Bled, Slovenia

***Post written by Robbie. ❤ ❤ ❤

Travel days are the worst.  They usually take up your entire day and it’s hard to be productive when you are on edge about reading the bus schedule wrong, or missing your train, or second guessing if you are on the right train, or wondering if you really have enough time to get on a train from Wengen to Lauterbrunnen and then on a train from Lauterbrunnen to Interlaken and then on a train from Interlaken to Bern (or maybe Olten?) and then on a train from Bern to the Zurich airport before your flight later that night.  Well that’s what we did on Saturday.

We got to the Wengen train station ten minutes early, which is usually plenty of time.  There are only two routes from Wengen: one downhill and one uphill, so you really only need to get there two minutes ahead of your train departure to buy your ticket, but we thought we could maybe buy a ticket all the way to Zurich airport so we wanted to get there a little earlier than usual.  We arrived at the information counter at the same time as a Swiss couple.  The four of us were the only ones at the counter and Chase and I drug our feet a little so the other couple could go first. Big mistake.  It’s like the couple was getting marriage counseling from the ticket man.  Seven minutes went by and the train we were trying to catch arrived.  The trains leave promptly at their departure time regardless of when they arrive, so at this point we still had three minutes to buy tickets and board the train, but when the train shows up you start feeling all this pressure that it could leave at any second.  60 seconds later the couple finally left and we are frantically buying tickets and panic running the ten yards to the train.  I think both of us were a little nervous cause we both rushed to the door of the ticket office side by side and momentarily got stuck. Hahaha – nervous laughter.

So we got on the train and looked at our tickets.  The ticket tells you your final destination (Zurich airport) and all the stations where you will need to transfer trains.  In this instance our ticket read “via Lauterbrunnen – Interlaken Ost – Bern – Olten – Zurich”.  Easy enough.  Train to Lauterbrunnen. Easy.  Train to Interlaken. Easy. When we arrived in Interlaken we couldn’t find a train to Bern, but we found one that went to Olten that had Bern as a stop.  Seems good.  This is the train ride where you never feel perfectly confident.  The train seems to go to Olten which is where we think we need to go, but it also stops in Bern which is also listed on our ticket.  I asked the ticket-checking lady where we needed to get off and she says “Bern”, but no other explanation about why I have “via Olten” written on my ticket. What this ticket lady is telling me and what my ticket is telling me isn’t really lining up.  Chase and I decide that we will get off at Bern and ask someone if we need to get back on the same train to get to Olten.  Seems like a good plan.  We get to Bern, ask the German train attendant if we need to get back on the train, she says “no english”, so we find a sign that has a zillion time tables on it and see the airport listed.  Leaves in three minutes it says. 14C it says.  We look up at the platform numbers.  We see a 14.  We run down the escalator and down the platform and board the train. The train is moving before we find a seat.

Side note. When Chase and I are on a travel day, I’m in my own little world.  For me it’s like I NEED to see something in writing before I believe it.  I don’t want to get on a bus or a train or a plane until I know everything about it.  I want to know the gate or platform number, the list of stops and the destination, the  arrival and departure times, etc.  It’s my own little system of double checking and assuring myself that we are doing everything correctly.

We just jumped on a train and I have thrown my own little double checking system to the wind.

After we found a seat, we spotted an electronic sign that listed the final destination as Zurich.  We were still a little unsure if that meant Zurich airport or some other train station where we would have to transfer to our final destination, but at least we were going in the right direction.  Chase was looking out the window as we sped by the Olten stop.  Guess we didn’t need to go there.  After an hour of travel time, we were coming up on the first stop.  Chase and I were unsure if this is where we were supposed to get off or not.

Rob Travel Tip #1:  If you aren’t sure what you’re supposed to be doing have a loud, dumb sounding conversation with your wife about your end goal and the explicit steps you think are required to get there.

Chase: Do you think this is our stop?

Rob: Maybe.  We are trying to get to the airport.

Chase: Okay, let’s get off here.

Rob: Sounds good.

This is the point in the conversation where all the english-speaking nearby passengers jump in to be your hero.

The Swiss lady next to us ended up being this hero.  She told us she was also going to the airport and that we would all be getting off at the next stop.  Yay!

