Central Europe 2008: From The Czech Republic to Poland to Austria to Croatia to Slovenia to Italy
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
By morning the rain had subsided, and we decided to get an early start because Luka had said the forecast called for more rain by the middle of the day. Our local Southern California goofball weather forecasters are about as accurate as my golf shots (that would basically be never), but so far on this journey, the reports had been almost perfect.
I was the first one down at the charming Berc Breakfast room, but it started filling up with travelers. The rest of our gang joined me shortly thereafter, and we partook of a breakfast buffet that included fruit salad, cereal, yogurt, meats, cheeses and hard-boiled eggs. The Hotel Berc gets high marks for everything from the rooms to the buffet to Luka, who was a terrific host.
Our plan had been to take the pletna boats to the island first thing in the morning, but because of the previous night’s rain, the pletna gondoliers were still bailing water out of most of them. Not wanting to drown on a full stomach, we decided to postpone the island trip for a bit.
First we watched some of the rowing competition. Looking upward, it was time to make the trek up to the castle. Still loaded down by all those excess carbs, we walked over to St. Martin’s Church where we caught the steep trail leading up to the Blejski Grad (Bled Castle). In Rick Steves’ guidebook, he said it was a 20-minute walk to the castle. We made it in ten.
For those who can’t hike (or for the extremely lazy), it is possible to drive up here, too, but that is not allowed on Tom’s Tuscan-Slovenian-Croatian-Czech-Polish Tours (I better come up with a shorter name by the next trip).
This is also the place where the monk entertains visitors by performing Sabrage on champagne bottles for 15€ a pop. We walked over and talked with the monk, who was quite funny, but we decided that since it was just a little after 9 a.m., it was a bit too early for champagne (yes, even we have our alcohol limits, albeit they are very narrow limits to be sure).
We took the path back down to the lake, where the pletnas were now devoid of excess water and starting to take off for the island. Our pletna gondolier waited for the boat to fill up, and when enough people were on it to make it worthwhile for him, we were off on the short ride to the Otok (the island).
When he dumped us off, he said we had thirty minutes until he would head back to shore. The island big-ticket item is the Church of Assumption and its famous 96 stairs, where grooms supposedly carry their brides all the way to the top from the lake (where they presumably cry 96 Tears).
We started to climb the stairs, but I thought it would be fun to pick Tracy up for a photo opportunity that would dazzle our friends when we got home. This way I could tell them I carried Tracy up 96 stairs (yes, I know they wouldn’t believe it, but what the heck).
A couple of minutes later Mary delivered even more distressing news. “Tom, these are not the right set of stairs,” she said. “The 96 stairs you were talking about are on the other side of the island.”
I was incredulous. Not only had I ruptured my spleen, pulled a groin and thrown my shoulder out of whack, but I did it all on the wrong stairs. limped over to the other side of the island, where we climbed (slowly) the correct 96 stairs (there was no more lifting, however, as those stairs are mighty steep) to the church.
The round-trip pletna experience cost us 12€ per person, and if you come to Bled, it is something you should do.
Along the route, we ducked inside the Vila Bled, which was the former residence of Tito (the dictator, not the Jackson 5 member). It is now a hotel, where I almost booked us, and, after visiting, we were glad we did not stay here. Although we had friends who said they had a wonderful time at this hotel, it was just a little too posh and polished for our tastes.
Speaking of tastes, we had nearly completed the loop around the lake when the skies opened up, so we went in search of cover…and lunch. We had met some Brits on the pletna ride, and they recommended a pub that served a really good lunch, Gostilna pri Planincu, which has been around since 1903 (or so it said on its façade).
Inside, there were license plates on the ceiling, which always says to me “delicious cuisine.” Because of the inclement weather, the inside of the pub was packed, so, in what was now becoming a Bled tradition, we ate outside in the freezing weather, but at least under an awning that kept the rain from pouring down upon our table. License plates not withstanding, the food actually was very good.
On a cold day, nothing can beat a bowl of goulash soup, and the one I ordered did not disappoint. It was chock full of beef chunks and made me forget for the moment that I was losing feeling in many of my extremities.
Mary and I, thanks to a recommendation of a gentleman from Portugal sitting at the next table, had a local specialty of far too many sausages that, I believe, are still residing in my system to this very day. Kim went for the garlic soup, grilled chicken and French fries while Tracy had the grilled calamari with potatoes and spinach.
We had a nice, long talk with the Portuguese guy who was in Bled on business. One of the things we love so much about travel is the interesting and diverse people we meet along the way.
The walk back to the hotel was interesting since the wind had picked up and was blowing the pouring rain into our faces. By the time we trudged back to Hotel Berc, it looked like the four of us had taken a swim in Lake Bled.
After a nice afternoon nap and terrible movie on the making of the television show Dynasty, we all met in the backyard of the Hotel Berc and sipped some wine. The hotel also had a little stash of alcohol in the breakfast room. Whether it’s booze, orange juice or water, if you take anything from the little bar area or refrigerator, you are on the honor system to write it down.
It was a marvelous setting, and the four Southern Californians were even acclimating (finally) to the weather conditions. Their were stupendous mountain views that got better and better after every sip.
For dinner that evening we went back to the Ostarija Peglezn, where we had dined the previous evening. This time, however, we were seated indoors, much to the delight of a certain Mrs. Maitai.
“Are you sure you want two gnocchi dishes for dinner?” he asked.
You can never have too much gnocchi.
Mary dined on a grilled, fresh tuna steak on a bed of grilled veggies. Tracy had the beef on a bed of arugula, while Kim enjoyed his cheese gnocchi and grilled salmon.
I finished it off with a great dessert called Charlotte Cake. It was similar to Panna cotta and had a terrific strawberry sauce drizzled on it. The days of having my pants slip off due to my skinny frame were long gone. I was now “The Incredible Expanding Man.”
As we walked back to Hotel Berc, we could see some clearing skies opening up through the cloud cover. We were leaving Bled in the morning for our drive to Rovinj, Croatia, (via spectacular Vintgar Gorge and a stop to visit some horses later in the day), but we did hope we could get a glimpse of this lovely place on a clear day before departing so we could get some better photos.
Next: Day Twenty Three – Swan Song, This Takes The Cake, Gorging Ourselves, Horsing Around, The Road To Zanibar And Location! Location! Location!