Last year I saw a photo of a Slovenian lake in a magazine. The water was turquoise blue and crystal clear. I instantly messaged my friend Emma asking her if she fancied a swimming trip, lucky for me she did! Next thing I knew she had found an air bnb near the lake in the photo, a whole six months in advance and we booked it and flights — it is very rare for me to be so organised! But I must say it was so lovely to have a little adventure holiday in the diary.
I flew to the capital of Slovenia, Ljublijana, from Gatwick. No such luck making life easy by flying from Bristol or Exeter — the joys of Devon life! I met the girls in the arrivals café — they had caught earlier flights from Stansted and Edinburgh. I hadn’t seen Emma for about two years so I was excited — she is one of the kindest, most genuine, non-judgmental people I know. I was also slightly apprehensive because I know she is a mega swimmer and I am not! She had invited three other girls I didn’t know — now some people would think it is a bit mad to use holiday time to go on a trip with strangers but as soon as I saw them nattering away in arrivals and greeting me with warm welcoming smiles I was reassured that this holiday was going be a cracker 🙂 . Emma had emphasized the trip should be whatever we wanted it to be, and to feel free to do as little or as much as we wanted. However, from the whatsapp banter it didn’t sound like there would be much opportunity for rest, I figured it was likely they would go hiking or running, so to make the most of my time I bought my road bike as well as my wetsuit. Excitement doesn’t even describe it.
Within the first hour I learnt that Victoria, a cardio thoracic trauma surgeon had been on death’s door not once but twice, a severe head injury from cycling and falling off her bike had put her in quite a life threatening condition with a heart rate of 19 bpm, and later contracting a serious bout of meningitis. Then in the super market she casually mentioned she may be pregnant and should probably buy a pregnancy test. Also that Hazel’s boyfriend has a pace maker and then a suspected brain tumor (it was actually a very large cyst). The girls had all had various other major life changing events; which made my foot and ovarian cyst seem really rather small in comparison! It also became quickly apparent that Emma and I were so so English compared to these other three Scottish lasses!
About 30 minutes on from the supermarket we found our little cabin nestled in the woods. Surrounded by towering trees and mountains, it was magical and like nowhere I had been before. By the time we arrived, it was definitely time for dinner so we all quickly assigned ourselves jobs and tucked into a delicious stir-fry. It slightly felt like a reality TV show — put five random girls together, make them go shopping in a foreign super market, then cook dinner! It is quite interesting how we all automatically take on different tasks and voila a feast comes to life! Perhaps it should also be noted that never was there a dull moment with a bunch of strangers either; constant chitter chatter and laughter (one evening we all laughed so much over a photo of Fee that we were nearly sick with laughter! Isn’t it the best feeling when you cry and physically hurt with laughter?!)
I digress; once darkness had descended, and with satisfied bellies we got suited and booted into wetsuits and off we went for a night swim! Wow what an experience, not only was it my first swim in a lake, it was my first swim under moonlight (well, sober and fully dressed at least!). The weather was calm; the moonlight silhouetting the mountains, projecting shimmery silver reflections onto the motionless lake, and tiny fireflies danced on the surface of the water — it was honestly like being in a fairy tale. Admittedly we slightly disturbed the peace with our anticipation and excitement getting the better of us! With glow sticks wedged between our swimming hats and goggles, despite my body feeling the bite of chilled fresh water as it surrounded me and leaked into the little holes in my wetsuit I concentrated on being calm and appreciating the moment and became at one with the environment I had been immersed in.
I was a little scared of the unknown and what could be lurking underneath but I focused on appreciating what I was doing and decided to simply go with it and experience the magic and splendor. The water was so dark it felt like we were swimming in tar. Years ago I went to an art installation where I had to walk down a narrow walk way surrounded by tar — it felt just like that except we were swimming through it.
The following day we had a civilized start, after a hearty breakfast we wondered through some woodland, down a path, over a bridge to the most eye dazzling river I have ever seen.
I know it must sound like I am romanticizing this for the sake of some writing, but honestly, by no way of a lie it was truly magical — turquoise blues, emerald greens and crystal clear waters. After filling up my phone’s memory with photos we weaved down to a clearing where we were greeted by the lake in all it’s splendor.
Seeing it in daylight was so different and gave us a much clearer picture of where we were and where we had swum the night before. We were in the heart of the mountains, there is an old wives tale in Bohinj that the people of Bohinj were forgotten about during God’s creation of Planet Earth; he then printed his thumb down creating the lake and put all the beautiful things left over around his thumb print creating Lake Bohinj; there could be some truth in this! It is a thing of beauty for sure. We had a little paddle and then head back to our cabin to grab our wetsuits and a picnic and head to the same area we had swam the previous night. Yet again we were greeted with a spectacular view.
There was no wind, no motor boats, no people; it was just us, a mummy duck with her ducklings, and some little fish swimming close to the shore. This place was untouched and unspoilt; heaven.
We had a gentle 1.8km swim across the lake and back, stopping for photos, girly chit chat and giggles; plenty of giggles!
