Church on the Water

Lake Bled resembles something straight out of a fairytale. It’s one of the most famous lakes in Eastern Europe, and the only one in Slovenia, nestled next to its namesake town of Bled in the north-east of the country. In its center is a small island, atop which a tiny church sits, rising out of this natural moat as if it’s always belonged there. I visited the town in late June 2017, and spent an evening hiking the periphery of the lake, a popular and well-travelled route.

At 6 km, this route is hardly challenging; it is almost totally flat, paved in its entirety, and lit overhead for those who wish to travel it past sunset. In total, it took me two hours to complete, although you can expect this to be closer to one and a half hours without stopping as I did. However, if you do fancy taking a break, you can find restaurants and designated swimming zones dotted along the fringes of the water.

My understanding is that the lake is safe to swim in all over, as I faced no issues when I dove in at a quieter point, but in the designated swimming zones water quality is monitored and jetties jut out in to the lake for people to jump from. There are viewpoints along the path, too – tucked higher up away from the bustle of the town below – that can extend the journey by a short while.

The church that sits proudly on this lake can be reached by one of two ways: by boat, be that self-rowed or paid for, or by swimming. The water is clear, cool, and inviting; the trees that skim the edge offer shade and seclusion. The images shown here were all taken on my Nikon D5000, using the 18-55mm kit lens (I had somehow managed to break my 55-300mm a few weeks previously). Any that feature me swimming in the lake were simply taken using the inbuilt self-timer, with the camera set up on a nearby rock using my Joby Gorillapod.

Perhaps even more impressive than Lake Bled is the nearby Vintgar Gorge. Situated a 3 km hike from the town center, this narrow creak in the Slovenian mountains is truely a hidden gem, stretching back 1.6 km from the entrance along the fast-flowing Radovna river. The gorge itself is lined with a narrow wooden walkway that clings to the steep cliffs either side, criss-crossing back and forth over the water below, allowing you to explore its depths to your hearts’ content.

The water that weaves between the rocks seems eerie at times, especially when still. Bright turquoise in colour, and layered in a blanket of mist that swirls between countless cairns stacked on the pebbled banks, there’s something undeniably mystical about this river. Around each corner is a new surprise, with waterfalls, rapids, and fish-filled pools, as well as manmade beauties, including an immense stone bridge towering above the walkway.

The steep rock walls that encompass the gorge have created a micro-climate distinct from the surrounding hills, resulting in an equally unique vegetative composition. Here there are plant species that simply can’t exist in the forest just a few hundred metres away, making for an even more intriguing experience.

When I visited in June 2017, the heavens were open like never before. The rain was torrential, the hail was painful against my skin, and lightning fired down from the thunderous clouds to strike the trees on the surrounding mountains, sending out red sparks as it hit. There were upsides and downsides to this weather: I benefited from an uncharacteristically quiet gorge, as tourists and locals alike cowered from the storm, but I paid the costs with a lack of sunshine, murky river water stirred up by the rain, and the looming terror of water damage to my precious camera. I returned from the gorge with far fewer pictures than I would have liked, and these were somewhat lacklustre in their appearance.

After several hours of toiling over the rudimentary version of Lightroom I downloaded for free on my iPad mini, I can do no more. I’m working on getting the full Photoshop package for my laptop, but a subscription isn’t exactly graduate bank account-friendly, especially when you see the rest of my camera-related wish-list (spoiler alert: it’s a long, long list centred on a very expensive hobby). Maybe once I have the software I’ll come back to these images, but until then, I’ll have to make do.

To read more about my time here in Slovenia, head over to my other blog.

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