Friday, 23rd July, 2021

Hike around the Faaker See – 11km

Trip to Lake Bled in Slovenia – 117 km

It is almost a standing joke between Lucie and I that, on holiday, we frequently get up much earlier than we would do at home. Well, at least she does ! If you have followed our adventures you will probably know why this is – but if you have not, it is usually because of some crazy plan. The previous day had been sweltering and our latest crazy plan came to us spontaneously when we thought about how hot this would probably make our proposed walk around the lake. Our quick ride around it had revealed that there was not a lot of shade for long stretches. If we waited until after breakfast, which would not start until eight o’clock, we would be walking in the heat of the day. We had looked at each other and both asked the same question “Would it not be better to go BEFORE breakfast ?

So, the alarm beeped at 5.05. There is a long explanation for why it was not 5.00, but I will not bore you with it. Twenty minutes later, we set off, through the still sleeping town, to do the walk in the clockwise direction.

Despite the rain of the previous evening, it was warm and very quiet. Although it was very picturesque and everything was astonishingly well kept, there were no great experiences along the way. We explored the surroundings of the lake and, at the end of the trip, agreed that there are far too many signs with the inscription PRIVATE. All access roads to the lake, with the exception of the one to the island ferry, seem to be private or at least restricted. All the beaches seem to be private and, with one exception, swimming for the poor is limited to a few scattered and rocky places beside the road. 

There is a large beach in one campsite where, reportedly, the entrance can be paid for somewhere but, due to the fact that it was not so hot, we did not even examine that possibility. Otherwise, there are neatly mown lawns, trimmed trees and swept, paved, paths everywhere. Everything IS beautifully maintained, there is no litter or rubbish. It looks a bit like a retouched photo, but a very nice photo. I say that Austria always looks as if it has just been combed.

In the middle of the lake is an island, called Insel, with a restaurant, hotel and church, which adds a feeling of cosiness. It could have been reached by ferry, but we saw little point in doing it.

The total distance of the walk was a bit over eleven kilometres and, as it was fairly flat, it only took a little longer than two hours. We arrived back at our hotel long before eight o’clock, with the feeling that we already had our daily activity behind us.

We took a quick shower and went fresh and hungry to breakfast. It was, however, clear to us that we would not really enjoy hanging around all day. Lucie, glancing at the map on her iPad, suggested lunch at lake Bled, which was only forty-five kilometres away, in nearby Slovenia. Nothing puts a spring in our steps like a plan – and now we had one.

But first for a description of that breakfast.

The day before, when we checked-in, we had been given precise instructions on the procedure. First, we should disinfect our hands and only then could we stand and wait, at a prescribed point, until we were brought to a table. Because of our hike, we were not amongst the first there and so we were offered a place on the terrace “without a view of the lake” (again). We were told that we could choose a table, but the one Lucie chose from the two unoccupied ones was for four people, so we still had to “choose” the other of the two. Then one of the owners came and gave us a detailed explanation of all the anti-Covid measures necessary at breakfast. It started with sugar tongs. We had one set on the table and they were designated for picking up pastries. Everything else had to be picked up with disposable plastic spoons, which the owner told us were single-use and should be immediately placed in the rubbish bin. He performed the required disposal movement with such a degree of drama and precision that we supposed he had to have practiced it in front of a mirror. He repeated everything three times to be sure we had understood and further emphasised, even more times, that we should definitely not touch two things with one spoon.

So we finally set off. Trays were strategically placed throughout the buffet, stacked with plastic spoons, lined up side by side like soldiers, on a pink linen napkin. A practical test showed that the trays took up all of the space where a plate or bowl could be placed to be filled. Holding the bowl in one hand and a plastic spoon in the other, it was difficult to open the lids of the containers under which all the food was. Plus, there was nowhere to put those lids down.

We will admit that scooping cornflakes with a shallow plastic spoon was something we had never tried before (why would we have ?) and, believe us, it is hard. The containers were narrow and the spoons shallow and slippery. One or two flakes at a time was all we could manage. The effort was such that we believed the whole selection and consumption process was probably calorie negative.

The cornflakes though, were easy and fun compared to the fruit. Lucie had to retrieve most of it from the tablecloth. Finally, she ran out of patience with the watermelon and just took it in her hand – after a quick check that no one was looking, of course.

Meanwhile, I proved, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that it is impossible to pick up a fresh, crispy breakfast roll with sugar tongs. If it can be managed, I would like to see it done ! They slide from side to side and the crust is resilient to stabbing. After a quick look around, I put two on my plate by hand – a procedure Lucie also adopted when it was her turn. Of course, as the final slap, when we had loaded our plates, there was simply nowhere to put the tongs, but into a pocket. Luckily, nobody saw that either.

