Bled (Julian Alps), Slovenia October 2020

Bled was closed!

We arrived mid afternoon and parked the Van on an empty pay car park near where the 209 meets Kidriceva cesta (on the south east side of the lake) and then walked clockwise round the lake towards the town’s centre, seeing very few people on the way.

In the centre we saw even fewer people. With the exception of a small Mercado not far from where we had parked the Van, the casino, a health food store and one small restaurant doing take away food only, everything was closed. We couldn’t get a drink anywhere, even in the local hotels. We walked from one hotel to another but most appeared to be boarded up; the only one showing any light had a sign up advising that only hotel residents would be served food and drink. It was unbelievable.

An elderly woman stopped to ask us about the dogs and I asked her why everything was shut. That started her off. In between slagging off the Croat tourists who had brought COVID to Bled and the Prime Minister, Janez Jansa, for letting them enter the country, she explained that COVID was rife and everywhere was on lockdown. She didn’t stop at that but, to cut a long rant short, she politely suggested we find somewhere else in Slovenia that wasn’t locked down and then apologised for leaving us saying that she had to get home. For what it is worth she wasn’t wearing a face mask.

Having walked the entire 6 km circuit of the lake before meeting the lady, we decided to stock up on stores, pack up the Van and head off to Austria. Shame but Vanya has now been to Slovenia, seen Bled, walked all around the lake and the town (she covered 10 kms today) and taken countless stunning photographs of one of the prettiest places in Europe…Take a look for yourself…

There is more about Bled in the blog I made when I last visited the town in 2017 although in some respects the place has changed quite markedly. Certainly, the town has grown significantly and the lakeside has been further developed to cater for tourists. Indeed, work seems to be continuing in that regard.

Koper, Slovenia – Nov 2017

Today is as much about deciding where to go next as anything (do I go deeper into Slovenia or cross the border into Croatia?) but I started the day off by walking down to Izola and then on, along the coast road, to Koper. Koper is some 9 to 10 km from where the Van is parked at the Belvedere and I figured I would be there for when the bars open. Decisions like this are best made over a glass of wine or a beer.

The coast road from Izola to Koper is no longer open to motor vehicles. It has been set aside for the use of cyclists and pedestrians only (a lane each) and they have even opened a new public toilet and showers along the road for road users. It was an easy walk but if I had known that the road never once deviates from the shore line (there is absolutely no ascent/descent) I would have been tempted to cycle there and back. Having said that, the bus service down here is frequent, regular and very, very cheap and I took the bus back.

  

The route, pedestrians on the left and cyclists on the right, with toilet and shower facilities – there’s considerate

Koper is a working port and a much bigger place than Izola, Piran or Portoroz  but the old part of the city with its old buildings and narrow lanes (it’s a real rabbit warren) has much character and a great many drinking houses. I found one, the Lord Byron, that does Guinness. If you wonder why I chose Guinness instead of a local wine (this was my third time of drinking Guinness since commencing the tour) it is because in France, Austria and now Slovenia they serve it far better than it is served back in the UK – they serve it at a temperature such that you can taste it and not ice bloody cold.

Talking of cold, as I passed through Izola there were two blokes taking a dip in the sea – Australians. It had to be didn’t it.

 

 

 

Yes, I’ve made my mind up. It’s Croatia next.

Izola, Slovenia (and Orange Wine) – Nov 2017

Dober dan. That’s Slovenian for good day and wasn’t it just!

Today was about taking it easy and after an easy walk down by the cliffs to Izola and checking out the local sights (first impressions were correct – Izola is very much an old fishing town with shades of Venice) I made my way to the Manzioli Wine Bar on Manzioli Square (if a courtyard no more than 25 metres square can be termed a town square but, Izola is not very large). Manzioli was recommended to me yesterday by a local as the place to go to try out the local wines.

