Travel Well Traveled
'A little bit of other places for your day'
Ah, Bled, the little jewel in central Europe. If you've never heard of it, don't feel too bad, it's previous history of constantly annexed by various empires means that many Europeans still haven't heard of it, either. Although places like Interlaken and Southern France get all the play, Bled is where it's at. Trust me. Excogitate Jack hasn't lead you wrong, yet! (except for that time with the badger pit, but what's rabies among friends?)
What to do or see?
Step one: arrive in Bled. Step two: go to the lake. Step three: go to the castle and get another view of the lake. There you go, you've now got some jaw-dropping, postcard-worthy pictures. You want olde Europe charm? Walk to the end of the lake so you have the island bound monastery in view, with the castle atop a sheer cliff, backed up by the tiny church spires of the quaint town, with the snow-capped Swiss Alps in the background. Folks, it doesn't get much better than this (and not at the bargain price that you'll find in Bled).
As a bonus, at night they light the castle up and if you're lucky to be there after a storm the lake will steam into a rolling field of fog, making it look as if you could walk across to the monastery. Grabbing a beer at the castle and sitting on the wide stone ledge will net you a stunning sunset view on a nice day. Even better, all these sights and places are within easy walking distance. You runners should take your camera on a jog around the lake and the up to the castle in time for sunset. You won't be disappointed.
Get there before it shuts down and catch the tours that will let you go waterfall ice climbing and white water rafting. Mountain biking is possible.
What to spend?
Bled will never be confused with a metropolis and that's the point. The town is nestled in the shadows of the Alps and essentially hibernates when tourist season ends. As a loyal TWT reader, you know immediately that the tail end of the tourist season is the perfect time to go there. The hotels will still set you back a pretty Euro, but the hostels will be nearly abandoned and run by friendly locals bemused at you arriving after all the college kids have rocked off.
To keep the savings, you can and should walk as many places as possible and take buses when you can't walk. Taxis aren't expensive, though. I also recommend the kebab stand and Italian restaurant.
Not really. During peak season there will be other travelers in the hostels, but there's no real club scene. Go for the scenery and fresh air.
Bled is a tourist town. For you men, I doubt you're charming enough for a local to forget that you're just a tourist. Fellow travelers, especially if you're lucky enough to run into some French girls, will give you better odds. As always, you ladies won't have trouble on this score. Pun intended.
I quite enjoyed walking outside of the city, into the meadows and pastures of the farms near the forests. I found a charming little church with a stone fence on a small rise, not to mention Slovenian locals getting ready for Winter (mixing the old with the new). If you want to follow a similar path, get out to Vintar Gorge and then meander your way back into town (there are signs).
I also took to running around the lake at different times to day, with my camera.
The Seal Club?
Bled is one of ExJack's Top Twenty World Destinations. All those caps. Damn straight. It has the official TWT Seal of Approval and is a must-see for my fellow cheap hostel travelers, photo-fanatics, and anyway who likes mountains, castles, pretty views, nice walks, and being alive. Get there!
Travel Tip #59: If you have the choice between renting the $1 and the $5 bike, rent the nicer one. Trust me.
Travel Well Traveled Spis
The Benefits of Hanging Out
Similar to my experience staying for a bit in Chiang Mai, I found that sticking around Bled for three days yielded some interesting experiences and, importantly to me, some great photos. As an American traveling around Europe, you're issued a Schengen Visa- which basically means you have 90 days to see the sights and then get the hell out. I timed my European adventures to 90 days, exactly (not that they seem to go on a massive manhunt for overstayers), but I do have a real fear of futzing up something visa-related and being banned/jailed.
As such, I was often rushing a bit to get from country to country. The positive aspect of this was that I wasted little time. Usually I awoke before dawn and was exploring the city until nightfall. Then I'd grab a quick meal (often my first of the day since breakfast) and head back out to see the sights after dark.
After I'd arrived in Bled and was immediately charmed and giddy at the prospects of the local beauty, I decided that I should extend my stay a few days more. My hostel was utterly abandoned. For the first two days, it was just myself and the owner (a stout, good-natured woman who seemed rather bemused at my showing up a week after all the tourists had left). The weather was just starting to turn a little chilly, but I was never uncomfortable.
