Days: 478-479 (16 October 2015 – 17 October 2015)
Total distance travelled: 127,733.8 kilometres (79,337.74 miles)
It’s not very often you can leave a country without even realising it, but during our picturesque day of travel from Italy into Slovenia, that’s exactly what happened!
Our day had begun normally enough, with us grabbing ourselves tickets for a train out of Venice to Gorizia, although this did necessitate a change along the way at Monfalcone.
After having our tickets inspected by a conductor who was devastated we didn’t have any Australian coins we could donate to his collection (well, it had been over a year since we’d last seen home), we’d relaxed in our seats watching the northern Italian countryside pass us by.
It wasn’t long before we were off one train (before it hit the wrong part of the Slovenian border), and twiddling our thumbs waiting for another to take us to the paired border towns of Gorizia and Nova Gorica (translated as New Gorizia).
In short time we were wrestling our bags off the train in Gorizia, this town situated at the base of the Julian Alps and the brief final stop in our short Italian excursion.
We had a bus number we knew we needed to catch, and after some bumbling with a lady at a news stand, had ourselves tickets and an idea on where to stand.
Reasonably promptly, our chariot arrived (okay, so it was a bus) and the driver was able to confirm that he did indeed stop at the station in Nova Gorica.
What little we saw of the town was quite lovely, but our sights were keenly focused on anything that may be an indicator that we were indeed travelling in the right direction.
Suddenly the bus was stopped, with by now us its only passengers and our driver gesturing towards a grand old building sporting a Nova Gorica sign.
This was the station, our destination, and it also meant that we’d swiftly and suddenly crossed from Italy into Slovenia without either of us any wiser!
We’d arrived with an expectation/understanding that there was a train headed towards Bled every forty minutes or so… there wasn’t.
Thus ensued another wait of several hours where we sat and read, had a little lunch, observed the occasional rain shower (as well as one sun shower) and the odd wander which revealed that nearby stands (or perhaps stood) the largest stone, single arched bridge in the world… although it did need to be rebuilt after it was destroyed in one of the Balkan wars.
Slowly a crowd began to build, albeit a very young one. Turns out school was out for the day, and our ride onward was to be their ride home.
Eventually our ride appeared, a small two carriage affair which made the sudden throng of people spread across the tracks surely too big to all squeeze aboard!
Somehow we did, and after a conductor took our fares and tried to make something clear to us, but ultimately failed (turns out he was telling us we’d need to transfer to a bus for a small leg of the journey due to track works), we were on our way for what was an incredibly scenic, mountain journey.
What we got here, was what we’d missed by weeks over in New England. The true colours of Autumn (Fall)!
Greens, yellows, reds and shades of orange were in abundance, broken by the occasional pasture or skeletal limbed trees having already shed their foliage.
It was a lovely picture to behold, even if the afternoon light was a little gloomy.
Our brief transfer to a coach came and went. We re-boarded with the ever smaller posse of others (most of whom had since found their stop), and eventually found ourselves at the picturesque Bled railway station… which is a few kilometres away from the town proper.
We hoisted our packs, and began our walk into town.
Fortunately, this walk took us alongside the wonderfully picturesque (and also famous) Lake Bled.
Unfortunately, about ten minutes into this walk, it began to bucket down with rain.
By the time we found our hostel, we were a rather sodden pair indeed.
Fortunately, we were close enough to a local supermarket where we could quickly purchase supplies for a warming dinner, and just as close to a nearby patisserie where we could indulge in one of the local specialties (which we’d read of in advance), the Kremna Rezina.
Very similar to a Mille-fueille and the Australian Vanilla Slice (indeed, I believe it is descended from the Austrian Cremeschnitte), this pastry delight filled with layers of custard and cream was so well received by us, we managed to polish off five between us in just a couple of days around Bled!
Now luckily for us, by the time we rose the following day, the weather was again beautiful, so rather than head directly to the famous lake for an explore, we instead began our day with a walk into the hills in pursuit of another well regarded natural attraction, Vintgar Gorge.