 

Azola is very much about fishing but its marina is also home to countless yachts; owned I dare say by relatively rich Italians who cross the border in droves to take advantage of the Slovenian casinos (which are everywhere, even at motorway service stations)

  

The town is made up of narrow lanes; not the picture post card lanes of Pinar but more lived in lanes of shops, wine bars, the odd local art gallery and, most especially, drying washing

The Manzioli Wine Bar is special. Except for a couple of locals sitting drinking morning coffee outside the entrance, the bar was very quiet when I arrived and the chap running it, Peter, was able to spend some considerable time explaining the local wines to me. I take back all that I said yesterday about the wines of this region. Certainly, many of the local white wines are different but that is because they are “orange wines”. Orange wines can take some getting used to but with the right frame of mind and the right food they are seriously good. I am sure there is more to it than this but Peter explained that orange wines are created by making white wines as you would normally make a red wine and, vice versa, red wines are made as you would ordinarily make a white wine. He went into more detail (about how the skins are left to macerate with the pips, grape skin, etc) but that was many glasses, sorry hours, ago and I cannot remember it all.  It will suffice to say that Manzioli make their wines using the Malvasia grape (although I also tried some that were made with the Pinot Grigio) and jolly nice they were too. I couldn’t trust myself to carry any back up the hill to the Van but I’ll return tomorrow to buy some.

  

The Manzioli Wine Bar, operated by the Zaro family

  

The wine and my lunch: Local Prosciutto Ham and Olives (with the family’s home made olive oil) and Montasio Cheese from just outside Trieste all served with more of the family’s wine, this time their Refosk Red.

Peter made me smile with his comment that the Zaro Olive Oil served with lunch is not necessarily the best in the area (not surprising given that this region is noted for it’s olive oil) but it is home made with olives from their own trees and the alternative would have been to cut the trees down.

  

Peter in selling mode and the route back to the Van (I’m sure the path was straighter than that on the way in)… almost dusk already.

Not sure how much longer I will be staying in this area but so glad I found it (especially Izola) and, believe me, you have not heard the last of orange wine. I’m quoting Peter now but if nothing else it is a more natural wine than most in that additives, including yeast, are rarely used in the production process. Last word with regards to orange wine, if you try it and don’t like it, don’t give up on it. In Piran I was unsure. Here in Izola I am hooked.

 

 

Piran, Slovenia – Nov 2017

Result! I spoke to a young Slovenian couple yesterday after they asked me to take a photo of them together and they suggested that I should visit Piran if ever I returned to Slovenia. Well that settled it. When I awoke this morning I set off for Piran. Good decision!

I should have reached Piran within an hour of leaving Trieste (despite having to stop and buy another vignette to continue using the Slovenian motorways) but, as has happened so often on this tour, I was sidetracked. Just outside of a place called Izola, about 8 km from Piran, I stopped to check out the Belvedere Hotel which had a sign outside advertising their new camping facility. As camping sites go it is 5 star, which is perhaps not surprising given that the Belvedere is itself a newly opened 4 star hotel. When they offered me a prime site (take a look at the photo below) at just 6 euros a night and with the promise I could use some of the hotel facilities I simply had to accept and I subsequently took my lunch at a small bar down on the marina in Izola.

I liked what I saw of Izola and will return tomorrow to explore further but first impressions were favourable. It seemed to me to be a small working fishing port that looked a little like Venice (that will be down to some of the architecture).

That’s the view (of Izola) from where the Van is parked

In the afternoon I pulled the push bike out of the Van with a view to cycling the 8 km to Piran. One bloody big hill later I took the bike back to the Van and started walking to Piran. Bicycles are hard work in such a hilly country.

It would have taken me less than 2 hours to walk to Piran but I wasn’t comfortable walking along the main road this close to Italy (the Italian drivers in Trieste did that to me) and I found a much safer, albeit considerably longer, coastal route.

Thank heaven for google maps

 

The views forwards and backwards were pleasant. With good eyes and a little imagination you can just make out Trieste in the (very) far distance of the second photo. 

 

View’s inland weren’t bad either. I even found a PADI Dive Centre (closed for winter) and/but seeing that prompted me to test the water temperature – too cold for me.

Piran is sensational. It is less than 50 km from Trieste by car but a million miles away in terms of content and atmosphere. As with Izola, some of the architecture reminds me of Venice but there’s not the hustle and bustle of Venice. It is a place to eat and drink and do little else but watch the world go round. The local wine takes some getting used to. They mix (I will not use the word blend) about 5 different grape varieties and create the driest wine I have ever tasted and it doesn’t really appeal. On the other hand, the local food is seriously good. Piran is famous throughout Slovenia for fish and especially its Sea Bass caked in local salt. That’s all I’m going to say about the food until I complete my trip advisor report (Will?).