Our flight out of Zurich was pretty late in the evening so the airport wasn’t very busy.  There were three attendants available at the check-in counter for Adria airlines and I walked up to the middle lady and handed her our passports.  She asked me where we would be flying today.  I knew in my head that we were going to Slovenia – I knew how to say that word.  But our destination would be the capital city of Ljubljana.  I didn’t know how to say that one.  I smiled and said “Lu…Lu…Lu…” probably five or six times while Chase just giggled beside me.  The airline lady figured out my language eventually and we learned it’s pronounced “LOO BLEE AHN YA”.  Good to know for next time.

Anyways, we got on our flight and landed in Slovenia without any hiccups.  Chase had reserved an airport transportation service (called GoOpti) that would take us directly to our Airbnb.  The whole GoOpti experience was great.  There was a booth immediately outside of the airport exit with staff who pointed us to the Lake Bled shuttle driver.  The shuttle driver walked us to his van and then drove us the 30 minutes to Bled.

I think we were both a little unsure about the country of Slovenia as a whole before being there.  We hadn’t heard about it much and had decided to stay in the country last minute.  We didn’t know how developed or sketchy it might be, but the drive in eased all those worries.  Chase kept saying, “It feels like we are back home in the States”.  The highways, signs, buildings, and lighting were all reminiscent of what you would see driving down any highway in America.

The drive was easy-going without much traffic and it felt like a luxury to be dropped off right at the doorstep of the place we would be staying.  No thinking involved.  We got to our place a little earlier than expected and waited less than 5 minutes for our Airbnb host to arrive.

Our host was a girl around our age named Nina.  She was super nice and super helpful.  She showed us around the apartment: the bedrooms, living room, sun room, kitchen, and bathroom.  The place was huge and clean and beautiful (and it was cheaper than any other place we’ve stayed at so far!).  After giving us some recommendations for the week, Nina led us to the garage where there were ten bikes that we could pick from to take around town.  We couldn’t believe how lucky we were to find such an amazing place so last minute with so many great accommodations.

Nina left and we went to bed.  Travel day over.

Day one in Bled was cool and wet.  We woke up hungry so we went on a mission to find food.  We put our raincoats on and Chase grabbed an umbrella for the walk down to the nearest grocery store.  I don’t like umbrellas, so naturally I didn’t grab the other umbrella.

Lake Bled is an oblong shape with the longness going east to west.  Our place was located on the west side and the city center of Bled is on the east side.  Almost anything of importance is either located on the perimeter of the lake or in Bled’s city center.  It’s also worth mentioning that our stay was significantly higher than the lake.  So anything that we wanted to do always involved going downhill to start the journey and uphill to end it.

So we started our leisurely walk down to the supermarket.  We walked parallel to an old railway line that ran through our neighbors’ backyards before climbing down several flights of moss-covered stairs.  We navigated through the quiet streets and eventually ended up at the path that surrounds the lake.  The path was coated in a layer of orange and yellow leaves and the lake was alive with the ripples of the rain drops.  At one point we got whiffs of someone roasting marshmallows.  Except for my wet denim pants, It was a perfect walk on a perfect Fall day.

Fifteen minutes later we got to the grocery store and it was boarded up.  Bust.

We had passed several restaurants on the way to the supermarket, so we thought we would get some food there before continuing on to Bled city center to pursue another grocery option.

We got to the first restaurant and the lady working the bar muttered something we didn’t understand about 12:00 and no food.  Bust.  She pointed us down the path to another restaurant for us to try.  We approached the open doors of the next place to find a man with a cigarette and an apron.  Looked promising.  He said no food. Busted again!

So we embarked on the forty-minute walking journey to Bled city center.

I don’t know if people know what hungry Chase looks like, but it’s at this point where the mission to find food really becomes a mission.  The leisurely walk turned into a brisk one and we made it to Bled in record time.  We were cold and wet and my wet jeans had caused some rather uncomfortable chaffing.

We found a cafe up the first street we approached and had a basic lunch:  pizza and a panini. Hunger quenched.  Taste buds dissatisfied. Although it wasn’t great food, it was nice to sit and warm our hands and dry off a bit.  We ended up asking our waitress if there was a supermarket close by.  She shook her head and told us she thought that most grocery stores were closed on Sundays, but that we might have luck at the biggest grocer “Mercator” on the other side of town.

