It’s 1985 and I have just finished my junior year of high school. My parents and I embark on a three-week trip to Europe, but I’d much rather be at home with my friends.
We spend three harrowing days in Vienna. Why do I say harrowing? Because I blew out my contact lens cleaning machine when I forgot to use the correct electrical adapter. I’m forced to wearing my glasses for an entire evening until we purchase a new machine.
Then, my parents have the brilliant idea of hiring a guide to take us to Budapest for the day. Back then, Hungary was still a communist country and I really didn’t want to be stuck behind the Iron Curtain and miss my senior year of high school. The day trip turned out fine, but I had written postcards to my friends telling them if I didn’t come home at the end of June, my family and I were being held prisoner in Hungary.
Now that we leave Vienna and head towards Venice, where we’ll get on a cruise ship, I relax a bit. We drive through Austria and spend the night near Klagenfurt at a resort called Portschach. It is beautiful! Lake Worthersee, sailboats and plenty of outdoor activities manage to turn my sour disposition around. The next day, we go through Lake Bled in Yugoslavia. It’s another warm-weather town with a lake. Although we don’t spend much time there, I vow to return.
Fast forward several decades. After finalizing a cruise departing Venice, I know where I want to take my family first. You guessed it – Portschach, Austria and Lake Bled, Slovenia.
We arrive at the ParkHotel where I stayed with my folks back in the mid-80’s. Large plate-glass windows frame Lake Worthersee as we enter the hotel. Yes – this is the place. Walking outside, the lake seems much bigger. Multiple hotels dot the promenade area. It may have always been there, but I only remember the Park Hotel. Back in 1985, we arrived in time for dinner by the large windows and left shortly after breakfast. This time, I’m the adult and can set the schedule!
We stop for lunch at the Restaurant Pruller in the Strand Hotel. Fortunately, tourists haven’t arrived as it’s late May and a weekday so I feel we have the place to ourselves. We walk along the Johannes Brahms Promenade back to the ParkHotel.
Now we head to Lake Bled just an hour away. On the 1985 trip, Lake Bled was part of Yugoslavia. As we cross into Slovenia, we see the old Communist style checkpoint from long ago.
Soon we arrive in Bled – a city nestled in the hills around a glacial lake. In the middle of the lake is a tiny island with a church and bell tower. As we drive around the lake, we pass a beach area and a castle. Getting back to the main area of town, we park at the visitor center to get a map and our bearings.
The docent tells us to walk towards the water where we’ll find “pletna” boats to take us to the island – the only island in Slovenia. As we’re walking down, a young man has a partially filled wooden boat and asks if we want to ride. For $14 Euros each, we agree to take the 90-minute trip. On the pletna boat, the captain has to row all of us (about 20 people) by himself. There is no engine, motor or sail to assist him.
We learn from the couple sitting next to us that we just missed a huge rainstorm. As we get further from the town, we pass large mansions. Another passenger explains that one of these is owned by a wealthy Russian.
Soon we arrive at the island where we hear bells tolling from the bell tower.
We walk around the island in a clockwise path. At the far end, we see a lot of stairs – 99 to be exact – leading to the Church of the Assumption. This also seems to be the main docking point for the electric boats depositing loads of tourists. At the top, scaffolding covers the church building. Since we’re short on time, we decide not to climb the bell tower.
Instead, we dip our toes into the cold water while watching more boats arrive.
On the boat ride back, another passenger tells us to try the Bled cream cake the region is famous for. We stop at an open air restaurant and try it. It is delicious.
As we head out of town, we drive up to Bled Castle.
On the way back to our hotel in Klagenfurt, I reflected on our day’s adventure. It was everything I remembered and even better. Portschache and Bled aren’t the first towns to jump in people’s minds when you book a trip to Europe so I’m glad we could see these off-the-beaten path treasures!