Eastern Europe Tour

Day 16 Monday June 4, 2007
Lake Bled

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Sue left the television on when she went to sleep. At some point during the night I awoke to someone's plaintive cries in an unfamiliar language. I tried to turn the set off by using the controls on the box, but I could not figure out how to do it. I stumbled around in the dark and finally located the remote on Sue's nightstand. That eliminated the problem. A shoe through the screen was my backup plan.

After that I tossed around for an unknown period of time thinking about work. I got up a little after five. I remembered that I had not fully charged the computer battery, so I went into the guest room. I inserted the surge suppressor into the outlet, but the red light did not come on. Either the outlet or the surge suppressor was dead. I could not find another outlet in the guest room or in the bathroom, so I decided to try the bedroom. I quickly located the one that was recharging my AA batteries. I tried the surge suppressor in that outlet, and it worked.

Lee and Nedra face tough choices for breakfast at the Hotel Lovec.

The atmosphere was quite nice, too.

I went down to breakfast at about 7:30. Sue said that she was going to take a shower before eating breakfast. I mistakenly told her that we would be leaving the hotel for the boat trip to the island at 9. I should have looked on our agenda.

I ate breakfast with Patti, Tom, and Susana. The hotel offered essentially everything that all of the other hotels offered plus crepes and French toast. I learned that the assembly time was actually 8:45. Tom said that he would tell Sue. He did, but she was unable to get ready in time to eat breakfast. This was a pity. Sue loves crepes.

Feed your trash to the frog.

Patti wondered out loud whether Steve and Janet were newly married. She answered her own question by saying that they had been married sixteen years.

Bled castle.

Susana had arranged for two pletne to take us out to the island in the middle of Lake Bled. A pletna is a home-made boat with no keel that is powered and steered by one man in the rear. The captain used two oars. He pushed the oars forward to propel the craft, turned the oars ninety degrees, and pulled them back. He kept his right foot braced at the rear. His left foot was several feet ahead of him.

Our group had twelve in the boat with the white awning and fourteen in the one with the blue awning. The captain of the other boat spoke English pretty well. He had a cell phone or some kind of communication device. A young man named Rok played the accordion. He sat in the white boat on the way out to the island and the blue boat on the way back. The captain of the blue boat never said a work.

I sat in the blue boat, which I think was named Antonija, with Lyle, the Corcorans, the Andersons, the Sharps, the Millers, the McKinneys, and the Brimmers. Sue rode on the white boat with the rest of the group except, I thing for Audrey, who did not make the trip.

The captain of our pletna.

The other boat had Rok on the squeezebox.

Mike and Marge with the castle as backdrop.

Sue takes a video of us from the other boat.

Something tickled Paul's fancy.

I went down to breakfast at about 7:30. Sue said that she was going to take a shower before eating breakfast. I mistakenly told her that we would be leaving the hotel for the boat trip to the island at 9. I should have looked on our agenda.

The Slovenians seemed to enjoy comparing the pletne with the gondolas of Venice. The main thing that they have in common that each is propelled and steered by exactly one person. Otherwise they do not feel similar at all.

Angela takes some photos as the Antonija approaches the island.

Joanne and the island.

The Vila Bled Hotel was once Tito's vacation home.

The ride out was quite slow. It took us about twenty minutes. On the party boat the passengers got into Rok's music. On our more staid craft people took a lot of photos and soaked up the atmosphere.

Joanne and Rawlins soak in the scenery.

Getting off the boat was a challenge.

Andy wants to take our pletna for a spin.

The fact that the pletna does not have a keel means that the load must be precisely balanced. Someone got up once, and the boat rocked seriously from side to side. The biggest challenge was when we got onto the boat and when we got off at the island. People left one at a time, and care was taken to make sure that those remaining on the boat were evenly distributed on both sides.

Susana tries (unsuccessfully) to persuade the men to carry their ladies.

Almost as soon as we got off the boat we were faced with the prospect of climbing ninety-eight steps. Susana taught us that there was a local tradition that the young grooms carried their brides up the staircase to the church for their wedding. She intimated that it would be romantic for the men to carry the ladies. I felt sorry for Lyle, the only unattached guy in the group, who would not get to participate in this folkloric activity. In an act of Christian charity I told him that I would let him carry Sue up the stairs in my stead. For some reason he did not elect to take me up on the offer.

The staircase.

We all climbed up the stairs to visit the little church of the Assumption. Before one does anything, on must pay the lady in the booth the €2 entrance fee, which also allowed you to enter the museum. Just about the first thing that one sees upon entering the church is a peculiar portrait of the Madonna. It is peculiar because the face belongs to Empress Maria Theresa of Austria.

Is this blasphemous? Somebody had to model, didn't they?

Considering how quaint the setting was, the interior of the church was surprisingly ornate. On the entire continent the Europeans consistently seemed to have put every spare cent into decorating their churches. Even this church in the middle of an uninhabited island is overdecorated.

