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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Slovenia - Day 3: A Lake, a Castle, a View and the Vintgar Gorge in Bled

After another fine breakfast at the Actum Hotel in Kranj, we walked with our luggage from the Old Town to the bus station (Kranj AP) to get a bus to our next destination, Bled. We loved the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, when we were there a few years ago, so we were excited. We had checked the timetable online before at the bus company Alpetour and the bus arrived right on time and it only took about 40 minutes until we reached the main bus station in Bled, which is located at the intersection of Cesta svobode and Grajska cesta. From there it was just a few steps to our hotel for the next three nights, the Hotel Astoria Bled. It was too early to check-in yet, but we could store our luggage there.



Bled is also reachable by train. Unfortunately, the two train stations are far away from the town center. Lesce-Bled Train Station is about 4 kilometers away from the lake and the Bled Jezero Train Station is about 3 kilometers away from the center, at the opposite side of the lake. The bus is therefore much more convenient, when you travel to Bled independently.

Bled is famous for its beautiful lake, the castle throning above it and has a lot of interesting sights in its vicinity. We saved the lake for later and started our sightseeing with a hike to a nearby major attraction, the Vintgar Gorge. The gorge offers a hike of about 2 kilometers along the Radovna River, along canyons, rapids, pools and across wooden bridges. The walking path through the gorge leads directly to the largest river waterfall in Slovenia, the Šum Falls.  

To get there, we had to walk about 4 kilometers coming from Bled, mostly on a well signed footpath along the road (Cesta v Vintgar), which starts in northern Bled. Due to the signs along the way we had no problem finding the entrance to the gorge at a parking lot, where we were greeted by many tourist busses, cars and many fellow tourists from every nation. We paid the entrance fee and started the walk. 


While it was busy, the path mostly had enough space to make a stop for a photo without stopping everyone else behind you. The further we walked, the less people shared the path. 


When you love to photograph like I do, the Vintgar Gorge is a feast. You go a few steps and there´s one scenic look after another. It is really beautiful with the turquoise water, the canyons and the wooden paths leading through the gorge. We took our time and slowly progressed, until we reached the end of the trail at the waterfall.



The trail ended at a little cafe above the waterfall and we were looking for a way to see the waterfall from below. After considering crossing the bridge to the left and following the path upwards we instead decided to walk straight past the cafe, where we came to a street, where a path lead down to the impressive waterfall. 



I love waterfalls and it made me remember the Busay Falls in the Philippines and more recently the Kulen Waterfall in Cambodia. Of course Iceland is still my favorite "waterfall destination" with the Dettifoss and the Skogafoss. After seeing the huge Taroko Gorge in Taiwan last year and now the Vintgar Gorge, I think I might get addicted to gorges too...

From the waterfall we walked back up to the cafe. From there you can go back on the same way you came from. But we took another option, hiked back to Bled via the Church of St. Catharine and little village Zasip. A sign at the cafe indicated the path to the church (Cerkev Sv. Katarina) and we followed it upwards, mostly through the forest. From the church, where also a restaurant is located, we just had to follow the road down, through little Zasip and to the south back to Bled. Altogether the walk from the waterfall back to Bled was another 4 kilometers, so the whole hiking trip was a 10 kilometer-walk.



Back in Bled we stopped at a supermarket for some grocery shopping, before we went back to the hotel to finally check-in. We had chosen the Hotel Astoria Bled because it looked nice but also is ideally located, just a short walk from the lake, the castle and also just a few steps from the main bus station. Our room was decent and thankfully offered air condition, as it was getting hot in Slovenia. The only letdown was, that the spa of the hotel is not included for hotel guests, so we skipped that.



We didn´t have time to relax just yet anyway, as the lake waited for us. It is a picture perfect scenery in Bled with the lake, the castle and the little island inside the lake. The big number of international tourists, visible everywhere, indicated, that Bled is really a major international travel destination. While I didn´t see other Filipinos, there were actually many Asian tourists. 


We decided to take a "Pletna Boat" to the little island on the lake. It was rather expensive but when you´re in Bled you can´t just skip this tour. The Pletna oarsman told us, that he will only leave, when the boat is full and so far, there seemed to be no one else to go. We still decided to go in, waited and then it filled actually relatively quickly. It takes about 30 minutes with the boat to the island and there we were told when to return to the boat for the ride back after another 40 minutes (the stay at the island might be shorter in busier periods, earlier in the day).



On the beautiful island we visited the church and just walked around, before we had to return. Back on the boat we got to chat a bit with some nice young women from South Korea, who were on an Eastern European tour. It was interesting, as we hope to visit South Korea in the (very) near future. 



It was getting late, but of course we also had to visit Bled Castle. Fortunately the castle is open to visitors in summertime up until the evening and we found a walking path upwards to it at the Parish Church of St. Martin, starting just a few steps from the lake. It was a bit exhausting to walk up, given that we had been walking already the whole day. But it just took about 15 minutes and it was well worth the effort. 


The view from the castle is just magnificent. It also was not that crowded this late in the day, which made it even more relaxing.



Back at the hotel we later returned to the lake for late dinner at a snack bar and some more views after a day full of great views. Then we needed to sleep, as we had to get up early the next day for a day tour to the next lake, Lake Bohinj.


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