It’s also just a few minutes’ walk from Castle Gard (1); the incredible views over the lake were more impressive than the crummy inside - no secret passages, just faux-medievally-decorated chambers trying to hawk you merchandise - although I did like the herb gallery. St Martin’s Church (2) felt like the most beautiful, untouched corner of the place; and of course there was the lake itself! We rented out a little rowboat (3) and sculled to the enchanted island, which turned out to be harder work than we had supposed - fortunately, they didn’t charge us for the extra 40 minutes we slogged over our allotted hour, and I got to ring the magical bells (4) in the ancient, enchanted little church (http://www.galenfrysinger.com/slovenia_bled_island.htm) and make a wish as they chimed… Summer tobogganing is also fantabulous (5); you take a chairlift up a pretty much vertical hillside then go-kart down the breakneck track on rails - brilliant! According to the camerado, I gave vent to a colossal scream when they shoved me off at the start which made everyone snigger… why do they never laugh with me…?
Anyhow, perhaps our greatest Sparkles and Crumbs-style moment was booking ourselves in for a treatment each at the Ziva Wellness Centre (6). Such incongruous backpackers we make! But it was well worth the expense, swanning around in the delicious heated pools and having my 75-minute Hawaiian massage. Slap in the lap of luxury! (I’d originally booked myself in for a chocolate one, but this had apparently been downgraded to a cellulite treatment for thighs… what is the world coming to? Heavens, I’m not complaining, though!)
Once again, fortune favoured the brave and we were in town for the last night of the musical Festival Bled, and got student tickets to see the Wjladigeroff Brothers do their jazz thing (7) - Tears of the Night is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard, and there was even free champagne at the end! Also, listen out for random accordions playing out over the lake from the waterside restaurants - we danced in the rain all the way back to the hostel.
Food-wise, we learned on the first day that no one eats until 11am (drinking was a different matter), the breakfast buffet was meagre (the camerado: “They don’t even have bread!”) and, being a very tourist-y area, most of the food was too pricey for our Ziva-pampered pockets - although we did get a delicious breaded plaice with spaghetti quite reasonably in a lovely waterfront *dive*. Without a doubt, however, the Pizzeria Rustica (8) was one of the best - if not the best - places I have ever dined at (there are clear signs for it near St Martin’s Church)! It was so fabulous we ate there every day of our stay; the scrumptious ‘Pizza Your Way’ (I picked tuna, turkey, chicken and Parmesan cheese) for about 6E, plus real freshly squeezed strawberry juice… oh, how our farewell dinner saddened my heart!
Speaking of our farewell, we wisely spent our last day trekking across the Sound-Of-Music-esque, wildflower-filled countryside (1) (The poor camerado, I did keep bursting into song: “The hills are aliiive…”) to the Triglav National Park to see the Vintgar Gorge. The incredible filtered light, the colours of the rapids, the way the walls of the ravine dripped with stalactites and glittering dragonflies… it was amazing! Even better, we found a secret pathway to the bottom of the waterfall and clambered around on the rocks at its base (2). Our journey back was slightly unnerving, however - we followed a ‘shortcut’ back to Bled through utterly silent, sinister pine woods, the route indicated by ominous red circles on the occasional tree (3). My observation that Shyamalan could have used it as a set for The Village had us clutching at each other in terror, but onwards we went - and soon came out into the sunshine of a beautiful Alpine field, where we stopped for a bite of marble cake…
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.
And on the subject of *wrongdoing*, the camerado (unintentionally, I suppose) tricked me into going *full-moon rafting* on our final night - “Oh, come on, it’ll be fun! No, of course you won’t need a swimsuit, of course we won’t get wet! We won’t be going on proper rapids at night!” Her assurances proved amiss when we stepped out of the van at dusk in the middle of nowhere and were ordered to strip down to our bathing suits and put on the wetsuits and safety-helmets. You can imagine my reaction, especially when our ‘steersman’ helpfully informed us that we were the first tourist group they have ever taken out and that 13 people, including the town mayor, recently died on the same stretch of river. Admittedly, floating along under the Plough with an abundance of cheap beers wouldn’t have been distressing at all, if it hadn’t been for the tree branches smacking you in the face out of the darkness, rocks sending you pitching onto the floor of the raft and the other dinghies splashing you in the face with cold river water. Traumatic, indeed - still, Rob was very generous with the ‘blueberry Schnapps’ and we befriended some laughable New Zealanders and the Irish couple we were rooming with. In fact, the Kiwis recruited them for their plan of hiring a car the next morning and driving the Emerald River route themselves, instead of paying the extra for the tour bus. This meant they burst into our room at 7:30am squawking, “Wake up, Dublin! How about you, London - ya coming?” Alas, it did look like fun… but there is world enough and time, and we were taking the 10:56 train to Munich for our last ever night train - to… Paris!