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The Lakes of Upper Carniola

Bled and Bohinj

Upper Carniola (in Slovene “Gorenjska”) is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Slovenia. Primarily its idyllic lakes draw in tourists from near and far whether it be impoverished students from all corners of Europe, American backpackers, who are enjoying their last years of youth on the Old Continent, or grotesquely rich Russian personages. Whoever it be, everyone can find something for themselves by the great lakes of Upper Carniola, Bled and Bohinj. Those with a sweet tooth can enjoy a traditional cream cake (kremšnita), for the dreamers there is a truly fairy-tale-like church on the island in the middle of Bled Lake, the lovers of art can take a look at the unusual frescos in the church by Lake Bohinj. And all of you, who, during the centenary of one of the lowest points in human history, feel that you need to tip your hat and pay homage to the many fallen, here lies a cemetery for the soldiers of the First World War.

The Tourist Heart

Bled is one of the most beautiful and important tourist centers in Slovenia. Bled Lake is with its church probably one of the most well renowned sights of the country, for even people who have never heard of Slovenia know about it. The waterfront is adorned with many a monument to famous Slovenian people, such as France Prešeren, the national poet of Slovenia, who was the first to show just how large the aesthetic power of Slovene language truly is. Here we have a fine hockey hall as well as a highly successful Higher Vocational School for Catering and Tourism. This is a town that is the front guard of Slovene tourist industry, this flowering bough of Slovenian economy, that we all kind of hope will drag the country out of the financial turmoil. However, we can mention several downsides of the town of Bled, arising from this. The worst of which might just be that on account of the needs of the tourist industry a large part of the lakeside is built up and covered with hotels. One of which, was raised up on orders from the almost mythical marshal of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz “Tito.” Its mighty concrete gable can be seen, in a spectacle of visual irony, right beyond the church on the island, should you chose to admire it from the Regatta center Bled. And while being in the town, you absolutely must taste the sweet vice that is the cream cake (colloquially referred to as “kremšnita,” pronounced “crem-shni-tah”).

Hunting Glaciers 

A couple of kilometers outside of Bled, you can see Vintgar. We are talking about a several kilometers long glacial valley and a river. Today, the valley is home to a geological park, through which you can walk on picturesque little wooden bridges, from which you can bear witness to creative power of nature. One truly feels humbled, when realizing that it took somewhere around 2.5 million years, the length of the Current Ice Age, before the slowly sliding glaciers carried in rocks, crushed them under their weight and finally reshaped into this little valley. A point of interest; despite its bridges, Vintgar of Bled is still one of the most unbridled corners of Slovenian nature. It was not discovered until the year 1891, and has managed to remain more or less unspoiled despite the fact that attempts have been made to build a hydroelectric power plant there.

The Plateau of Pokljuka

Between Bled and Bohinj Pokljuka rises from the tissue of Upper Carniola. This mighty forest-covered plateau is one of the most magnificent parts of the Triglav National Park, where felling is somehow still permitted due to extremely rich fir woodland. Otherwise it is full of pastures and there still lives a strong pastoral community, dealing in grazing cattle, producing milk and making cheese. The ownership over the plateau itself is shared between the Roman Catholic Church and the Army of Slovenia. The latter has dominion over vast expanses of cross-country skiing tracks and there is something almost meditative in gliding across those lonesome paths with nothing than the firs of Pokljuka to keep you company. For those of you who are more drawn to the meditation of the energetic variety, several underground energy points hide beneath the woods. These lie on the path from the only Slovenian biathlon circuit, where World Cup races are held, towards the valley of Uskovica. Places of beneficent radiation are marked with white stones that are somewhat reminiscent of old Native American burial grounds. And even if you do not believe in the power of bio-energetic waves, you can enjoy in a walk in fresh air so clean that bearded lichen still hang from the trees. All passionate hikers will already be familiar with Pokljuka, as it is one of the access points for several mountain trails, including one towards the king of Slovene Alps, the Triglav.

To All Baron's Men

On the border between the municipalities of Bled and Bohing you can enjoy at the sight of awe-inspiring images nature carved into stone. One of such is Babji zob (literal translation “Wench’s Tooth”), an unusual cliff side bulge that really does look a bit like a fang. Otherwise, there are lands where the industrial branch of aquaculture is thriving, especially growing of the gold-bellied trout. Between the great lakes lies the village of Bohinjska Bistrica, where in its heyday stood the castle of one of the most important Slovenian thinkers and patrons of the Age of Enlightenment, Baron Sigmund Zois Freherr von Edelstein, better known as Žiga Zois. He was a natural philosopher, as scientists were called in the 18th century, an ornithologist, geologist, thinker and sponsor of Slovenian sciences and art, and essentially entire Slovene culture. Today only a clock tower remains from his castle and a restaurant next to it, bearing its name.   

The Devils by the Lake

The Bohinj Lake is an unbelievable sight in itself. When we drive into the town, the road leads us directly to the biggest natural lake in the country, stretching out towards the far-away mountains. The town's tourist infrastructure is otherwise falling apart, as the long bought hotels at the waterfront are slowly turning into ghost houses. But Bohinj still offers many an opportunity for cycling, leisurely strolls on the beach and hiking in the surrounding mountains. One of the paths goes across the so called Devil's Bridge. And on the way back towards the town, we can see the church of St. John the Baptist, which does not seem like much from the roadside, but inside of it quite a few treats are hidden for all lovers of art history and Judeo-Christian iconography. These specialties are actually theological mistakes, as the artist who made the frescos did not abide by the accepted canon. Frescoes around the altar depict a choir of angels who are definitely singing, but still look like vampires. This is because the master painted them with teeth, body parts that angels in their divine inhumanity were not supposed to have. The other specialty, is the image of the white devil on the top of the altar, the only such in Europe. Fresco depicts Cain and Abel, both of which are haunted by a white demon. The town itself is also filled with all manners of beautiful monuments. Especially moving to all true Slovenians, is the Monument to Four Brave Men, who first succeeded in summiting the Triglav in the year 1778.

To the fallen between the years 1914 and 1918, may you rest in peace

In this age when wars are spoken about with all to light a heart, many forget the true consequence of armed conflicts. At the end of Bohinj lies a cemetery to the soldiers who fell in these lands during the First World War, during these four years when the modern man proved that he is no different from the ancient barbarian. Three hundred graves lie there, wreathed with flags of nations from which these brave men came in order to fight in the name of kings, emperors and presidents. One can see Slovene, Italian, Austrian, Hungarian, Russian, Czech and Romanian flags. Banners of those near and far homelands that these men have never seen again, for they gave their lives for the pointless madness that was the Great War. And when one walks among those tombstones, when one looks at the wreaths of flowers that embassies of Austria, Russia, Italy and Hungary sent there to honor the centinary, one remembers the tales of this bloody conflict, and even the toughest among us might shed a tear. For we remember stories of knife fights on the Soča river and the Russian battalion that gave up to weaker soldiers under an Austrian banner because they spoke a similar language. And we come to realize that the true consequence of war is not technological progress, economic growth or political stability, not even peace, but merely many crosses in the ground. Crying wives, orphaned sons, men with no wives and fatherless daughters. And in these times, when conflicts are growing ever more common, this is a true that we must always keep close to our hearts.
This watery part of Upper Carniola truly has something for everyone. For the athlete and historian, for the foodie and the academic. These are lands with a rich history that are breaking at seams from the accomplishments of great men and women of Slovenia. And if no for good food and natural beauty, everyone should go there at least once, so that they can say that they have at least seen Triglav from afar.

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