We had already been disappointed by three other food sellers that day, so we didn’t want to risk a fourth.  We called the tourist center and asked if anything was open and they confirmed that the Mercator was indeed open.  Yay!  We made our way there and got enough groceries for the next few meals.  Grocery trip highlight: Polly Dogs (chicken hot dogs).

A backpack full of groceries, we began our walk back to our place.  Chase is a much faster walker than me so I lagged behind a bit feeling sorry for myself and my cold legs.  I was really coveting Chase’s umbrella at this point, but I was too stubborn to say anything.  My legs were cold and uncomfortable and I just wanted to be home in the warm without pants on.  Chase waited for me at the roundabout where the path connects to the staircase that leads up the hill and to our apartment.  I began my slow ascent behind my fast-walking bride.  At this point I had adjusted my walking to small steps so I wouldn’t have to feel taut denim against my legs.  Taking two steps for every stair is a slow process, but eventually we made it.

I threw all my clothes into the spare storage room and took a needed hot shower while Chase put the groceries away and made brownies.

After some recovery time, Chase and I spent the night planning our time in Asia.  We looked at countries, cities, and hotels throughout Southeast Asia and settled on Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam and then figured out the transportation between each city and durations that we wanted to spend in each.  We ended up booking our last reservation around 1:30 am, but it was a huge relief to have so much planned in a single sit-down.

DISCLAIMER: When I say “Chase and I spent the night planning”, it really means Chase did a ton of work figuring out logistics while I veto’d ideas or nodded in agreement.  Sorry Chase.  I need to get better at being a team player.

Day two around Lake Bled was magical.  We woke up and had a big breakfast of eggs, toast, cereal, and bananas and packed a lunch so we wouldn’t have to return home until the end of the day.  We loaded up our backpacks and went to the garage to pick out some bicycles.  There were around ten bikes of various types and sizes.  There were several new-looking mountain bikes that looked about our size, but I got my heart set on these old rickety road bikes.  I picked out a gold one with a ripped up seat and Chase got a nice white one.  Each of our bikes had three gears, but the first gear on Chase’s bike didn’t work.  Two is better than one.  So we wheeled them out and headed down the hill.

Chase and I don’t own bikes at home and have probably only ridden bikes together four or five times, so the novelty of riding a bike in general is fun for us.  Within seconds of leaving our apartment we learned that the brakes on my bike were real loud.  All the way down the hill my bike screeched and all the way down Chase was laughing.  The bikes were light and fast as they sped through the empty streets toward the lake.  We got a lot of attention from pedestrian onlookers as we squeaked and laughed by on our POS bikes.  It was awesome.

Once we got down the hill, I was able to do less braking and we had a scenic ride around Lake Bled.  The views of the lake are beautiful.  It’s like this place is straight out of a Bob Ross painting: the water is clear, the lake is surrounded by forest and snow-capped mountains, the trees are covered in the brilliant colors of autumn, and there is a picturesque island in the middle that houses a small white church.  My words probably aren’t doing it justice.  The whole experience is just unreal.

Throughout our ride around the lake, Chase and I would stop to take pictures of the lake and island from various angles with various poses.  With bikes. Without bikes.  Smiling. Not smiling. Holding hands. Holding shoulders. Hugging.  Kissing.  You pretty much need a picture doing everything cause you never know if you’ll be back there again. I love it when Chase gets so excited about a place that she wants to stop every two seconds to snap a photo.  It makes me happy to see her so happy and it makes me feel like we came to the right place.

We were traveling around the lake counterclockwise and ended up at Bled’s city center pretty quickly.  Chase and I have discovered we love biking for the simple fact that it’s super fast compared to walking.  We thought we might as well get some more groceries while we were here so thats what we did.  We were able to fill another backpack and lash the rest to the back of Chase’s bike. Bikes are awesome.

We continued to circumnavigate the lake, taking stops as we saw fit.  Sometimes the path would get congested with foot traffic so I would pedal a little harder so I could brake a little harder so I could muster a bigger squeal out of my brakes.  People typically moved when I did that. In hindsight that may have been a little rude, but I didn’t know how to say heads up in Slovenian, and there were no bells on these bikes.

