(Guide says 26km – 16.2 miles, and we actually walked 26km! We split this day into two walks and stayed over two nights at the EPW suggested accommodation.)
Walking starts horribly late as we missed the train to Ljubljana by three minutes and had to wait two hours for the next one. After the one hour train ride, we didn’t even begin walking until noon. Since we stayed one additional night on the lake at Villa Bled, a very nice hotel with a breakfast buffet including omelettes that we just couldn’t pass up, we had no one to blame but ourselves. It’s almost always food that messes us up, but in this case it was completely worth it!
The walk begins from the train station and goes through the city center where the three bridges converge and then out along the roadside. Our guide says this walk is 2.2 km and yet, it feels like 5 at least. Either this is the furthest off it’s been yet or we’re in real trouble today. Coming back from a break is always a struggle.
As we leave town and head off down a gravel road through fields, the reality of what we are leaving behind begins to sink in. No more bubble baths, cappuccinos, row boats, lakeside lounging with the young man who comes to replace or straighten your towel each time you get off of it to take a swim in the lake.
Back into the forests we go.
The road we are walking down has mud puddles periodically. These puddles are full of life. From the small frogs that sun themselves until we come near and then fling themselves back in frantically, to the rabbits taking drinks and then flying into the brush when we appear, and the horseflies who lie in wait and then follow and eat us after we pass…we are in a different place now. At one point, we startle a deer who goes leaping wildly through the brush and scares me so much that I scream and almost pee myself.
Just moments after that, while I’m still trying to gather myself again, we come to what I think is a small ditch crossing. Gary takes one giant leap across and makes it look relatively easy, so being the super cautious person that I am, I bend down and place my walking sticks into the bottom to feel for the edge and find how deep the bottom is. All feels well enough, so I plant them down and jump with all my might attempting to leverage myself with them to get across. This seems completely logical to me, kind of like the pole vaulting concept. Only, it really doesn’t work. Both my poles sink into the muddy ground below and I fall into a 4 foot ditch without a shred of grace or dignity. All wrapped up in brambles, sitting on my arse in this freaking ditch with blood from the most recent horsefly bites trickling down my legs, I yell, “Villa Istra, where are you?”
I rolled my ankle slightly, but overall I’m fine. I’m sure it looked much worse than it actually was. Gary was at a loss for what to do, and just stood there trying not to laugh. Eventually I got out of the ditch and we carried on. We walked past a farm house and the woman working outside in the orchard asked if we wanted some water. We told her that we would love to fill our bottles up quickly as we were worried about not having enough for the day but that we were running really late. She invited us in and even though we were so late, we couldn’t resist chatting with her for a bit. Her name is Andrea, and she has the most beautiful grayish, green-blue eyes that I’ve ever seen. We asked her if she met a lot of EPW walkers and she says, “No, they all come by very early in the morning and I’m not out yet.” We tell her about missing the train to eat freshly made omelettes, but deciding to walk anyway. She understands completely.
She shares that she has five children ranging in age from 3 to 14, but they are all away with their grandmother for the day. They are on summer break and she also needed a break, so her mother took them. We understand this completely. We tell her that we can’t imagine having five children and that it must be hard work. She just shrugs and smiles. We thank Andrea and say our goodbyes. She stands on the porch waving a long goodbye to us as we walk away down the dirt road.
It gets hotter and hotter as the day carries on and the bugs are eating us alive. We reach the midway point of 14km at 3:30pm. We should be finishing now, but we have another three hours left and no idea if we will have a bed. We’ve tried to contact the accommodation, but the number the guide has listed is incorrect. In the absence of other options, we decide to walk into the midway point town of Žablinca to see if there’s a hotel or pension. As we reach the paved road, there’s a spray painted smiley face and the word “beer.” This means a pub, good news! They can hopefully provide or help us find a place to sleep and then we can carry on in the morning.
We walk into town and are amazed to find that everything is closed. It’s Wednesday at 4pm, unbelievable.
We continue walking until we reach the supermarket on the other side of town and find there a cafe bar attached. We order water and juice and ask about a place to stay. The waitress literally belly laughs at us. Okay, we switch to plan B, which is to get a taxi. Simple thing, but a couple of confusing phone calls and we still have nothing. Then, we get someone on the phone, but they only speak Slovenian, so I ask two men sitting next to us if they could please speak to them and give our location to be picked up. One man happily agrees and takes the phone. He continues to look at us in a puzzled manner while carrying on with the conversation and then hangs up. He says, “No, there was confusion…that was a taxi in Bled.” Which was quite a long way from where we were then, considering the train ride and all the walking we had done. Although I wouldn’t have minded going back, the taxi would’ve cost a fortune!
He then says, “My friend wants to drive you, but we need ten more minutes to finish our coffee and talk.”
We make introductions and are just astounded by how nice Roberto and Zdraco are. We tell them to take as long as they like and not to rush and we head back to our table to make a plan for tomorrow’s walking. We will have to get back to the exact same spot to begin early the next morning.
After a bit of time, Roberto gets his car, moves all of his work tools to the back and we climb in. He had initially said that he doesn’t speak English, but he was being a bit bashful. We talk the entire way and he tells us that he’s married with two sons and that he builds houses. He works a lot, but his sons are adults now so he’s hoping he might be able to slow down at some point soon. He asks where we are from and then laughs and says, “Everyone in Slovenia wants to go to Hawaii, and now here I have two people in my car who have left Hawaii to come to Slovenia! Incredible!”
