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New Europe

Day Two: Bled

Lake Bled 
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Lake Bled and the 1,000 year-old town around it. The church in the middle looks as if it's a ferry crossing the water.
Michael Palin - New EuropeWake early. Beyond the trees I can see grey light reflected on an eerily still water. Nothing is moving. There is silence apart from the muted chimes of the clock on the church in the middle of the lake, echoed discreetly by a chorus of more distant clocks in the town of Bled.

Villa Bled, where we're staying, is a beautiful, tranquil spot, the sort of place that monks or dictators might choose as a hideaway from the distractions of the world. In this case it was dictators, for this vast pile was built, in 1947, as a getaway for Josip Broz Tito, a.k.a Marshal Tito, one of the giants of post-war communism.

The hotel manager tells me Tito loved Slovenia because it was as far away as he could get from Russia and as close as he could get to Great Britain. Did I know that Elizabeth II had received and decorated him?

The manager shakes his head. 'Unheard of in a communist leader.'

What's more, she gave him a Rolls-Royce, adding to the already impressive stash of cars given him every Christmas by each grateful country of the Yugoslav Federation. Yugoslavia, generally reckoned to have been one of the more successful creations of post-war communism, never stood much of a chance after the charismatic Tito died in 1980. Slovenia was the first to challenge the system. The walk-out by Slovenian delegates in January 1990 made sure that the 14th Congress of the Yugoslav League of Communists would be the last. Two years and a short war later Slovenian independence was officially recognised.

Walking out this morning I have no sense of Slovenia's communist past.
A banner slung across the road announces, in English, that this is the 'Month of Asparagus'. History and religion, two of communism's great enemies, are celebrated everywhere, from the impossibly picturesque Church of the Assumption that sits on an island in the middle of the lake like a carnival float, to the soaring ramparts of the seventeenth-century castle high above the northern shore. The language sounds Germanic, lots of 'Ja Ja's, and the boatmen waiting for tourists are decked out in Tyrolean costume. Houses are of the Alpine style, with overhanging roofs, carved shutters and piles of fresh-cut wood neatly stacked by the doorways. It's not just any sniff of communism that's missing here, it's any sniff of the twentieth century. Bled is in Austro-Hapsburg costume.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Two: Bled
  • Country/sea: Slovenia
  • Place: Bled
  • Book page no: 12

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