We made it back to where we began the ride around the lake and decided to break for a late lunch.  We sat in the grass admiring the environment and watching the row boats paddle around the island while eating our crunchy peanut butter sandwiches.  We sat and talked and laughed and at some point we noticed that a row boat rental station was really close to where we were sitting. We decided to wander over to see how much it would cost.

Ten euros later Chase and I were stepping into a wobbly wooden row boat.  The young, Slovenian man tending the place asked if I knew what I was doing.  “I’m sure I can figure it out” I replied as I puffed out my chest a bit.  It’s just rowing a boat I thought.  Should be pretty simple.  He pushed us away from the dock and I proceeded to row the boat.  Two paddles in he informed me I was holding the oars the wrong way.  Easy mistake. Two more paddles.  He let me know I was rowing the wrong direction.  My pride lowered a couple notches as he then corrected my grip.  Eventually he got me straightened out and Chase and I finally began to move forward. Yay!

A row boat is not a canoe.  Picture that scene from the Little Mermaid where our boy Sebastian sings that catchy “Kiss the Girl” song.  It’s this little wooden boat.  Chase is sitting in the back of the boat facing forward and I’m sitting in the front facing backwards.  I am operating two oars in unison.  To propel the boat forward you dip the two oars in the water towards the bow and then pull them towards the stern.  It’s really straight-forward when you’re facing the direction that you’re traveling, but it’s not so simple otherwise.  Maybe it is and I’m just making excuses.

It took me about twenty minutes to nail down the technique.  My left arm doesn’t have near the coordination that my right one does and this was evident by our constant drift towards my left side.  Regardless, Chase and I were having a blast.  She was in the back taking photos and videos and trying to pose me while I was fumbling with my dang left oar and using all of my brain power to navigate the boat where we wanted.  As we zig-zagged towards the island, I couldn’t think of a more fun experience.  I loved figuring out how to maneuver around the tiny island and towards different areas of the lake.  Sometimes I would put my whole body into the paddling like I was some olympian on a rowing team. Chase was giggling pretty much the whole time.  I think she was probably thinking about how sexy I was with my beard and my manliness.

After about 45 minutes, we switched spots and Chase had a turn paddling.  She was good at it and it was fun to watch her figure it out with that ever present smile on her face.  After a few more minutes on the lake, we switched back and retuned the row boat to the rental station.  We had so much fun and we talked about doing it again another day.

We got back on our bikes and started up the hill towards home.

Tuesday, Chase and I planned a short trip outside of town to go see Vintgar Gorge.  The gorge is on the edge of a large national park that sits northwest of Lake Bled.  We packed a couple peanut butter sandwiches grabbed our backpacks and went and got our rickety bicycles.

The bike ride to Vintgar was almost entirely uphill until the last kilometer.  At that point we took a side street down to the national park that was really steep and really curvy.  My bike made a lot of noise going down that part.  Squeaky brakes are working brakes; that’s my motto.  We got to the park entrance, dismounted our bikes, and found some wooden structure to chain our bikes to.  We paid the entrance fee and entered the park.

Vintgar Gorge is essentially a river that runs through a large ravine that ends in a waterfall.  What makes the place special is the geology along the river and the clarity of the water.  The river is fed by the snowmelt of the Slovenian Alps and has slowly cut into the rock at Vintgar.  Along the river’s edge, the rock extends vertically 40 to 50 feet and a wooden pedestrian path clings to the edge of the cliffs.  The path overhangs the crystal clear water and whenever you look down you can see the river’s bottom.  Neat!

The walk along the river was really wonderful.  We took our time; often stopping to take pictures or peer over the edge of the walkway or point out the different fish that were perpetually stuck swimming upstream.  We made it to the end of the path in an hour.  There was a small waterfall that we watched for a while.  Just enjoying each others’ company, the bubbling of the river, the sunshine, and the fresh air.  It was probably about lunch time we figured, so we headed back up the walkway and to a bench that we had passed earlier.  Sat down ate our lunches and talked about our future, about Omaha, and about how much we were loving our time in Slovenia.  Eventually we got up, walked the rest of the path and made it back to our bikes.