Here’s a few photos of Piran:-

 

You follow the headland round and suddenly you are confronted with your first sight of the town, the Bell Tower of St George’s Parish Church. You are then presented with a choice of narrow alleys to follow but keep going up and you find St George’s

 

The church doesn’t look that imposing from the outside but inside…

 

Follow the narrow lanes down and you will reach the main square with it’s statue of that famous violinist Giorgio Tartini(?)

 

Views from the harbour walls are impressive. I nearly forgot the castle and town walls at the top of the hill

I’m told there’s another coastal walk somewhere in that direction going to Portoroz, another more modern but equally interesting town. Maybe the day after tomorrow…

Okay, just one more comment about food that I think best reflects Piran attitudes. The McDonald’s Restaurant that was opened here had to close in less than a year because no one was interested. Now that’s what I call music!

 

 

Postojnska, Slovenia – Nov 2017

Spent an hour in the hotel pool and jacuzzi in Bled and then, after a cooked breakfast during which I decided to head for Italy (I fancy a pizza by the sea), I checked out of the hotel and set a course for Trieste albeit via the Postojnska Caves. The total journey time to Trieste is only about 1.5 hours from Bled and the Caves are very much en route.

The Postojnska Jama as it is known in Slovenia is a 100,000 year old cave system that has been carved out by the Pivka River and which currently comprise 25km of underground caverns, halls and passages (more are being discovered every year).  They are without a doubt one of the most incredible natural wonders I have ever seen.

Over a period of about 1.5 hours an English speaking tour guide took me and others through some 5 km of the caves (that was about 3 km on a mini-train and 2 km walking) which included the “Great Mountain Cavern”, the Russian Bridge which led to the “Hall of Beautiful Caves” (i.e. the Spaghetti, White and Red Caves), the “Winter Hall” (which includes the Snow White Stalagmite) and the Planina Cave (where the Pivka surfaces before going back underground and emerging elsewhere in Slovenia as the Unica River). There was also a “Concert Hall” (which is somewhere in or between the Winter Hall and the Plancina Cave – Had I bought a programme, I could have told you precisely where it sits) which is used for various musical performances and can house 10,000+ people. Enough words…

 

The entrance to the caves and a typical path through the system

Not pleased with the above photo but I include it because it provides an indication as to the size of some of the caves

Stalactites hang down (usually) from the ceiling

 

Stalactites can take various forms including the spaghetti type at the top of the above left hand photo or the curtain type on the right

 

Stalagmites rise from the ground. The one in the right hand photo is known as Snow White

 

The photo on the left includes stalacmites and stalagtites. When they meet as in the right hand photo they form sometimes giant pillars but it doesn’t happen overnight. The ‘Mites and ‘Tites grow at the rate of about a millimetre every 10 years.

The cave system is home to 100+ species, one of the largest (at 25 to 30 cms) and most bizarre being the Olm or proteus anguinus, otherwise known as the “Human Fish”. It is anaemic in appearance with no eyes (but enhanced hearing) and a different number of toes (back and front). I suppose there could be humans like that but not too many. On average, they live for between 60 and 70 years but have been known to last 100+ years. What is remarkable is that they can go 10 years without eating (by slowing down their metabolic rate).

Heading on to Trieste now but that was a good 1.5 hours even if it did cost 25 euros.

ps It’s not my photo, but that is a proteus.

Bled, Hill Walking etc – Nov 2017

I had it in mind to do a bit of hill walking today but I also wanted to take a closer look at Bled Castle and St Martin’s Church. Succeeded on all fronts.

The hill walking wasn’t as good as expected. The tree line here is higher than in Scotland and the ascent made really wasn’t worth the effort in terms of the resulting views (even on the hilltops the trees obscured almost everything). Moreover, on more than one occasion I deviated from the track, such as it was, and ended up forging routes through areas that were best avoided. This I think is a better area for cycling or hiking than hill walking. Failing that, I need to go a great deal higher.

The route I chose (not sure if you will be able to read the map above) took me from Bled through Ribno and across the river at the Ribenski Bridge then up the hill to Lovska koca na Talezu. I wish it was as easy as it sounds. From the closed log cabin type cafe at 725m I dropped behind Oglar and up to Tolsti vrh, 883m, before making my way down round Hom to the Selski Bridge and then on to Lake Bled via Selo and Strazo Mlino (also taking in the small tops of Kozarca, 558m and Obroc, 519m). Views were non existent (with the photos not worth including in this blog) but there was plenty of exercise.  Moreover I had the route very much to myself, stopping only to talk to a few cows and a goat as one does when not meeting anybody after 5+ hours walking.

