Part One: All Bled Out
After just over a week in London, UK -which will be my final post from this trip- it was time to head off on our mini Balkan Tour. We were, and still are proud of our budget for accommodation, 4 day car rental, buses, trains, ferries and flights from the UK which -for 9 days of travel in 4 countries- all came to under $1400.00 CAD. Split between the two of us was $694.00 each. As with most trips, we wish we could have seen more and travelled longer but we will most definitely be back, especially after how much we learned!
To preface, the only things we had booked ahead of time were our flights from London (Luton) to Ljubljana (pronounced Loo-blee-yawna -Slovenia's capital city), flights from Split to London (Luton), a train from Ljubljana to Split and our accommodation each night [all Airbnbs!]). Basically we had our home in each city booked and had to figure out a way to get ourselves there each day.
FIRST STOP: Bled, Slovenia
Located between Austria, Italy and Croatia, Slovenia is where the Germanic, Mediterranean and Slavic worlds come together, and it is probably the most underrated place I've been to yet. Lush gardens, rolling fields, medieval towns, the Julian Alps, fresh air, fresher food.
I was particularly proud of this destination as I discovered it from the window of a train I took from Budapest to Split a few years back. I had been in and out of sleep, didn't even know what country it was in but I promised myself I'd find out and take my future self back to that spot one day.. Fast forward and here we are!
A big expense we avoided in our budget was our flights between the UK and the former Yugoslavia. We decided to book with Wizz Air, snatching roundtrip flights for $88.00 CAD on Google Flights! Despite slight hesitations from reading horror stories about Wizz online, we had great flights,
on-time and avoided getting dinged with those looming, and questionable 'oversized/extra baggage' claims that cheap airlines are known to pull once you arrive at the gate.
Koy had read a book called “The 4-Hour Work Week,” in which he had learned that traveling with heavy bags can take a lot of the fun away from traveling, especially when you are constantly on the move. As he loved to quote, “trip enjoyment is inversely proportional to the amount of crap you bring with you.” I hate to admit it, but when we were running through the airport, or to catch a train, the light load I had to carry (he carried my heavy bag) was a breeze!
As mentioned, we landed in Ljubljana, Slovenia with nothing planned but accommodation. I do have to mention a highlight from my 10 minutes at the LJU airport: a pile of confiscated goods as you exit customs... I think they are meant to intimidate, being comprised of wolf pelts, a bear head and some crazy weapons.. It did give us a freaky first impression as we made our way outside.
...Of course, it wasn't freaky at all. In fact, we felt quite at home. One of the things we kept saying at the scenery was 'Wow I feel like I'm in Western Canada'.
So, we step out of the airport and pull out our phones to Google Maps* the transport options and times**. As the page loaded, we looked up and like a holy beacon there was a man standing outside a shuttle van holding a sign that said 'To Bled'. Was it fate? Musta been. The ride was a half hour, 13€ each and well worth it. The company was called Zup-Prevozi. Our driver gave us 'Welcome pamphlets' filled with cool facts, and even knew our Airbnb location just by us mentioning our host's first name!
On the last day of our stay in Bled, we called the shuttle service about 5 hours before we wanted to leave. He picked us up from our villa and took us to the train station for 22€ each. You can also catch the train right from Bled into Ljubljana.
We arrived at Andreja's beautiful house surrounded by lush trees and meticulous gardens and just a 4 minute walk to the lake. The room was awesome as well. We paid $96 CAD for the upstairs suite with a balcony, kitchen and living room. She has a few rooms though and listings normally start at $64 CAD. This is the link for her villa. For me, location, and then the view are the two things I look for when selecting a place to stay. We were very happy with our decision to stay on the East side of the lake, here:
Our host, Andreja was so wonderful and accommodating; sitting us down with a map she provided with all of her favourite spots highlighted.
We were hungry so we dropped our bags and brought her map with us to the lake to scout out her recommendations... Except those plans were abruptly delayed as we took one look at the lake and our hearts sank into our stomachs, subduing our hunger.
