Today it’s so foggy I can hardly see my hand stretched in front of my face. I’ve hiked up above the blanket of cloud to press my hand against the cold stone of Bled Castle. I came here to feel inspired, and after being welcomed by the charismatic owner of Jazz Hostel here in Bled a little bit earlier in the day, I’m at least feeling jovial and welcomed. The castle from right here beside it feels more like a giant wall of stone. It feels impenetrable and heavy. As a photographer, I can’t seem to do anything with it.
I lean my toes out onto the ledge of a ridge below the castle and peer out at the quickly bluing sky. I wonder if I can race down to the lake-side before I lose the good light. With a heavy fog wisping through the forest trail, I feel like I’m racing through smoke towards a fire. At the side of the lake, just a couple minutes worth of a lumbering jog away, Bled Castle looks like a firefly in the sky, so small yet overwhelming. I snap a photo then pack my gear up and climb back up towards a warm bed.
As morning rises, I peel myself from the comfort of my bed and split the shutters to look out towards the forest and the village of Vintgar. A gentle rain trickles and a heavy wind howls through the window forcing me to slam it shut and preserving whatever warmth I have left in my body. Of course, I’ve seen photos of Vintagar Gorge, one of Bled, Slovenia’s biggest attractions, and not even the heaviest of winds can stop me from wandering into the water-filled scar in earth’s beautiful skin.
After passing through a village I might dare call cute, I step into the leaf-floored forest which is illuminated by a mess of sticks and somewhat worn trail. There is a perfect contrast of red and green here in the forest, and I can’t help but feel freed from the urban grip Europe has had on me far too long.
Before long, I begin to hear the rush of water down a steep inclining hill. I scamper my feet trying not to slip along the loose ground. At the bottom, I’m rewarded with a crossing river featuring a diving waterfall. There is a ticket office which is oddly closed, but I pay little attention to it as a beautiful mess of water spins under the bridge beneath me.
Vintgar Gorge is an absolute stunner. Though I’m told that much of the year there it is but a trickle of this perfectly green water flowing down the creek, here in the fall months, it’s a wild rush of heavy colour. There is a powerfulness to it as well. The steep walls of the gorge echo the rage of the river.
As I walk along the water, photos seem to develop around each corner. I was told that a trip to Vintgar meant about a 3 hour walk, I’ve been gone that already, and haven’t yet made the return. Just like a similar place in Canada called Johnston Canyon, the twists and turns of Vintgar Gorge are so perfectly shaped, and each inch of it begs for a photo. I feel like I’m exposing a photo then moving my tripod a mere couple feet before again pulling the shutter.
Deep into the gorge, I realize that there hasn’t been anyone down here for a while. At one point, I step into a pile of leafs well deeper than waist high. I push them off into the river and watch them float along, perfectly contrasting the colour of the river. Later, we pass a group of men doing some sort of construction on the park’s rock-guard. They give me the type of look that confirms the idea that there haven’t been anyone here for a while.
Finally, the gorge opens up and I am confronted by a barrier showing that the park is closed.
“Well,” I think out loud. “No wonder I had the place all to myself.
A perfect 24 hours in Bled, Slovenia is topped off by a walk along the path that circles the lake. In the heart of the lake there is an island that stands like a turtle floating. Atop it a church that makes the lake feel like the world’s most elaborate moat.
In the backdrop of almost every view along the lake are both Bled Castle and this church. There are few views I’ve seen in my life that could be more iconic. I can’t help but stare out and feel like I’m not looking at a lake, church, and castle, but every single image I’ve ever seen from Bled, or Slovenia for that matter.
I end the day again by climbing the hill in town up to my hostel. My feet ache in the realization that I must have walked 15-20 kilometers today. I check the top of my camera to see I’ve taken over 200 photos in the past 24 hours. Each one of these steps in Bled was worth it, and nearly every photo taken worth the shutter. Bled was the dive into rural Europe that I’ve been longing for the past couple months. I only hope that next time I’ll have a little more time to enjoy it.