Sunday, September 17, 2006

Lake Bled

Up early and down to breakfast. We love the breakfasts in European hotels. They have some very good muesli-like cereal, fresh fruit (it is the season), rolls, sausage slices, cheese, soft-boiled eggs, and great coffee. I always like the soft-boiled eggs and think I should have them at home. Last time, in Italy, we even bought egg cups, but we never used them. Things done on vacation stay on vacation I guess. I always think about Jonathan Swift's little-endians being at war with the big-endians, terminology borrowed by computer science people to talk about byte-order variations in different computer architectures. In Bled we sat with a English couple at breakfast who tried to teach Wynette how to lop off the end with a quick blow of the knife, an acquired talent it seems. They didn't seem to care which end you topped off. Wynette talked about David Copperfield and egg tops but I don't remember that, but then I don't think I read DC at all. The Italian hotels had special appliances which electrically heated the water and would take up to four eggs in little baskets. Then you had only yourself to blame if they were not the right degree of soft-boiled. The ones in Bled were a bit overdone. In Salzburg, and again and the tourist farm hotel in the Karst, they just threw in the towel and gave us hard-boiled eggs.

We took a four-hour train through the mountains from Salzburg, through Austria, and then a tunnel to Slovenia and on to Bled, only maybe 50 km from the border. The countryside was remarkably beautiful, all high, jagged, rugged, steep mountains and lovely valleys with pleasant little villages only a mile or two apart. The rural life seems very vibrant in Austria and in Slovenia. After the near-ghost towns of rural New Mexico with derelict buildings and closed cafes it is nice to see neatly kept-up villages where people are still living. I'm not sure what they all do. There do seem to be a lot of small farms so maybe that life style is still viable here, unlike in the US. Maybe the "creative destruction" has not arrived here yet. I hope it takes a while. But then these narrow valleys don't seem amenable to large factory farms so perhaps they are safe. Everything in Austrian continued to be neat, clean and well-kept-up.

The train tracks are fairly high up from the valley floors, often hundred of feet, possibly so as not to waste any of the arable land. We see lots of hey rolls in plastic wrap, it rains a lot, and, of course, lots of cows and sheep grazing, and a number of black sheep, or, as the mathematician's joke goes, at least one sheep that is black on at least one side. The ride is very pleasant the four hours go by quickly, unlike the two-hour trip from Munich were we unwisely choose the sunny side of the car and were hot and brighted-out the whole time, very tiring.

We alighted at the Bled-Lesce station in the non-descript (according to the guidebooks) village of Lesce and a 10 euro (or 2400 SIT -- Slovenian-something-tolars) taxi ride to the Pension Mayer. This was recommended and lived up to the recommendation. Very cute, very comfortable, sparkling-clean bathrooms, etc. These people really know how to clean. It was a charming little three-story guest house as they said although it was next (I mean 50 years away) to a 20-story high-rise hotel and surrounded by lots of other Bavarian-style house. But still, it was actually charming and we liked it a lot.

The Slovenians are a serious, matter-of-fact sort of people who don't say a lot, although the taxi-driver was quite voluble, talking cheerily of how we could go swimming in the hotel pool next door even if it rained the next day as it was forecast to do, a potent of ill that we did not pay proper attention to. After claiming we had no reservation he (the desk clerk not the taxi driver) found another sheet of paper and said, yes, we did have a reservation. We are ready to believe it had gotten lost because they were remarkably casual about the reservation when we got it by email, declining our offer of a VISA number saying it was not necessary. And Lake Bled is quite a popular destination, the most popular in Slovenia according to the guidebook, and we asked about extended it to three days and they said it was impossible, they were full, and he made some comments about how most people came for 10 days or two weeks and implying that people staying only two or three days were not worth bothering about. The people with the hard-boiled eggs the next morning, were, in fact, staying 10 days, away from their native Leicestershire, a Scottish widow and an Indian widower who got married and had a raft of children and grandchildren that they were happy to spend 10 days away from, although they certainly loved them and all. They also talked about the forecast rain and how luckily it would only last until Tuesday (this was only Thursday!) and how tiresome it was to have rain on vacation. I breezily said how I, like all New Mexicans, loved rain and would not mind a bit, words later consumed.

So we got the room but only for the originally-planned two days. Lake Bled is an old-style resort of the kind where people do stay for weeks and eat at the hotel. We noticed there were lots of older peoples but then, maybe I was influenced by New York Times reports of the aging of Europe, but it seems in Germany, Austrian and Slovenia there were a preponderance of older people, we are not seeing a lot of young people or children (except at this farm tourism hotel where there seem to be a raft of children, I'm not sure where they are all coming from, including a cute little girl we saw doing rather good somersaults on their trampoline with a net around it).

