October 7, 2015:
There was an optional tour today which ventured outside of Ljubljana into the surrounding mountains of the Julian Alps, and featured a visit to Lake Bled. This beautiful resort area has two main feature: a 17th-century church perched on an islet in the middle of the lake; and an 800-year-old castle clinging to a rocky cliff. Sadly, when we gathered for the day, it was still raining, so I knew it was going to be challenging to capture good photos to commemorate our visit. Drat!
When we arrived in the resort area, we found the lake was in a valley. We drove up one of the surrounding mountains to see the castle first, which is called Castle Bled. This castle is reputedly the model for Dracula’s castle in the Dracula films. From the ramparts of the castle, there is a wonderful view of the lake and the surrounding hills, as well as the island in the middle of the lake with the church. Unfortunately, the clouds and rain obscured the view, but the turning leaves added a welcome spot of color to what would otherwise be pretty dreary photos.
The castle still serves as something of a cultural arts showcase, and we attended presentations by the resident printer, ironworker and vintner there. The winemaker was dressed as a monk, consistent with medieval tradition, and you had the option to have him show you how to bottle your own bottle of wine. Needless to say, Jim was the first volunteer! The shops of the castle also sell many examples of local handicrafts, in addition to the ironwork and printed items, which handicrafts include weaving, naive painting, wood-carving and glass production.
Then we drove down to the small resort town of Bled, and embarked upon a pletna, which is a local version of a gondola, complete with canopy for our trip to the island and its church. The best part of our trip to the island was that the church had a “wishing bell”, so we all took a turn ringing the bell. As pretty as the views from the island were, I can only imagine what everything looks like in the sunshine. It must be a real Alpine masterpiece!
After we visited the island and its church, we made a short drive to the small town of Radovljica, for our lunch and a visit to the gingerbread museum there. The drive through the countryside was really lovely, and as you can see, everything looks very Bavarian here.
Following a good lunch of local specialties (there was a yummy mushroom soup in a rye bread bowl and for dessert, an apple filled with green apple ice cream),
Lunch and a visit to the Gostilna Lectar
we toured the tiny gingerbread museum. Slovenians also have the custom o f giving their sweethearts gingerbread hearts painted and decorated much like the ones we saw in Croatia. This particular shop and museum has been making gingerbread since 1822.
After the museum, we wandered briefly around the old town, where the houses themselves look like fancy pieces of gingerbread, and then it was back to the hotel.