Central Europe 2008: From The Czech Republic to Poland to Austria to Croatia to Slovenia to Italy
Day Twenty Three – Lake Bled Swan Song, This Takes The Cake, Gorging Ourselves, Horsing Around, The Road To Zanibar, Taking Harbor In Rovinj And Location! Location! Location!
Sunshine! Blue skies! Finally! So this is what Lake Bled looks like on a beautiful day? It was stunning.
As we meandered lakeside path, a family of swans (well, they looked like a family because they were fighting a bit) approached us, apparently looking for someone to give them a breakfast treat. Heeding the warning signs not to feed the swans anything but dandelion leaves and, being the suckers we are, Tracy picked up a handful of leaves (aka “Arugula For Swans”) and threw them to the hungry little guys.
It was already about 20 degrees warmer than it had been at anytime since we had arrived. We sat down at a table on the outside patio with a beautiful view of the lake and the morning’s rowing competition. Fortunately the waitress, sensing my kremna rezina withdrawal symptoms, immediately stopped by the table to take our order. If anyone is traveling to Bled in the near future, please Federal Express me some kremna rezina. Life has not been the same without it.
We wanted to stay, but there was a full day of sightseeing activities ahead of us, and this was no time to dawdle. We bade farewell to Luka and the terrific Hotel Berc to head toward our first stop of the day, Vintgar Gorge, which, Luka told us, was only a few minutes away.
Although not hyped by many, the four of us thought Vintgar Gorge was one of the super highlights of our four weeks.
Some might call it a “Poor man’s Plitvice,” but I say it is well worth your while to visit.
Back in the car, we headed toward Ljubljana, where we got on the highway pointed toward our next destination on the way to Rovinj, Croatia. About an hour south of Ljubljana was a turnoff to Lipica, home of the Kobilarna Lipica (Lipica Stud Farm, home of the famed Lipizzaner Stallions.
This had been high on Tracy’s list because she grew up around horses, which is probably why I looked and smelled good to her when we first met. Tracy had performed at numerous horse shows in Northern California growing up, so she was very high on seeing these prancing phenoms.
The stud farm is located about ten minutes off the main highway, and we were on pace to be able to see the horses out in the field and catch the show at 3 p.m. We walked over to the area where a bunch of the Lipizzaner mares were hanging out, and after about ten minutes of petting (the horses) and picture taking, we walked over to the concession stand to get a bite to eat. Unless you haven’t eaten for a few days, I would recommend skipping the food here. And, as for souvenirs, this place needs some definite marketing expertise.
The 3 o’clock show was about to begin, so we bought our tickets for 16€ each and entered the Lipizzaner Dome (not its real name) for the half hour extravaganza. Here is where reports of the show might differ among those of us who have attended this show. For about ten of those minutes, a couple of carriages being pulled by these nags (excuse me, incredibly talented steeds) crisscrossed (slowly) around the Horsey Dome (not its real name). Charlton Heston in Ben Hur, it was not.
For another ten minutes, the Mr. Ed look-alikes performed dressage while riders whose personalities would make Brit Hume look jovial (actually, the horses bore an uncanny resemblance to the Fox pseudo-journalist) pretended to be interested in the proceedings.
Then for another ten minutes, we had to look on excruciatingly as the horses leapt up to stand only on their hind legs. I had visions of Barbaro as these horses were forced to perform these feats of daring-do, which really after the first time was hard to look at.
Afterward, Mary (the nice one in our group) turned to Tracy and said sincerely, “That was very interesting.” I believe that is when Kim and I erupted in laughter. Even Tracy had to snicker. “No really,” Mary went on. “That was fun to see.”
Tracy did say that what we saw was not easy to do for either the riders or the horses, and Kim and I, in between bouts of uncontrollable laughter, agreed. Was it worth it? I’ll leave that up to others. I will say I liked it when the horses went into a kind of sideways stutter step that reminded me of myself dancing after drinking heavily.
Obviously I had been a little bored at the show (ok, it was really boring), so to wake myself up for the drive to Rovinj, as we all made our way to the car (with many of those in the audience walking right behind us), I suddenly went into a slapstick Lipazzaner routine by side-stepping back and forth along the path while making horse noises. You’ve heard of The Ugly American, well I was now The Crazy American.
Albeit, it was no Tina Fey imitation of Sarah Palin, but there was laughter and a smattering of applause. No one offered me any hay. By the way, I was slivovitz free at this time and no travelers or horses were injured during my performance. Well, needless to say, we decided not to take the tour of the farm, and we piled back in the car for the trip to Rovinj, which would take about another 90 minutes or so.
As we approached our destination, there were multiple signs to Rovinj. The problem was that the signs pointed in different directions. Not surprisingly, we took the wrong direction, but at least we got close enough to call our apartment host. She explained how to enter the car-free zone and met us in the old town to show us our place of lodging.
We dumped the luggage, and Kim and I drove back to the car park located on the edge of town. On the way back to the apartment (Porta Antica), I stopped at a souvenir stand and purchased a Croatia cap to root for my new favorite soccer team. The apartments were great. Our rooms overlooked the beautiful Rovinj harbor, and, as it turned out, was only about 100 yards from where we would catch the boat to Venice in a few days.
Rovinj is quite charming (and small). After getting freshened up, we all walked around town to get the lay of the land (and the sea) until we decided it was time to fill our stomachs again (that sandwich at the Lipica Stud Farm was thankfully a distant memory by now).
We ate at Lampo, a place that overlooked the harbor, and although we found out later it is a Rick Steves’ choice, the food was fine (we like him for travel tips, not fine dining venues). I had a beef soup with rice and an Istrian-style risotto (with beef and mushrooms).
Tracy decided to go with a mixed salad and seafood risotto, Kim had a beefsteak with veggies and pommes frites, while Mary had the fish soup and grilled sea bass. By this time, Mary had eaten so much fish that she could actually breath underwater, and I swear her clothing covered a sophisticated set of fins.
After Kim and I had finished our dessert of chocolate crepes, the waiter came over with a surprise that nearly sent us into shock. Yes, the table was rewarded for its exemplary dining skills with a free round of slivovitz, and we all lived to tell about it (well, that’s because Kim and I took one for the team and drank our wives’ shots, too).
We then walked down to a little place called Zanibar (no we did not run into Dorothy Lamour) and had (very expensive) drinks. Not content with our alcohol consumption for the evening, we hit another local haunt that had the Turkey/Czech Republic European Cup match on its outside television. Having just been to the Czech Republic, we rooted for them, but in a stunning comeback Turkey rallied to win. It might have been the most entertaining 20 minutes of soccer I had ever witnessed.
Both couples then retired to our respective apartments (no elevator and the stairs were a little steep, but the rooms were terrific). We called home and received some very distressing news. Our cat, Cupid (above…back in his hurdling and music appreciation days days), was not doing very well. We went to sleep, but it was a restless sleep to be sure.
Next: Day Twenty Four – Tracy Gets In Hot Water, Scary Stairs, Alley Oops, Truffle Time, The Glass Bottom Boat and Wine Time