In exchange for my Euros the man in the shed handed me a padlock and key. Not an entirely strange occurrence perhaps but I was attempting to hire a boat. “For mooring,” was my only further instruction as he gestured to the nearest vessel. I must have looked like an Oxbridge rower on a busman’s holiday as he had no intention of offering me any further information. He probably had an exciting game of Candy Crush Saga or Tinder waiting for him on his phone. Luckily however, I did do a little rowing during my school years. On the rowing machine while trying to avoid any more strenuous form of gym work during PE lessons.
Buoyed by these teenage memories I grasped the oars and before long I hadn’t moved very far at all. Just like my school days. Undeterred I struggled on and finally reached the island that sits in the middle of Lake Bled. Allowing for the return leg of the journey to take just as long as the outward jaunt I had roughly 20 minutes to explore. But first I had to moor the boat which was easier said than done. You put the row boat in, then float back out, in, out, in, out and finally you manage to clip it to a mooring post. Make that 15 minutes to explore Bled Island.
My mooring struggles were witnessed by other Bled tourists (if you’re reading this, thanks for the help), but by this point I was used to being embarrassed that day. For the earlier instalment of Ben’s Bled ‘Barrassment we need to turn the clock back to Ljubljana bus station and another stuttering exchange while paying for goods. In this case my bus ticket. I swear I’m not socially awkward. On this occasion I asked the cheerful gentleman behind the kiosk what time the bus to Bled left.
“Every hour, on the hour.”
“So when is the next one.”
“Every hour, on the hour.”
So what time is that? Well done Ben.
The every hour, on the hour bus that I caught to Lake Bled coincidentally takes roughly an hour. Every hour, on the hour. You know the drill by now. It drops its passengers off at Bled’s tourist information centre, cum bus station, cum local shop. I know what you’re thinking reading that sentence, get your mind out of the gutter and into the dictionary. Just not Urban Dictionary… This leaves you with a short walk to reach the lake. Use your intuition, your phone, or ask a local to find out which direction you need to take. My intuition told me to follow the rest of the crowd that had got off the same bus I had. I wish I’d known they were lemmings on a day out, I could have done without walking off the edge of that cliff.
You will know when you have reached the lake because there is a massive expanse of water in front of you. Oh, and it is also incredibly picturesque. The focal point of the lake is the church which sits atop Bled Island (we will get back there don’t worry). Strolling around the footpath your perspective of the church changes, as does the backdrop behind the lake allowing for plenty of eye pleasing snap opportunities. At one point I suddenly found myself bathed in sunlight looking across the lake, beyond the church at snow capped mountains. Absolutely incredible.
My introduction to Bled came via Travel Man, the Channel Four programme fronted by intrepid explorer Richard Ayoade. He, along with Eddie Izzard, had managed to row to Bled Island so I decided it was within my skill set to follow their wake. Plus I’d had enough of people that day so a little time without having to communicate with another human seemed a positive idea. The final hurdle was my interaction with Roger Mooring from paragraph one. Like Roger Moore but he gave me a padlock for mooring my boat. Get it? Jokes are always better when you have to explain them I find.
Safely parked and padlocked it was time to explore the island. For 15 minutes. The knowledge that my boat would not be stolen or set free by the kind of ragamuffin that sights of beauty are known to attract set my mind at ease. I wouldn’t become Bled Island’s answer to Quasimodo. That padlock did come in handy after all. The sight of a steep flight of stairs always warms the heart when you’ve been exerting yourself for the past 25 minutes but I had no time to waste, so I took them like Rocky Balboa and drew some strange looks from my fellow tourists when I started shadow boxing at the summit.
It turns out that 15 minutes was ample time to see what I needed to of the island. I opted against more stairs within the church and instead took the opportunity to cast my eyes on the natural beauty of the lake and surrounding mountains from a different vantage point. I felt tranquil and as is often the case in moments of tranquility my mind turned to food and drink. Not even the thought of rowing back could ruin my mood and somehow I negotiated the return journey in roughly 10 minutes. I’d become a regular Steve Redgrave within the hour. Cambridge, Oxford, call me. I’ll teach your guys a thing or two.
Aside from the visual elements, one of my big boxes to tick during my visit to Bled was to have some Bled Cake. Despite its name making it sound like an impaled Victoria Sponge, Bled Cake is in fact a tower made up of puff pastry, custard and vanilla cream, topped with another layer of puff and a dusting of icing sugar. The number seven plays a big part in the construction of the cake, the pastry is folded seven times, the custard cooked for seven minutes. The cake is even served in 7×7 centimetre squares. A man of tradition I had to honour this so I ate seven cakes (well actually two). The taste? Think of a Vanilla Slice but better. Whether that is because you are eating the cake on a balcony overlooking Bled and the Julian Alps is up for debate but on my return home from Europe I went through a Vanilla Slice phase trying to replicate the experience but nothing scratched the itch quite like the real thing.
If you get the chance to visit Bled grab it with both hands. The journey time from Ljubljana makes it a must if you are in the Slovenian capital for a few days. It offers beauty, a little physical activity, peace and a piece of one of the best cakes you will ever eat. What’s not to like?