"One more drink," says the Slovenian hockey player. I mumble an excuse about the lake, it's not even noon yet.
"Lake later. Lake is there all day. One more drink now." He shoves another full glass of wine into my hand. I slowly take it down while the hockey player dances with Morris, an older gentleman who carries a tiny potted cactus around like it's his infant grandson.
I knew next to nothing about Bled, Slovenia before I came. I decided to make the trip primarily because of the Slovenian mountain village's fantastic name, and because I had heard something about a lake. After an hour and a half bus ride from the capital, Ljubljana, I had wandered into this pub for coffee and directions, but instead had found loud music, dancing Slovenes, and copious amount of red wine.
I finally manage to peel away from the de facto welcome committee, and stroll down the hill past restaurants with outdoor patios and inviting hosts, couples of all ages locked in embraces and families out walking dogs or enjoying the crisp, autumn air.
I turn a corner and catch my first glimpse of Lake Bled. The sunlight glistening off its greenish surface almost blinds me; I am forced to look past it, to the magnificent snow-capped Julian Alps that hide the water from Austria to the north. A church steeple penetrates a thicket of pine trees on an impossibly situated island in the center of the lake, begging a young backpacker to explore, and I do.
A wooden swan boat proves to be an affordable and graceful vessel (I rent one for ten euro an hour), but it turns out that drinking wine all morning is not conducive to effective rowing. When my nautical zigzagging comes to an end, I tie up at the foot of an ancient stone steps. Legend has it that any new husband who can complete the stairs while carrying his bride will be rewarded with a successful marriage, and he deserves it: they're daunting even for singles.
I reach the well-preserved church, and listen as many a tourist tries a hand at another lucky tradition: ringing the bells as many times as possible, a practice which the locals not only tolerate, but encourage. I return to the outdoors to overwhelm my senses again, rowing back to the shore for what I had been waiting to do all day; take a Bleddy swim.
The cool, transparent water washes away all the aches and pains from my travel-weary bones, and I am immediately convinced that the rumors of the lake's therapeutic powers must be true. Though it is nearly October, and the other tourists seem concerned, the Slovenes do nothing but cheer me on like I am some famous Olympic water-treader.
Bled is the perfect destination for lovers, families, and people of all ages who crave natural beauty and outdoor activities. Local campgrounds are the cheapest accommodation option, but many hotels and a few affordable hostels are also nearby. For anyone visiting Ljubljana, a day trip to Bled is feasible and highly recommended. For more information on Slovenian travel destinations, visit www.Slovenia.info.
Noah Nielsen is a gregarious twenty-year-old undergraduate at the University of Vermont. He is currently studying in an obscure Northeast Italian city and gallivanting around Europe. He enjoys scholarly pursuits, frantic socializing, playing guitar, and speaking broken Italian. To follow his adventures check out www.NoahNielsen.com (warning: some adult content).