My adventures in Europe (Week 2 -Slovenia and Italy)

Day 8. – Lesce, Slovenia

With the excitement and anticipation of a new destination on the horizon, it was an early start to the day, doing last minute packing and carrying out about 50,000 checks to make sure that I didn’t leave anything behind. Having satisfied myself that all was well and then checking one final time, I headed off to catch the bus that would take me to the train station. I arrived with over an hour to spare (I’d allowed plenty of time in case I got the wrong bus or did something else stupid!) which was fine as there are a few shops and a waiting room with comfortable chairs to sit in. After reading my book for half an hour or so, I made my way into the platform and caught the train without a hitch.

The journey was very comfortable as Austrian trains have wide seats and plenty of leg room, even for me! We passed a great variety of sights and scenery on the route down South, some beautiful towns and villages set against the sheer backdrop of the alps, as well as some rather less scenic industrialised places. Reaching the changeover point was a welcome relief as I had started to feel a bit sleepy and was worried I would drop off and end up in completely the wrong country! Changing without a hitch (though checking I was boarding the right train about twenty times because it had all seemed to smooth for me!) we set off on the last hour of the journey towards Slovenia.

I hadn’t realised that to cross the border between Austria into Slovenia, the train passes through a seemingly never ending tunnel (I guess going through the Alps) which was quite exciting, as we were left sitting in darkness for some considerable time. Eventually I arrived safe and sound I Lesce, which is about 10 minutes or so from Bled and was able to check into my hostel straight away. The lady in the reception desk was extremely friendly and welcoming which was nice… I think she could probably see how exhausted I was from the lack of sleep and 3 hour plus journey! She directed me to the nearest shops and showed me all the different rooms/areas within the hostel.

After a quick exploration of the town and an easy dinner, I decided to have a relaxing evening doing some colouring and indulging in a bit of pampering, while listening to chilled out music which was blissful. 😊 Although just when J thought I had left the sound of church-bells behind in Austria, it turns out my new room for the next few nights is right next door to one which chimes very loudly every 15 minutes… Could be an interesting night! Starting to feel sleepy again now as I type this, so will sign off for now and let you know what tomorrow brings when I am a bit more with it! Ciao!

Day 9 – Bled

I have come to realise on this trip that I actually find travelling more tiring than going out for the day, even though I am far less active and the journey time is generally less than I would spend sightseeing. Exhausted after the longish journey yesterday, I slept soundly in my massively comfy bed and did not wake until about 5am local time, which is pretty good for me! The day dawned bright and breezy, but soon turned cloudy and grey. Nonetheless I decided to go to Bled as it wasn’t forecast to rain and I only have a few days in Slovenia, so am determined to make the most of them! After a hearty breakfast of cereals and toast (pushing the boat out, I know!), I caught the free shuttle bus from the hostel into town and headed off on a leisurely walk around the lake.

My first impressions were not quite what I expected as I found myself thinking ‘what is all the fuss about?’ From where I had been dropped off, all I could see was the heavily commercialised tourist driven end of the lake which was littered with multiple hotels, eateries and boats taking visitors over to the tiny island, charging 10-15 Euros per person, depending on which cruise you opted for. However, as I ventured further down along the footpath that encompasses the lake, I soon understood why Bled is one of the most visited and photographed lakes in Europe. In the slightly murky weather, the scene that met my eyes can only be described as enchanting…There is no other word for it. Small beams of sunshine were desperately trying to fight their way through the gloom and succeeded in lighting up the tiny island, illuminating it against the dark and slightly oppressive looking backdrop. It was absolutely breath-taking and I had to take a moment to compose myself as I appreciated the sheer beauty of it. Altogether, it took me about 2 hours to saunter round the 6km circumference of the lake, including lots of stops to take photographs and gawp at the scenery.