The ride back was pretty fun.  Chase and I swapped bikes, because I wanted to see if I could get her gears to work better and I thought maybe my bike would be easier for her to ride.  We walked them up the steep part of the hill and then let the wind carry us the rest of the way home.  It was during this downhill leg that I ended up twisting Chase’s bike’s handle bars and breaking the gear shift altogether.  Guess I was going pretty hard.

Although Chase and I had already made two grocery trips, we were running out of food again.  We emptied out our biggest backpack and decided we would jump back on the saddle and make one last bike trip to the city center.

I swear we got fifty pounds of groceries.  We threw it all in the big bag and strapped a giant pack of toilet paper to the outside.  I slung the bag over my shoulder and precariously mounted the bike.  The ride back was unstable and exhausting.  I wasn’t accustomed to the added weight of the bag and I’m not sure my bike was either.  Chase seemed to think it was hilarious.  We lumbered our way around the lake in and out of pedestrians and by some miracle I managed to keep my balance.  My dainty civil engineering figure wasn’t built to be the workhorse that our food needs were demanding of me.

We slept amazing that night.

Day Four: Chase and I woke up with sore butts.  No bike ride today.  No sitting on chairs today.

We spent most of our day relaxing in the sun room.  In fact, we had spent most nights during our week in Slovenia in the sun room.  Ending our days watching the sun set over the Alps.  Drinking coffee or tea or wine.  Eating chocolate.  Usually reading our Bibles and praying for our upcoming week in Athens, for our friends and families and coworkers back home, and our future lives beyond 2017.  These were perfect endings to our full days.

I spent most nights reading the last few books of the Old Testament.  These books are primarily the words of God as spoken through the prophets.  Before Jesus’ day, God spoke directly to a select group of people, but after Jesus’s death the Holy Spirit was sent to all who believe.  Now, we all have access to God and although I haven’t heard or seen God directly, his repeated responses to my own prayers have been humbling and faith-building.

Chase finished reading a book called “Anything”.  It’s all about telling God that you are willing to do anything that He asks of you and then actually doing whatever it is that He says.  Thats terrifying.  God calls people to preach the Gospel in the Middle East, or to adopt handicapped children, or to move to North Omaha, or to evangelize in the workplace, or to love the person who nobody loves.  Chase is constantly praying for this anything.  Rob is still a little too scared to ask for just anything.

My head is full of doubts that I could really do anything.  Could I really move into a refugee apartment complex in Omaha?  Could I really open my mouth at work and tell my friends I’m praying for them?  Could I really relocate halfway across the world, learn a new language, and preach the Gospel?  I feel ill equipped.  I feel like those things aren’t my personality.  That maybe I’m not cut out to do those things.  I think maybe I can just be a good person and work hard and believe in God and read the Bible and pray for others and that that is good enough.  The thing is – that is good enough!  If I believe that Jesus came and died for me, to forgive me of my sins, that is good enough.  But have I ever settled for good enough?  No.  If I’m gonna do something I’m gonna do it right.  It takes me hours to do the dishes.  It takes me ten minutes to write a simple email.  I don’t finish a project at work until it’s perfect.  If good enough isn’t good enough for me at work and at home, why is it good enough for me with my faith?  Pray that God will work on my heart.  That he would increase my faith and that he would teach me that I can do anything through Him.

On Thursday we planned to do a hike up one of the bluffs on the southwest side of the lake.  This hike was recommended to us by our host who said that we would get an amazing view of the lake and island.

Packed some lunches again.  Not peanut buttered out yet.  Still no bikes today.  Still sore.

We made our way to the trail sign that we saw earlier in the week and started our way through the woods.  The entire forest was covered in a blanket of leaves and the only indication of a trail was a lack of trees in a foreseeable corridor.  The hike was a steady incline and we eventually reached a fork in the trail.  A sign indicated that each way would get us to one of two bluffs and we hesitated for awhile wondering which way we wanted to go.  A Slovenian man lurking in the woods must have overheard our conversation and he called out to us to take the right path if we wanted an awesome view.  We wanted an awesome view and we heeded his advice.

