning regional town.
With the rain long gone, we ducked inside and were met by our cheerful and welcoming host. We had initially booked a three bed dorm but with it being well and truly the shoulder season, and the hostel being deserted aside from one other guest, we had been placed in a six bed dorm to allow us a little extra room to move: an upgrade which was much appreciated. After explaining our plans for the next few days, our host then took the time to mark out our adventures on a town map, and explain the best way to make our way around. Directions in hand and luggage stowed, we made our way into town in search of some lunch to fuel the afternoon’s exploration. With the choice of open restaurants lacking given the late season timing, it took us a little time, but eventually we found a quaint place tucked away in a side street and offering wood-fired pizza. Settling in with some local spirits and a glass of red for my mum, we were soon sharing three surprisingly good pizzas.
With the car sickness shaken off, and our stomachs full and happy, we left the restaurant primed to start experiencing what Bled had to offer. Our attraction for the day was the most prominent in this lakeside town which is a favourite amongst tourists to this little country sitting on the saddle between the east and west of the continent: Bled Castle. This medieval fortress is perched high up on the sheer cliff which flanks the north side of the picturesque Lake Bled. Like with most strategically placed lofty castles, the journey to its gates is via a steep and winding path, but eventually we reached the peak, albeit huffing and puffing somewhat. Finding ourselves amongst a throng of tour groups, we lined up to purchase our tickets, and after a tedious wait we managed to shimmy our way in to get on with more exciting trials.
Bled Castle dates back to the 11th century, but what remains of it now is mainly from the 16th century overhaul, and its renovation at the beginning of the 18th century. Bled was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire but, despite its previous ownership by the Habsburgs, it managed to be spared from transformation by them, and thus keeps its more rustic medieval form.
Stepping through the gate we were delivered to the lower courtyard of the complex, complete with central wooden well. With the balcony boasting the castle’s famous view full of tour groups, we decided to kill a little time while we waited for them to disperse. Thus we headed into a small building off to the side, which houses an old printing press on the bottom floor where a staff member manning it creates souvenir prints of the castle on handmade paper. The upper level is also home to a small exhibit on the first Slovenian translation of the Bible, as well as a collection of paintings: a brief but interesting visit. Defenseless against my deep love of hand printed products and wax seals, I’m not ashamed to say we walked out with a beautiful stamped print we will treasure forever.
Heading back outside, we were pleased to see the swarm had moved on, and we scurried over to the edge, our breath snatched from our chests as we looked down over the lake below, glistening in the afternoon sun. We happily basked in the panorama before us for a long moment; the peaceful seclusion of the church inhabited island surrounded by rippling blue waters; and the undulating, forest blanketed mountains all around. If I ever desired to be a princess trapped in a castle, I would long to be sequestered to a tower boasting this view.
Climbing the staircase to the upper courtyard, we managed to pull ourselves away from the view long enough to step into the quiet of the medieval chapel which sits pride of place here. Running up its aging walls, and sprawling across the gentle curves of its vaulting, sit biblical images painted in the soft yet vibrant pastels so common in medieval times. With the tall arched windows spilling in warm light, the small but open space it almost surreal in its serenity.
Back in the courtyard, we ducked quickly into one of the other rooms which holds a small souvenir shop spruiking a gorgeous array of medieval style, hand-forged metal trinkets. From candelabras to garden ornaments, the pieces were stunning. I’ll be honest, the only thing that kept me from dropping an insane amount of money there was the fact that all of them were far too heavy to lug around the world or post home. The other building bordering this courtyard holds an exhibition on the area, from pre-human times, to present day. Although there is isn’t a wealth of written information here, there are quite a few figures dressed in historic clothing, along with a handful of historic artifacts, from centuries old weapons, to old locks and bracelet, to keep you occupied for a short while.
Aside from a small section of the ramparts which is accessible to allow an alternate view, the remainder of the castle buildings are either closed to the public, or home to small shops selling everything from niknaks to local Slovenian wine. Despite the somewhat touristy feel in parts, you really come here for the view more so than what the castle actually offers as an attraction. With all we could reach seen and done, and our threshhold for mulling amongst tour groups nearing, we wandered off down the hill and back to our accommodation for a rest until nightfall.
Now, it was to be that, for the third time on this trip, our travels aligned with that of my brother, Steven, and his friend, Leighann, who were still making their outlandish bicycle journey across the Balkans from Istanbul to Italy. As such, our night was not to be filled with a home cooked meal, but rather a delve into traditional Slovenian food with my family. Making our way back into town, we arrived at the agreed establishment to find our dinner companions waiting, drink in hand. As can be expected, given that my mother had not seen her son in over six months, there was hugs for all, and a final introduction as my mother met Leighann for the first time. Settling in for a very German/Austrian feeling meal which consisted mainly of deliciously cooked meats, sauerkraut, and potato and bread dumplings, we ate and drank until the restaurant closed. Trust me there is plenty to catch up on between a family of people who have been living entirely separate lives for most of the year. As we wandered back out into the night, satiated in more ways than just physically, we were not sad to say goodnight: we would be catching up with the pair again on the morrow.
The trek back to the hotel in the still evening air was reviving, and before long we were tucked in bed, ready to recharge for the next days adventure. As I pondered our day, it was strange to think that this was the first time in almost twenty years that my small family unit of three had been on a holiday together, of only for a blip. Growing up we had not been blessed with enough wealth to allow for the extravagant travels and holidaying of so many other families; in fact, there was only one big family vacation in my youth, when my mum had managed to scrounge together enough savings as a single parent to take Steven and myself to Daydream Island in the Whitsundays, off the coast of Queensland. Of course, that being said, in my late teens and early twenties I took several other trips with my mother, both within Australia and to New Zealand, but my brother had been busy with his own endeavours and had not accompanied us.
It warmed my heart to think that, although we had missed out on such adventures as kids, we were now able to share experiences in such foreign places, making stories to reminisce over in later years. As adults, we so often forget to make new memories with those who filled every one in our childhoods. We become so busy with our careers, our partners, and our dreams, we forget that during this time our parents are growing older. We remember them as they were when we were young, and we retain that idea of them into our adulthood, until one day we look at them and realise that there are lines where there once was none, they tire far quicker than you remember, and their memory isn’t quite as it used to be. Treasure the time you have with those who cared for you in your youth, make time for those who gave years of their life to nurture yours; when its all said and done, they will become nought but a series of memories to comfort you as you age, so make them good and plenty.