Beautiful Lake Bohinj

Our last stop in Slovenia was two nights at Lake Bohinj. A quick drive from Bled, Lake Bohinj is a little deeper in the mountains, a little higher in elevation, and fully twice the size of Lake Bled. It is, in fact, the largest lake in the country, situated in Slovenia’s largest national park. OK, it’s the only national park in Slovenia. It may not be quite as beautiful as Bled, but surrounded in mountains as it is it’s a pretty good stop for a couple days.

What else to note about Bohinj? Definitely another good lake for swimming: even Mark went in a few times. Given that nearly all our beach time over the years has been in oceans and seas, we were both amused to note how much less buoyant fresh water is than salt water. Who knew?

Mark sent me a selfie while I was quite a bit further up the lake to show that he indeed was enjoying the water

We did one really good hike, some four miles up into the mountains to a gorge and the Mostnice waterfall. Now to be honest the gorge was all but invisible; there were times when it was apparent that there might be a stream down there somewhere but you could never really see it. And the waterfall was, well, decidedly modest, a creek running over some rocks. The hike itself, though, irrespective of the anticlimactic destination, was beautiful: some 90 minutes of alternating open fields with views of the mountains and then deep in forests. And the entire outbound trail utterly on our own; we got out pretty early and had the trail to ourselves. On the return there was the occasional hiker headed in, but we had it to ourselves going in.

Mark headed up to the waterfall. Or perhaps I should say the “waterfall.”

OK, one weird thing about the hike. When you leave the little town by the lake headed north, the road on both the paper map the hotel gave us with the trail marked and on Google Maps was labeled Stara Fužina, Old Fužina. Fair enough. But literally every other road up there, every time there was a fork or alternative road, was called Stara Fužina. Literally every road. Bizarre. It’s as though some local traveled outside of the region and got confused with all these roads using different names. Solution? All roads use the same name. As we passed through a little village along the way you would see an address, like 96 Stara Fužina. How is that supposed to distinguish it from all the other 96 Stara Fužinas? Damned if we know.

So that’s Slovenia. Great food, really good wine, beautiful lakes, great hiking, friendly locals, lively little capital. Nothing not to like. It’s funny to think that little more than 30 years ago this was a sad Communist, significantly dysfunctional place. Glad things got straightened around for our visit!

Tomorrow morning we’re off to Trieste where we’ll have lunch in the little northeastern corner of Italy. Now that’s exciting.

The view from our room. These were pretty much the first real clouds we’ve seen in our week here. Not at all unwelcome as opposed to some of the 90 degree days we’ve had.

We would lie on the pebbles at lakeshore reading and these cute little duckies would just swim right up to make friends

The couple hikes we’ve done in the region have been remarkably well signed. Little danger of getting lost here.

Sometimes the path was straight and open and sunny and reasonably flat

And sometimes winding and forested and cool

Grand vistas

And here I am at the apex of our hike. I’m literally like 10 yards or less from the waterfall. Yeah, that’s a pretty lame waterfall.

And the food! Our first night we were really struggling to find a decent place and decided to give Pri Lovcu a shot. I ordered lamb and asked if I could have vegetables instead of potatoes. So they served these elegant and perfectly grilled veggies. Nice service!

And the appetizer: a little trout carpaccio with trout roe. Really didn’t expect anything this elegant but we weren’t complaining.

One last shot of the hike to Mostnice

And a final early morning view of Lake Bohinj from the far side

Stunning Lake Bled and Bled Island

Minnesotan that he is, Jim spent a lot more time swimming in Lake Bled than I did, but here’s proof I made it in too

If you google Slovenia, the first image that pops up is of postcard-perfect Bled. It’s a lovely vacation town that sits on a stunning lake with that oh-so-pretty island with a church in the middle. Though it’s just barely an hour from Ljubljana, we picked up a car and drove here to facilitate the next parts of our journey.

When I was backpacking in Europe in college, my parents and two siblings came over and met up with me for a day in Florence. Before that they had courageously wandered into Yugoslavia to a place called Bled. Yugoslavia sure sounded exotic at that time. And this obscure town of Bled sounded surprisingly nice. It took me another 38 years to get here myself.

Despite having seen all those postcard images of Lake Bled, we were still blown away by the beauty of this place. You can walk around the lake in about an hour, and it’s gorgeous from every angle. The color of the water is stunning. A castle rises over one side of the lake. Pretty chalets are sprinkled all around. It’s all ringed by the craggy peaks of the Julian Alps. And that island church is so perfect.

Bled Castle watches over the lake

Happy people in a beautiful place

Architecture and window boxes remind us of romantic towns in Germany and France

You can’t take too many pictures of this stunning lake. Especially if there is a swan!

Hiking out of town toward the Vintgar Gorge

Just outside town I ran into my first cat of the whole trip. He came running toward me, and when he got close he sort of jumped to get his head closer to my hand for faster petting.

Though we came to Europe to escape the heat and humidity of July in New York, it’s actually been unseasonably hot in much of Europe. In fact, it’s been hotter in Slovenia this week than in New York. Cool blue Lake Bled has been a nice antidote to that.

