After breakfast and a delightful reunion with my younger cousin, Sam, the three of us head out for a day trip to a town called Krems about 45 minutes drive away. It’s a sunny day and we wander about the quaint town, popping into whatever shops take our fancy. A traditional meal that can almost only be found in this town is smoked fish crumbed with paprika, I can’t remember the German word for it. We can see them being cooked right in front of us. The fish are about 20cm long and are skewered vertically over a smokey pit. The fish is served with a slice of bread and it is delicious. Hands down the best fish sandwich I’ve ever had, after I got all the bones out.
We cross the road and stick our feet in the Danube before heading home.
At about 4sh Sam and I head into the city on the tram to meet his older brother Ben who is the same age as me. We head to one of Ben’s favourite joints, of which there are many, and have drink number one and catch up on the last eight years.
Then we go to another bar where Sam has a friend working. And that’s where the damage is done. Can you imagine having happy hour between 10-midnight?? This just would not float in Australia. We do not need any further encouragement to drink at that hour. I thought the whole idea of happy hour was to try and get people in the pubs early?? After several glasses of something green and Long Island iced teas we are well and truly in the throes of family bonding. Sam has a friend DJing at a well known club called Pratersauna and has managed to get our names on the door. We go there maybe around 11-12 and walk in in front of a queue of about 30 partygoers. We dance in the DJ booth, chill outside with Sam’s friends and dance some more. I am gobsmacked when I go outside and see the sky getting lighter. And lighter. And lighter. Ben, who has work the next day (!) leaves about 3sh and Sam and I jump in a cab after 5am sometime and promptly fall asleep on each other in the back seat. I look at my phone as we stumble in the front door and it’s 5.32am.
Being that it’s three years later that I finally get around to publishing this blog… I googled Pratersauna and found:
This glorious photo
2) That it had been shut down in 2016. I think this quote from the article titled ‘Vienna says goodbye to its most influential club, Pratersauna’ probably summed it up the best: “Suddenly there was a beautiful, dirty club full of dirty, beautiful people. It had after-hours parties that lasted till midday, drugs and some kind of anarchistic spirit. The sound system was bad and the bartenders were even worse. In other words: it was magical.”
Today I tick off two must-do activities in Bled, climb up to the castle overlooking the lake and hire a row boat and get to the island. It’s a hot day and I’m glad the climb to the castle is a relatively short one, about 15 minutes or so. It’s a beautiful day
We continue around the lake and pay our €10 for an hours boat hire. When I was 14 I did a school exchange to Australia and remember being quite good at rowing. Well those skills have entirely dissipated in the decade that has passed. With me and the two Aussies sisters Beth and Kate taking turns, we somehow manage to row to the middle of the lake and dock at the tiny island. As expected, there’s not much going on, but we walk around the cute church and I bask in the sun whilst eating an icecream, a record first in at least a week now.
After a slightly faster return journey, we walk back to the hostel the way we came so I can get ready for the train. I farewell the girls that have been such fabulous companions on and off for the past few weeks, a bit sad knowing that our paths won’t cross again until we are back in Melbourne.
Then I bus to Bled train station, take a train the short distance to Ljubljana then hang around for an hour or so before catching my 4pm train to Vienna. It does pay to ask the hostels advice about such transport as I nearly paid €60 to leave at 9am then after asking Mika’s advice, discovered the €30 special that left at 4pm.
This is my first Euro train and I actually really enjoy it. Is it bad that one of my first thoughts is that the train is just like the ones on the Harry Potter movies? The aisle is on one side and the cabins that can fit about six people on the other. Unexpectedly I have a cabin to myself for most of the journey, which is great because I pass out across three of the seats for the first few hours anyway. The countryside is very green and quite similar to that of NZ bar the lack of fences that we have to keep all of our sheep in. Once we cross the border, in Austria I see a couple of old castles on a hill which makes it seem even more Harry Pottery.