The procedural palaver aside, the food was varied, well prepared and delicious. I was also able to get English Breakfast tea, in a real silver pot, for which I can forgive anything.

After exercising before breakfast and at breakfast, we went to rest to prepare for our trip out for lunch.

We took the shortest way to Slovenia, which was the A11 motorway and which even the SatNav did not dispute. The road led through a beautiful, dramatic and mountainous landscape. We had learned from the local people that they refer to it as “alpe-adria“, ie Apine-Adriatic.

Quite soon, we reached the Karawanken tunnel, which is named after that part of the Alps. It is an amazing 7.8 km long and has only one lane in each direction. The speed limit in the tunnel is only 40 kph. As a result, there was a queue in front of the tunnel, but fortunately it was quite short on our side. Directly beside the first tunnel, a second tunnel is already being excavated, Because of some fiscal skulduggery by the Turkish company contracted by the Slovenians, their part is delayed, but it should all be opened in 2026.

The drive through the tunnel was a bit strange and a little nerve-wracking. It is quite narrow and traffic coming the other way seems very close. The consequences of an accident would be unthinkable. Lucie noted that there were, periodically, informative inscriptions on the tunnel walls indicating the distance to fresh air and safety, in each direction, if everything went belly-up. The tunnel seemed to slope slightly upwards. Once past the central point, we debated over the intercom, whether, in the event of some incident, the shorter trek uphill, or the longer one downhill would be the preferred option.

Even at a steady 40 kph, the drive through the mountain took almost a quarter of an hour. On the Slovenian side, the first thing we saw was stationery traffic in the two “feeder” lanes for at least a kilometre, maybe more. There were lorries, caravans and cars for as far as we could see. It was, of course, a Friday and it immediately occurred to us that it would probably be worse when we returned a few hours later. It was, by then, very hot. The very idea of standing in that line for hours, in the sun and on a hot motorcycle made us decide that, even if we had to drive a lot farther, we would definitely not return the same way.

Immediately after Slovenian end of the tunnel, we came to the town of Jesenice. This made us both smile as there is a southern suburb of Prague also called Jesenice that we often pass through, on our way, when we ride out for, errr… lunch. In common with its Czech counterpart, the Slovenian version lacked any compelling reason to linger, so we quickly continued on our way. As we were not in any hurry, we let the SatNav do its thing and it quickly took us off of the motorway, called there the E61 and put onto road 634. This was a classic byway and undulated through some charming countryside of green fields, forested slopes climbing to the mountains in the near distance and sleepy villages.

In most places it was unfenced and well surfaced but occasionally it narrowed and wound through less picturesque, but far more ancient, settlements where there were large potholes and the narrowness of the streets meant single-file traffic. Twice we were stopped behind large logging trucks that had to manoeuvre backwards and forwards just to get through the narrow gap between the buildings. Some of the buildings bore scrapes from where this had not gone quite right and it was obvious how the road surface had become so degraded.

Eventually, we left the mountains and came to the town of Bled. The town itself was nothing to write home about, but then we came to its eponymous lake and that was. Perhaps aided by the bright sunshine and the clear blue sky, the waters of the lake were a sparkling azure.

The road wound directly around the water’s edge, so it was not crowded in and the atmosphere was very different from that of the Faaker See. The waters of Lake Bled are accessible to anyone and lots of people were taking advantage of that, swimming, canoeing, biking and just soaking up the sun’s rays on the grassy shoreline. The outer side of the road was lined in places with new buildings and older, certainly pre-war, villas and hotels. Most of the latter had not undergone any major renovation, so everything was a little bit shabby, but the faded grandeur was very picturesque. In the middle of the lake was, of course an island, which, as usual, had a tall church.

High above the lake, perched on a crag overlooking the far shore, we could see Bled Castle, called locally “Blejski Grad“.

One of our favourite restaurants in Prague is called “Sova” (owl), so it had been our original intention to lunch at an establishment with the same name, situated beside the lake. Strangely, when we got there it did not seem to be open. Luckily for us, there was another restaurant, Hotel Starkl (Cesta svobode 45, 4260 Bled) about 100 metres further on.

This had a large sunny terrace where we ate well in the relaxed, lazy atmosphere of the hot summer. The service was good, the language similar enough for Lucie to be able to chat casually to the waitress and the food was excellent. I chose grilled salmon and Lucie the Slavic speciality ćevapčići (minced meat, seasoned with local spices, formed into sausage shapes and grilled).