On arriving back at my starting position, I sat down to absorb my surroundings and eat the picnic lunch I’d made earlier (I was ravenous by this point!) and contemplated what to do next. I decided that as it looked and felt like it was about to rain, that I would visit the castle, perched high up on the hill overlooking the lake, because at least I would be sheltered there and could always purchase more refreshments to pass the time if the weather became really bad! I thought I was generally ok fitness wise, but after climbing the (what felt like) thousands of steps up to the castle, I was just about ready to collapse! On the plus side, I guess that means it was probably quite successful in fending off the enemy during its historic battles! The castle itself wasn’t actually that big, but the views at the top were fantastic from every angle and the museum staff had taken great care to ensure that all information was displayed in multiple languages so that most of its visitors would be able to understand. There were some interesting exhibits and galleries and the building itself was like a work of art in my opinion… it’s hard to imagine the processes they must have gone through to build it, long before the days of technology and easy transportation!

Sightseeing done and feeling weary after my days hiking around the lake and up to the castle, I caught the public bus back to Lesce and decided to have a lazy late afternoon/evening updating my blog, colouring and having another nibble of the coffee flavoured gugelhupf cake I purchased yesterday. Well, when in Rome… (or Slovenia!) Apparently it is a cake that is traditionally eaten across central Europe, so I guess I may have to see if the Italian and Swiss versions are as good when I get there! 😊

Day 10 – Lake Bohinj

If you hadn’t already guessed by now, I seem to have some sort of obsession with water and nature. So obviously after my visit to Bled yesterday, I had to go and check out Slovenia’s other larger, but also somewhat quieter lake. It started off a beautiful sunny day with an early spring-like crispness in the air…perfect for a lakeside stroll. I caught the bus from Lesce to Ukanc, which takes about 40 -50 minutes and was pleased to observe that the scenery on route was once again beautiful as we passed a smattering of small Slovenian villages, with traditional houses (of which I learnt at the castle yesterday there are three main types, but sadly can’t remember off the top of my head what they are!)

On arrival in Ukanc, I was a bit taken aback at the remoteness and quietness of it all. When researching where to begin my walk, I had chosen there because it had seemed there would be a fair bit going on or at least some sort of facilities, but there was literally nothing except a few houses and a park. Still, I decided to explore and make the most of the fine weather and am glad I did. I found a beautiful river with a quaint wooden bridge crossing over it and was able to walk alongside this for quite a way until I reached the tip of the lake. One word sums up what I discovered here… WOW!

Lake Bohinj is absolutely stunning… In actual fact, I’d say it is much more inspiring and spectacular than Bled. It is largely undeveloped for tourism around its perimeter. There are a couple of water-sport places and a pleasure cruise boat, along with a few family picnic places but that is fortunately all and I hope it stays that way, as building hotels and turning it into a resort would completely ruin its naturalness and humbling rustic beauty. I walked for approximately 2 hours along its southern border towards the village of Bohinj Jezero, stopping for frequent snacks and photos on the way, as there were so many breath-taking views to be admired.

As I reached the end of my journey, it started to pour with rain and threatened a hefty thunderstorm, so as the buses are only one every hour and I arrived with little time to spare, I decided not to stay and explore the village… Most of the cafes or tourist shops I could have visited looked shut anyway, so I don’t feel as though I have missed out. I’m sure on a warm sunny day, the place would be a tourist honeypot, but on a cold rainy day in March, it can only be described as deserted. Tomorrow is my last day in Slovenia before I continue my journey to Italy. I plan to catch an earlyish bus into Ljubljana so I have a bit of time to explore the city before my Flixbus leaves at 3pm to take me into Venice. From here I will be met by my first work away host… another brand new experience for me to discover!

Day 11 – Ljubljana

Well I am now officially a third of the way through my trip… Wow! That’s gone so quickly! Today was my last day in Slovenia and as I write this, I am currently on a three and a half hour coach journey to Venice, where I will be staying with a local family to help them out around the house and with their English… Sounds pretty cushty to me! As I was catching the long distance coach from Ljubljana, I decided in my usual way to make a day of it and explore the city whilst there. The outskirts of the city are just like any other – heavily congested and highly commercialised, but once you get into the centre, it’s like a whole other world.

