Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Grand Finale of the Grand Finale: Segways around Bled

Segwaying to Tito's villa
The last scheduled event of our last scheduled day on this trip was the segway tour around Bled.

Jakub, our guide, demonstrating proper segway technique to the one segway amateur in our group (who would be me)
This was an "off road" segway tour, in stark contrast to the wussified "urban" segway tours with which you may be more familiar. The "off road" segway is a little wider and, of course, has tires with more substantial tread.

Sister (L) and B-I-L (R) on their "off road" segways, right before they forced into wearing helmets due to EU regulations
Even Sister and B-I-L, relative segway professionals as they have done multiple segway tours in multiple places (including twice in Split), had never done an "off road" segway tour.

We started off going around the northern half of the Lake. We then went off road, out of the town of Bled, through some small villages outside of Bled, heading down to the Sava River, which ends up being a fairly substantial river by the time it hits Zagreb and, eventually, the Danube River in Croatia's eastern frontier.

The Sava flowing through the Slovenian countryside outside Bled
On the banks of the Sava
Fly fisherman on the Sava
The Segway tourists posing on a bridge over the Sava
The glimmering sun
(Yes! We had a sunny day in Slovenia! Who'd a thunk it?)
We tottled along the river for awhile. Going through mud puddles. Past a snake. (It looked like the size of a python, maybe an anaconda, to the snake-o-phobic. It was huge. Maybe over a foot long. It was tough to tell for sure, since it was slithering.) We then headed up the hill (much easier on full power than when it was in "turtle" mode around the Lake) back in the Bled.

We then did more of the loop around the Lake.

The signature photo of Lake Bled
Soon it was time to turn in our segways. Our two-hour "off road" segway tour lasted a nice two hours and 15 minutes.

We then had supper at my favorite restaurant in Bled (which I remembered from my last visit in 2010), the Ostarija Peglez'n.

One last Octopus Salad appetizer 
Chicken topped with salty ham and a cream sauce. It had a name. I just can't recall what it was
Finally, in honor of the B-I-L's ethnic heritage we ended the night with a visit to an Irish pub, a real authentic Slovenian Irish pub. It was the saddest looking Irish pub I've ever seen.

Look closely. The shamrocks have SIX leaves 
Only one table inside. So when we were there, all tables were full.
Used pizza boxes piled up inside. Restroom doors off hinges. Even the shamrocks on the logo weren't quite right. It was a pathetic Irish pub.

And it was a perfectly acceptable way to end the day in Bled and, with that, the Croatian/Slovenian family vacation adventure of 2014. It was a great trip, but it is time to go home.

And, with that, the Vacation Blog is closed for 2014. It will re-open sometime in 2015. Not sure where. It could be Macedonia. It could be Peru. It could be Copenhagen. It could be Bangkok. But it's probably going to be chosen by re-opening the Cookie Jar o' Potential Vacation Destinations.

Thanks for traveling with me this trip.

The Grand Finale: Lake Bled

Church on an island in the middle of Lake Bled
The grand finale of this trip is a visit to Lake Bled. This is the one place I visited on my first trip that I absolutely was certain that I needed to see again.

I promised the Sister and B-I-L that we would do a segway tour of Lake Bled. The segway tours are organized through an agency named 3glav Adventures (named after the tallest mountain in Slovenia, nearby Triglav). 3glav was supposed to be closed today. But we got there when someone was there. And it was supposed to be an off-day for the segway tour guide Jakob. But he was willing to lead a tour that would just be the three of us. We were to meet Jakob back at the 3glav offices at 3:00 p.m., which gave us some time to walk around the Lake, visit the Castle, and eat a cream cake.

Bled Lake is amazingly beautiful.

At the rowing area of Bled Lake
Another view of the church on the island in the middle of the Lake
The church on the island is the classic wedding spot in Slovenia. Grooms are supposed to carry their brides up the 99 steps from the shore to the church as part of the Lake Bled wedding tradition. This, I would guess, would put a premium on finding and marrying a small, Slovenian bride.

Admiring the church through the woods 
But look out for horse-drawn carriages on the trail
People do swim in Lake Bled, which I would not recommend due to the ice cold water. Boating would seem to be more fun.

Swimmer ready to dive into the icy cold Alpine water 
Boaters on the Lake
Pletna boats bound for the island and a lone rowboater in training
Lake Bled is an alpine lake at the foot of the Julian Alps. The water is crystal clear. Boats are either powered by electricity or rowing. It is guarded by a "castle," which again, is dramatically situated but is actually more of a fort than a castle per se,

Castle from across the Lake
Castle view 
Same rower, only with a church view
Lots of ducks at Lake Bled
And nasty mean swans
For reasons not entirely clear to me, we decided to make the 15-minute walk straight up hill to the castle at the top of a cliff.

