Central Europe 2008: From The Czech Republic to Poland to Austria to Croatia to Slovenia to Italy
Day Twenty One – Copping A Plea, A Cake Walk, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head And The Old Fake Fireplace Trick Backfires Big Time
Overcast skies greeted us on this morning and after breakfast at the B&B Slamič, we were on the highway for the short one hour jaunt to Lake Bled. As we neared the Bled turnoff, the highway quickly shrunk from four lanes down to two, and after another 100 yards, off to the side of the road, I spotted a man in uniform.
As it turned out, he had spotted me as well, and, holding a little sign, he waved me toward him. Knowing he was not the official Lake Bled greeter, but not thinking I had committed any driving infraction, I pulled over.
I rolled my window down and said, “Dober-Dan.” Well, I think that’s what I said.
DIGRESSION: By the end of our four weeks in the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia and Croatia, we were pretty messed up with which language we were attempting to speak, especially when it came to saying “Good day and hello.”
In Czech, it was “Dobrý den.” In Polish, it was “Dzień dobry.” In Croatian, it was “Dobar dan” and in Slovenian the aforementioned “Dober-dan.” With all the brain cells killed throughout these countries, we had been known to mix up our “Dobers” with our Dobrýs and our “dans” with our “dens.”
So, by the time I encountered the officer, I could have said something like “Daffy Duck” or “`Dizzy Dean” for all I know, but I think he knew what I said, because he just said “Hello.”
This guy had a really cool voice. If you are a fan of Magnum PI (or even if you’re not) he sounded exactly like the Soviet agent who blew up Magnum’s buddy Rick in the Ferrari and who called Magnum “Thomas” in an inimitable way (until today). It is the greatest episode of Magnum PI ever; a two-parter entitled “Did You See The Sunrise?”
The officer asked me for my driver’s license, international license and my passport. Fortunately he did not ask for my first born because I don’t have one. On the outside I was Magnum cool. On the inside, I was Don Knotts’ nervous.
“Thomas,” he said slowly in his unmistakable movie star voice. “Do you know what you did?” I did not.
“When you see signs that the highway is narrowing to only two lanes, it is a ‘No Passing Zone’.” I hadn’t passed any other cars, and he was around a corner so I don’t know how he would have known if I passed a car anyway, but getting into an argument with a Slovenian cop did not seem like a prudent course of action.
After checking all of our passports, he continued. “Thomas (although nervous, I really enjoyed hearing him say my name),” usually the fine for what you did is 20 euros.” Like a great Shakespearean actor, he then took a dramatic pause, looked away for a split second, turned back toward me and added, “But today is your lucky day and I am going to let you go with just a warning.”
If only he had said, “Well, do you feel lucky? Well, do you punk?” I guess hoping he would impersonate a Clint Eastwood character would have just been too much to ask.
We drove (carefully) the rest of the way to Bled and our hotel, the charming and inexpensive Hotel Berc (photo is from our last day when the weather was better). According to Tracy’s notes, it was a “gorgeous, Swiss chalet style hotel with an abundant amount of natural woodwork with a pretty garden setting in the back offering breathtaking views of the mountains.” I will stand by her account.
Our host, Luka (our second Luka of the trip), was very apologetic about the inclement weather saying, “It had been very warm up until the past few days.” We had been very lucky to this point, so que sera.
As we started walking toward the lake, a deluge of water drenched us as a substantial rainstorm hit the area. We looked out to the island we would be visiting tomorrow. By the time we reached the Panorama restaurant, the four of us were soaked, but we were on a quest that neither rain nor sleet nor hail could keep us from (well, maybe sleet or hail, but since it was only rain, we continued).
I had read and been told about a Lake Bled specialty called kremna rezina (or kremšnita). It is a layer cake, but unlike any layer cake we have ever experienced. This cake has a layer of cream and another of vanilla that resides inside a delicate crust. It is said you can buy them elsewhere, but that the only genuine ones are found in Bled. The name is derived from the German word Cremeschnitte, or “cream slice.”
The kremna rezina was absolutely incredible. Never have 50,000 calories gone down so easily, and surprisingly the cake is very light. It absolutely just melted into my mouth, and I have craved this dish ever since coming back to Southern California. I told Tracy that I would return to Bled just to experience a kremna rezina again. The flavor was magnificent and with an espresso to go with it, it makes for an unbeatable combination in the morning (or afternoon…or night).
