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May 4th 2019

Passing rivers and walking around the lake

This morning I took the bus from Hotel Gorizia Palace to the railway station on the Piazza Transalpina. In the station hall it showed that this is a building dating from the early 20th century: plenty of dark wood, high ceilings, remarkable tiles on the floors. The original ticket counters have been saved, but are not in use anymore. A plaque is hanging on the wall of the station building with an “old-fashioned” feel to it for the Isonzo Expressz, to commemorate a journey with this nostalgic train from Hungary to Slovenia, which had taken place in July 2017, a hundred years after the Battle of Caporetto, the last battle on the Isonzo-front in 1917. Nova Gorica had been one of the stops on this trip.

As soon as I left the station hall at the Slovenian side, a lot of things changed. To start with the language: now I don’t have to bother about saying anything in Slovene, because for the moment I don’t have any grip on this language… Also the buildings and the view are different. After the Second World War the eastern part of the city Gorizia/Görz was allotted to Yugoslavia, to the State of Slovenia, after which a new town, Nova Gorica, has been created – it was the intention to build a nice City according to a Soviet model. And that still shows… Café Bordo is not only accessible from the Italian side of the railway station, but also from the Slovenian side. I ordered a cup of coffee, because I still had plenty of time. The track of the Slovenian railways, (Slovenske železnice) from Nova Gorica to Jesenice (a few stops further than Bled Jezero, where I have to get off the train) is called the Bohinj Railway and already exists for a long time: it has been built in 1906 on order of the Empire of Austria to connect Western-Austria and Southern-Germany to the harbours of Trieste. This part of the track to Jesenice, about 90 kilometres, has not been electrified – and that is noticeable as to the smell of diesel fumes when a locomotive comes roaring into the station. In the meantime it had become crowded on the platform, and when our train arrived, everybody quickly looked for a seat.

We left exactly on time: at 11.20 hrs. I could spot from the train the huge, white and slightly menacing building of the Ossuary of Oslavia, situated on the mountain slopes of the Collio, on the same side of the Isonzo as the Monte Calvario, I went to yesterday. It has been built by the Fascists (1938), like the Ossuary in Burgeis, Alto Adige in Italy. Over 57.000 remains of Italian soldiers from the First World War, who have fallen in the surroundings of Gorizia and Tolmin, are resting there. I am glad that I visited the Monte Calvario… A few minutes later the train passed a small cemetery in the village of Solkan: there was put in place a beautiful, simple obelisk with the text: tekst “Ich hatt’ einen Kamaraden” 1915–1916 (“I had a comrade”). Here are resting Austro-Hungarian soldiers. Not long after the train drove over a large bridge across the river Isonzo, which is here called the Soča already. This railway bridge from 1905 is one of the largest single-arched railway bridge in the world, built of bricks: it is 220 metres long with a span in the arch over the river of 85 metres.

At a next stop a peculiar group of people got on the train: they were re-enactors from Habsburg times of Emperor Franz Josef – that was what I could make of the information they gave to the Slovenian co-passengers. It turned out to be a pleasant journey for young and old, with demonstrations of the right way to draw your sword and how to put on white gloves…

The atmosphere in the train was excellent, but the weather was not great: it was raining a bit and the mountain slopes were hidden behind grey clouds. That is a pity, because therefore the mountains of the Triglav National Park to the west of the railway line were invisible… I would have liked to have that view, because several stages of both the Red Trail and the Purple Trail of the Via Alpina pass through this national park. From the train that could have been my first acquaintance. Well, that will be for next time.

The train crossed on several occasions the river Soča, stopped at a few stations, where the buildings, dating back to the times the railway line was built, could do with a lick of paint, and drove through a green, quiet and at first glance peaceful landscape along the Soča, and later the next river, the Bača.


On the way to Bled: from the train the rain and the ducks are visible on the river Soča

Somewhere after 70 kilometres, near the Lake of Bohinj, we passed (in a tunnel through a mountain) the watershed between the flow area of the river Soča, flowing towards the south and the Sava more to the north, flowing towards the east. The Soča flows into the Adratic Sea and the Sava through the Danube into the Black Sea. The landscape didn’t change: it continued to be green, the water in the river to be emerald green. In spite of the poor visibility, it was nevertheless a nice trip!

About half past one the train arrived in Bled Jezero (meaning station “Bled Lake”), my destination. At that moment it was really raining cats and dogs and I was glad to hear a voice behind me: “Taxi?” I didn’t hesitate and a few moments later I was comfortably settled in a minivan, with Nika at the steering wheel, who was fluent in English. Immediately he came up with suggestions for hikes and handed out several brochures. The hotel, Astoria is on a central spot in the town, with views on the rock with Bled Castle.


Bled: a first (rather wet) view on Bled Castle from the hotel terrace

After leaving my luggage in my comfortable hotel room, I walked to the lake. I had read that there is a 6 kilometre walk around the lake. There was just a light drizzle; it was nice to be outside and to go for a stroll. Bled is a quiet town with a lot of green space and parks that are well looked after. Here is quite an emphasis on sustainability: like Mals in South-Tyrol Bled is part of the movement “Alpine Pearls“, promoting tourism “in Eco-motion“. It is situated on the north-western side of the lake, which is on its longest point2,12 km and on its widest point 1,38 km. On its deepest point it is over 30 meters deep. The lake is created during the Ice Age: a huge glacier has erodes the surface, but couldn’t take one piece of rock. When the ice melted, the eroded area filled up with water en the top of the rock stayed visible as an island. It is the only lake with an island in Slovenia. On the island is the Church, dedicated to Mary, dating from the 17th century, replacing an older church. In pre-Christian times a temple was erected there. Also traces of human settlement have been found going back to prehistoric times. The area around Bled is very popular with tourists from all over the world: they are especially coming for a visit to Bled Castle, also situated on top of a high rock at the bank of the lake, and for a trip to the island with the traditional flat-bottomed rowing boats that are called Pletna‘s. There is also a possibility to rent a rowing boat and row across the lake yourself. During my walk I didn’t see much of the large influx of tourists. As I leisurely strolled along the lake, the bells of the church on the island were ringing: the sound carried far across the water and added quite a lot to the tranquil atmosphere.

On the south side of the lake is the Zaka Olympic Rowing Centre, from where training tracks are made into the lake, separated by buoys. In the surrounding park several memorials have been placed. On a plinth of hardstone a bronze bust of Boris Kocijančič (1909-1968), politician and president of the Slovenian Rowing Federation. It is made by Stojan Batič (1925–2015). Near the waterfront an impressive bronze statue is placed of a rower from the Interbellum: it is considered one of the fines creations of Boris Kalin (1905–1975 and Stojan Batič’s mentor). At the restaurant was an advertisement for the famous and only real “Blejska Kremšnita“. This is not just a kind of refined cream cakes with a pudding filling, but a real speciality… I have been able to resist this temptation!

The more I advances on my walk, the visibility improved temporarily and I could discern vague contours of the mountains around the lake. Even with this lighting the island, the castle Rock and the St. Martinskirche church were very photogenic! After an hour I had reached the starting point again and returned to the hotel. This is a place where I can enjoy myself for the next days!


Bled: panoramic view on Lake Bled with island, castle and St. Martin’s Church