My aunt, Melissa, whom I haven’t seen for eight years, picks me up from the train and takes me back to her beautiful apartment in Hernals, district 17 (so we’re in the Hunger Games now?!). I have never been more grateful to have a double bed in a beautiful room, all. To. Myself. Heaven. It’s after 10pm so we have a quick catch up then head to bed.
I had heard that the bus to Bohinj goes 20 past every hour. I am all set to go by 8.20am except there are no staff members about to unlock the door to the terrace where my sneakers are airing. Tres annoying. Albeit there is no one about except 12 18 year old British girls that are passed out on every surface of the common area having arrived at an odd hour I’m assuming. I awkwardly crunch on my muesli among a sea of sleeping ‘beauties’.
At 9am a staff member shows up. At 10.30am, after getting off at the wrong bus stop and asking four people for directions I think I am standing at the bottom of the track that I want to conquer. There is a gondola in operation up the mountain and the guide told me yesterday that I could walk up the corresponding ski piste. One of the kind people I had asked told me that the track is called Zagarjev Graben and it was marked. Thank god she wrote it down – always get them to write it down!
It wasn’t signed with the name of the track, but it was marked as a walking track with the familiar red and white circles every few hundred metres. The only other piece of information I’ve got is again from yesterday’s guide who said, when the track forks, take the left because otherwise you will go all the way around the mountain.
The initial traverse is not steep, but long, taking me far right of the gondola. After my experience in Montenegro, I was expecting to zig zag all the way to the top and not really lose sight of the gondola. After half an hour, the track still hasn’t turned and I am convinced I am on the wrong path. But, it’s going up, I’m getting a workout and I’m surrounded by bush so I’m happy and proceed regardless. Within this time the only sign of human life comes rumbling down the mountain in a trank (that’s a truck-tank).
As I walk I constantly imagine how my surrounds look in the winter and envision happy kids flying down this path and the trees on either side overloaded with snow.
I really should have made the most of this half hour while the going was good. I round a bend and see what I’m in for (not that I knew it at the time) for the remainder of the journey. It’s damn near vertical and the gravel underfoot is made up of rocks of all sizes, but mostly stones that would fit in the palm of my hand. These factors make it tough going as I take one step forward and slide a few inches back. I end up kicking my foot into the gravel to try and get a good hold. After scaling a particularly challenging 50 metres and giving myself a mental back pat I pass a mountain biker on his way down. I point upwards and say “gondola?” He nods and repeats the turn-left-at-the-fork mantra. I ask how long and he shrugs and says “I don’t know, I like coming down! But maybe an hour”. Saweet. The next step is taken with renewed confidence and purpose. Up and up I go hearing only the crunch of gravel and the chirping of birds. The sweat is dripping down my face and dropping off my chin. After a while I see a couple above me that I guess are about my parents age. I catch up to them within 20 minutes and exchange a brief hello.
Soon after, the spits that have been spitting start getting that much spittier. Did I check the forecast yesterday? Yes. Did it say there would be a thunderstorm in the afternoon? Yes. Do I have a rain coat in my bag? No.
I switch my pack from my back to my front in case the skies suddenly open and I need to protect my electronics inside. This actually makes a lot more sense anyway because gravity is now on my side, so should I lose my balance which I have a couple of times already I am more likely to fall forwards than backwards, that’s how steep we’re talking. I look at the mountains behind me. They are in a fog of rain. I reckon I’ve got 20 minutes at the most before I too am engulfed. At least I have forest on either side of me. I scan my brain to see if there is any information stored in the ‘how to build a bivouac’ section from my form 1 camp. Nada.
I trudge on, a little quicker this time, and hope for a miracle.
My prayers are answered. The sun soccer punches the rain in the face and carries me in its warmth for the rest of the journey. Thank. You. Sun.
My only other human contact is another couple in their late 50s on their way down the mountain with their beautiful dog. I ask them how much longer they think I have to go and they estimate about half an hour.
I continue with renewed zest and a packet of gummy snakes. For this last stretch I am envisioning victory; getting to the top and seeing a bunch of people in the restaurant, some standing outside watching my gruelling final steps. There are cheers and high fives and a comment thrown out there about how I’m crazy for doing this.
