a break in the clouds
“I’ve sucked way too much cement for this year. Bad juju rising off them city sidewalks. I need to babble with a brook or two, inhale starlight, make friends with some trees.”
Of the many memorable turns of phrase coined by Tom Robbins, these lines particularly resonate with us. Our love of the great outdoors was one of the first things that brought us together. We met in the heart of the Andes, in one of Ecuador’s premier hiking destinations; in the two years it took for our paths to cross again after that brief initial encounter we frequently corresponded about hikes we had undertaken or hoped to make. In fact, at one point we had come close to making plans to hike the Appalachian Trail together, and the first time we met again we hiked to the top of Mt. Katahdin, which marks the end of the AT.
Although Munchkin had proved himself an incredibly flexible traveler, we had not strayed far from paved roads with him before venturing into Slovenia’s Julian Alps. In fact, we had not gone hiking together since arriving in Eastern Europe at the beginning of S’s second trimester more than a year ago, and we missed it more than we had realized.
Lake Bled lies at the edge of Triglav National Park, the only national park in Slovenia. After spending our first day at the lake, we planned to spend the next day further afield, exploring the nearby Vintgar Gorge and hiking in Bled’s surrounding countryside. We had noted several attractive options, but our plans very nearly were washed out by a prolonged thunderstorm. We had been spoiled by two weeks of almost unlimited sunshine on the Croatian coast; Slovenia reminded us that the onset of fall was upon us — it rained a good part of the week we were there.
We awoke to leaden skies, lazed around in bed while Munchkin worked off his morning energy, and took turns eating breakfast while he napped, all the while hoping in vain that the rain would cease. We had all but resigned ourselves to spending the day indoors when we saw the first feeble ray of sunlight a few minutes shy of noon. Munchkin had just gotten up from a two-hour nap and was in superb spirits, so we quickly bundled him into the car and headed to the gorge.
The Vintgar Gorge is the epitome of low-impact/high-reward hiking. It is beautiful, an azure brook rumbling through the narrow, moss-covered ravine. The trail takes only about an hour to navigate and takes in some pretty waterfalls and a small, decrepit dam. What’s more, there are boardwalks that not only cross back and forth over the gorge, but also cling to its walls in places where there is no room for a trail, making for a spectacularly scenic and very easy hike.
The rain appeared to have deterred a good many would-be hikers, and the boardwalks — in marked contrast to Plitvice — were almost completely deserted. We hiked the length of the gorge from one national park ticket booth to the other, the latter of which was perched atop Vintgar’s largest waterfall. There seemed to be a path that emerged at the bottom somehow but it looked like it required a lot of questionable, muddy hiking, and with Munchkin strapped to S’s chest, we decided to skip it.
Instead, we returned the way we had come and drove to Lake Bohinj, deeper inside Triglav National Park. Bohinj may not have a picturesque castle or tiny island to embellish its charms, but what it lacks in adornments it makes up with rugged beauty, offering sweeping forest and mountain views as its backdrop. Munchkin had handled the carrier like a champ during the Vintgar hike, but when S strapped him in again at Lake Bohinj he rebelled. We had stretched our legs, and he wanted to do the same, so instead of hiking we simply found a nice grassy spot by the water’s edge and let him roam free.
Driving back to our pension, we stopped at Vila Bled, a massive white mansion hulking on the lakeshore. During communist times, this had been Tito’s summer residence; it has since been converted into a posh hotel with a good, if somewhat overpriced, restaurant. It is neither the lodgings nor the dinner menu, however, that brought us to the Vila. The Lonely Planet makes no mention of it, but we had read in our other guidebook, edited by Rick Steves, that there is an impressive communist-era fresco that runs the length of one of the upstairs rooms. We drove up the colonnaded entryway and asked the concierge if we could see the room. S had half expected him to turn us away; not only did he lead the way upstairs, but he also gave us a printout that explained the various panels of the fresco.
We ended the day at Bled Castle, taking in the sweeping views of the lake and making the most of the brief interlude of good weather before the storm clouds returned again in the evening.