It was my first proper experience of not swimming in the sea — it was so easy in comparison. I was less scared of what was lurking beneath. Back in Devon I have this constant fear when swimming in the sea of jellyfish and sharks but in the lake it disappeared. It helped that the sun was shining and reflecting into the water and even though as we got deeper the water was murky, it was turquoise and unintimidating. I still took my tow float (Wilma) because she gives me added confidence and helps me relax! Wilma and I are a team!
Once the heat of the day had passed and we had demolished a picnic, we went back to the ranch to relax.
I forced myself out for a short ride — I would have been very happy chilling out with my new found friends but it had cost me £98 and a bike bag to have my bike there so I had to make the most of it! I cycled close to a little waterfall, which is said to be a big tourist attraction of the area and then to the far end of the lake. Just a short ride but nice to spin the legs and see a bit more of the area on two wheels.
Over dinner we discussed the plans for the next day — the girls were keen for a hike. The area is a ski resort nestled in the Julian Alps in the winter so there is gondola access to the top so they planned to hike up and gondola down. The view from the top looked beautiful and when my foot is hike worthy I will be back to head up there myself! The lake looked amazing from up high; I knew I wanted to swim the whole length of it before I had even got on the plane but seeing a photo on their phones only cemented the idea.
Pre hike the girls estimated it would be roughly a 5 hour round trip so that gave me ample time for a lengthy ride. I planned a loop via Lake Bled — 75km and 1500m climbing; knowing full well it would take a while because I have a habit of stopping to take photos!
One way was hilly and the other flat, I opted for flat first because the weather was a bit overcast. I cycled through little villages where all the houses had very pointy roofs; many houses had barns near by storing wood and tractors; and I later discovered this would be very handy to shelter from rain! Yes I got caught in a rainstorm. I couldn’t believe I had cycled the whole way across France not even a month earlier and hadn’t really seen any bad weather; then I come on a “hot” holiday and was standing drenched next to a puddle debating what to do. I was nervous about cycling in the rain when I didn’t know the area or speak the language. Somehow cycling across France didn’t phase me too much because it feels like home. But this felt different. Anyway I just decided to man up; of course if I was on a journey turning back wouldn’t be an option and actually testing my courage is what I needed because I plan to do some more adventures so wimping out was out of the question. Luckily being June I also thought surely the sun would come out eventually; which it did. As I reached Lake Bled the sun shone once again and dried me off nicely. Lake Bled was nice, but I must say it didn’t quite live up to expectations. I felt selfishly smug that “our” lake was prettier, less touristy and more swimmer friendly.
By this stage I could have done with a coffee (essential to any cyclist!) However, I felt I should push on. Slowly the roads became undulating, then increased to gently inclines, which then ramped up a notch or two which I wasn’t quite prepared for! The climbing went on for ages — I’m not sure why I was surprised by this, you only have to look around you to see the area is fairly mountainous! Tell me, does ascending ever get easier?! Its moments like this I really wish I wasn’t such a hefalump! I passed a few people on their mountain bikes; respect to them, I was on a carbon road bike with an 11 32 and it felt tiring enough! The climb was very different to cycling in France — there was less to see because tall evergreen trees guarded the road side the whole way. Once the hill eased out, the roads were long and flat and fun; again surrounded by tall towering fir trees — it felt completely remote and the only other living thing I saw was a deer crossing the road in front of me. There were piles and piles of logs on the roadside — I felt like I could be in Canada, all I needed was a moose! (Yes this is how I imagine Canada to be-logs, trees, and moose!) By this point the sun was in full shine mode so I was boiling hot and a bit of a sweaty betty!
However just before descending and seeing the lake I did notice some rather ominous looking clouds so I didn’t hang around too long. I had also heard from the girls and they would be back within 30mins so I got my descending skills on and head home on a high. The area where we were staying seemed much more set up for mountain bikes and hybrids with trails everywhere; many bike shops offering mountain bike rental. I didn’t see any road cyclists but I had just had a wonderful ride and decided Slovenia is a must see for any roady.
Once re fuelled we walked to a near by beach for a dip — a gente 1.7km ish swim. It was flat calm and so easy to glide through the water. A great way to relax the legs after quite a long ride, even if they did feel a little heavy. I was going to sleep well that night!
Over dinner we planned the next day, which was going to be the biggy! We were all comfy swimming in each other’s company and were similar speeds, we also all wanted a little challenge to round the holiday off, so swimming across the longest part of the lake seemed like the obvious thing to do. One of the girls was less keen to swim the whole way so kindly volunteered herself as our support team on a paddle board (22euro for four hours, bargain), which was fantastic because that way we could load her board up with water and a few snacks. Later, she described her experience rather aptly — feeding time at the zoo for the seals! NB one of my favourite snacks were Emma’s home made bounty bars, but perhaps not ideal for swimming because you get desicated coconut stuck in your throat; good alternative options are dates, apricots and haribo.
