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Slovenia: Part 5 - Bled & Ljubljana


Welcome back for the final installment in our Eastern European wanderings!

After our free time in Zagreb, we loaded back on the bus & hit the open road again.  We crossed the border into Slovenia & reached Bled in about three hours.  We had the most spectacular views of beautiful countryside & the Julian Alps along the way.  The sun was shining brightly & I knew instantly I was going to love Slovenia.

The town of Bled was another small village where many of Europe's wealthy come for 'spa retreats'.  The town is set along the banks of the glacial Lake Bled & surrounded by the spectacular Julian Alps.  While Croatia had more of an Italian influence, Slovenia has clearly been shaped more by Russia or Germany.  The picturesque towns we passed along the way looked like something straight out of Germantown or off the front of a Swiss Miss box.  Early that evening we arrived in Bled & checked in to our hotel, Park Hotel.  While this hotel may have been the least chic of all our accommodations on the trip, our jaws dropped after entering the room.  Not only was this the first room we'd had a balcony in (& could actually enjoy it in the lovely weather), but we had the most perfect view of the lake & Bled Castle!
After dropping our bags, we immediately ventured out to check out the town, while the sun was still with us.  We decided to hold off on the walk around the lake, as we had been told it takes about an hour & a half.  We ventured up the hill to snap some photos & before we knew it, our stomachs were growling.  We wandered around looking for a restaurant offering traditional Slavic food that our tour guide recommended us.  We located the bar/pizzeria/restaurant & had the place to ourselves.  Honestly, I don't really remember what I had, only that there was A LOT of it.  Judging from the menu, the Slavs love a good hearty meal full of roasts & potatoes.  We exited the restaurant to find a great drop occurred in the temperature while we dined.  Once again being unprepared for this, I took off running down the hill for the hotel, jostling my full belly along the way.  We made it back to our hotel & settled in for the night.

Bled Castle sits high upon a cliff overlooking the town

The next morning, we departed Bled & headed back out into the beautiful countryside to Ljubljana (loo-blee-ana) for another walking tour.  I think it's safe to say this spectacular town was my favorite of the whole trip.  I generally try not to return to the same destinations, but Slovenia was absolutely breath taking & I would really be interested in a return trip.  Unfortunately, we only had a few hours in Ljubljana.  This dazzling town had so much to offer that I could've spent a few days there.  It is actually Slovenia's capital & largest city, although you'd never guess it.  It was quaint, clean, & cultured.  There were street performers & beautiful sculptures throughout the town.  The whole town had an artistic & creative aesthetic vibe about it.  For it to be the capital city, the mellow town definitely lacks any 'hustle & bustle' or heavy traffic.  Our local guide explained to us that the Slavs definitely have a laid-back lifestyle.  She said sometimes it is even too laid-back.  No one wanders the streets yammering on cell phones or pushing through crowds.  You're more likely to find the carefree locals lounging on park benches or sipping coffee in street cafes.  Our guide explained there is no "to go" coffee in Slovenia.  A good cup lasts at least an hour.  After our walking tour, we had a couple of hours to wander around the town on our own.  We made our way through a few shops before finding another open air market.  Once again, the expansive market offered so many magnificent goodies.  After picking up another gelato, Brad & I ambled to one of the many parks & lounged for what seemed like a pleasant eternity on one of the park benches where we people watched & fought the strong urge to nap in the dazzling sunshine.
another accordion!
Ljubljana is known as the Dragon City
Love locks on the Sinner's Bridge
another market
a stunning Baroque cathedral
 Before we knew it, our time was up in Ljubljana & we had to say goodbye.  We reluctantly climbed aboard the bus & made the journey back to Bled, where we traveled around the lake & to the cliff where Bled Castle overlooks the town.  The remarkable views as we drove around the lake told me that we definitely needed to make the walk around after we left the castle.  Our guide gave us a quick run down on the castle before setting us free to explore.  Honestly, there wasn't a great deal to see or do at the castle, except admire the impressive vistas.  We snapped a few photos & decided to make a solo journey back down the massive mountain to trek around the lake before our farewell dinner. 
Bled Island
Our guide had informed us that the Slavs are 'outdoor people' & we definitely saw this to be true.  Everywhere we turned people were running, hiking, biking, kayaking, paddle boarding, or roller blading.  Many of the individuals we passed as we made the roughly 5 miles walk around the lake appeared to be local families out enjoying the beautiful weather.  Once we made it to the opposite side of the lake from our hotel, we had the best view yet.  Our guide had told us that it is common on the weekends to see young couples getting married on Bled Island.  On the island is the Assumption of Mary Pilgrimage Church where it is tradition for couples to ferry to the island & ascend the 99 steps.  Tradition states the groom has to carry the bride up these steps before they can marry.  While this seems like a daunting task for the man, the bride has her own challenge.  While being carried up the steps, she must remain silent.  If the couple makes it through this task, they can be married & ring the bell- which is said to bring them luck.
While I can't speak on the likelihood of a blessed marriage after being bustled up 99 steps, I do know one thing to be true.  There is absolutely no way the people of Bled realize the beauty they are surrounded by daily.  Otherwise, they would never get any work done.  I could stand for hours & just admire the beauty.  I was positively awe struck by the raw beauty of Slovenia.  It is undoubtedly one of Europe's greatest hidden jewels!
We made our way back to the hotel & cleaned up for our farewell dinner.  We packed our bags & headed downstairs to say goodbye to all the tour mates (easy task).  We thanked our driver & guide & headed off to bed.  Before we knew it, our wake up call advised us it was 3 am & time to make our way back to Venice.  We made the 3 hour journey back in silence as we were all sad to say goodbye to this spectacular country.  We navigated through the painfully long lines of security at Marco Polo International & boarded our flight to Istanbul.  Once again we found Turkish Airlines had forgotten how to operate the air conditioner as we sat in stifling heat.  The poor flight attendant was dripping sweat off his clammy face! Thankfully the flight passed quickly & we made it to Istanbul.  We set up shop as we knew we had about 5 hours to kill.  After pacing from every corner of the airport, they finally put our flight on the boards, only to inform us that we would be delayed 2.5 hours.  Finally we made our way onto the plane at 9:00 that evening to find we were crammed in with a stranger right next to the bathrooms.  As we sweltered in the heat & bathroom stench, we prayed heavily as our pilot clearly had never flown a plane.  By the grace of God, we safely touched down in New York at 5 am.  Noting that flight as the rockiest one in my short life, we ran off the plane as fast as we could.
praying we'd make it to JFK safely!
Once we had our feet safely planted onto firm ground, we ambled through more lines of customs before making up beds on the cold tile floor for a couple of hours.  Finally the Delta counters opened & we were able to check our bags & head to our gate.  Knowing we had two more flights separating us from home was agony but fortunately they passed quickly as the lack of sleep & jet lag caught up to us.  We snoozed through the final two flights & before we knew it we were back in the Heart of Dixie, being greeted by Richard Shelby & mullets.  We caught our second wind as our ride arrived & we made our way back home.  We were greeted by bright sunshine, warm temps, & ecstatic pups.  Ah... it's good to be home...
Thanks so much for joining me on this trip through Eastern Europe!  I highly recommend both of these phenomenal countries if you're on the hunt for a travel destination.  You surely won't be disappointed.
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