Back outside it was still pouring, and even though we had just consumed all those calories, it was time for lunch. We quickly hurried inside the Park Hotel (where kremna rezina was invented in 1953) and sat down at a window overlooking the lake.
The décor of the Park Hotel Restaurant is 80s Las Vegas chic with turquoise and lavender the prevalent color scheme. All that was lacking were some slot machines, a Keno girl and Wayne Newton. Fortunately, the view onto the lake kept our group from going temporarily color blind.
It was now nearing mid-afternoon, and there was no sign of a let up from the rain. On the way back to the Hotel Berc, Kim and I found a little restaurant that looked perfect for dinner. Since we rarely ever knew what day of the week it was, Kim and I did not go in and get reservations, which would have been smart because it was a Friday night and Bled is a big resort town for Slovenians, Austrians, Germans and as we found out, Brits. There was also a huge rowing event taking place on this particular weekend.
We went back to the room for a little R&R and I got caught up with some work on the free Internet provided downstairs just outside a lovely breakfast room. About 6 p.m. we meandered back down to the lake because the weather had cleared some, and there were now spectacular views of the Julian Alps, the castle on the hill overlooking Bled and the signature piece of land here, the island the church on the lake (well, actually the island is on the lake and the church is on the island and the hand bone’s connected to the arm bone).
We stopped into a little pub and watched some soccer (of course, no one scored while we watched). Across the street from the pub was the restaurant where Kim and I decided earlier we would eat. By now it was really cold outside, and Kim had and I, in our best unscripted Abbott and Costello started ad libbing, a mistake that would soon bite us right in the ass and still lives in infamy today.
Then (in a moment of sheer stupidity) I added, “Yes, tell them we have the reservations by the fireplace. We’re just going to take a couple of more pictures.” Now as you might remember, we had no reservations and we did not have a clue if they had a fireplace.
“Great,” Tracy said, “I am freezing.” “Me too,” Mary added.
Like a couple of dolts, we stayed behind to take some pictures of the mountains, the lake, the tiny island in the center of the lake, the castle lon the hill and a blazing sunset. Meanwhile back at the restaurant (Ostarija Peglezn), there were two freezing women sitting out on the patio, shivering and none too pleased with their respective spouses when we approached a few minutes later.
Our wives had gone inside and Tracy had asked for the “table by the fireplace” we had reserved. Well, of course, there was no reserved table…and no fireplace. They did have a table, however. Outside. On the patio. The very cold patio. Well, it was actually freezing.
Speaking of freezing, for about the next twenty minutes I received the deep freeze from Tracy. She was even too cold to give me the look or call me an idiot. That spells trouble for Tom.
“Isn’t the view wonderful?” I said to Tracy. “Look at how spectacular the mountains look tonight.” I might as well have been talking to the mountain. I hadn’t been in this much hot water since the famous “Rome Train Station Sherpa Incident of 2005.”
Thankfully, our charming waiter, great wine and terrific food thawed her out. She began speaking to me again through Kim and Mary, so a quick Slovenia divorce had been narrowly averted.
I started with a goulash soup and then ordered at the beef peppercorn steak with polenta. Tracy had a really terrific dish of sliced beef on a bed of arugula (thankfully this place knew the difference between arugula and watercress).
Mary stayed the fish course with a fish soup and seafood risotto. Kim either didn’t eat or we forgot to write it down (I assume it was the latter, since Tracy had not completely thawed out from the fireplace incident).
This was all washed down by a couple of bottles of very good cabernet that our waiter called “gorgeous.” “Just like my wife,” I added. She shook her head. She wasn’t buying that romantic drivel for a minute. We liked the restaurant so much we made reservations for the following evening…inside!
As soon as we walked in the door of the Hotel Berc, the rain started up again, and as we warmed up under the Hotel Berc’s comfy comforters, we hoped it would let up tomorrow so we could get a better view of beautiful Bled.
We had things to do, places to see and only one more day to do it!
Next: Day Twenty Two – Too Early For Champagne, Get Me To The Church On Time, Can You Give Me A Lift, Walk Around The Lake, Pubbing It, The Weather Blows, Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again And Never Can Have Too Much Gnocchi