We walked around the town and it is quite lovely. The lake is small, maybe 2-3 km in diameter, and it has a little fairy-tale island in the center full to the brim with a church and a few buildings. It has a long, broad flight of 100 steps at the boat landing up to the church and newly-married grooms carry their brides up the steps, or try to. Wynette declined in principle but we did not, in fact, get over to the island, only accessible in mini-tour with a gondolier who takes you over, a results of the rain we have so ominously mentioned a few times.

Lots of boats, lots of older people strolling around, not actually the touristy considering what a bit destination it is. Very nice overall. We stopped at an outdoor cafe (rain-commencement day minus one) and had coffee and a dessert (retsina something) which was recommended in all the guidebooks to have in Bled. The cafe was attached to the Hotel Park which, it turns out, originated the dessert many years ago. It was excellent, crusty and creamy, Wynette can give you the details.

The room was on the top floor and had a slanting roof over the bed and we hit our heads maybe half a dozen times before we learned better. It had a nice balcony, sheltered by a large overhang, which was handy when the you-know-what came. Everything has large overhangs here, clearly it you-know-whats a lot. The bathroom was very nice and now the commode report: instead of big-flush, little-flush it has start-long-flush and stop current flush buttons allowing you to tailor your flush to your exact, personal requirements. European engineering and commode-user-interface design at its best.

The Pension Mayer was said to have the best restaurant in town so we had dinner there and we are not about to dispute this claim, both because it was good the first night we ate there and because we did not get to go to another recommended restaurant for comparison the next night because of the heavy rain and the wet state of my only outer clothes. I had trout, very good and a regional specialty, probably caught nearby. Slovenians have soup at every meal and it seems to be invariably good. We were too jet-lag final stages careful to have wine, too late-caffeine-sensitive to have after-dinner coffee and too full for dessert, what must they have thought of us?

There was a little rain that night and a lot the next day, continued to the day I am writing this at the tourist farm, although not so as-you-might-think-of-farmy as to not have high-speed Internet.

The promising rain came in the morning but it was fairly light. We got up late and did this and that in the morning and then had a nice lunch, more soup and trout for me. I decided to walk around the lake (about three miles) and Wynette stayed in town and looked up weather and schedules. The lake walk was nice, or would have been if the rain had not been getting harder and harder. One reason to walk around the lake was to get the train schedule for the next day. Our plan was to stay in a cute little village called Stanjel which two of the guidebooks praised highly. We could get close on the train but the next day was Saturday and on Saturday none of the small trains run, like, for example, the train to Stanjel. No buses either. I got home around 5 and was completely soaked. I ended up using the hair dryer to dry my pants and shirt, which, by the way, works very well, even in rainy, humid weather, although it is a bit tedious. Even in normal circumstances around here things take 2 or 3 days to dry.

Wynette got home and had made reservations at a private home in Stanjel but the woman there expressed doubts that we could get there on a Saturday. She was right. There was no way. The forecast was for rains the next 3 to 4 days and we started to rethink things. We decided to rent a car which did not turn out to be too expensive and was, in fact, very easy. We went to dinner at the hotel because it was raining too hard to go out anywhere. The car was sounding better and better.

We had some trouble changing money. The transaction kept timing out. I checked with my online bank account and the transaction was made and then cancelled the same minute. Some problem with intercontinental communications I guess. The bank changed the money for us and we got 50,000 SIT (tolars). This is the sunset for the tolar though, on 1/1/2007 (that's 1/1/2007 the way the Europeans write dates ;-) they change to euros in Slovenia. Most places take either SIT or euros, except the post office. There we had to stand in on line to change a few euro and then another to buy the stamps. Short lines though. We were wondering if the people would miss their tolars. Lots of tradition no doubt but having a single currency is pretty darn handy. Croatia also has its own currency. I do not know if they are changing also but I would not be surprised.


Blogger Christy said...

Charlie, I had a good laugh at your Lake Bled comments.! Can't wait to hear about you know what.
The whole place sounds very old world. In the small world category I met a woman last night at the golf course and somehow Slovenia came up and she said "Oh, I was there last month. Went to Lake Bled. Very beautiful." Turns out her boyfriend's father lives in the city that starts with an L? Can't remember the name. Well off to walk my poor depressed puppy whose best friend is out of town.

9/18/2006 7:44 AM  
Blogger Christy said...

Charlie, I had a good laugh at your Lake Bled comments.! Can't wait to hear about you know what.
The whole place sounds very old world. In the small world category I met a woman last night at the golf course and somehow Slovenia came up and she said "Oh, I was there last month. Went to Lake Bled. Very beautiful." Turns out her boyfriend's father lives in the city that starts with an L? Can't remember the name. Well off to walk my poor depressed puppy whose best friend is out of town.

9/18/2006 7:45 AM  

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