Friday September 4, 2015 – Our transfer to Venice

Our transfer to Venice left Bled, Slovakia at 4:45 am, getting us the Venice airport about 9:00am. We took the vaporetto to St. Mark’s Square and proceeded wandering the streets around the square looking for our hotel. We found it on a narrow, quiet street, the 3rd and 4th floor of a palazzo building, more of an old time pensione. It looks like a typical old Italian room, with heavy patterned wallpaper and bedspreads, shuttered windows and stenciled florals. We were happy to find it and were greeted by Giacomo who was relieved Jim spoke Italian.

As soon we could we hit the streets with no plan, but exploring the plazas and churches and shops while trying to get our bearings. We ate pizza and had wine at a pizzeria. We made use of their wifi due to wifi problems at the hotel.

The lack of sleep caught up with us and we returned to the hotel to observe the custom of the siesta. Afterwards there was more exploring, including the Rialto, and a trip to the grocery store for water, wine, bread, cheese and ham for our evening meal which we ate on the hotel’s rooftop terrace, in the company of a seagull, expecting to join us.

We had seen there was a free organ and violin concert at one of the churches we visited. We went to the concert that was incredible. We returned to the hotel to a much-needed sleep.

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Thursday September 3, 2015 – We were staying near Bled today.

We were staying near Bled today so we had a more leisurely morning. After breakfast we walked to St. Martin Church. It is a simple building with beautiful ornamentation built around 1905, one of a series of churches that have stood on the site since the year 1000. We spent some time looking at the beautiful artwork and took some time to pray.

We joined the group afterwards to go up to Bled castle, the castle perched on cliff above the lake. This is the oldest Slovenian castle, originally built for a bishop in 1011, and eventually seized by Napoleon. Today there is a museum there but the real draw is for the views.

From there we embarked on boats to go to Bled Island. There are no motorboats allowed on the lake so we were rowed there. The island has only a small picturesque 17th century church there dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, built on the foundations of a temple to Venus. It is a popular chapel for weddings and the custom is that the groom carry the bride up the 99 steps up to the chapel. There is a rope to the bells in the church tower that hangs in the center of the church. It is said that if a person pulls the rope (once) and the bells ring three times the puller will get his wish. The island with the castle is the centerpiece of Bled.

We then went to Bohinj, a nation park situated around a large glacial lake near the Julian Alps. It is a hub for all sorts of recreation. The views of the lakes and the mountains were worth the trip. We also visited a chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist with frescos from the 14th century, the oldest frescos in Slovenia. There was also a monument dedicated to the team of climbers who first climbed Mt. Triglav, Slovenia’s highest peak. The monument has one of the figures pointing to¬† the peak, visible from the monument. After walking about we tried the famous local dessert, a cream cake. It was good.

We took a scenic ride back to the hotel, the bus driver stringing the bus through narrow streets of some villages. We are impressed by the orderliness of the villages, the good repair of the houses, and the attention to the gardens of the houses, all which seem to have flower boxes overflowing with all sorts of flowers. The other thing, which has become a joke to us, is that we see so few Slovenian visible as we drive through the towns. When we arrived in Slovenia we only counted eight Slovenians in the first three towns.

After returning to the hotel the two of us took the 3.5 mile walk around lake Bled. We encountered people of all ages, bikers, hikers, backpackers, swimmers, and some of our travel companions stretching our legs after so many hours on the bus.

Tomorrow we leave to go to Venice. This ends this leg of the tour but begins our time in Italy.

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Wednesday September 2, 2015 – We put the lakes behind us as we headed once more to drive along the Croatia seacoast.

We put the lakes behind us as we headed once more to drive along the Croatia seacoast.

We paused at a restaurant on the Adriatic for a coffee break. The restaurant had a terrace looking out over the ocean with a stairway leading to the sea. The water was clear and an azure blue, looking inviting and already drawing bathers from the nearby B&B. We continued on.

Our stop in Opatija on the Istrian Peninsula would be our last stop in Croatia. It is a lovely coastal town with a distinct Austrian flavor. In the late 19th century a southern railroad connected it with Vienna, making it a vacation spot for Austrian nobility and the Imperial family. The town lost its prestige after WWII and was only revived in the 1960’s. We walked along the shore in our first drizzly day of the trip trying to get a sense of the city. We were able to stop in an abbey church dedicated to St. James (the abbey after which the town is named -Opatija means abbey) and walked through a seaside park with a statue of a maiden with a seagull. Originally a Madonna was where the maiden now stands, taken down during the communist regime.

Shortly after leaving Opatija we crossed into not only Slovenia but the European Union. We proceeded to our last stop of the day, the Postojna Caves. It is a 24,000 meter long cave system, luckily we only toured a 4 kilometer stretch, including two train rides. The temperature is constantly at 50 degrees, meaning coats were recommended. The caves were dramatically lit and interesting to look at, but the tour went on a bit long (1.5 hours). Several photos are in this post but it was difficult to do them justice.

After the caves we came to Bled and to our hotel on Lake Bled. Lake Bled is s glacial lake. We were excited that our rooms overlooks the lake, the castle and the Julian Alps.

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Tuesday September 1, 2015 – Started toward Plitvice Lakes National Park.

Started toward Plitvice Lakes National Park, stopping first at Trogir, Croatia. Trogir’s origins date to the 3rd century BC, a major port until the Roman period. The city was demolished in 12th century by Muslims, but recovered quickly and became an economic center protected by Venice. We enjoyed walking through the historical sites and the harbor.

We ate lunch at a cafeteria “leftover from the socialist era ” according to our guide. The main courses were “comfort food,” starches and heavy sauces… so we split a sandwich. There were several animals in pens around the restaurant including live deer, a wild boar and a bear… with taxidermied versions of the same animals inside. The most important attraction was the clean bathrooms.

After checking into our hotel we started on foot on our walk exploring the lower lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Park, a 5.5 mile trek in high heat. It started with two boat rides, then we walked along a path that lead to the falls. All the water in the substantial, connected lakes are from several mountain rivers coming together. The water was so clear it reflected a sapphire color, and fish could be clearly seen from the shore. The walkways could be treacherous and the climb at the end proved a challenge to some in the group. It was a beautiful but exhausting trip.

Dinner tonight boasted local food and local music. The food was trout or veal, with the mandatory overkill on the potatoes. The local music was two accordions and a beat up guitar and bass. There were some lively Croatian songs but also standards such as “Proud Mary,” “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Tomorrow we drive to Slovenia.

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