Victoria (the surgeon) and Hazel (a crazy fun Scottish chick who works for National Geographic and lives in Geneva) had never swum over 2 km so there were a few nerves. Although, they have both done adventure triathalons and other crazy things like the Marathon Des Sables so I’m not sure why they were so apprehensive, they were far more capable than I was — which just goes to show no matter how experienced, fit, capable we are, nerves are natural! Having said that, I was pretty chilled out but because the weather in the morning (rain rain and more rain) prolonged our start I ended up feeling a little nervous myself. Once we had sorted logistics out with the support paddleboard we donned our gorgeous goggled look once again and were set to tackle the less than ideal conditions.
The lake wasn’t enticing; it was windy and over cast but hey ho, as we all know the mountains are beautiful but with it they bring unpredictable conditions. It started off choppy, so in between the waves we kept an eye out for the little bobbing splashes of colour of our swim hats and floats (all named of course — Wilma, Sebastian, and Louis).
We each found our natural rhythm, and dotted around the paddle board. We were fairly spaced out but seeing the occasional flash of colour was comforting; and with a paddle boarder circling us as well I felt safe. It rained part way through, but then settled for the second half to the flat calm sunny conditions we had become accustomed to. I started off pretty strong but then slowly found myself bringing up the rear; I put it down to my ride the day before! Haha! And 3/4s of the way through I really was kind of tired! It didn’t matter though, that’s the thing about swimming, you just have to find your pace and get in to the moment and in the words of Dory from Finding Nemo “just keep on swimming!”. I enjoy swimming for many reasons, but I think mainly because you become completely present. You forget about everything else and concentrate on moving through the water and breathing. Everything else on your mind momentarily fades away and you have to be in the here and now. It is no surprise that it has proven health benefits; much like any sport, the importance of being outdoors shouldn’t be underestimated. I also love it because it is physical; I was in my element — a little challenge, a little endurance, pushing myself a little bit more. To do this with a group of like-minded girls was utterly uplifting especially when two of them totally crushed their previous distances. Special thanks to our champion paddle boarder (first time she had done it and just did a casual 10km!)
After feeding time at the zoo had finished we flip flopped up (and me in Crocs-I forgot my flipflops so the girls very “kindly” chipped in and bought me a pair of pink (to match Wilma) crocs for 2.99euro; I am nearly a converted fan-I now admit they are in fact quite practical, but should not be worn in public too often!)(And Hazel in her make shift flips flop shoe type things using left over rubbish and hair ties!). Anyway we meandered back with spirits high. We then passed over the first emerald river we had seen and had an urge to get in, thinking the glacial temperatures would do our tired legs good. O my good god it was cold; the kind of cold that totally takes your breath away!
The next day we set our alarms early for one last swim. Four of us pootled down to the lake while the other hit snooze on her alarm — sometimes the body just needs to relax and you need to listen to it! The lake was so misty and looked cold. However it was pleasant enough and the sun soon dominated over the cloud and revealed the lake to us in all its glory for one last time.
What a morning to end our swim adventure on. I could have stayed there for hours, enjoying the silence and tranquility (apart from Victoria chatting away!!). Peaceful perfection. But alas, we couldn’t stay for long. The girls encouraged me to cycle back to the airport which I am mega grateful for because what an epic way to finish off an utterly fabulous holiday! I plotted the route, approx. 75km, allowing three hours, I was a little nervous about being on a time frame, I’m a bit of a time freak and tend to go in to panic mode very easily. A few times I had to give myself a talking to — I got caught on a few roads which didn’t allow bikes, and google maps wasn’t particularly helpful so I had to use my common sense.
However, when I am in panic mode, my common sense goes to pot so I just had to be calm and tell myself to think logically. Half way into my journey I started to see more road cyclists, appearing just when I needed them; like when I was unsure whether I was even allowed on particular roads. I spoke to a policeman at one point who tried to send me to the local (tiny) airport because he couldn’t grasp that I was trying to cycle to the main one! He was very friendly though and despite the language barrier we got there in the end. With 5km left of my journey I came to a complete stop at a crossroads where every direction was cars only. I ended up back tracking and got onto a walker’s path (tarmacked) and used my nose. For once my nose was right and I saw the air traffic control tower. Although, the airport looked so tiny I had a slight panic that I had accidently plotted a route to the wrong one! I wouldn’t put such a school girl error beyond me! Anyway, luckily it was the right one. Challenge complete; I had made it; and in time for a coffee (followed by a beer!).
This part of Slovenia is beautiful and a haven for anyone who loves the outdoors; even when you are closer to suburbia you are still surrounded by beautiful mountains. It is so lush and green everywhere you look. I wonder if the whole of Slovenia is like this. Having never even had this country particularly on my radar, that little photo in my magazine has placed Slovenia to one of my top destinations and I would return in a heartbeat. Even though I had only just met these girls I will treasure the memories we created. A mutual love of the outdoors, endurance sport, chocolate, and a wee drinky are clearly the perfect ingredients for an absolutely amazing adventure full of so so much laughter, a little exhaustion and complete satisfaction, gratification and happiness!
Thank you Hazel, Fee, Victoria and mostly Emma for putting us altogether and finding our idealic little cabin xx
It has been a while since I have woken up and burst out laughing straight away!