For another escape from the heat, we hiked about an hour out of town to the Vintgar Gorge. There it takes about an hour to traverse the gorge on a series of boardwalks and footbridges. The air is cool and refreshing, and the river winds and crashes below you. Now we know where the word ‘gorgeous’ comes from. We were again stunned by the beauty of the place. And here we were afraid we were too jaded to be impressed any more!

The gorge was truly gorgeous

Here we are at the gorge — happy, cool, and impressed

More gorgeous gorge

The hike back to Bled took us through a very attractive forest

On one of my walks around the lake I wondered how different it looked when my parents were here in the Yugoslavia of 1984. Was it as beautiful then? Were there as many tourists? Were the pathways as attractive and well maintained? Did my parents walk all the way around the lake? Then I did some math and realized that when they were here they were 11 years younger than I am right now. And 20 years younger than Jim. Now that’s weird.

Jim was pretty excited by the local sausages

A pretty little group of water lilies on the lake

Jim looks pretty happy with the dinner menu

Much of life in Ljubljana takes place along the lively, lovely river Ljubljanica. At center here is the city’s famed “triple bridge,” designed by the ubiquitous architect Jože Plečnik.

It’s been a long time since we’ve really “travelled,” and we’re pretty excited to be back at it again. Since COVID came along we’ve been on a few trips, but this is the first time we’ve set out on a real adventure since we completed the big one 3-1/2 years ago.

We love New York, but we love it less in July and August when oppressive heat and humidity set in. So this year we decided to take eight weeks off for some of the old travel adventure. We began our trip here in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. We’ll spend the eight weeks in Slovenia, Croatia, Norway, Sweden, plus one little corner of Italy.

Lunch at one of the endless heavenly restaurants that line the river

Why Slovenia? It’s a lovely little country on the edge of the Alps that we’ve just never managed to get to before. It takes a bit of effort to get here. Now that I’ve finally made it, this leaves Belarus as the only one of the 44 countries in Europe I’ve not been to. Jim will be able to make the same claim after we get to Norway in a month.

We’ve looked forward to this trip with some lingering concerns. Will we like this kind of travel as much as we used to? Or will it feel like a chore? Are we jaded after our big adventure a few years ago? Are we now just checking boxes, trying to squeeze in places we didn’t get to before?

Our concerns were quickly abated by Ljubljana’s oversized charms. For a little known capital, it’s got a really nice vibe. A compact historic core is packed with classic architecture, lovely cobbled streets, and buzzing nightlife. The river Ljubljanica is lined with lively cafes and restaurants. And there is an impressive foodie scene.

We had surprisingly great food at every meal in this town. But our last dinner was the best. We went to a place called Çompa. It was a bit removed from the pretty streets that line the river. It was in a grittier part of town, the place looked comparatively downscale, and it was packed with locals. Çompa is renowned for its meats — including beef, pork, and horse. We had some of all three, and we were blown away by how delicious everything was. Pics below.

For a starter at Çompa we had cubes of raw beef with bright, beautifully flavored sauces

Then we followed up with some pork and some horse filet. Here Jim eagerly scoops up some horse. I always think horse is going to be tough and nasty, but we could not believe how delicious this was

We spent a wonderful evening with Zoran and Daniça

One of the highlights of our visit was an evening with two fascinating locals — Zoran and Daniça Kus — who were introduced to us by our friend Kiša back in New York. Zoran recently retired from a long career working with the Slovenian government and international organizations as an expert on environment and climate change. Daniça is a photographer who travels the world to capture great architecture. She is currently commissioned to document the work of Jože Plečnik, the Slovenian architect who rebuilt Ljubljana in the early to mid-20th century, and whose fingerprints are on everything in this town.

This has been a lovely start to our summer mini-adventure. Now we head toward the Julian Alps in Northwestern Slovenia.

Jim followed the river to the outer edges of town one afternoon

Some paddle boarders glide under the triple bridge

Grand bronze doors to the Cathedral of St. Nicholas evoke the beauty of Florence. In this case though they’re quite modern, added in 1996 to mark the Pope’s visit. That’s him at the top.

The exterior of the early 18th century baroque Cathedral of St. Nicholas couldn’t be more boring, but the interior has all the glitz you would expect in a European cathedral

A meat and cheese board, some olives, a glass of rosé, and an outdoor table right by the river. Can it get any better?

Tivoli Park is an enormous green space in Ljubljana with untold numbers of walking trails, grassy picnic areas, shaded walks. Jim loved finding little reading nooks here.

An early morning walk along the Ljubljanica river

Sts. Cyril & Methodius Church, just outside Tivoli Park, is a classic Orthodox church

Jim enjoyed a couple hours at the National Gallery and was particularly taken by this early 16th Century Christ

Speaking of the National Gallery, this mid-18th century Slovenian is pretty happy with his pretzel!

We always love a good market

OK, this was strange. Prešeren Square right next to the river is like a million other beautiful old European squares except for one thing: It has its own weather. See that sign, warning you about rain and suggesting an umbrella? A perfectly warm, sunny day and there’s this little circle of sprinkles. It took us a few seconds to find that little sprayer you see in the upper left corner of the picture, with just the most gentle little drizzle on the circle. Just when you think you’ve seen everything!