Bus-ing Round the Balkans travel blog








And so September arrives, bringing with it the rain and a sudden drop in temperature. My shorts are reluctantly packed away and I head back to the bus station to hop on a bus for Bled.

It's lunchtime when I arrive and the apartment owner gives me a very extensive rundown of what to do, see, and eat - complete with a map where she highlights the top three cream cake shops. As she points out, one night isn't much time for a visit to Lake Bled, so I will have to be very fast. That was indeed my plan.

My apartment's not actually ready yet so she asks me to give her a couple of hours before I come back. It ends up being nine hours before I reappear; there was a lot to do (or many miles to walk)!

I wander down from the main road, through a park, aiming for the lake. Stepping out from amongst the trees I catch my first view of the much feted lake: Bled castle stands guard, perched high up on its rocky outcrop which breaks free from the surrounding forest; the little teardrop shaped island in the middle of the emerald waters beckons in the distance; and the rain has now petered out, leaving behind swirls of silver grey clouds in the sky. I hear another "wow" escaping from my mouth.

I have a vague list of things I want to try and do here, but it's not fixed. Bled island can be visited on a pletna (a type of gondola), although being a rainy Monday lunchtime on the first day of the shoulder season they're all moored up and deserted for the moment. Instead I begin to wander along the promenade that circuits the lake, heading towards the castle for my first hill of the day.

I pass a young couple going in the other direction, the woman lamenting that she had "just expected it to be more magical". Whilst I can almost see her point - the view isn't matching up to the images I'd seen when planning the trip (for good reason, I would shortly discover) - I think the problem is more her expectation: magic doesn't arrive on demand, it catches you when you least expect it. You can't buy it or package it up, and if you chase it you'll never catch it. That's the point, surely?

The castle is only a 600m high climb away, and small but perfectly formed, with one elegant turret. It offers what I thought at the time were impressive views, and houses a functioning replica Guthenberg printing press, along with a museum that proved to be more interesting than I expected.

I'm vaguely planning on walking part of the 6.5km trail around the lake today, but pause to flick through a brochure I had picked up, just to see if there's anything else to prioritise. I happen to notice a caption below a more familiar photo of the lake than any of the views I had thus far seen: it refers to having been taken from the Osojnica viewpoint.

The existence of such a place is news to me; it's not on the map in my guidebook or even mentioned at all. I do however find it on the pocket map I have: it's a 685m high hill at the opposite end of the lake to Bled town. Looks like I will be doing that 6.5km walk next after all. I figure I can do it and be back in town by around 6pm. You can't say I'm not an optimist (it was coming up to 4pm at the time).

The shore walk is pleasant, the ever changing views of the lake continue to captivate, and it suddenly feels very autumnal. An avenue of trees, ripples of fiery leaves dancing in the breeze, stands against the edge of deciduous forest. How can there already be so many amber coloured leaves strewn across the path?

I previously referred to good signposting in Slovenia. I would now like to retract that foolish comment. When you're hiking through forest, on muddy, difficult, sometimes incredibly steep trails, you really need the trail markers to be on your side. I'm not talking about anything extravagant or challenging: colour coded spots of spraypaint on trees so you can keep a check that you haven't veered off course, painted arrows at junctions and turnings (or else a clear continuation of markers on the main trail), and signposts telling you where each new trail leads when you reach a critical junction (for instance, left to the top of Osojnica, right to Oystrica).

I don't know if there were budgetary constraints or perhaps a national spraypaint shortage, but I would suggest that - if you have to choose - markers at junctions are more useful than markers when you are on a straight stretch of trail, hemmed in on either side by forest. If I have nowhere to go other than forwards I'm happy to trust that I'm going the right way; if I'm faced with a fork in the path, offering me three possible directions, I would quite like a hint or two so that I don't end up climbing the wrong hill (or worse, going back downhill!). Just a thought.

I eventually guessed and scrambled my way to the top of Mala Osojnica. I hadn't time to catch my breath from the climb before it was taken away again. I still can't believe how far and wide you can see; it was truly spectacular. (It was also 6.05pm, that part of the masterplan didn't quite work out.)

The rain and most of the clouds had cleared to leave blue skies; the sun was shining brightly from behind me, glinting off the church on Bled Island (which was now close enough to see the grand staircase from the dock up to the church); the shadows formed by the trees along the shore now stretched long enough to reach across the lake, pointing towards the mountain filled horizon.

Given the forest cloaking the hill, and its relatively low altitude, I wasn't prepared to be able to see so very far. I have some fairly beautiful photos, but they represent a mere fraction of that magnificent scene. I could have stayed up there all night.

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