Saturday, August 7, 2010

Second Anniversary Trip

I've been putting this off. I've been procrastinating. Partly because this, recounting our last venture out to Europe before we come home, is slightly bittersweet, and partly because I haven't been looking forward to the task of selecting — out of our roughly 400 photos of the weekend — the best ones to post here. They're all incredible. You'll see what I mean.

I suppose that now that two months have passed, though — our trip was in early June — I should face it.

Our destination was Bled, Slovenia. Slovenia was, until 1992, a Soviet satellite, and pretty much everyone I talked to back in Phoenix said, "Umm... where's that?" It is nestled in the corner made by Italy and Austria, and, though a small country, has both beautiful Adriatic coastline and the southern edge of the Alps.

This latter part was where we visited: Bled sits just where the Julian Alps flatten out.

It's not hard to see that this was recently Soviet territory: neighboring towns we saw from the train looked gray and unpromising, and much of the architecture is drab and square (although, to be fair, that may have been more a fault of the 60s and 70s in general). What is remarkable, though, is the rebirth going on in Bled itself. Everywhere, people are determined to make the most out of what was a lousy situation. The plain, concrete hotels on the lakeside all sport fledgling crawlers whose vines half-cover the grayness. It's effective, and a far more elegant solution than wrecking everything and building from scratch. New buildings, on the other hand, are built with taste, quality, and an eye for detail. If only Britain invested the same level of attention and taste in its new buildings.

And the people are kind — which always influences how you feel about a place.

All this would make a very nice holiday destination, but what pushes it over the top — and drew us there — was the outstanding natural beauty. And an excellent place to take it in was our first stop, Bled Castle, perched on a cliff over the lake.

They were having their annual 'Medieval Days' festival, which basically entailed some sword-fighting, some archery, and a whole lot of dressing up.

But the best thing about the castle was the view.

The lake is peaceful and calm, and is ringed by a wide, comfy footpath. It's not terribly long, but it takes ages because you have to stop constantly to take pictures!

Along this journey, we rented a rowboat and rowed out to the island for a closer look.

Easily one of the best traveling days I've ever had. And it was only the first.

The next day, we rented bikes and took a ride through the countryside to Vintgar Gorge.

It was incredible; I've seen murkier water in aquariums.

I can't imagine a better way to spend our anniversary. Mmmm lunch.

One last word about Bled: the food. It was not only really good (since it's so close to both, you can get proper Italian food and proper German food), it's really cheap. A glass of wine with dinner costs four or five pounds in London. In Bled? One Euro. One. In fact, the prices for just about everything around town are just right. The restaurants are really nice, but no one dresses up in them. It's laid back because everyone else there has been out hiking too. What a great town.

The airport we flew into was across the Austrian border in Klagenfurt, so on our way back out, we stopped to have a look around. Klagenfurt is home of one of Europe's largest model parks, Minimundus. There were elaborate models of most of the continent's landmarks, and we enjoyed seeing our previous travels in miniature. Like our previous year's anniversary trip: Neuschwanstein.

Teriann with the Tower of London.

Klagenfurt is also near the second of Mahler's three composing huts. We saw his first one last September, which was on open, grassy bank by a vast lake. This one, however, where he wrote his Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Symphonies, was tucked away in dense forest. Only a few hundred yards from another lake, the trees were so thick you couldn't tell it was there at all. It was quiet and secluded.

And just down the hill, his villa on the W├Ârther See.

The things I'll miss about Europe.

Bittersweet? Mixed feelings? Yes. But there's no doubt that the glass is half full.

Have a look at the many other photos in the facebook album.