I started off the day by returning the rental car. The drop off point was at the train station, but first I had to find a petrol station and fill it up. I really started to get the hang of the clutch as I tooled around the narrow streets. I finally spotted a petrol station and pulled in. I wasn't familiar with the procedures for filling it up and the pump stopped after only pumping about 91 cents worth of petrol. The guy came out and helped me to fill it up
. He was a nice guy and spoke good English. I've found that almost all of the younger people here speak good English, but the older ones have more trouble (or don't speak it at all - one guy at a parking area I tried to ask just said what I'm guessing was the Slovenian equivalent of "I don't understand" and that was the end of the conversation). I got the car back to the train station and handed in the keys. Surprisingly, I found that having a car here is more bother than it's worth. You have to find somewhere to park it, you wonder about whether it's going to get damaged, and you have to go back to wherever you left it, not to mention navigation and taking wrong turns. I've gotten so used to the excellent public transit here that I actually prefer taking the trains and busses. I was very glad to sit back and let the bus driver do the driving this afternoon.
I spent the rest of the morning in a Slovenian doctor's office. That was quite the experience. The last couple days I've had fullness in my ears and a bit of an earache (probably due to the pressure changes during scuba diving), so I wanted to check with a doctor to make sure it doesn't get badly infected. I found a medical clinic on the map, so I stopped in. There was an information desk in the entrance, but the guy I spoke to there wasn't very helpful. He just told me to "Go up to the 3rd floor and wait in line"
. I went up there but as far as I could tell there was no "line", just people waiting in chairs. I went back down to the pharmacy and asked there, but the lady there wasn't very helpful either. She just said she couldn't give me any antibiotics without a prescription, and when I asked where I could get a prescription, she just said "I don't know". The young man behind me in line was much more helpful and told me where to check in at the reception. I headed over there and there was a young med student who took me up (only one floor, not three) to the clinic, where she spoke with the nurse and explained the situation. After thanking her for her help, she left and I gave them my passport and then waited about 15 minutes when they called me in. Turns out the doctor I saw was very nice. She was somewhat older and her English was decent but not excellent. She was interested to hear about the places I'd been to and what kind of work I do back home. The nurse helped out with an ear flush, and the doctor gave me a prescription for antibiotic drops. The bill for the entire visit came to a whopping total of 9 euros, plus another 3 for the drops (which I picked up back at the pharmacy). It was an experience I won't forget.
The clinic was close by the train and bus stations, so around noon I headed over there and got a ticket to go to Bled. It was a nice relaxing 90 minute ride through the Slovenian countryside (compared to the somewhat tiring drive I made yesterday)
. There were several other tourists on the bus, sounded like they were from down under. When we arrived in Bled, it was pouring rain. Luckily, I still had my Acropolis umbrella along with me, so I whipped it out and headed off for the lake. The town of Bled itself is quite activity-oriented. There were lots of "adventure" outfits that advertised various outdoor activities such as white water rafting, skydiving, canyoning, etc. It felt like Interlaken, Switzerland, only much cheaper. The lake itself is really the main attraction, though. The guidebook described Lake Bled as "bewitching", and it wasn't far off. I just couldn't stop looking at it. Since it comes from glacier runoff, it has that "glacier green" color. It's completely surrounded by wooded hills and mountains. But the main focal points are the castle up on the bluffs, and the little island out in the center of the lake with the church on it. There's a hiking trail that goes all the way around the lake (about a 3-4 mile hike), that I took and got great views from every angle. Near the town, there were others out walking around, but once I got over to the other side, I didn't see anyone else out walking. There were lightning flashes visible and long, rolling thunder coming down off the hillsides. Even though this continued for most of the walk, the rain subsided after the first 15 minutes and I was even able to go without the umbrella for most of the way. It's common for people to go out to the island in rowboats, and there were a few covered boats out today, ferrying people to the island so they can ring the "lucky" bell in the church
. I didn't go over to the island but just stuck to the shore and went all the way around the lake. It's a great walk, with views of the Julian Alps visible towering over the lake and town.
I got back to the bus stop in Bled just a couple minutes before the bus arrived. I met up with two others that are staying at the same hostel as me. One is a guy from New Zealand, and the other is a girl from China. We took the bus back to Ljubljana, then walked back to the hostel. It was a good day. This is a very popular hostel, and is full tonight. There's some guys from Ireland and from Finland staying here.
Tomorrow, I head out for my 17th (and final, for this trip) country: Austria. Vienna will be first, and I've heard good things about it. Looking forward to it, but I will miss Slovenia. I think a great future trip would be Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria (the latter 2 just joined the EU this January).
Today I visited the scenic town of Bled, situated in the Julian Alps in northern Slovenia. It's famous for the lake of the same name that it sits next to. I hiked all the way around the lake, despite the thunderstorm that coincided with my visit. With a jacket and umbrella, though, it was well worth it as the views were great of the castle perched on the cliffs above and the famous island in the middle of the lake.