This hike was much steeper and we walked along the rocky edge of the bluff all the way to the peak.  Ten minutes later, we came up behind a wooden bench and an outstanding view over the lake.  Chase and I couldn’t believe that such a short hike could have such a great reward at the top.  The view was stunning.  We spent half an hour up there taking photos and sitting on a rock and enjoying ourselves.

We also got in the way of lots of people taking photos.  One guy from England kept saying real loud, “They keep getting in the shot” and “We have to wait till they move” and grunting and sighing and really letting us know we were really making his day miserable.  It’s like buddy – just ask me to move.  I wanted to ruin every one of this guys photos, but Chase is too nice and told me that we should be respectful and get out of this way. Fine.

Eventually they left and Chase and I had the whole peak to ourselves.  It was so peaceful and beautiful and I swear I could hear Bob Ross whispering in my ear something about happy clouds and friendly trees.

We headed back down to the fork and decided we might as well see what the other bluff was all about.  This path was a little harder to follow and we had to retrace our steps a few times, but we were having fun and eventually found our way to the top.  This bluff was a little higher and a little further away from the lake, but the view was just as stunning as the previous one.  Chase and I were the only ones there so I practiced my photography skills and we ate our lunch on a bench.

There were two options to descend: either go back the way we had come or go down this really steep set of stairs and then a steep trail.  We opted for the steep one.  Why not experience something new?  Boy, this was steep!  The leaves on the path made it difficult to get footing and we slipped more than a few times.  This steep, slippery path quickly got us reminiscing about our honeymoon.  We started swapping memories about the trail for “experienced hikers only”, about the admission charges we dodged, and then our nervous run to our vehicle.  (sorry reader – no explanation here)

After getting back to the path around the lake, we walked it one last time.  Real slow.  Taking it all in.  We planned on leaving Bled again the next day so this would be the last time we would see the lake during the day.  We took our time and moseyed into the tourist center to get some more information for tomorrow’s excursion.  We got some brochures and headed back home for the night.

We woke up early on Friday to head over to Lake Bohinj.  Lake Bohinj is in the same national park as Vintgar Gorge, but much further away.  To get to Bohinj we would have to take several buses or a train and a bus.  The train station was right behind our house so that seemed like the obvious choice.

To summarize the trip: we got on the train, we rode the train, we got off the train, we walked to the bus stop, Chase asked for directions, we met an impatient old man waiting for the bus, we got on the bus, the impatient old man disappeared when the bus showed up, not sure where he went, we got off the bus at Lake Bohinj.

Lake Bohinj is a lot larger than Lake Bled.  The water is just as clear and it is surrounded by mountains that are just as beautiful.  Summer camps dot the shoreline and numerous docks lay empty;  their usual boats gone for the winter.  The lake is surrounded by dense forest and we could hear the buzz of chainsaws across the water.  Like Bled, there weren’t many people out and about.  It felt like we were one of the few who hadn’t been bothered by the cool weather.

We started our time at Bohinj by eating lunch.  The ducks flocked to us and were pretty disappointed when we didn’t share.  Sorry ducks.  We took some photos around some of the docks before starting our walk along the path that ran on the south side of the lake.  Like the day before, we weren’t in any hurry.  We lackadaisically strolled along the lake.  Stopping to sit on a bench and stare at the scenery every so often.  It started sprinkling while we were sitting at the edge of one of the wooden docks.  Chase had brought an umbrella and stubborn Rob had brought one too.  Atta boy Rob.  We huddled under our umbrellas watching the rain hit the water and dotting it with perfect, circular ripples.  We love rain and this was a perfect way to enjoy our last day in the beautiful country.

At some point the rain stopped and we continued our stroll.  We ended up at the west end of the lake and caught a bus from there all the way back to Bled.

From the bus station we walked into a nearby restaurant.  We hadn’t been at a sit down restaurant, just us two, since Athens and it was glorious.  We love going on dates and this felt like a much needed date.  Nothing to distract us.  No making food.  No cleaning dishes. No phones.  No internet.  Just sitting across the table from one another.  Talking.  Laughing.  Remembering.  I think we stayed at the restaurant two hours before we made it home and packed up for our travel day tomorrow.

Travel days are the worst.