With a few (alcohol free) beers and Lucie’s ristretto, this came to a very reasonable 48 EUR. Happy and satisfied, we did not really want to go back !

But, of course, going back was something that we had to do. Lucie whipped out her iPhone and quickly planned a way back along the old, “pre-tunnel” route. This would lead us first to the well known (in skiing circles, at least) mountain town of Kranjska Gora so I typed that into the SatNav and off we went. Roads are few in those parts, so the initial part of the journey was merely a reverse of our inward route. When we came back to Jesenice, our pre-planning bore satisfying fruit because there was now two solid lines of traffic about five kilometres long waiting their turn to chug slowly through the tunnel. I deftly (and probably slightly illegally) scooted up the hard-shoulder to the exit ramp and we passed through the town and headed up towards the mountains on Road 201. Again the surface was good and we made steady progress. Despite the sunshine in the valley, the sky did look a bit threatening as we climbed ever higher and I thought of my coat, in the wardrobe back in Egg ! In the end, it did rain, but so briefly as to be hardly noticeable, a few spots on the visor, no more.

Having learned at least enough to limit the information I was giving to the SatNav and thereby limit its possible suggestions, we stopped in Kranjska Gora long enough for me to type in Egg. It thought about it, briefly and then directed us up a small road heading north which was, in fact, still for some reason, Road 201. Committed, we climbed the steep (and I do mean steep) incline for quite some time. It was one of those snake-like, looping roads that go up the side of a mountain and the Harley struggled a bit as there were many places where third gear was too high and second gear too low. Luckily the low speed dictated by the slope meant that the endless series of tight hairpin bends were never approached at much above jogging pace – but some were still tight enough to cause a bit of run-out. In one place, we passed an old tank, just parked beside the road ….

We finally came to the top and the frontier where, for the only time in our whole trip, somebody examined our papers and Covid passes before we could cross. The young Austrian guard seemed a little bemused that we had entered Slovenia just for lunch and eventually waved us through with a smile.

Of course, having climbed the mountain, we now had to descend it again. The road was now bearing its Austrian designation of 109, but it was still the same. It started quite gently, but soon became a mirror-image of the climb with the only difference being constant, judicious braking as opposed to constant, judicious acceleration. It was manageable, but the weight of the Harley was very obvious.

Then, as we approached a bend, there was a number of huge warning signs which advised the selection of FIRST gear for cars and advised that a 10% downward incline was approaching. The sageness of that advice and the accuracy of the drop became clear a few second later. The way became arrow straight and seemed to stretch not into the distance, but into the abyss. For as far as I could see, it fell in an uninterrupted line between what, I noticed for some reason, were broad leaved trees. In retrospect I probably noticed because I knew that the slightest error on my part would result into us sliding into the thick trunks of those trees at some speed. Hyperbole is easy, but this was a bit scary. On the back seat, Lucie was very quiet and I could feel she was a bit tense too. Even in second gear, with the throttle shut, the Harley kept gathering speed. I was constantly braking as gently as possible, even using the rear brake which I rarely do in daily riding. This went on for about, I suppose a kilometre and a half before a fairly sharp left hand bend led to another quite steep bend to the right that, whilst not a hairpin, was not far from it. Then there was another kilometre or so of very steep, straight, downhill tarmac. Then, in an instant, we left the slope and the forest for the gentle, perfectly manicured, approach to the small village of Radendorf. There we joined Road 83 as far as Oberain and then the Road 85 towards Finkenstein and Faak am See.

Needless to say, at the point where we made the final turn to the Faaker See, we again passed the wooden Harley statue on the roundabout that we had actively sought out the day before.

Back at the hotel, we both felt physically drained and spent the rest of the afternoon reading on the terrace (with an oblique view of the lake !)

In the evening, not wishing to risk again the possibility of “exotic” cuisine not actually being exotic, we returned to the the tried and tested Der Tschebull (Egger Seeuferstraße 26, 9580 Villach).

The promise there is of dishes prepared the local Alpine-Adriatic way. I had a steak that was quite superbly cooked on the grill, together with a selection of vegetables cooked the same way. Lucie helped herself to local style filled-noodles that were almost more than she could eat.

The “almost” is important there as we were aware of an ice-cream parlour between us and our hotel. The bill was an “Austrian size” one, at 78 EUR, but well worth it for the quality.

On the way home, we duly helped ourselves to some truly delicious ice creams, which at a mere 6 EUR for two, felt like a steal !

A great and varied day. I fell asleep in an instant but did not, as far as I know, dream of the descent from the mountains …