Ljubljana; The Dragon Bridge; Ljubljana to Bled; Goulash at last; Vintgar Gorge; Fried-egg pizza; Making plans for hiking in the mountains; A walk around Lake Bled; Stupid photo projects; Hummingbird moths again

Our mutually-agreed-upon first task of the day was to find Ljubljana’s iconic Dragon Bridge. It wasn’t any trouble to find, certainly - only one bridge down from the almost-equally-famous Triple Bridge. It didn’t disappoint - there are four very cool dragon sculptures, one on each corner of the bridge. I was feeling photographically awkward that day, I think - nothing seemed to really result in any good photographs. Looking at them afterwards, though, they’re not so bad.

Ljubljana’s a very small town, and after only a few hours we felt we’d rather exhausted its possibilities and weren’t interested in staying another night - especially given how expensive it was. So we dropped our bags in storage locker at the train station and wandered for a bit longer. It was a Sunday - again - and again there was nothing open. Sundays are the bane of my existence at the moment. We were both feeling physically and emotionally low, so we had a nap by the river for an hour or so. Sheryl bought us an apple strudel, and that and the map made us feel much better.

At 4pm we caught a bus to the town of Bled. We knew nothing about it except that it was supposed to be really pretty. The bus was about an hour and a half. We didn’t see much of Bled that evening, being mostly concerned with finding a hostel and then finding food. Since the hostel we got stuck with had no kitchen we decided just to go out to eat. I finally got my goulash, three countries after Hungary. While we were eating there was a huge rainstorm - the street outside was nearly flooded. We only got a bit wet heading back to the hostel, though, since we’d been too lazy to go farther than the first restaurant we found.

We had talked it over during dinner, and decided that we’d like to do some hiking in the mountains in Slovenia. Bled is relatively close to Slovenia’s section of the Alps (known as the Julian Alps) and we wanted to try our hand at mountain hiking again, after our disastrous experience in the Făgăraş Mountains in Romania. Slovenia’s mountains are much more civilized than the Făgăraş, though - there’s a dense network of so-called ‘huts’ (really budget hostels where you can buy meals). This eliminated the need for me to carry camping equipment or food, which was a huge plus as far as I was concerned. In fact, the mountains form the Triglav National Park, and camping is forbidden within the park’s boundaries, so even the temptation to punish myself was removed. The Triglav Park association had an information centre in Bled, and there we headed, only to discover that they’re closed on Mondays.

Bled truly is lovely. There’s a perfect fairy-tale lake with mirror-like still water and a little island with a church, and it has a castle perched high above the lake on a cliff. It’s impossibly charming. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to spend a winter there, but when we were there, with perfect weather, and the tourist crowds thinned out for September, it was close to perfect. We both loved it there, and it did something for us that I’m not sure I can put into words. Maybe it healed something, or maybe it just eased a tension or soothed some of our constant simmering frustration. None of those things are wrong to say, but none of them are particularly right either. All I can really say is that some places have a soul or a spirit, and Bled’s was a happy one, and it made us happy to be there.

After giving up on the park office we took a walk out into the countryside to Vintgar Gorge. The walk was a couple of hours at a very slow dawdle, thorough narrow roads and little villages. All the Slovenian countryside looks like a postcard, perfectly manicured. It’s charming without, somehow, being twee. This is probably due to the Slovenians themselves, who are simply genuinely happy, enthusiastic people who take real pride in their surroundings. All of the above, by the way, refers to the areas we saw, which were all decidedly not off the beaten track. Being the places tourists are meant to see, I imagine there’s some extra effort being made. Our guidebook, in support of this theory, has not a single word to say about the entire eastern half of the country, so I suspect that it’s there that the economic traumas are being played out.

I digress, though. Vintgar Gorge is truly beautiful. The river has cut its way through the rock and left it curved and curlicued into a series of convoluted and fascinating shapes. The water is crystal-clear and a blue-green so intense that it nearly glows. A wooden walkway steps back and forth across the river along the 1600m length of the gorge, letting you look straight down through the clear water to the riverbed - sometimes six or seven meters deep, I thought, although it was difficult to tell. The air was full of mist from the racing water and the air was chilled and damp. We walked to the end and then came back through to see it all again from the other direction. The only strange and disquieting note came when we saw a fox drowned at the bottom of the one of the pools. Neither of us could imagine how he got there, unless he’d fallen from the steep bank above - but I always thought foxes could swim.

It was late by the time we got back from the gorge, and later still when we finally got around to going for dinner - late enough that none of the decent restaurants were still serving food, and we had to settle for pizza. I noticed on the menu that one of the pizzas came with egg as a topping. There’s a place in Toronto that does slices of hard-boiled eggs on pizzas and I’d always wanted to try it, so I ordered it. Imagine my surprise when it actually came with a big fried egg dead centre. I ate it, because, well, wouldn’t you? But I can’t imagine who ever thought it seemed like a good idea to put a fried egg on a pizza.

The next day was a Tuesday and the tourist office for the National Park was open, so that was our first destination. The woman who helped us was very friendly and had encyclopedic knowledge of the hiking trails. She helped us plan a route from the village of Stara Fužina to the summit of Mount Triglav, Slovenia’s highest peak, and back down, over three days. She made reservations for us at the huts on the way, and even offered to let us store our packs at the office while we were gone. She was absolutely fantastic and helped us do in half an hour what might have taken us an entire day ourselves.

Mission accomplished, we had the rest of the day to kill. We got food for the trail (just snacks this time), water-purification tablets (since I’d broken our water-purification device in Romania) and an ankle brace for me (I wasn’t about to take chances after spraining my ankle a couple of days before in Ljubljana). The afternoon was free for a leisurely walk around Bled’s little lake (6km). We had some fun with stupid photo ideas while walking - I made a game of taking a shot pointing out into the middle of the lake at the island every 40 steps, no matter what might be in the way. The results were pretty awful so I modified it to “around 40 steps with a clear view of the island”. That was more fun and gave a neat flip-book or zoëtrope effect when scanning through the photos at high speed afterward. Sheryl had a more productive game of taking the best photo she could - of anything in sight in any direction - every 40 steps or so.

In the evening, just as dusk was falling, we had an unexpected visitor. In the flower beds along some of the park walkways on the way to the hostel, we found our friend from Croatia, the Hummingbird Moth. This guy was a lot smaller though - maybe a three- or four-centimeter wingspan as opposed to the 10cm of the Croatian monster. He was fuzzing franticallly from flower to flower but I did manage to get a couple of good shots of him.

Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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