There was another dreary start to the day but at least it wasn’t raining and after another excellent breakfast where I was even tempted to sample the bottled beetroot juice (and promptly wished I hadn’t) we decided to take another bus journey out of the city and to Slovenia’s most popular tourist destination, Lake Bled.
So after packing and checking out of the hotel it was back to the bus station, more reasonably priced travel tickets and a journey in a north westerly direction of just over an hour to reach our destination. Very little seemed to be happening in the countryside today, there was no real activity in the fields and there was an eerie absence of wildlife or birds, in fact the only things we saw on the entire journey were a few buzzards scavenging for food. There were some shooting platforms but nothing to shoot so no sporting activity either.
As the bus drove through a series of towns and villages I reflected on the country and its history. Yugoslavia had been created in 1918 after the First World War by the victorious western allies in the hope of bring some stability to the Balkans but this had been a hopelessly optimistic attempt to impose a solution on a disparate region of Europe who were never realistically going to coexist easily as one single nation.
The Balkans is where east meets west in Europe and Yugoslavia was a mix of Eastern Orthodox looking to the east (Serbia), Catholics looking to the west (Slovenia and Croatia) and Muslims who could not be reconciled to either (Bosnia). Here was a recipe for disaster! Slovenia is clearly more Central European in character than any of its Balkan partners and being more prosperous and increasingly resentful of providing support to its national partners it is not surprisingly that when the grip of Tito was removed in 1980 it was the first to break loose from the Yugoslav Federation in 1991.
Luckily for them it was a bloodless separation following a vote for independence in 1990. I’m not quite sure what sort of federation Yugoslavia was but I can’t imagine that being allowed to happen in say, Wales. The Slovenian secession did however lead to a violent break-up of the country with civil war and ethnic cleansing in neighbouring Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina that persisted throughout the 1990’s.
We arrived in Bled which is a resort town that was once home of the Yugoslavian royal family and also the summer residence of President Tito and went immediately to the Lake to see the water but unlike the inviting pictures in the guide books, where it is always an amazing turquoise blue, today the water looked cold and grey and distinctly uninviting.
We walked around the shoreline for a short distance underneath the walls of Bled castle that was on a cliff high above us and looked over the water to the Church of the Assumption which sits famously on an island in the middle of the lake.
The island, according to legend, was created as a punishment by God. He stopped by one day on a surprise inspection and was annoyed to find his church full of cattle because the villages had become too lazy to watch over them and had left the church door open. To punish them he made the lake so that in future the animals couldn’t get across to it and get inside. A nice story but without a shred of truth of course because in actual fact the lake is glacial and was formed at the end of the last ice age when water poured in behind the retreating ice.
The church is popular for weddings and there are ninety-nine steps to the top and there is a tradition that if a bridegroom can carry his bride to the church without either stopping for breath or complaining then the couple will enjoy a happy marriage. If you are tempted to try this super-human feat my then my advice would be that you get engaged to a skinny girlfriend because just getting to the top sounds like seriously hard work to me without any unnecessary additional burden. Or perhaps this is simply designed to get you ready for the harsh realities of married life.
After the briefest of visits we ended our time in Bled with an al fresco drinks break at a pleasant little bar on the way back to the bus station and although it was December and close to the Alps and the average temperature is supposed to be only 4° centigrade with just one hour of sunshine per day we sat comfortably in shirt sleeves (thick shirts it has to be said) and drank some cold beer. After that we caught the next bus back to Ljubljana and enjoyed the final views of the Slovenian countryside. For some unexplained reason we had to change buses at the town of Kranj but this didn’t hold us up at all and we arrived back in the city on schedule and with enough time for a final meal at the Julija.