The smooth paved part of the pathway to the Castle, before it's all stairs
 We got to the top.
Castle door
I opted not to pay the nine euros to enter. The fee is basically for the viewpoint, since there was never a royal family in residence at this castle. We were told of an alternative viewing point where we could get just as nice of a view. But when I saw that the trail from the castle gate was high up, and learned that is was without a guardrail, and given how hot and tired and sweaty I was from the 15-minute climb, the sitting bench beckoned.

So we walked down to tour lovely Church of Sv. Martin on the lake shore, right near the castle. I am abbreviating the word "Saint" the Croatian and Slovenian way, "Sv.," for the extra added pretentiousness.

Church of Sv. Martin on the shores of Lake Bled
This is NOT the church on the island that you saw in all of the previous photographs. So Bled has one Catholic church inside the Lake and one outside.

Let's have a look inside, shall we?

Door to Sv. Martin 
Chandelier over the sanctuary
Church art
Very interesting Last Supper painting. It's easy to tell which one is Judas.
(Clue: He's the one with devil horns and no halo.)
View of the church organ above the entryway
Let's have one more look at Saint Martin, this time with some Lake effect:

Sv. Martin on the shores of Lake Bled
After all that touring, we had time to snack on the food that Lake Bled is most famous for, all over Slovenia:

The traditional Slovenian Cream Cake. It's like a Napoleon, but not as sweet. It is a layer of phyllo dough, with whipped cream underneath, then a vanilla custard cream base. Only a teeny tiny little bit of gluten in the ultra-thin layer of phyllo dough. So it's OK.

And I washed it down with a Union Radler:

Union Radler
"Radler" is the German word for bicyclist. It's like a shandy in the States. This particular radler is brewed at a small brewery in Ljubljana and is mixed with grapefruit. And it works. Who'd a thunk it? The beer and grapefruit combination goes together perfectly. It takes just like Squirt. Only kickier.

Whoops. Look at the time. It's almost 3:00 p.m.  Time to meet the Segway tour guy.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ljubljana at Night

Dragon on the Dragon Bridge
The sun was getting low, so it was time to look for a place to eat some supper. Wandering around, we saw some interesting looking buildings that were not part of the Old City core.
Cafe side entrance to the Grand Hotel Union Ljubljana 
Miklosiceva cesta 6 
Miklosiceva cesta 8
Miklosiceva cesta street view
Fountain outside the Grand Hotel Union Ljubljana
The horses in this fountain look like something done by the Colombian artist Botero
(the one who does all the fat people and animals)
We also went inside the Franciscan Church in Preseren Square:

Inside the Franciscan Church
The church was beautiful and ornate. While unlocked, the lights were off, so photographing inside was difficult. So let's eat. We went to the Zlata Ribica on Cankarjevo nabrezje, a pedestrian only street on the castle side of the Ljubljanica River.

I had the Ljubljana Schnitzel
Sister had the seafood pasta, with giant sea creatures in it still wearing their shells
From there, we wandered the core of the Old Town by dark.

Triple Bridge at night
When we got back to Preseren Square, the man who was playing the accordion in the square when we started our tour at 11:00 a.m. was still in the square, nine hours later, squeezing the squeezebox.

Man with accordion in Preseren Sqaure
Playing the accordion is hard work. You have to squeeze the bellows while playing a keyboard and pushing buttons without looking. Squeezing the bellows had got to be exhausting all by itself. Anfd the guy never seemed to even take a bathroom break. Forget James Brown. Accordion Man truly is the Hardest Working Man in Show Business.

Up the Hill to Ljubljana Castle

This is where I am accosted by a dragon
We then went up the hill via funicular to Ljubljana Grad, the Ljubljana Castle.

Funicular to Ljublana Grad
The castle towers impressively over Ljubljana.

The Castle above the Old City
Other than the views from the castle grounds, especially the tower, that is what is most impressive about the Castle, its dramatic location on a bluff high above the city.

Why a kangaroo? Does there need to be a reason?
We bought our tickets for the funicular and the castle right across from this kangaroo statue. We rode the funicular up and were treated to this view:

Portrait of an American tourist
The views got even better from the top of the castle tower:

The castle was a bit underwhelming, notwithstanding the impressive views and dramatic location. First, it had too many new additions. It lacked architectural integrity. Second, it was never a true castle. It was not home to a Slovenian royal family. It was a fort. And as forts go, it is one impressive fort. It's just a tad underwhelming as a castle per se.

There also was an interesting museum at the castle on the history of Slovenia and the Slovene people. The informational descriptions of the artifacts was more interesting than the artifacts themselves. My favorite part of the museum? They had a replica of the "Dance of Death" fresco from the Holy Trinity Church in Hrastovlje, Slovenia, which I tried to visit my last time in Slovenia.

It's too long and thin for me to capture in one photograph, so let's look at it in segments.

The point is to show that we are all equal in death and, during a time of plagues and war, to laugh in the face of inevitable death.

Oh. And this guy was in the museum, off by himself, without much commentary:

And Tito, too

Good night, Mr. Dragon
But the Dragon, he don't care.