The plus side of taking my time in this limited locale was that I walked that town from end to end, finding small saint shrines, handmade garden art, and out of the way churches. I explored the surrounding countryside as well, seeing the mixture of old and new houses as Slovenia is being pulled inexorably into the 21st century. And I was able to make a half-dozen circuits around the lake (obviously my favorite spot in Bled) at different times of the day and under different weather conditions.
One day the sky was nearly clear and the sun was bright, creating a perfect pure light to snap long-distance shots from both the castle on the cliff and a nearby mountain look out. That night, the clear skies helped me snap some tripod-assisted photos of the monastery, the castle, and their strange night lights. Another day it rained the entire morning (I caught up on my reading at the Italian restaurant and made friends with my new roomies-the two French girls), but after the rain abated I garbed up, grabbed my camera and took a run around the lake to catch the fog rising off the water like the ghost of Bled's ancient past, misting into half-visibility.
I was able to appreciate the town and grab those photos because I decided to stay a little while longer in a place that wasn't as immediately captivity like Rome or Krakow. To expand this metaphor, I'd like to suggest that it's important- no, crucial- to take some time in your travels explore the little places, and to have the patience to wait for the optimal time for those photos. Of course you may not have the time and money to just be able to hang out in quaint Slovenian towns. If not, then you could apply the same idea to where you're living now.
Think about your favorite places near you and wait for the weather to be just right to get that photo you'll want to frame later. Take the time to walk different routes near your home and discover the small places or tiny shops that you never knew existed.
There are so many intimate, idyllic spots, like a tree growing through a crumbled wall of a church in disrepair, or half-hidden idiosyncratic niches of architectural absurdity that are only viewable from the right angle, or half-mad, brilliant street art that you can find if you can delve into your immediate area just a bit more. And if you end up in a quiet little town like Bled, spend a few more days there, because even when you think you've seen everything you may get a pleasant surprise. -Ex Jack
Travel Tip #24: When over-nighting on buses or trains, use a bag of your valuables as a pillow. Or tie/wrap it into your forearms.
You can easily walk to the castle from the town (no reason to take a big tour to places like this). It is a moderately steep path up, but not a big deal. There is food, drink, a gift shop, and a museum all at the top. Take your time and marvel at the view. The walk down a nearby path to get to the entrance of the lake and make a circle of that, too!
Old World Bled
To say it again, Bled has that old world charm. It's not amazing and ostentatious (in a good way) that Rome is, it's a small town with some amazing scenery and plenty of locals who still live rural lives. So enjoy some pictures of all that.
Hiking The Lake
Now that you've visited the castle and walked around the lake, why not take a morning hike up a nearby mountain (path starts at the lake loop) and find some killer views? The path itself is pleasant, though possibly quite muddy, and the views up top have benches so you should take a picnic lunch.
Although not as. . . 'gorge'-ous as some other natural places, the Gorge is a nice diversion after you've already been to the castle and lake. The walkways are all well-made and it makes for a very serene natural hike. As a bonus, when you're finished hiking, make sure you walk back to Bled! Really, you can see the castle in the distance so you know you are going the right way and you will come across some charming places on the quiet road back!
Bled knows where its strengths are. Even at night, they make sure you realize how amazing the lake scenery is. They light up the monastery, the castle, and the town at general. Make sure you go on a clear night, bring your camera, and a tripod. Again, you MUST have a tripod or everything will be blurry.
To Bled or Not To Bled?
If ExJack's glowing endorsement isn't good enough, let's break it down even more. Is Bled worth the trip if you are pressed for time during your European adventure? I would still say yes, but it is understandable if you just want to focus on places like Paris, Rome, et al.
Bled, to me, is the idyllic mountain valley town that still has castles and island-bound monestaries only accessible by boat. How cool is that?
It's cheap, it's scenic, and it's still a place that many travelers don't put on their radars. Although not immediately stunning like the Grand Canyon or historically mind-boggling like the Akropolis, Bled is the essence of charming. You will enjoy your stay here and you should seek it out.