The church let tourists ring its bell. A long rope hung down from the ceiling in front of the altar. Allegedly if one can ring the bell exactly three times, one's wish will come true. It evidently took a deft touch. Susana warned us that physical strength ws not required. Almost everyone tried this. I was not interested in becoming a bellringer, so I passed. I know for a fact that Sue was not able to make it ring exactly three times, because even after she finished pulling the rope, I was still there.

I know two rally good jokes about bellringers. When you see me, ask me about them.

It warmed up enough while we were on the island that I took my sweater off and stashed it away in my backpack.

The church's interior.

The ornate altar.

Andy, bellringer Tom, and Sue.

Paul and Ray.

Sue did not get her wish.

The church's organ.

The little museum was basically a way to kill time until it was time to get back on the boats. They had quite a few crèches and dolls on display. It seems peculiar to me that people would spend so much time making these things. I saw a show on television about Naples. Evidently constructing of crèches is a major industry there. The most interesting one was the one made out of gingerbread. Sue attempted to make a house out of gingerbread once. I would rate it at less than a total success.

The gingerbread creche.

It went in here, ...

... and came out here.

Upstairs in the museum building was an old toilet facility. It was a niche in a room with a seat. Beneath the seat was a hole. Leaves and ground were clearly visible beneath it. I photographed the seat and resolved to try to find the hole on the outside of the building. It was not trivially easy to find it, but I managed to get a pretty good photo of it.

Rawlins, Janet, Steve, and Marge.

On the return trip Rok sat with us in the Antonija. He told us that he was 15. Nevertheless he has been employed in this regard by Rick Steves's tours for quite a few years. One of the real highlights of the trip was when he played "Oh! Susanna." Everyone laughed and sang along. I think that Stephen Foster's verses contain some of the coolest lyrics in all of American song, so I have included them in case someone wants to relive the experience.

I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee;
I'm goin' to Lou'siana my true love for to see.
It rained all night the day I left,
the weather it was dry;
The sun so hot I froze to death,
Susanna don't you cry.

Rok was the star of the return trip.

Maybe the Andersons didn't know the words.

I had a dream the other night,
When everything was still;
I thought I saw Susanna dear,
A-coming down the hill.
The buckwheat cake was in her mouth,
The tear was in her eye,
Said I, I'm coming from the south,
Susanna don't you cry.

The back of the boat.

I soon will be in New Orleans,
And then I'll look all 'round,
And when I find Susanna,
I'll fall upon the ground.
But if I do not find her,
This darkey'll surely die,
And when I'm dead and buried,
Susanna don't you cry.

On second thought, maybe the last verse isn't too cool.

The castle from the pletna.

The hotels from the boat.

After we got back from the island Tom and I decided to walk up to the castle. I had passed one of the trails that led to the castle when I went jogging the previous evening. Tom was pretty sure that there was a closer one, and he was right. We located it, and headed up the rather steep path. Tom was huffing and puffing. He told me that this was because of the medicine that he has to take. At one point we thought that we might catch up with two ladies ahead of us. One of them had a cane, and neither one could remember her sweet-sixteen party. It was not to be. In fact, they may have pulled away from us at the end.

We only saw one basketball team.

This duck must have been running a day care center.

Tom at the trailhead.

The castle was not very crowded when we got there. There was only one bus in the parking lot. A few came later.

Hotels and pletne.

Pletne and the island from the castle.

The island.

The big attraction is the vista. The views of both the lake and the surrounding countryside were spectacular. They must surely rank with the most picturesque views anywhere. The pletne were hardly visible on the water as they made their way slowly but surely to and from the island.

It was hard to stop taking photos.

The Adam wine shop.

Beheaded bottles.

There was a small museum there with costumes and weapons. I cannot say that we were very impressed by it.

What a tragedy that the luge was not open yet.

Tony may have liked the museum more than we did.

The theater.

A small theater played films on a wide-screen television. When we walked by the first time, no one was at the desk outside of it, and the film playing had a German soundtrack. When we went by the second time a young lady was there. At Tom's request she put one a couple of short films in English. I was hoping to get a definitive pronunciation of the name of this place. One announcer said "Blade;" the other said "Bled." I guessed I could have asked one of the locals, but I never did.

The other side of the castle.

We saw a few tour members wandering around the tour grounds. We encountered Susana entering just as we were leaving.

We thought that there was a trail near the parking lot. We never found it. We saw the two ladies whom we had followed up walking on the road back down. We figured that they must know where they were going. Eventually we were confident of our bearings. We summoned up our virility and passed the ladies. What if they were older than we, one was crippled, and we were going downhill? It was the only time that we passed anyone in the whole trip, and we felt good about ourselves.

At the bottom of the road was a small soccer stadium. We checked it out. While we were doing so, the ladies arrived. They told us that they had let us pass them because they did not know where they were going.

George Best was a winger for Manchester United.

At the time we were standing right outside of the George Best bar. We told the ladies that we actually knew who George Best was. They said that they were from the vicinity of Manchester. They were proud of themselves for making it all the way to the castle and back. They said that no one else in their tour group of "old ladies" had attempted it.

