Slovenia is real pretty. Like, fairy princess pretty. Lots of things make it pretty. Forests of trees with leaves turning fall colors. Deer bounding through the meadows. The snowy Alps looming in the distance. Well-groomed cows munching emerald green grass. Sparkling clean toilets. Little bitty bats flitting around in the dusk. Misty mornings. Castles perched in rocky outcroppings over serene lakes with quacking ducks paddling around while rowers slide silently by. Fluffy white clouds filling the sky. Chubby, spotted horses grazing in pastures. Frothy cappuccinos. The Slovenian word for 'thank you' sounds like molten silver: hvala. A unicorn prancing through the bus station wouldn't have seemed out of place.
But there's an ogre in this fairy tale. He was the guy in our hostel dorm room who kept us awake for two nights straight with his snoring. He was like a wild boar with asthma. As if the regular snoring wasn't enough, he would then blow out air through flubbery lips. Unbelievable. Other than me, two Brits, and a couple other unknowns, one of the hapless victims of this aural assault was a little ginger-haired, sensitive Frenchman, who one night burst into a bought of sleep talking, the stress of enduring the thunderous snoring obviously too much for his tender constitution. He was an odd little frog. He kept offering us chocolate, of which he had a lot. Later he told me he that, finding the Slovenes somewhat on the standoffish side, he purchased six loaves of bread to feed to the ducks, preferring their company to the locals. Someone else at Hostel Celica commented that it was perhaps a Slovenian trait to be a little reserved, and one evening a group of us watched a German street performer who more than once commented on the less than enthusiastic reception he was receiving for his antics. It's like the crowd didn't know that it was okay to laugh and applaud. I suppose I did meet a few Slovenes who were reticent and slow to smile, but since I can be the same way, can't really find fault with that.
The centerpiece of Bled is the lake. It's got a little island in the middle, and would be picture perfect if it weren't for the building development at one end (for complete picture perfectness, Lake Bohinj nearby does not allow development along its shores. I kind of regret not going there). It takes only a couple of hours to stroll around the perimeter, taking care to feed the swans only dandelion leaves. I guess you can feed the ducks anything. The castle on the rocky outcropping isn't terribly remarkable, but seen from below, its position on top of the cliff is something out of fantasy.
There are also two gorges in the vicinity. Vintgar Gorge has wooden walkways that allow you to walk just a few meters above what was a bit of a raging river on the day I was there. Other than the heavy rain in Ljubljana, there had been flooding a couple of weeks earlier, so the environment was more watery than usual. I got a late start walking to the gorge, and was mildly concerned about being stuck on a country lane after dark. I had gotten stuck on a country lane after nightfall in Turkey waiting for a dolmuş that never arrived, and facing a four kilometer walk through the dark, got a lift from a businessman. I wasn't hitchhiking, he just saw me and pulled over. You may (quite correctly) question the wisdom of getting into a car with a strange Turkish man, but sussing out the situation before proceeding, I noticed his car was a complete piece of crap. One swift kick and the door would have popped off. Anyway, back in Slovenia, I got to the gorge in good time, walked the kilometer and a half along the river to the end, and made it back to town not long after sunset. The next day I took a bus to Pokljuka Gorge, which is slightly further away, but was foiled by it being closed. Normally dry, it had an icy cold river running down it, and the ground was soggy and littered with downed trees. I contemplated my options while eating a Toblerone. I had a wad of Turkish lira when leaving Turkey, so I did what everyone is supposed to do in duty free — bought chocolate. Since no one was actually there guarding the entrance, I briefly considered trespassing, but really wasn't wearing the proper clothing for a potentially wet hike, so instead just meandered around the drier bits of the countryside, all the way back to Bled. I stopped at a café for a coffee, and while I was scribbling in my journal, an old guy kept smiling and waving at me. See, not all Slovenes are cold.
I wanted to take a day trip to Kropa, which has an iron forging museum, an operative forge, and a fourteenth century smelting furnace, but no one was answering when I called to check if they were open. They may have been closed indefinitely, since the recent floods went right through the town. I'll have to catch them the next time I visit.
Jaw-dropping nature aside, Bled was as good as Istanbul for meeting and hanging out with people. World champion snorer aside, my dorm-mates were far less wacky than the Ljubljana bunch, and each had some sort of family distinction. Olivia (British) seemed to have at least one relative in each European country, and Kelly's (Australian) forebears stretched back to the convict days. I also met a bunch of people at a local excursion outfit, 3glav Adventures. Stopping in one morning to take advantage of the advertised free internet, the guy running the place, Domen, told me that the first ten minutes was free, and anything after that was charged. It was a better deal than what the hostel offered, so I said okay. A couple of minutes later he asked if I'd be at least ten minutes, because he wanted to run to the grocery store. During his absence someone wandered in and dropped off a set of keys on the desk. Drawing Domen's attention to the keys when he came back, he told me I got another ten minutes of free internet, and offered me a coffee. Expecting a cup of instant coffee, I instead was presented with a perfect cappuccino and a jar of sugar. Explaining that he travels for six months out of the year, during which he can't always find good coffee, he figures that he deserves as much when at home, and has a fancy espresso machine tucked into a cupboard in the office. Makes perfect sense to me. I spent a few hours over a couple of days warming their office couch, drinking cappuccinos and using their wireless, for which they never charged me. The place was usually bustling with people, and I could never figure out who worked there, and who was just hanging around and helping out. Most of them are, or have been, tour guides in various countries. Talking to them made me remember how much of the world I have left to see. Better get moving.