The ride takes longer than I thought it would and I’m really not looking forward to walking the entire distance tomorrow with bugs gnawing on me. I make a mental note to keep the bug spray handy. When we arrive I try to pay Roberto for the ride but he won’t allow it. He says, “No money, but maybe I come to Hawaii someday.” We tell him that would be wonderful, we would be thrilled to have he and his wife come for a visit.
As he drives off, I can hear my name and I look up to see Laurel hanging out of the upstairs window. This means that she, Gabby, and Barry are all here, and we’re excited to see them and to hear what they’ve been doing on their rest days.
We get showered and settled in and head down to the restaurant for an amazing dinner of steak with duck egg and chanterelles, forrest mushroom risotto, and a pumpkin semifreddo that is heavenly. We can offer thanks for this decision to dear Jenny who is still two days ahead and sending us daily tips.
There is one lovely girl, named Kristine, who has done absolutely everything from the moment we arrived. From checking us in, seeing us to our room, and serving all the meals in the restaurant…she literally runs the place. All the while, there is a short older woman with the exact same haircut that Jim Carey has in Dumb and Dumber, following her around and fussing at every turn. This other woman does nothing to help mind you, she just nips at the heels of poor Kristine all day and all night long. Kristine just smiles and sighs, seeming to take it all in stride.
Since Barry, Laurel, and Gabby are here for the night, we get a chance to talk with them a bit and really enjoy seeing them. The group dynamics of the EPW have been difficult since we have moved through six groups now. Some have bonded tightly and are not open to anyone else being around, and others have fragmented and disbanded altogether. There have been many moments of drama with groups trying to ditch members and members trying to ditch their groups, but we’ve just done our own thing the entire time. I feel so fortunate and thankful to have come with a committed walking partner. Even though we have had a few fussy moments with each other, the thought of ditching one another has never occurred. And honestly, what two people in the world wouldn’t be a little grumpy at times when completing something this challenging? I just try to keep that in mind as we go along.
So far, we’ve enjoyed all the groups we’ve spent time with, but Gary has squirmed a bit when he has found himself to be the only male with a giant gaggle of women. Watching him try to avoid gushing, chatty women has cracked me up a bit.
One thing we’ve learned is not to walk with or too close to other people or groups. We love the moments we’ve been invited in for wine, coffee, or schnapps by a local person and it seems that we’ve had more experiences like this than most. I think it’s because people are a bit intimidated by groups of people walking all together, and it makes the logistics of inviting everyone in a bit more difficult. With only the two of us, we find we are invited in at least a couple times each day, and we’ve been offered rides several times when we’ve split a long walk and needed to get to our accommodation.
Before we head to bed, we make some final arrangements with Kristine to get breakfast and lunch to go and then book a taxi for a 6am pickup. We compliment how well she juggles her many responsibilities and the great care she takes in helping the walkers, her response is modest and bashful. We thank her for making our stay so comfortable and ask if I can take a picture with her. Again she’s bashful, but appreciative for the words which are apparently not spoken to her often enough.
The next morning we are up early, well rested and ready to hop in the taxi and finish the walk. Our driver arrives 15 minutes late with no acknowledgement or mention of an apology. We hop in, grateful that he’s arrived at all, so we can head back to Žablinca and complete our walk. The first thing we notice is that he pulls out of the drive heading the wrong way. We try to confirm that he knows where we’re going. He says, “Ya Žablinca, 20km away” we tell him no, that it’s only 7.8km according to google maps. He makes an angry face and doesn’t respond. We keep moving in the same direction further away. At the same time, Gary and I notice the meter isn’t on and Gary points to it and says, “Why don’t you use this?” At this he shrugs and makes the same angry face again. Gary says, “See, Google Maps says only 7.8km” and he shows him the map on his phone. At this the tiny, angry man huffs loudly with obvious displeasure. A few moments later he stops in the road, backs up and turns down a tiny lane. Once Gary’s phone recalculates the new route, he turns with a wink and nod that tells me that we are going the right way now and I can settle down a bit. He could sense that I was going into fight mode. Apparently, this guy was trying to be a complete shyster and at 6:15am! He was clearly not pleased that we were on to him and I took several pictures and made sure that he knew I had. This was the first experience like this we’ve had. All our other taxi drivers have been great to this point.
Even with all of this, we started walking by 6:40 and cruised through a lovely and easy day. After about 4km we came to a little village with a market and a cafe bar. I ran in and got warm croissants filled with apricot marmalade and chocolate to have with our cappuccinos. This was the perfect impromptu breakfast!
After our little pit stop, we carried on walking through the beautiful valley surrounded by mountains and hills. The walk felt effortless as if we were just out for a stroll with lovely views. At one point we happened upon a what I assume is classic car dealer, and I spied several old Mini Coopers, restored to perfection all locked up inside. There’s no business sign to be found anywhere though. If this is someones personal garage they very well may have a problem, but I bet they are seriously cool to hang with!
Before we knew it, we were back at the Hotel Bistra, and it was only 10am. Plenty of time to do our laundry, work a bit, read, and rest.
25 euros per person in bunk bed hostel room includes breakfast
Or, if you need some space, 60 euro for private double room
Baggage transport 50 euro for the group