“Si supieras que me ahoga tanta libertad.”
– Vuelve, Juan Magán
Getting to Lake Bled, Slovenia last summer was hardly a walk in the park.
From our point of origin in Venice, I devised a route that first took us on a train from Venezia Santa Lucia at 07:41 to Trieste Centrale. In central Trieste, we hopped on the historic tram up to Villa Opicina, an elevated village located up in the mountains, where we then walked from the tram stop to the train station — a good 20-minute exercise, especially with our backpacks — to catch the train to Sežana, a small Slovenian town bordering Italy.
Here, at long last, we took our last connecting train to Lake Bled, where we arrived at 17:02, nearly ten hours after our morning train carried us away from Venice. But once we reached our destination, my traveling companion and I could hardly wait to explore the abundance of nature Bled reportedly had to offer.
I will always remember Lake Bled for being the quintessential summer destination I’d always dreamed of visiting with my childhood friend. In a way we are polar opposites — she, rather whimsical and absent-minded at times, and I, more methodic and introspective in my ways. But the common ground that unites us — above all the shared experience of growing up as Third Culture Kids — are also so vast. This I feel is the main source of strength for our friendship.
Sometimes our contradicting characters fuse together so well, they end up bringing us on memorable adventures we will cherish for many years to come. One afternoon after walking through the magnificent Vintgar Gorge —
— then hiking back to Lake Bled while listening to reggaetón (having missed the last bus back), and taking the Pletna boat (only ever used in Bled) to the island and back to the mainland, we decided that up next on our agenda for the day was to swim in one of the lake’s crowded beaches — but first, a quick stop to the ice cream shop!
While queuing to pay for entry into the beach, we saw that for an extra €2, we could rent a kayak to the island instead, which could still offer the option of swimming in the lake — and best of all, anywhere in or around the lake. My friend voiced the desire I’d restrained myself from entertaining further — that is, to kayak to the island, and perhaps swim around it — thinking it impossible as I’d never kayaked before. “Me neither!” said my friend.
And so we rented the kayak.
We found ourselves in a state of delirious excitement, which was perhaps unwise prior to such a spontaneous undertaking. But running on adrenaline, we both hopped onto the kayak and rowed away. We soon found a rhythm to rowing that matched our respective personalities and headed steadily towards the magical island in the middle of the lake. The weather was magnificent, and the water nice, cool, and calming. When we reached the island, we parked the kayak, undressed, left our things in a hidden corner, and jumped in. For the next two hours we spent getting intimate with the island, our PhDs, Cambridge, and polygamy ceased to exist.
Having swum halfway around the island, we stopped to catch our breath at the deck where there were many Korean tourists, whom I greeted in the smatterings of Korean I’d picked up from my intermittent obsessions with K-drama. They were impressed and stayed to chat, even taking a photo with us before leaving. Some German gentlemen swimming nearby were also amused to see us two Asians prowling around the island, minding our own business yet acutely aware of the attention and curiosity our foreignness attracted in this part of the world.
Hiking, kayaking, and swimming all in one afternoon proved to be exhausting. While catching a brief repose, my friend and I lied on our backs on the deck at the edge of Bled Island, savoring the warm sun on our sunburnt faces and each other’s company in silence, with the summer sound of youthful laughter and chattering floating in the distance. This was one of those moments so Natasha Rostov-esquely beautiful, one could hardly fathom the thought of evil existing in the world and in which all grudges and faults are forgiven and forgotten (for the moment).
My friend and I have been through our share of things, but Lake Bled is perhaps la crème de la crème. We all need a friend on that hike up the mountain — whether it’s the Julian Alps pictured below or a PhD we’re trying to conquer in four years. The best thing about having a companion on your way up is that the view atop the mountain — once you reach it — is always, always more magnificent when shared with the person who’s been by your side this whole time.