By then we knew where we were. We showed them how you could see the hotel district between the buildings. It was only a few hundred yards away. They were happy to learn that, for once, the Brits had not been led astray by the Yanks. We bade them good-bye.

More Unions at the pub.

I could kick myself for not taking their photo. It never even occurred to me.

Tom and I were looking for a beer. We passed a store with the name of Krčma on its awning. I told Tom that my old football team in the seventh and eight grade at Queen of the Holy Rosary School in Overland Park, KS, had been coached by two guys who were enrolled at the time at the high school that I eventually attended. Their last name was Krchma. I guess that they probably were of Slovene descent.

Don't ask me about last week, but I remember 1961 quite clearly.

When I was in the seventh grade we lost every game under their tutelage. In fact, we never even scored a point. The next year was in some ways even worse. We only had twelve players on the team, so ten of us had to play both offense and defense. However, we had one moment of glory, and I was in the middle of it. We were playing against St. Joseph of Shawnee. It was late in the game, and neither team had scored. However, St. Joe was inside our ten yard line with a fourth and goal. I was playing safety with the honor of the Blue and Gold [Actually, I did not wear blue and gold, but that is another story] on the line.

St. Joe's two big ends ran a crossing pattern. [OK, they probably weren't big, but I was barely 100 pounds in the eighth grade.] One of their guys caught the quarterback's pass, ran smack into the other guy, and fell down on the two yard line. I heroically jumped on him so that he could not crawl into the end zone. Our ball on downs at our own two.

There still was enough time left for us to screw this up. On the first play the tailback [Why the tailback was passing the ball is still another story.] threw me a pass. I caught it and ran about thirty yards. We ran one more play, time expired, and our team was ecstatic. Maybe a tie is like kissing your sister, but in this case our "sister" was hot.

These two have been married how long?

By chance our path led us past Gostilna Pri Planincu, the pub in which we had had such an enjoyable supper the previous evening. We immediately seized a couple of chairs outside. The waiter brought us a pair of Unions. Tom and I did some people-watching and swapped tall tales.

Harlyn came by. He stopped for a minute to talk with us. He and Tom exchanged beard-trimming techniques. Harlyn used a trimmer; Tom favored scissors. Harlyn left, but a few minutes later he returned with a bag of pastries.

We saw Steve and Janet strolling on the other side of the street. We waved to them, and I took their picture.

We decided to call it a vacation, and we walked the few blocks back to the hotel. Sue told me that she had gone swimming in the hotel's little pool. She liked the jets that they had.

I used the Jacuzzi in the bathroom again. It was delightful. Then I took a rather long nap.

When I woke up, I signed onto the Internet in order to see if I could check our seat assignments on the flight the next morning to Prague. For some reason they would not let me do so.

Stve, Janet, Lyle, and Susana.

Sue made a phone call to Jana Liberská in Kutná Hora. She said that she would meet us at the airport on the next day and escort us back to Kutná Hora. She said that she was going to come by train because George W. Bush was also flying into Prague that morning, and she was afraid that the traffic at the airport would be horrible. I thought that we could probably figure out how to get to the train station by ourselves, and we might even be capable of getting on the right train. However, both Sue and I were grateful that someone else would handle these arrangements, which are often a source of stress.

Joan, Paul's back, and Marge.

We met in the hotel lobby at 6:20 for our final supper. Sue and I took our private elevator down to the lobby. We then walked across the hotel's parking lot to the Ocarina Restaurant. They first served us a toast with shot of brandy or orange juice outside of the little room in which we were to dine.

Our final feast.

The walls of the room itself was covered with posters of European musical acts, none of which I had ever heard of. Our group occupied four or five tables. Sue and I sat with Patti, Tom, and Lauren. We served ourselves buffet style. There was quite a wide selection: prosciutto, salami, and cheese with bread; soups of ream of garlic and barley with ham soup; greens and arugula with balsamic vinegar; veal and white asparagus; potatoes and vegetables; fish; spinach or maybe chard; and fusili pasta with vegetables. Dessert was baklava.

I bit my tongue during dinner. This is at least the fifth time that I have done it on the trip. I seem to have forgotten how to chew.

Most of the conversation was about travel arrangements. The other three people were all flying to London. Lauren helped Patti and Tom figure out how they would get around in their mini-vacation there.

Someone had purchased a card for Susana, and we all signed it. She gave all of us presents: bottles of paprika for the women and brandy for the men.

The group.

Susana's good-bye speech.

Harlyn, Pam, and Andy.

Susana gave a little speech in which she said that this was her least favorite part of every tour. Everyone seemed to agree with this sentiment. My biggest regret concerning this tour was that I got so wrapped up in the details of what I was doing that I did not take advantage of enough occasions to talk with other members of the tour group. I suspect that some of them were very interesting people and that I could have gotten a lot out of a little more conversation. This always seemed to happen to me.

The dessert line.

Baclava was our last shared treat.

Exchanging good-byes.

Sue and I had to get up pretty early the next morning, so we made an early night of it. Sue asked the desk for a wake-up call at 4:15. I finished the last Tomislav from the refrigerator, packed and went to sleep.