By now it’s no secret that when it comes to travel, I’m a planner. Give me a destination and an internet connection, and I’ll give you an itinerary that will meet your needs from the time your eyes open in the morning until the time your head hits the pillow at night. We can’t fight who we are; we can only embrace it and make it work for us.
Sometimes, though, my plans don’t work as well as I envision they should. What never ceases to amaze me is how often that can be a great thing- as if the universe is trying to force a bit of magic into my day.
Magic is how I would describe Bled, Slovenia, a tiny resort town close to the Austrian border and home to the eponymous lake and castle that attract locals and tourists alike.
As we planned our trip to Europe, my singular focus was trained on visiting Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana; I’m a city girl, and I wanted to spend a day soaking in architecture and history (and food and wine- but that’s another story). It was Adam who discovered Bled for us, specifically the lake, and asked me to find a way to add it to our daytrip from our base in Venice. The pictures I researched looked pretty, so I started to plan a slightly more complicated day for us.
Somewhat surprisingly, Slovenia is not as well connected to Italy by train as I expected it to be. Getting to Bled and Ljubljana would have been easier by rental car, but we usually shy away from renting cars outside of the USA (it’s hard enough following the many traffic laws in our home country- trying to abide by the rules in a foreign country can be daunting!). Fortunately for us, we found a great company- GoOpti* that serves as a shuttle for many cities in that part of Europe. For a very low price, Adam and I booked transfers from Venice to Bled, Bled to Ljubljana, and Ljubljana back to Venice. Problem solved!The reason the price was so low, though, directly relates to GoOpti’s pricing model. When booking, the website will quote you a fare for your journey; just plug in information about the time you want to leave or the time you want to arrive and select the option that works best for you. For the lowest price, you can agree to be picked up somewhere during a range of time slots offered, which means you might leave at a somewhat less convenient time- or arrive much earlier than desired.
And so our journey began.
When I booked our Venice – Bled transfer, I purchased a ride that would allow us to arrive at Lake Bled no later than 9:00 A.M. That way, we would have four hours to explore the lake, take pictures, and be ready to head toward Ljubljana by 1:00 P.M. The website detailed that we would be picked up no earlier than 2:30 A.M. and no later than 5:30 A.M. to get us there on time, which seemed both fair and a reasonable gamble- no way would we be picked up at 2:30 A.M. for a 3.5 hour journey; it’s not like they would drop us off at 6:00 A.M.!
And so it shouldn’t have surprised me when, 24 hours before our trip, GoOpti confirmed us for a 2:30 A.M. shuttle. I begrudgingly forgave the fact that would necessitate a 1:30 A.M. wake up in order to make it on time. What I wasn’t sure of was what time we would get to Bled- would we drive around for seven hours picking up and dropping off passengers along the way? Or- maybe even worse than that- would we have way more time than we were prepared to spend in a sleepy little resort town?
When 2:30 A.M. rolled around, Adam and I were greeted by a (thankfully) chipper driver who confirmed we would get to Bled around 6:00 A.M. Sure enough, our van rolled into the Park Hotel’s driveway at 6:11 A.M., and by 6:15 we were standing at the edge of the lake. That’s also the exact minute when we realized just how fortunate we were that our transfer was so much earlier than desired.
Aside from a handful of joggers, Lake Bled belonged to Adam and I as the sun peaked out over the horizon. We watched as the sky lightened and the clouds turned from dark gray to rosy pink and coppery orange. We marveled at how still the water was; the first boats wouldn’t disrupt the smooth surface until much closer to 9:00, and the lake mirrored crisp reflections of Bled Castle and the Church of the Assumption. Around us, pairs of ducks sleeping at the water’s edge opened their eyes, ruffled their feathers, and bounded into the lake for their first swim of the day. A swan casually meandered past us, unconcerned with our presence as she picked a location to relax.
We spent almost three hours walking the circumference of Lake Bled. Sometimes we chatted about travel, work, or life in general. Sometimes we moved forward in amiable silence without a use for words. We stopped frequently for pictures, and we would spend stretches of ten to twenty minutes sitting on benches admiring the view from all of the different vantage points. The daylight burned off the clouds, forcing the gray to give way to bluer skies.
By 9:00, as we made it back to our starting point, we had seen so many sides to Lake Bled’s personality. Best of all, we had enjoyed it all at our own pace and without the company of scores of other tourists. It felt like the morning was ours alone.
With four more hours left in our visit, we approached our extra time in Bled with a newfound sense of urgency; there was so much more we wanted to do!Our toughest decision was between visiting the Church of the Assumption or Bled Castle.
The church piqued our interest; only accessible by boat, visitors climb the long staircase to the top for a chance to ring the wishing bell. The church’s original bell, paid for by a grieving widow in memory of her husband, sank along with the boat and crew transporting it centuries ago; in fact, legend has it you can still hear it ring on clear nights. Today, visitors can ring the replacement bell (blessed by the Pope) and make a wish; tradition holds that if you believe in God the wish will come true.
Although that opportunity would have been wonderful, we made the hike up the path to the castle instead. Few boats were making the journey across that day, and the wait would have left us pressed for time. The castle did not disappoint; the view of Lake Bled from the top was breathtaking, and the museum provided a great orientation to Bled’s history.
Before we left, we spent time at the Park Hotel’s café to enjoy coffee and a slice of famous Bled Cream Cake, a delicious concoction of puff pastry, custard, and whipped cream. We wandered through a few shops and found some perfect souvenirs to bring home with us.
When it was finally time to leave, it was harder than we thought it would be to say goodbye. When you find a place so filled with magic that you feel at peace you don’t willingly give that up.
We know we’ll return to Bled someday, and we know we intend to make someday sooner rather than later. We’ll stay there for a few days next time, and we’ll explore the town beyond the lake and make a new set of memories. What won’t change, though, is that we’ll wake up early so we can be the first ones to greet the new day from the shore as the sun rises above the castle.
That’s another thing about magic- when you know where to find it, you’ll always find a way back to it.
* From time to time, our travels are directly impacted by a service or company. In this case, we used GoOpti as a transfer service between each of our destinations, and this post includes our candid review of our experience. We selected GoOpti based on our own research and travel needs; we were not offered and did not receive compensation of any kind from them or any other party in exchange for our review.