Saturday, August 3, 2013

Back to The Region (Salzburg to Bled)

Our big trip began Thursday with the 9:00 commuter train to Stuttgart, which rolled into Tübingen right on time.

By 9:08, we were in trouble, however, because the train had refused to leave the station. The announcer mentioned something about the Police, which reminds me, I never mentioned here how we were delayed an hour in Karlsruhe on the way back from Baden Baden last weekend because a soccer hooligan hit a cop and ducked onto our train, which led to at least 23 cops, by my count, descending on the station.

Anyway, we missed our direct train to Salzburg in Stuttgart, but luckily DB rerouted us to Munich and then onto an Austrian train, and we didn't lose too much time.

Salzburg is like a town Rick Steves would design if he were also a gamer.

The view from the top of the castle was amazing.

Friday morning it was time for the Sound of Music Tour, Yes, the tour guide was in a Dirndl, and yes, the bus was tacky 

but it was also a lot of fun, even if (like me) you don't actually recognize the pond used to film the (imagined) back of the captain's house and the gazebo and nunnery.

To get to the church where Maria and the captain marry, the tour travels through the Lake District in the mountains near Salzburg.

For Sound of Music fans, here's the church used in the wedding scene from the town of Mond See.

Then it was time to hop on the (first of two) trains to Slovenia. At a station somewhere in Austria with the largest proportion of teenagers in Lederhosen and Dirndls we had yet seen on the trip, we boarded a Slovenian train. Luckily Slovenia has been independent and capitalist for more than twenty years, so their trains have been completely upgraded and are now as sophisticated as any in Europe. Here's their heating and cooling system. 

Speaking of 1960s communist design, after passing through the longest and darkest train tunnel I've ever been through, we moved from a Heidi-esque landscape of picture-perfect flower-boxed mountain chalets to what was obviously a changed and somewhat grittier landscape.

I was now back in the region, as my college roommate Adam and I started calling the Slavic lands after our semester in Prague in the early 90s (when the Czechs still enjoyed us Americans descending on their country). Which is not to say that yuppies (and hostelers) have not discovered Lake Bled, but not so many that it's not still a destination for middle-class Slovenians. Europeans are very liberal in what they designate a "beach."

I almost hesitate to mention Lake Bled, for fear of more people discovering it, and I won't mention by name the amazing, sort-of-renovated-since-the-communist-days-but-not-really hotel: think TVs with deep backs, no AC, and revolutionary murals in the conference rooms.

Some of the hotels in Bled really want to make me read this book.

If the murals and hotels didn't tell us that we were out of the (former West) Germany, then this miracle brought to our table at dinner unsolicited surely did.

Dinner (oh my God, multiple fish dishes on one menu) cost us 8.50 Euros. Not because Slovenian prices haven't (nearly) caught up to the rest of Europe, but because J, a skilled negotiator, secured for us a free dinner sans drinks because, three hours before we were about to leave Salzburg, we were bumped from the hotel we thought we would stay at because of "overbooking." (After meeting her before our free dinner, I think the manger had friends in town.)  Sure, we ended up in a suite in the most interesting hotel in Bled, but it was bloody hot there without AC ...

In short, Lake Bled is a revelation. On Saturday we took a rowboat (wow, I really suck at rowing) to the island with a church dating back to 1004.

Ever since Adam and I first had "Toasts on the Soldier Sky," or "Meat on the Groom Schultz," or something like that, one of the things that has always defined The Region for me is wonderfully mangled translations, like this one from the island church. Does anyone know was the verb to enffeof means? And notice the clever play on alter versus altar.

Here we are at the wishing bell making a wish for the record-breaking heatwave to end (104 last week in the Alps? The warmest month ever in Salt Lake? Really Fox, you're still denying it?). Luckily J and I are already married, so I didn't have to carry her up the 99 steps to the bell tower with Spondylolistheiss.

Bled's castle is amazing, too, but instead of hiking up to it, we spent most of Saturday on the hotel's beach deck on the water drinking -- with our new friends from the British Riviera -- a delicious if mass-produced Slovenian beer called Laško. I immediately recognized it for what Beer Advocate calls it -- a beer from the style of the Czech Pils that's hoppier than just about everything I've had the last 6 months in Germany. Seemed like a better choice than hiking straight up for 15 minutes to see Schloss #19.

This stunning place aside, it's great to be back in The Region, where they take their ski jumping so seriously they even watch its summer version on grass.

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