In reality, I reach the top and see a bunch of people with their backs to me admiring the 360 degree view. I stumble into their midst, awaiting applause. Nothing. I take a few snaps for myself and walk a short distance to the restaurant. It is filled with chatty rugged up folk enjoying a warm meal. I’m a blatant stand-out with my active wear and salty face but I could have been invisible. I am filled with a sudden urge to jump up on a table and scream “I WALKED UP HERE PEOPLE!!!” But of course I order a bowl of chips and eat it in deflated and exhausted silence, watching the happy families around me.
I take the gondola back down and head to the cafe to ask the details of my trek, still not sure that I went up the track that yesterday’s guide told me of. I discover that the mountain I just climbed was called Vogel and it is part of the Julian Alps. The starting point of my trek was about 520 metres and the end point around 1550 metres. It took me 2 hours and 15 minutes. I also ask directions to the Savica Waterfall. I’m waved a direction and told it’s only 2-3 kilometre walk.
I’m not sure if this woman had her facts wrong or if my body was just so exhausted from the morning or maybe it was because the waterfall was also at the end of an upward climb, but it takes me at least an hour to get there, maybe even an hour and a half. Had I known what the terrain was like before I embarked I definitely wouldn’t have done it. The only saviour was that I could get on the return bus at a much earlier point than anticipated so I was spared the majority of the return walk.
I chill back at the hostel before meeting two of three of my favourite Aussies at a highly regarded local pizzeria. I inhale the majority of a huge vegetarian pizza and take the rest home in a doggy bag having planned to meet the girls for adventures tomorrow morning before my train goes.
It’s a sad day when I can’t run six kilometres. I just didn’t think I would be 24. Lake Bled is 6.2km in diameter and my holiday lifestyle means I succumb to two walking stints and get overtaken by a man that is balding. And I’m meant to reuniting with my boyfriend in a month for a romantic beach holiday. I just hope he recognises me in the airport under my newfound layers of bread, pastry and icecream.
Bled really is an outdoor paradise, very similar to NZ in that sense, actually in almost every sense. We have the option to do all sorts of activities through our hostel but the only one that I didn’t know when I scrolled through the list was canyoning. Mika showed me a video and intrigued, I put my hand up for the 2pm excursion.
Basically, you’re in a gorge and you have to get from the top to the bottom of the canon (“a deep valley with steep sides often with water flowing through it” –Dictionary.com) however possible, jumping into pools, abseiling, tobogganing, scrambling, down ropes etc. It transpires that I am the only one in this session. My guide is a young local, passionate about canyoning, which is his summer job, snowboarding, which is his winter job and surfing, which are his holidays in Bali. We drive for nearly half an hour to the site. I put on a very glamorous sleeveless wetsuit with booties to match and tie the jacket around my waist. Carrying my helmet and harness I then walk with my guide up a pretty steep dirt trail for 15 minutes. We have a quick safety briefing then it’s time to get wet! The first stint is probably the most challenging. It’s the biggest jump we will do. It’s barely a five metre drop, but the hard thing is that you have to jump out over a ledge, and the landing pool is less than a square metre. Oh and I’m first. After a few nervous glances, the adrenalin kicks in and I take a leap of faith. I always figure that if I die doing something like this then at least I go happily and with no regrets!
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Woohoo! At the bottom of a rock pool I am so stoked on life that I don’t really notice how cold the mountain-fresh water is. And maybe it’s kind of hard to tell through my wetsuit that feels about 10cm thick. For 40 minutes I tumble, laugh, abseil and slide my way down the canon.
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Definitely worth the €55. SO much fun!
With groups it usually takes about an hour to get through. I think my guide felt bad that I was the only one and the legend gave me the cd of photographs ^^ taken along the way that they usually sell for €20. Then he decided to go for a drink so we drove to the other lake that is nearby, Lake Bohinj, and we sat and had a beer in the sinking sun overlooking the lake while I picked his brains about hiking trails which I had heard are better here than in Bled. Tomorrow I decide to hike up a ski piste, check out the Savica (“saveetsa”) waterfall and walk around the lake.
