Personal Journeys


December 05, 2004|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

Slovenia, Croatia: a European fairy tale

By Edith Hemling


In June, my husband and I embarked on a two-week trip to Slovenia and Croatia. Although we were looking forward to seeing this part of Eastern Europe, we knew of the troubled history and fighting in the former Yugoslavia and did not expect to see as many of the picturesque areas that are a part of the region.

Our first stop was Lake Bled, Slovenia, nestled in the Julian Alps. From the balcony of our room in the Park Hotel, we could see the still waters of the lake reflect the image of Bled Castle rising out of a rock formation above the lake. For centuries the castle served as the seat of the bishops of Brixen.

A road and walking path encircle the lake and are great for a leisurely walk, bike ride or drive. You can take time out to admire the scenery from benches surrounding the lake or to enjoy a drink or meal at one of the inns or restaurants along the way.

A 17th-century church, located on an island in the center of the lake (and only a short ride from shore by pletna -- the local version of a gondola), is a popular site for weddings. Tradition calls for the groom to carry his soon-to-be-bride up the 99 stone steps from the shore to the church.

Surprisingly, it is said that most young men make the climb and reach the top with their bride, having been cheered on by the wedding guests. Inside the church is a "wishing bell." Legend has it that a wish made while ringing the bell will come true. The pealing bells can be heard throughout the lake area, if not during a wedding, then from hopeful tourists pulling on the rope.

Another stop included a visit to Opatija on the "Croatian Riviera." We can understand why this area has long been a favorite of Europeans as well as vacationing royalty. The town is charming, and each bend along the 7.5-mile coastline seems to offer another breathtaking view.

In contrast to Lake Bled and the coastal areas of Croatia are remains of some of the villages that have been ravaged by the attacks and fighting of the 1990s. In one large Croatian village, only remnants of houses still stand. Land mines remain a danger, and it is not safe to explore on your own.

Dubrovnik, a walled 14th- century city that once rivaled Venice, was our last stop. The city has been largely restored as a cultural heritage site, and again receives visitors from all over the world.

We returned home with memories of many interesting experiences in this Eastern European region, and pictures that almost look as if they were taken from the pages of a fairy tale.

Edith Hemling lives in Bel Air.

My Best Shot

Paulette Zee, Ellicott City

A desert paradise

My husband and I joined friends on an unforgettable odyssey to Namibia this summer. This African desert paradise offers a spectacular coast, exotic animals, a diverse and friendly population and above all, beautiful terrain. In the Namib desert, there are enormous red dunes that seem to reach to the sky. This particular dune was especially majestic. The light was just right, and I asked our driver to stop along the road so I could capture the image.

Readers Recommend

Santorini, Greece

Joyce Skalinski, Bel Air

The thermal springs of Palea Kameni are located on one of the islands in the center of the Santorini caldera. The deep-green sulfur springs are mineral-rich, warm waters that will leave you relaxed and invigorated after even a short swim. Santorini (also known as Thira) is one of the most spectacular places in the Aegean.

Grazalema, Spain

John Wogan, Owings Mills

Tiny, untroubled Grazalema is nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains of southern Spain. The highest and wettest municipality in Andalucia is a fertile setting for the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, a protected UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Grazalema is not nearly as crowded as nearby and well-known Ronda, but it's more picturesque and even has its own interesting Roman and Moorish ruins.

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