This is the day we’ve been waiting for….the day that had us scrambling to change our plans a few weeks ago….shortening our time to tour Lake Bled, moving our drive through the Julian Alps up a day and necessitating another night at the Hotel Garni Berc. Why? Because today is the day of the Kravji Bal in nearby Lake Bohinj….the day that the cows (adorned with bells, flowers and wreaths) are led home after a long summer in the mountain pastures.
breads, cheeses and cow bells were just setting up…..
The cows’ return was still hours away when we began to feel raindrops…..scattered and light at first, then faster and heavier…..soon, the dancers began slipping and sliding on the stage! We were soaked though by the time we found shelter under the awning of a booth. We watched in awe as the rain literally poured down. In all my life, I’ve never seen raindrops as big as these! Each drop could have filled a shot glass! We laughed aloud and wondered if the cow parade would be called off.
But then the sun came out, the dancers returned to the stage and we decided to wait for the cows. Having already explored all of the booths, and needing to occupy ourselves for a few more hours, we headed down a trail that led to a popular waterfall.
As we rounded a bend in the trail, cheerful chords of accordion music greeted us. Two men in traditional dress were joyfully playing folk tunes next to the most charming of these woodland homes. Cows adorned with leafy wreaths were milling in it’s pasture and a happy couple (Egon and Nina, according to names on homespun benches) were serving food and drink to lucky passersby.
As we continued on to the waterfall, the skies once again darkened. Not wanting to be far from shelter, I stopped at a park bench, telling Craig that I’d wait at Egon & Nina’s cottage if it started raining. I bided my time…..not sure how long it would take Craig to walk to the waterfall and back. People came and went……but not Craig. After what seemed an eternity (probably 20 minutes), I detected activity at the Hansel & Gretel house…..people were changing into costume, horses and wagons were arriving, cows were getting restless. I moved a little closer, watching the preparations from the split-rail fence that penned in the cows.
I asked a couple returning from the waterfall if they had seen a man wearing a black shirt and black cap. They said they had…..and that he was only 10 or 15 minutes behind them. I returned to the bench to wait for him. Five minutes passed…..then ten…..then fifteen. I was already beginning to get angry when something caught my eye….I looked up…..there was more activity at the cottage! Dang it, we had come here for the cow parade not for a stupid waterfall!
I headed back to the cottage, warmly greeted by Nina (and a plate of hors d’oeuvres) & Egon (who delivered a very welcome glass of wine). Wanting to save this moment for posterity, I reached for my camera…..but it wasn’t there. It was with Craig…..at the waterfall. Fortunately (for Craig), a little food and wine soothed the nerves. I sat on a nearby bench and waited for the festivities to begin.
Craig came running down the trail just as the cows were being herded up for the parade. Out of breath, he sat down and panted that the waterfall was pitiful…..barely a trickle. I smiled and told him I had been enjoying wine and Slovenian treats.
At a pre-arranged signal, the costumed townsfolk and cows, with their bells jangling merrily, began their march. Cows in the pastures along the way joined in. A band followed behind, playing lively melodies. It was a happy, joyful day for anyone lucky enough to be there.
It was still early, so we drove to Radovljica….home to a museum suggested to us by a beekeeper selling his honey in one of the booths we had visited. Colorful little plaques had caught my eye. The beekeeper explained that they were copies of antique frontboards, painted panels that Slovenian beekeepers attached to their hives. Surrounded by stacks and stacks of hive boxes, these colorful panels may have helped the bees find their home…..or maybe they helped to identify the beekeeper…..we heard both stories (and preferred the first). The beekeeper encouraged us to go to the Beekeeping Museum…..so that’s how we found ourselves in nearby Radovljica walking up the stone steps of an old manor house.
The small museum traced the history of beekeeping (Slovenian Anton Janša is considered the father of modern beekeeping) and included exhibits of beekeeping tools, a living hive (with bees buzzing outdoors through a sturdy tube) and antique frontboards. To help protect the hives, the earliest panels portrayed religious events. Later on, the panels depicted historical or satirical themes (one of our favorites was the ‘Hunter’s Funeral’ showing a group of happy animals carrying a deceased hunter to his grave, the only animal who’s sad is the hunter’s dog).
Touring the museum didn’t take long…..we were back in the car and on our way to Lake Bled within an hour. As we approached the lake, we reviewed our options…..a walk around the lake or a visit to the high and lofty Bled Castle? After his hike to the waterfall, Craig wasn’t up for another walk…..so we drove up the precipe to the castle, parked in a lot almost devoid of tour buses and walked up a steep cobblestone path to the castle’s courtyard…..only to find that Bled Castle is more commercial than historic nowadays…..with Printing Works (a working replica of Guttenberg’s press prints souvenirs), a Wine Cellar (where, for a small fee, Brother Andre helps bottle and cork a “fine” wine), a Forge (souvenir coins available), an Herb Gallery (closed when we were there), a History Museum and the Castle Restaurant.
When returned to the hotel to clean up for dinner, the skies opened once again. We sat on our little balcony, watching and listening to the rain….so much more insistent and clamorous than the showers we remembered from California. Croatian wine and Slovenian of honey-spice cookies would suffice for dinner tonight.
“The rain began again. It fell heavily, easily, with no meaning or intention but the fulfilment of its own nature, which was to fall and fall.” ~ Helen Garner