Once we had some Slovenian fuel in us, which consisted of different types of sausage with lard and mustard, we went off to rent a row boat to visit the Church of Assumption on the island. We rented our boat from a hilarious guy at a place called Grajska čolnarna near the activities centre on the North East side of the lake. We told him all about being Canaliens and he loved it. If you go to him in your gear it will definitely bring a smile to his face, and probably get you some perks ;). The rate is 15€ to rent for the first hour and an extra 10€ for every hour after that (which he comped us). Luckily Koy knew how to row because I tried and it was pathetic.. Although the water is extremely calm and beautiful BLUE it's harder than it looks: if you're travelling in a pair make sure someone's comfortable rowing because the castle is further than it seems once you're on the water - and getting there is only half the effort! You can also hop on one of the local 'pletna boats' and have someone row you there. These boats have a unique design only known be found in Bled! *c00l fact alert* But if you are really into rowing you should head there when they have a regatta on, or arrange to rent a real rowing boat- Lake Bled is known for it's rowing conditions.
Make sure you row around the whole island to get the full view and you must dock at the docks facing the boat rental facility- other spots are reserved for the pletna boats. Once you get up there you can tour the church and ring the bell for good luck! You can also grab lunch and drinks in their little shop and soak in a unique view of Bled, rest your weary arms, and prepare for the row back.
FOOD & DINING:
Next on our list was the renowned BLED CREAM CAKE, which has it's own Facebook Page btw. We went to the Park Hotel Restaurant that boasts the creation of the original Bled cream cake recipe in 1953. It was effing delicious.
We then walked back to our AirBnb and freshened up for DINNER AT THE CASTLE aka Blejski grad!
We walked to the top, a little hike up mostly stairs, where we -sweaty and out of breath- burst out laughing to find a parking lot filled with cars who had whipped up the paved road. The chef is highly regarded across the country and the food was so tasty and SO FRESH. Read this description of their food philosophy:
The service was also impeccable; they brought out complimentary amuse bouches and digestifs!
..I was worried about the walk down from the castle but it was all lit up, and really quick. In town we stopped at Gostinstvo, a restaurant/bar in town for a night cap and walked back to our AirBnB.
The next morning was one of the most serene wake ups I’ve ever had. We strolled to the lake and grabbed coffee and eggs at a lakeside restaurant called Vila Prešeren. We went back to the super chill boat rental guy and gave us a free bike with no time restrictions because we were returning customers... but I'd like to think we were so much more than that *canalien life*.
ACTIVITIES - VINTGAR GORGE:
Now, there are very inexpensive and quick shuttles to Vintgar Gorge, but of course we biked there. It is a must-see natural wonder about 5km from the lake. After getting lost in the old farm roads, we finally arrived in- I’d say about 45 minutes. The bike ride was beautiful and quiet and peaceful and surrounded by mountains, fields, flowers, cows, horses, sheep and a cool views of the castle.
It was 4€ entry to the park (3€ for my bf, the student) and there is a bar and restaurant at the beginning and end of the trail. (The restaurant served fish caught from the gorge itself!) To walk the gorge is about 20 minutes each way, 40 total and make that 1 hour+ if you plan on taking some sweet pics… which you should… in your Canalien gear… and tag us.
Make sure you go all the way to the last natural waterfall- you won’t regret it. Grab a beer there too, after all, you just hiked a bit. This was the view we had, above!
The bike back to town was amazing; same rolling hills, picturesque old towns, comforting farm noises, except downhill! We made it back in about 20 minutes, including a couple photo-op-stops.
Next, we went back to eat at Gostinstvo; probably our favourite resto/bar in town (Address: Grajska cesta 8, 4260 Bled, Slovenia). The food was amazing- one of the best grilled calamaris I’ve ever had- 100%. We had the Mixed Grill meat dish and a seafood salad- We'd lost track of time and almost missed our shuttle bus back out to Ljubljana so the awesome staff packed everything up for us (including 4 drinks in roadies!)
It was just over a half our in the shuttle and then we hopped on our train to Zagreb and Split... Stay tuned for more Balkan explorations!
This little gem of Slovenia stole our hearts. I can't wait to come back and explore the rest of this wonderful country; eat more delicious food, and meet more beautiful people.
We wish we'd had the time to visit Brdo Estate: The home of former President Tito, and try the restaurant Vrtnarija and stay at Garden Village Bled (clamping!) on the other side of the lake. Outside of Bled, we hope to one day get to the Postojna Cave and the Skocjan Caves. Go if you can and tell us about them!!