LAKE BLED ON FOOT
Lake Bled, Beautiful Lake Bled! There are a few ways to see this glistening aquatic gem. You can lazily glide over the lake in a rented rowboat or picturesque plenta to visit the tiny island that is home to the baroque 17th century Church of the Assumption. This church showcases ancient fresco fragments and an iconic restored belfry. If you walk the 99 steps up to the church and ring the “wishing bell,” your wish will come true. Local custom dictates that a groom carries his bride up those steps to ring in the couple’s wish. Lucky for you, there are less strenuous ways to see this attraction.
You can bike or stroll around the lake’s perimeter, always in sight of the church and the medieval Castle Bled. At the latter, you can take time out to visit a museum showcasing the lake’s history.
When you get weary, you can stop at one of the eateries for the famous Lake Bled cream cake, which nestles whipped cream and rich vanilla custard between flaky puff pastry crusts. This version of cream cake was born at Lake Bled’s Park Hotel in the 1960s. (Photo below from http://www.bled.si/en/what-to-see/symbols-of-bled/cream-cake )
We ate ours at the Restavracija Penzion Mlino. While the meals at the restaurant earn varied reviews, the cream cake consistently gets accolades. We took a respite on the lovely lakeside patio to savor sweet silkiness followed by a pungent sip of espresso.
LAKE BLED FROM THE AIR
While boating, biking, and walking may be the best ways to explore the museums and restaurants, the best way to experience the beauty of Lake Bled is to take off to the blue skies with the Karavanke Alps and Julian Alps beckoning in the distance. But . . . I am getting ahead of myself.
TOP-NOTCH CUSTOMER SERVICE AT LESCE-BLED AIRPORT
October 6 found our traveling companions and us at the Lesce-Bled Airport. This homey little field tucked in the Radovljica Plain of the Alps hosts a myriad of opportunities for their flying family: fixed wing planes, gliders, parasailing, skydiving, and panoramic flights. And everyone is treated like family. We walked in without a prior reservation, wanting to know if we could book a plane ride at this busy airport. The manager said that nothing was immediately available, but we were to return in a couple of hours to give him time to try to work something out. Before we could even get to our car, he called us back. He had gotten in touch with his son, an Airbus pilot on vacation who was hiking nearby.
Gaspar kindly hiked out of the woods and into the cockpit of a Cessna 172 with a diesel engine. This engine provided a smoother ride with less noise and three times the fuel efficiency than a standard engine. Gaspar is an experienced pilot who has traveled extensively and flown all over the world. So what was the drawback to this plane ride ? Nothing, according to my husband Bruce. For me, the plane’s size: a small, four-place Cessna that was going high, literally sky-high, over the awesome Alps. Gulp!
FLYING OVER THE ALPS (GULP!)
I put on a confident face and climbed into the back seat. Bruce, the pilot in command, was in the left seat, with instructor-pilot Gaspar in the right seat. I buckled my courage in and off we went, heading toward Triglavski Narodni Park, the only national park in Slovenia. It is tucked into the north-west corner of the country, bordering Italy and Austria, named after the highest Slavic deity, Triglav, who according to legend, had his throne at 9396 feet,on the highest mountain top.
THE LITTLE AIRPLANE THAT COULD
We climbed, we climbed, and we climbed, our reward being pristine views of Alpine lakes and craggy summits.My heart was thump, thump, thumping, as we continued our ascent to fly over the mountain range. Our little Cessna was buffeted to and fro and up and down by the winds, but continued to push itself upward and forward with the heart of the Little Engine That Could. “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” I heard in the whir of the engine. As I began to relax, believing, “We got this,” our upward momentum ceased and we plummeted downward, my stomach experiencing the sinking of stepping off an unexpected ledge. Well, the Cessna did “have this”; it’s made to maneuver in updrafts and downdrafts. We continued onward, skirting over the snow-dappled mountain tops and onto the other side. Surprisingly, I found myself calm and enjoying every bumpy moment.
The antidote to the poison of fear is obviously beauty. More mountains greeted us, their green forests topped with a white cape of clouds and a netting of filmy fog.
CIRCLING LOVELY LAKE BLED
Leaving the park, we then headed east to see Lake Bled from the air. The church floats almost mysteriously on its tiny island in a vibrant blue lake reflecting the verdant vegetation and cumulus clouds. Buildings are scattered about, wearing white faces and terra-cotta or gray hats, basking in the sunshine. People flock to Lake Bled to experience this beauty, most by land, and a gaggle of tourists can crowd the town. Since Lesce-Bled Airport offers panoramic flights, anyone can enjoy the scenery, quietly and serenely, flying above as the swans do that inhabit the lake.
On landing, we found that the Radovljica Plain offers its own prettiness: a kaleidoscope of patterns reflecting myriad hues of greens and blues.
BACK TO BASE WITH BRAGGING RIGHTS
Back on the ground with bragging rights and pumping adrenalin, we joined our friends, Bob and Marcia, who had flown the same route. It was time to settle in for lunch at the airport’s restaurant, Na Kležnk, so the two pilots and the two crew members could compare stories over seafood soup and salads with roasted vegetables and shrimp. We logged more than time in the pilots’ log books; we logged an experience fitting to be on anyone’s “Bucket List.”
FINDING ORVILLE AND WILBUR
Leaving the restaurant, we were surprised to see two friends from Kittyhawk, North Carolina: Orville and Wilbur Wright. It seemed fitting to take Bruce and Bob’s photo with these two men looking over their shoulders, men who have inspired their long careers in aviation.
ADIEU TO THE FAIRY TALE
Yes, I was there, too, castle behind me, my handsome prince beside me, feeling like a princess for a day. We were only one week into our almost month-long trip. It was now time to step out of this fairy tale to experience other adventures that lie ahead.