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Lake and clouds
After two long days of touring, we were ready for a comparative “down day,” and we slept late (though not too late for breakfast). When that was done, we took refuge in our room from the drizzle outside, considering how we might need to prepare for our journey to Ljubljana the next day. We planned to go by bus, and — since this would be our first experience with public ground transportation, which we planned to use extensively on the rest of the trip, we wanted to make sure we did everything right.

Rick Steves’s guidebook had recommended the bus rather than the train, because the railway station that serves Bled is in the village of Lesce, a couple of miles away, while the bus to Ljubljana leaves right from the town. The book didn’t say that we should buy tickets in advance for this short journey, but I had read in more than one place that doing this is generally a good idea, especially in the high tourist season. We were by no means into that season yet, but, given our lack of experience, “better safe than sorry” struck us as relevant advice. So we decided to buy our tickets today.

Bled Castle (in the rain again)
Planning the trip, we had thought we might use some of the day to visit Bled Castle or to walk through the nearby Vintgar Gorge, but neither seemed like the right plan for a rainy day. (The guidebook said that, even if you take a bus or taxi to the castle, “it’s a steep and slippery-when-wet five-minute hike” from where they let you off — and it was certainly wet.) So we settled on a modest plan for the day: walk to the bus station, buy tickets, and eat lunch. We could explore the town a a little on our way.

St. Martin's and the old town
At about noon we set off down the hill through the light rain. The light on the town was somber, but it wasn’t thickly fogged in, as it had been on our first morning in Bled. We stopped partway down to take a few pictures.

At the bottom of the hill, not far from the Oštarija Peglez’n, lay Bled’s small commercial section, with stores, banks, and a two-story shopping mall. The street they were on merged into Cesta Svoboda (‘Freedom Avenue’), which runs around the narrow eastern end of the lake toward the older part of the town. We passed the casino (not a demonstration of heroic virtue, since gambling, when unrelated to investment, terrifies both of us) and went on to the tourist information office to pick up a map of the town. Continuing in the same direction, we came to the point where the shore curved away to the left, running past a couple of big hotels and beneath Bled Castle on its high rock. We were facing the higher ground occupied by Old Bled, and could see St. Martin’s big church in front of us, but instead of heading there we turned right and followed a street that took us uphill to the bus station.

The station was far from busy; in fact, it didn’t appear to be much more than a waiting room, and there was no one selling tickets. However, a travel agency occupied a small office in the building, and there we found a woman who assured us that we’d be able to purchase our tickets right on the bus the next day, and needn’t worry about finding seats. So the principal item on our agenda for the day was scratched off.

We peered into a few small stores; then we headed for the pastry shop that both of our guidebooks recommended: Slaščičarna Šmon. The first word means ‘sweet shop,’ and the second means ‘bear’ — the sign showed a bear eating an ice-cream cone. Rick Steves had said that locals considered this the best place for the Bled specialty kremna rezina, but Tina had already introduced us to that on Sunday in Radovljica, and although we both liked it, we were ready to try something else. Besides, we didn’t want to begin lunch with dessert, although we had no scruples (this being a vacation) about ending it that way.

Fortunately some of the baked goods behind the glass were savory rather than sweet, and we bought some burek. Burek is a popular fast food all over the former Yugoslavia, with variants in other places that once belonged to the Ottoman Empire. The name is Turkish in origin, and the food it refers to always consists of a filling enclosed in phyllo dough. Savory fillings include cheese, ground meat, and mushrooms; sweet ones include fruit and custard; and the shape varies according to local custom. In Bosnia, burek is rolled, but in Serbia and Macedonia it’s baked in round pies. This type was introduced to Croatia and Slovenia after World War II; these countries, which the Turks had sometimes overrun but never ruled, had not been acquainted with burek before that. (According to Wikipedia, the Serbian city of Niš claims the honor of being the home of the modern round burek, which it credits to a Turkish baker named Mehmet Oglu who settled there in 1498. It’s amazing what you can learn on the Internet.)

Another interesting culinary note: one of our favorite Greek desserts is galaktobouriko, made of phyllo dough with a custard filling. We didn’t realize until I was researching the subject for this site that its name contains burek (prefixed with the Greek word for milk, in reference to the filling).

Counter of Delights at Slaščičarna Šmon
At Slaščičarna Šmon we shared a quarter-pie of burek sirov (‘burek of cheese’), finding the cheese filling slightly sour — and thoroughly delicious. When we finished that, we went on to dessert, sharing grmada s smetan and doboš torta. The first (‘grmada with whipped cream’) was similar to the grmada we’d eaten on Sunday, when we also had kremna rezina, but a bit heavier on the whipped cream, as witness the name. The other dessert, spelled dobostorta in its homeland and Dobosch Torte in the former seat of empire, is a famous Hungarian specialty now known in many countries. The six thin layers of the cake were baked individually, like pancakes, and their al dente texture made an interesting contrast with the velvety chocolate butter cream between the layers. In Dorothea’s picture, you can see half a doboš torta near the left end of the second shelf from the bottom, above a tray of kremna rezina. The edge of a round burek is visible on the top shelf, at the right.

From the pastry shop we headed back in the direction we’d come until we reached the shopping mall at the foot of our hill. There we visited a supermarket to buy pocket tissues (which I constantly feared running out of) and insect repellent. We hadn’t seen any bugs yet, but the guidebooks had warned that we might encounter them in the Croatian national park we planned to visit later. Dorothea had packed some Deet, but found that the bottle had leaked. She’s a careful packer, so the leak was contained in the plastic bag she’d put the bottle into, but we needed to replace the contents. Puzzling our way through the labels (many of which were printed in German as well as Slovene, but none in English) we managed to find a suitable substitute.

We walked through the mall, noting the location of a restaurant we thought we might return to that night, and climbed the hill to the Mayer Penzion. We were back in our room at about 3:30, and we rested, read, and snoozed there until 6:30, at which time we set off down the hill again for the Arbor Bistro, the restaurant we had passed in the mall.

Despite this commercial location, the restaurant was quite pleasant inside, and its outside tables have a view of the lake, though on this wet evening no one was eating out there. We found the Arbor Bistro clean and tidy, a bit on the shiny side with its floor, ceiling, and walls all covered in marble. Perhaps because of the early hour as well as the weather, the restaurant was nearly empty, and the single waiter/barman was quiet and seemed shy. The menu was Italian — quite usual in Slovenia, since they’re neighboring countries — and we both ordered risotto. What we got was more like paella, with regular rice (not arborio, in spite of the restaurant’s name) cooked in good broth. Mine contained frutti di mare: generous quantities of octopus, mussels, and calamari. Dorothea had chicken and vegetables in hers. Though they didn’t conform to our notion of risotto, both dishes were good. I drank some white wine, and as per custom we shared a bottle of Radenska. Dessert was crepes. Although we had a long wait for them, they were well worth it. Dorothea’s were filled with a homemade sauce containing blueberries and other berries, and mine with banana and Nutella, a combination I had seen recommended somewhere, and was interested in trying. I found it good.