The architecture is beautiful… Elegant three storey plus buildings in a variety of colours which each possess their own element of grandeur and most of which front onto the gorgeously aqua green river Ljubljanica that flows through the middle of the city. It is not only the architecture that makes this city appealing though… There is certainly a lot for tourists to see and do too; from learning about Slovenian culture and history in the castle, through to sampling the local cuisine in one of the many restaurants and cafes that line the streets alongside the river. There are also a lot of shops selling souvenirs and touristy knick-knacks, from which I bought myself a very dinky little compass in a painter wooden box. I’m hoping it might help with my navigational skills, but I appreciate for 5 Euros it’s not likely to work miracles! 😄I

As I find travelling quite tiring and the weather was gorgeously sunny, I spent a lot of time just chilling in the city park today, as well as ambling along the river, admiring the buildings, soaking up the atmosphere and observing the locals and visitors going about their daily lives. I also managed to sample some local cuisine in the form of a burek… which is basically a filo pastry roll filled with whatever you fancy! After using Google translate to work out what was in each one, I opted for the safety of an Apple burek (I didn’t want to risk upsetting my sensitive stomach with a long bus journey ahead) and I am pleased to say it was delicious!

Eventually, after a good few hours exploring, I made my way back to the bus station, allowing plenty of time as usual for me going the wrong way, although on that note, I have to say that I have found Slovenia fairly easy to navigate, much more so than Salzburg, but maybe that’s because I didn’t stay in a city and there were less transport options to choose from. As we head towards Italy, more specifically Venice, I can’t help but wonder what adventures will await me on the public transport there… What would one do if they were to get on the wrong boat?

Day 12 – Workaway Experience

Well, after eventually arriving in Venice last night, I was met by Laura and her two children and taken back to their amazing home in the countryside about 25 minutes away by road, where I was also fondly welcomed by their black lab cross Samba (who by the way has now become my new best four legged friend!) I was given a proper traditional Italian welcome of a bowl of tortellini pasta followed by spinach and other cooked leafy greens, served with bread sticks and a splash of oil. As a first experience of the WA process, I couldn’t have wished for better hosts. They are a lovely laid back family who are also very generous with their time and food and everything it seems.

Today I didn’t venture far as I was still quite tired from the previous days travelling accompanied by little sleep last night. I also felt that I couldn’t slack off any work on my first full day! I spent the day fulfilling and catching up on my own domestic tasks as well as going fora lovely long walk into the village with Samba to have a nosy at what is on offer there. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there is everything I could need all within walking distance of the house.

This afternoon, I attempted something which I have never done before … Willow weaving. Laura is hoping to build a fence around a patch of ground that has been dug out in her garden presumably for growing vegetables, though I never actually ask her. It was very therapeutic, if all a bit haphazard and random! We are both complete novices with only YouTube to guide us so it’s been fun to try! This evening’s supper was another banquet of soup, breadsticks, meat, potatoes and eggs. A seemingly random combination but It all tasted great!☺ Tomorrow I plan to go to Venice and sample some cuisine from a properly authentic Italian restaurant. Just hope I’ll be able to understand the menu!

Samba snoozing after our walk. 😊

Day 13 – Venice

For the first time in ages, I slept like an absolute log last night and didn’t wake up until gone 6:30 this morning which is late for me! I had an early breakfast, trying not to wake up the rest of the house, (although I think I failed at this as Laura soon came to join me while I was munching my cereal) and prepared myself for a day trip to Venice. Having been dropped off at the train station with minutes to spare, I quickly grabbed my ticket and boarded the train. It seems really strange, but in Italy they have double decker trains… I guess it’s no different to our buses but still it seems odd!

