Saturday, November 30, 2019

Baylor Family Croatia, Slovenia and Trieste 2019, Chapter 13: A small but engaging Christmas market in Bled.

Previously, we didn't jump in the lake -- we walked around it.

For the second year in a row, and the third time since 2009, our European travels coincided with the Christmas holiday season during the period when holiday markets and fairs spring up all across the continent.

Of course, by "our" I mean Roger and Diana: We've taken in Christmas markets twice in Germany (2009 in Bamberg and 2018 in Munich), and once in Slovenia last month. The Christmas market opened in Lake Bled on the day we arrived, as did Ljubljana's and Zagreb's annual versions. The Christmas season in Trieste began the weekend after we returned home.

Actually there was another time long ago when I found myself in Europe during the holidays. This came when I was teaching English in Košice, a city then in Czechoslovakia, now part of independent Slovakia. I stayed there through Christmas of 1991, then into early 1992. I've no recollection of a Christmas market or fair in Košice during my presence.

Conversely my memories of Košice on St. Nicholas Day (December 6) and both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are very clear. A few of my students were very kind, opening their homes and including me in their galas. I also remember quite well the low-key, non-consumerist vibe of the season, as well as the happiness when the street vendors began selling farm-raised carp from big street-side tubs. It's a traditional Slovak Christmas meal.

Were I to hazard a guess, it's that in 1991 communism hadn't been gone long enough for older traditions to return. For corroborating evidence, a web page for Košice's 2019 Christmas Market refers to it as the 25th celebration, which would place the first one in 1995, four years after my stint at university hospital.

Maybe some day we can go to Košice for Christmas, and this sentiment might surprise some readers. It shouldn't. As an example, the Christmas market in Bled proved to be small but filled with heart. It was equipped for any visitor to eat, drink, shop for arts and crafts, and celebrate the festive season with friends -- or strangers. The idea is to socialize, irrespective of the weather or one's own religious perspective. The locals were welcoming, and the were having fun. So were we.

To be truthful, "carnival" food always attracts my attention. This absolutely delicious item is called posmodulja.

Take a close look at the woman working and the oven setup to the right.

It's the same people who are explaining posmodulja in this video; it's in Slovenian, although visuals are enough.

Coincidentally there's an English-language description of posmodulja from a blogger who probably visited the very same summertime gastronomy festival depicted in the video.

We stumbled upon a Gastronomy Festival, which showcased food from all over Slovenia. It had a very Christmas Market-esque feel to it, and we couldn’t decide what to try! Ultimately, we decided to get a “posmodulja,” which is an old, almost forgotten Slovenian dish: dough leftovers, kneaded into a round shape, spread with a mixture of sour cream, herbs, or minced bacon, topped with cheese, and baked in the oven. It was prepared and cooked in a brick oven in front of us, and absolutely delicious! It tasted similar to a white pizza with garlic and rosemary, and it was oh so very tasty!

Yes, the posmodulja was quite tasty. So was this foot-long Carniolan sausage with mild kraut.

"Carniolan" refers to the former Duchy of Carniola, the historical boundaries of which comprise roughly half of Slovenia's population.

A different pass-through at Lake Bled's Christmas market yielded a tender, medium-rare beef carpaccio and roasted potatoes. Kremna rezina (cream cake; there'll be a separate post about it) was there, and cans of Slovenian beer were readily available, along with the inevitable mulled wine.

Following are a few views of Bled (the town) and Lake Bled (the attraction) during the Christmas season.

Next, a favorite Bled pub ... since 1903.

Baylor Family Croatia, Slovenia and Trieste 2019, Chapter 12: The beauty of Lake Bled.

A crowded train brought us from Ljubljana to Bled, where we considered the considerable merits of kremna rezina (cream cake).

Actually the train on Friday brought us to the town of Lesce, a few clicks away from Bled by taxi.

The idea of a railway from Vienna to Trieste, via Maribor and Ljubljana in present-day Slovenia, dates to 1829. At the time, all these locales were Habsburg domains. The first actual through train from Vienna to Trieste finally ran in 1857.

Lesce is not on this line.

Rather, it's on the stretch of railroad extending north from Ljubljana, through Villach in Austria to Salzburg (and on to Munich). I took this picture from the rail car window when we stopped just outside Lesce.

However, as the gateway to Lake Bled, Lesce is less than an hour from Ljubljana.

The point to this digression is that since medieval times, Bled has been a tourist town because pilgrims came to the island church (Church of Mary the Queen, also known as the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary, or Our Lady of the Lake).

Then, since the mid- to late-1800s, Lake Bled not only has been a known vacation spot, but a place easily accessible by rail from two of the continent's wealthier population centers.

Friday afternoon was devoted to an orientation stroll with bouts of snacking and drinks. The Christmas market was open (it will be depicted in the next chapter), but in many respects our visit to Lake Bled took place during regional tourism's shoulder season; "summer" ends in October, and then things are relatively quiet until it snows, when winter sports and skiing rev up in the surrounding mountains.

Dinner was taken at our Hotel Astoria Bled, where we shared a somnolent dining room with one other table. Understandably, there was a fixed-price menu with the barest of options, and the bar didn't bother opening. Shrug. This photo is of a beer garden nearby which I'd have patronized, except it was closed for the season.

Saturday morning's breakfast buffet was better. I heartily approved the inclusion of spreadable lard as part of a "local products" table (with cheese, salami and sausage). Lard is better smeared on bread as an accompaniment to beer, as opposed to coffee. But we all make do.

As in Ljubljana, it was expected that we'd be dodging patches of rain throughout the weekend. Luckily most of the precipitation came at night. With the Saturday morning forecast cool and cloudy with little chance of rain, we decided to circumnavigate the lake, a four-mile walk. It was a rewarding hike.

Here are highlights, beginning on the north side of the lake and returning via the south shore.

The next few photos are of the Tito's villa, Vila Bled (now a hotel) and the immediate vicinity.


After Saturday's walk we enjoyed a bite at the Christmas market and purchased supplies for sandwiches to eat later in the evening. We'd booked time in the evening at the hotel's spa, which includes hot tubs and saunas. It was a fine, steamy way to wind down from a long, rewarding day.

Next, the Christmas market at Bled.