Hong Kong is not a place that many associate with mountains and nature, but past one of the best skylines in the world and the tangle of tramways are beaches and outstanding hiking trails. In the far east side of Hong Kong’s relatively rural Sai Kung District is the Sheng Luk Hillstream. In Flickr user Bo Li‘s photo, it seems as though we are far from actually being in one of the most densely populated places in the world.
If you don’t already know that Lake Bled is the most popular tourist attraction in Slovenia you’ll know it the moment you arrive. There’s a casino. There’s a Shamrock Irish Pub. There’s even one of those tourist buses made up to look like a choo-choo train. It’s horrible.
But look out across the emerald-green water sparkling in the sunshine and all that disappears. Instead, you see a storybook landscape – a lush little island with a church spire peeking out over the greenery, snow-covered Alps beyond and, on one shore, a steep cliff atop which looms a formidable castle. It’s like something from Wagner.
The best way to see Lake Bled is to take a slow stroll around it. A path makes the entire 3.7-mile circuit. Most of the hotels and nearly all the businesses are clustered into one small town, so you soon leave the noise and people behind. Much of the walk is shaded and you can admire the lake from all angles. At one point there’s a sign for Osojnica hill. A moderately challenging 15-minute climb will reward you with fine views of the island and its church.
Most visitors head up to Bled Castle, one of the most impressive of Slovenia’s many castles. It’s a 16th-century fortress/manor house built on 11th-century foundations. While picturesque from afar, I’d recommend not visiting it because you’ll spoil the illusion. As soon as you enter the front gate someone shouts, “Smile!” and snaps your photo. When you leave they’ll offer you an image of yourself looking slightly surprised and confused for only €6.50 ($8.60).
%Slideshow-599%Once you make it past the photographer, you can visit an old-style print shop, where you can buy handmade prints; or you can visit the wine cellar, where you can buy wine; or you can visit the smithy with its fake forge and array of metalwork for sale. The only redeeming spots are the fine little castle church with its 16th-century frescoes and the views over Lake Bled. Since you can get just as good views from Osojnica hill for free, there’s really not much need to come here.
While Bled Island and its Church of the Assumption are equally touristy, they feel slightly less spoiled than the castle. At least people aren’t trying to sell you something all the time. The approach is nicer too – instead of slogging up a steep hill, you’re rowed across the lake on a gondola. When I went to the lakeside to catch a boat, a tour bus pulled up and disgorged a huge crowd of South Koreans, mostly women in their 50s with a couple of camera-toting husbands in tow.
We all piled into three gondolas and set out. The women in one of the boats started singing and their voices carried nicely over the water. I shared the stern of my boat with two ladies. Everyone thought this was funny for some reason and started snapping photos of us. The lone Korean man in our boat stood up to take a shot and, figuring I’d give him something to talk about back home, I put my arms around the two women. They started giggling. For them, at least, I’m still a young man.
The photographer gave me a wide grin and took our photograph. After he sat down one of the women turned to me and said, “That’s my husband.”
The man must have overheard because he laughed. Then he pointed at me and said, “You kimchi.”
I swear to God that’s what he said. “You kimchi.”
Maybe Gadling’s resident Korea expert can shed some light on this?
Once we got off the boat, the oarsman grumpily announced that we only had half an hour. That’s plenty of time because the island is tiny. A quiet little path goes around the edge. It took me barely five minutes to make the circuit even though I kept stopping to take pictures. Then I rejoined my temporary travel companions in the church.
The church has some lovely 14th-century frescoes but that’s not why people come here. They come here to ring the bell. There’s some local legend about how it gives you luck for some reason or other. I didn’t bother to write it down since it was probably made up for tourists anyway. Still, I wasn’t about to pass up the chance for some good luck and I got in line with the rest. A sign on the floor gave strict instructions not to swing from the bell rope. Most of the women did anyway.
That bell rang and rang. Since a steady stream of visitors passes through the island, you can hear that bell ringing from early in the morning until sunset. It hardly ever seems to stop. Lake Bled has a lot of luck to give.
The women thought I was very strong because I could ring the bell without swinging from it. Thanks, ladies! Maybe that was the luck the bell had for me – the admiration of a crowd of middle-aged South Koreans. It’s not much, but how much magic do you expect from a tourist trap?
Despite all this nonsense, is Lake Bled still worth a visit? Oh yes. It is simply beautiful. Even in a steady downpour it had a majestic quality to it, and when the clouds broke it became one of the most beautiful spots I’ve seen in 25 years and 34 countries of travel. I would suggest visiting Lake Bled but actually staying at the less-visited but equally beautiful Lake Bohinj in Triglav National Park. More on that in the next post.
Check out the rest of my series, “Slovenia: Hikes, History and Horseburgers.”
Coming up next: Hiking in Triglav National Park!
Just past the eastern terminus of the Tioga Pass, the entryway to Yosemite National Park, is the quietly beautiful Mono Lake. The area is unique due to its salinity and eerie tufa rock formations that jut out from the water, which give it a completely unreal appearance. Flickr user Pacheco took this amazing photo of the moonrise after a two-day mission to get the perfect Mono lake photo. He absolutely succeeded.
The surrounding area is fantastic as well because it has these little roads that stretch on into the mountains that are perfect to drive on and are often empty of anyone else. California is not often associated with its mountainous landscapes, but in large part thanks to it huge size, it has some of the best natural beauty in the United States.
In northern Italy, the Alps meet Lake Como at the comune of Bellagio to form some of the most beautiful vistas in Europe. Not only has the region provided inspiration for the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, but it is unequivocally gorgeous. Instagram user Jason Rodman absolutely captured the best thing to do at locations such as this, just sitting alone with your thoughts.
If you have a great travel photo, share it with us and it could be featured as our Photo of the Day! You can do so either by tagging your Instagram photos with #Gadling and mentioning us @GadlingTravel, like Jason did, or by submitting it to our Gadling Flickr Pool.
[Photo Credit: Instagram user jrodmanjr]
In the Scottish Highlands, on Loch Shiel, sits Glenfinnan, a small village with an amazing view. Darby Sawchuck took this incredibly lit photo of the loch, really evoking the lush green of the landscape and the beautifully wide valley. Despite it being clear that this region sees plenty of rain, it would be worth weathering through just to see this sight when you wake up in the morning.
If you have a great travel photo submit it to us and it could be featured as our Photo of the Day! You can do so either via our Flickr Photo Pool or by tagging your Instagram photos with #Gadling and mentioning us, @GadlingTravel.
[Photo Credit: Flickr User Darby Sawchuck]