The journey into Venice took about 25 minutes which fortunately flew by as we were a bit squashed. I suppose people were doing their morning commute, although the train was after 9am. On arrival, I was immediately stunned by the chaos in front of me… People rushing for boats, men in fancy dress shouting to promote their gondola rides and others trying to sell cheap tat (there’s no other way to describe it) or help people with their bags to earn themselves a few quid. The whole day was largely unplanned which was a bit of a mistake as I totally underestimated how easy it would be to get lost in the many winding narrow streets that make the entire city feel like a giant maze! I bought myself a map (although it was of little help) along with a tourist day ticket and hopped on a boat without really knowing where I would get off. I followed the biggest crowd which probably wasn’t the most sensible idea given what I am like in busy places, but I thought it would probably mean there was something worth seeing!I

Turns out everyone was heading to the Basillica, which I can totally understand because the artistry of the entire building is something spectacular to behold but it’s not really my scene so I decided to skip queuing for a long time in the cold weather and headed off to somewhere a bit quieter where I could just appreciate my surroundings. Almost everywhere I looked there was a beautiful view to observe of tall colourful buildings hugging the canalside with cute little bridges connecting the streets. I don’t think there can be anywhere in the world quite like it. After a mornings mooching, I made my way towards the Rialto bridge and came across a little unsuspecting jazz bar where I decided to stop as have some lunch. It didn’t look much from the outside but the food was delicious, especially as I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I had a prawn and rocket linguine with 3 warm crusty bread rolls and managed to unashamedly (and probably much to the amusement of the other diners) scoff the lot!

It was a fairly late lunch so after a look round a few of the shops, I decided used to make my way back towards the waterbus so I could return to the station. Well, what should have in theory been a 10 -15 minute walk took me nearly 2 hours as I am hopeless with navigation and directions. Even the signposts and my map did not help me to find my way through the maze of streets! Eventually though I made it back to the bridge with a little help from England and returned to the train station, only to find that my train was delayed by 45 minutes! By the time I made it back to my hosts it was cold, dark and I was feeling incredibly weary, but a deal’s a deal, so I somehow I found the energy to help the children with a craft project they are working on for school and help with the washing up. Needless to say I am planning a very quiet and relaxed day tomorrow!

Day 14 – Workaway

Well as planned I had a very relaxing day around the house today so there won’t be much to write about in this blog entry. I took a leisurely hour long stroll with Samba into the village, did a few household chores and spent the rest of the morning chilling out in the garden as it has been another beautiful sunny day here in Italy. This afternoon was spent helping Laura to craft a fence around her vegetable patch out of willow, which is something that I have found to be rather therapeutic, except when Samba tries to come and assist! Needless to say I ended up with rather a wet face by the end of the afternoon. We also went down to the nursery to pick the children up which was nice and a few of the local neighbours spoke to me, seeking genuinely interested in who I was and where I had come from… Apart from Laura’s guests, I don’t suppose they get many tourists visiting their village!

I’m starting to pick up a few words in Italian and communication with the children is improving as we are muddling through with gestures and a help with translation from their parents. Laura’s mum who was staying with us has gone back to her home today after receiving the all clear from the hospital following a recent eye operation. Laura was sad to see her mum leave, but I think her husband was less worried! The children absolutely adore him and I think he was looking forward to spending more time with them again now that Grandma won’t be around. Dinner was pleasant, we had a vegetable, apple and sultana couscous which I actually really liked… Never thought I would say that! I think the Mediterranean diet is doing me good, but I do miss a decent pudding! There’s definitely no crumbles or sticky toffee here! I can’t believe tomorrow will mark 2 weeks since I began my little adventure, it’s almost halfway which is a scary thought! I am looking forward to seeing everyone back home again though, as much as I am enjoying travelling, it will be nice to return to a bit of normality and work out what the next chapter of this year will involve.

Our first attempt at Willow weaving

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