Sunday, 28 July 2013

Discovering Slovenia

Having a little time to spare before heading to Italy to meet some friends, we decided a detour through Slovenia was a good way to pass the time. Not knowing much about the country or anyone who had been there to ask for advice, we did some quick research and decided on Bled to begin with before getting some sun and sea in Piran. So after passing through the Austrian alps, and I mean literally there was so many tunnels, we crossed the border and arrived at the little unknown town of Bled. Ok so it may not be that unknown as it was on Getaway (a little more on that later) but to us it was uncharted land and much less touristy than most other places visited so far. Whilst the town has a population of 5500 resident town, its the numerous sites that make it a great to visit.
Situated in the centre of a picture-postcard emerald green lake is a small island where the Church of the Assumption sits. To reach it can be done by local gondolas or hiring your own boat, which we opted for because its not every day you get to row your own wooden swan boat. Whilst the distance wasn't far my lack of upper body strength left me feelng a little tired. Lucky for me though we were only going to the island for sight seeing, as apparently those who get married on the island tradition has it that the groom must carry the bride up the 98 steps to the chapel to prove his worthness and according to some of the locals its a pretty strenuous tradition.
Another beautiful sight is the Bled Castle. Overlooking the crystal clear lake perched a top of a towering cliff this medieval castle creates a stunning backdrop down by the lake edge as well providing great views from above. The lake and surrounding lands were originally bequeathed to the Bishops of Brixton in 1004 where they then built this small and modest castle. Now days it is host to a museum which showcases some of the artifacts found in the surrounding area, as well as a cafe and a few hands on attractions. One such attraction, which we were keen to try, was to bottle your very own wine. Whilst the wine itself wasn't much to write home about the experience was a bit of fun and run by a very friendly "monk". Upon arrival to the castle cellars we were greeted with some ye'old warm tidings and posed with the question "why are all Australian women poor?". Seeing the confused look on our face the monk laughed and followed up with "when Jennifer Hawkins was here she couldn't even afford a full set of clothes". After the jokes we got down to business of bottling wine the old fashion way, first filling the bottle from the keg, the hand pressing the cork into the bottle and finally sealing it with bees wax and adding a parchment paper label with stamped wax. It was all a bit of fun and we got to add another bottle to our bar on wheels.
Going a little out of the town, approximately 4.5km north west is the Vintgar Gorge. During the summer months when the snow caps melt the gorge is a hive of activity with fast flowing crystal clear water rushing over glistening river rocks and plummeting over small drop offs. With most forthe harsh sunlight flittered by the clouds and dense trees above it made for some impressive photographs. The walk through the gorge is also quite pleasant, as you follow the water down stream via a series of boardwalks and bridges.
After spending 2 full days in Bled, soaking up the scenary we then headed off to Piran for entirely different side of Solivia. As it was such a long drive, almost 2 hours away, we though it would be best to split the trip up and see some other sights. Being quite fond of all things medieval, after my crossbow experience in Prague, we found a cave castle half way along the drive and popped in. Unfortunately for me there was no weaponry available to try out but the castle and grounds itself were still in great condition, so well in fact that they even have a jousting arena for their regular medieval festivals. Predjama castle is one of a handful of cave castle left in the world and a truly impressive sight to see. Whilst the castle itself is only quite small, its strategic position located at the mouth of a cave proved very useful for the previous owners. Back in the 15th century Knight Erazem Lueger, who was know as a bit of a scally wag, was held under siege in his castle for a year and one day by the Austrian emperor Fredrick III. During the siege Erazem was known for spitting cherry seeds at the attacking army to taunt them about his continuing survival. Unbeknownst to them the cave, in which the castle was build, actually tunneled through the mountain to a neighboring village, where Erazem could regularly escape and stock up his cherry supplies. However the knight finally got his own, when one of his own servants sold him out to the enemy at the gate. As most people know after eating numerous amounts of cherries one will soon need to relieve themselves and unfortunately for Erazem his castles loo was the weak point. So as nature called for young Erazem, so to did the servant to the enemy and with one properly placed canon ball the knight was caught with his pants down.
After leaving the castle we continued the drive to our final destination in Slovina, picturesque Piran. Arriving at the small little port town, we persisted in driving down the narrow streets in search of some suitable accommodation. As it had been raining most of the morning we decided camping was off the cards and went in search of something a little more rain resistant. After being turned away by most of the Lonely Planet recommendations due to availability we finally decided on a small hand painted 'Apartments' sign down a very narrow back street. First impressions had us feeling that we drove into someone's empty backyard and not wanting to be arrested for trespassing we started to make our way back to the car. However from out of no where a little old Slovinan lady popped out from behind a bush and after some very effective hand signals (we spoke no Slovenian and she no English) we were showed to a very reasonably priced apartment. The next day, with the weather clearing up, we made the small 2km trek into old town to check out the sights. The town itself is a maze of winding narrow streets which work their way through the Venetian Gothic style buildings. Being right on the Mediteranian seafood was in abundance as too were the countless Europeans baking themselves (some seemed to have forgotten their swimmers) on the rocks far below the city walls. So having spent so much time of late amongst the busy tourist hotspots it was nice to escape the crowds and have a bit of a holiday.
- Ryan -

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