Ribno was a small but pretty and well kept hamlet…

…and the view upstream from the Ribenski Bridge wasn’t bad

The views started to open up once across the river

On the way back, after wandering up and down steep thickly wooded hills for much longer than should have been the case, I was pleased to find the Selski Bridge…

… and then, after checking out the hamlets of Selo and Straza Mlino, I found Lake Bled…

… and my first sight of the day of Bled Castle, my next port of call…

… and St Martin’s Church, also to be visited before my first beer of the day.

10 euros to enter Bled Castle, it was worth it for the views alone

They were expecting me

Views out of the windows were impressive…

… especially this one.

… and from the battlements but, it’s getting late

 

and St Martin’s Church – the Catholics know how to best present a church

Not sure where I am heading tomorrow but look what I found in the Lovec…

Bled Day 1 – Nov 2017

Bled is situated in the Julian Alps in northwest Slovenia, not far from Austria and Italy. It is an out and out tourist destination (with an abundance of hotels, pensions and camp sites) in a very picturesque location, surrounded by mountains and forests. The lake of the same name is oval shaped, about 2 clicks long, and just under 30m deep (that’s for the divers amongst you; not that I would want to dive it).  It has a small island on which stands a church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary but the lake is perhaps best known for holding the World Rowing Championships on as many as 4 occasions.

You could circuit the Lake on foot in just over an hour if it weren’t for the fact you simply have to stop, again and again, to take photographs – it is stunning. It took me more than 2 hours with most of my photo shots directed towards the island because it seems to get better and better from every angle but there are many other photo opportunities.  I walked in a clockwise direction from the centre of the town on an excellent path that hugged the shoreline the whole way.

Looking back towards the town with the parish church of St Martin on the left 

One of my first shots of the Island and its church

Getting closer

The hardest part will be deciding which photos to use in the blog

I didn’t realise rowing is so popular in Slovenia

Looking back over the lake as it starts to get dark and I reach my hotel, the image is almost surreal

Dinner was at the Restavracija Grill in the Lovec Hotel (the sister hotel to the one I am staying in) and the food was good but the alcohol (especially the beer) was great…

Tomorrow: some hill walking and I’ll pop into both Bled Castle and St Martin’s Church. Oh… and the Lovec Hotel for a beer or two.

Bled, Slovenia – Nov 2017

The journey to Bled from Graz wouldn’t have taken more than an hour or two except I stopped twice.

The first time was to fill my LPG tanks (which amongst other things power the heating system in the Van; I think I may be needing them soon – it was just 2 degrees as I came over the mountains from Austria) and the second was to check out the little village of “Egg am Faaker See”. I was going to stop at the Austrian town of Villach, on the Draava River, but Egg am Faaker See, just 5 clicks further on, sounded more interesting and of course it is much smaller.

The stop to fill up with LPG was not enjoyable. There I was trying to fix/force a German adaptor on to my UK style LPG tap when a young lady, after watching me struggle for ten minutes or so, pointed out that Austrian LPG stations use the same adaptor as the French and the Italians- well of course they do. Silly me. Ten minutes is not a lot of time in the great scheme of things but the first few seconds of trying to fill the tank with the wrong adaptor in place caught me without gloves and receiving what felt like serious burns from the cold propane gas. I’ll wear gloves in future even if I don’t always apply the correct adaptor. Why on earth Europe should operate four different LPG fittings I do not know.

The stop at Egg am Faaker See was far more enjoyable not least because the air temperature had risen to 10 degrees and it was getting warmer still. I didn’t do anything but take in the views and chill out for an hour or so.

The Faaker See

I was chilled out and the rest of the journey to Bled (just inside the Slovenian border) went so smoothly I decided to continue with the mood and check into the four star Kompas Hotel for a day or two (hotels here are half price this time of the year) and take advantage of their swimming pool, sauna and massage facilities. Now that is chilled!

First however a gentle walk around Lake Bled:-

There’s the map…

…there’s the lake…

…and there’s the castle to help get my bearings.