Things began well.
We had directions from our hostel and all was going well until we passed a railway line, and somewhere or other, took what must have been a wrong turn.
At least the sun was still shining!
Our path now seemed to be taking us back towards the lake, so we eventually tried to ask for directions from a local we spotted mowing one of his fields.
Our attempts to play out a conversation through the use of charades proved unnecessary… he spoke very good English!
Turns out we need to go the opposite direction at that railway line we’d met.
As far as uphill walks go, this was both a gentle and picturesque affair, the winding road taking us through rolling green hillsides and quaint little communities, clustered affairs of wooden shingles and bright flowers in planter boxes.
All in all, it was a wonderful way to start a Slovenian morning.
The occasional sign confirmed we were now headed in the right direction, and eventually, after a brief descent along a wood lined road, we were at the entrance to the gorge.
A quick use of the facilities for Sarah whilst I payed the small entrance fee, and we made our way into Vintgar Gorge.
First impressions? Well they were pretty good indeed!
The path hugged the river, well maintained bridges allowing us to cross the turbulent waters when necessary as the path followed the rocky shore downstream.
Sun dappled light highlighted the brilliant colours of the deciduous trees, a golden glow lighting our way wherever the canyon walls, which grew steeper the deeper we ventured, allowed it to pierce the gloom.
Where the sun couldn’t reach, the temperature was pretty cool, although this seemingly was of little concern to one posse we passed, almost twenty strong and each diligently clutching an open can of pilsner.
Whatever it takes to keep the cold at bay I guess?
Our path took us deeper, zig-zagging our way back and forth across the river at the behest of the path, some areas seeing it necessary for us to pass beneath water that rain down from the walls above.
Sure, it wasn’t completely dry, but it was undeniably beautiful.
Rather than exit from the opposite side, which it appeared we could have done, we instead decided to return back the way we’d come. Sure, it was a longer journey, but it meant that we’d get to experience the gorge at least one more time!
The gorging continued back in Bled as well, another Kremna Rezina hitting the spot very nicely indeed.
With our sweet tooth satisfied, it was time for a circuit of this gorgeous lake, probably the most famous tourist spot in all of Slovenia.
Thankfully, given the time of year, it was a much more peaceful experience than it might be during the Spring and Summer months!
Still, it’s not like there was nobody about and the beautiful blue morning had morphed into an afternoon of patchy cloud.
The option to either be paddled, or to hire a vessel ourselves was passed, the price a bit of a deterrent and we were content enough to simply indulge in a circuit of the lake in any case, an elevation on its opposite side looking a likely place for some decent viewing.
It really was (well, is, because it hasn’t gone anywhere) a beautiful place, one for which the pictures hardly do it justice.
Several sweeping curves of the shore later, and we found ourselves at the foot of a steep, rather average trail, our opportunity to take in the lake from some loftier heights.
Beating our way through bracken as the path took as by an abandoned chalet, from here it only got steeper, and for more difficult to navigate.
Loose rocks and the occasional fallen tree made progress slow, but eventually the trees broke giving us the view we’d sought (we could have climbed higher, but were satisfied with what we’d achieved).
Perhaps less famously outside of Slovenia, Lake Bled is also home to the somewhat predictably named Rowing Club Bled, which has spawned a ridiculous amount of Olympic success (one particular rower, Iztok Čop won medals in four Olympics from 1992 to 2012) which they proudly display on large boarding.
As far as settings go for some hard core training, they don’t get much more beautiful than this…
* Our train from Venezia’s St Lucia station to Garizia Centrale (changing at Monfalcone) cost us €12.65 each.
* €1.25 each, got us from the Garizia Centrale to Nova Gorica (in Slovenia) with bus 1.
* Finally, €6.19 per person got us a train ride from Nova Gorica to Bled Jezera.
* The entrance fee for the Vintgar gorge is €4.00 per person for adults.