Back at the Castle Hostel, I have repeat dinner from last night, meet two British girls and an Aussie lass in my room and have an earlyish night.
I have an 11.30am bus to Ljubljana, Slovenia and then straight on to Bled. The Aussie gals had told me they had caught the tram from the train station easy peasy. I try hard to catch one but it isn’t really obvious where I should be standing, and the trams are all packed, Melbourners – think St Kilda Road trams on a weekday at 8am, aaaand it started to rain. So a taxi suits me just fine. I was quick to understand that I was catastrophically ripped off on my journey to the hostel the first time around. I didn’t take any notice of the recommended cab companies that were listed on the hostel web page and just jumped in the first one I saw. This time round it was half price. Lesson learnt.
The bus ride was the quickest so far and I am in Ljubljana before I know it. I wasn’t really sure what to expect of the city, but in a way it looks how I imagined, slightly draconian, medieval style statues of dragons and gargoyles, sharp spindles on churches. I thought it was very intriguing. I was kind of hoping when I got off the bus that I would have an hour or so to kill so I could go and take photos but no, I have two minutes before the bus to Bled departs at 2pm.
Travelling more locally means a downgrade in bus and road quality so for most of this leg I have a very bad case of cheek-bounce (maybe the eastern European diet has finally caught up with me?). On a side note, the Welsh girl from Sarajevo asked if I was a Kiwi before I had volunteered the information saying that the general stereotype was blonde hair, blue eyes, small noses and generous cheeks, which I fit perfectly. So I’m comfortable owning the cheek-bounce for the time being.
There is snow lingering on the nearby mountains which frame fields of green all around. I see two fawns emerge from one corn crop and quickly disappear into the next.
I am sitting at a bus station tapping away on my iPad when the driver comes marching in my direction shouting “Bled, Bled!”
“Oh, is this Bled already?”
“Yes. Bled. Out”.
When I get off the bus and my ticket is checked before my pack is given to me, the driver tells me I have actually gotten on the wrong bus. Right destination, but wrong company. When I boarded I knew the bus wasn’t at the platform that that the ticket said it would be, but it was only one off and there wasn’t a bus at the correct one, and I only had two minutes. What’s a girl to do? I then got a small lecture from a local about how I should always get the tickets from the drivers and not the ticket booth because then you don’t pay for the reservation blah blah blah. This combined with the fact that it takes me AGES to locate my seemingly easy-to-find hostel in this tiny town, full of HILLS means that by the time I ask the fourth person, who happens to work at the hostel I am in a GRUMP. Poor guy. I read somewhere it takes 12 subsequent meetings to blow off a first impression. Pity. Looks like I’m forever going to be the girl that arrived a grumpy hot mess. And just to clarify that’s the sweaty, puffing, red-faced, greasy hair kinda hot, not the sexy, zen, boho-gypsy traveller girl kinda hot.
I thaw quickly as Mika takes me through Castle Hostel explaining what’s what. I thought I would have seen the lake by now and make it my second priority, after groceries. I contemplate going for a run around the lake but instead buy a pack of lollies and eat them in front of the lake, which is nearly the same thing. I then pass out in a lolly coma on a park bench for an hour while the sun goes down.
The iconic things in Bled are the church on an island in the middle of of the lake, and the small castle on the hill which overlooks it. Very picturesque. The actual town is very small but being such a popular holiday spot there are 17 hostels.
Tonight I make my very first home cooked meal in a month. Unfortunately the supermarket had a very disappointing array of fruit and vegetables so I’ve got pasta with bolognaise sauce mixed with capsicum and zucchini. It’s not too terrible.
It seems every person in the hostel is from the UK. I get chatting to one girl who tells me that her group of 10-15 are travelling together after completing a uni exchange in Vienna. Most others are in groups too which does make it a little harder for a solo traveller to make friends when everyone already knows each other. A few glasses of I’m-not-sure-what-kind-of-red-wine-because-I-can’t-read-a-word-on-the-label and I am asleep in my otherwise unoccupied four bed dorm.