I love a folly, and Palais Ideal du Facteur Cheval (Postman Cheval’s Ideal Palace) is more special than the usual folly because it was the result of an artistic vision and pure determination, rather than excessive wealth. It was built between 1879 and 1912, by, as you might have guessed, a postman named Ferdinand Cheval. As the story goes, he was out on his mail route one day when he saw a stone that was so interesting it inspired him to build this entire palace (damn, it must have been some stone!). Cheval had rather a difficult life, struggling with poverty and the deaths of his first wife, first born son, and his daughter, so the attention the palace generated was probably a rather welcome respite from his daily life, but this palace was definitely primarily a labour of love. Even after stopping construction on the palace (which Cheval worked on well into his 70s), he went on to spend eight years building a family tomb in the nearest graveyard after being told by the local authorities that he couldn’t interred in his palace (he died in 1924, aged 88).
In my original post on the Design Museum, I predicted that I would probably go back when “Imagine Moscow: Architecture, Propaganda, Revolution” opened, and indeed, here we are (it opened 15 March, and runs until 4 June 2017). Unfortunately, my National Art Pass expired since my last visit, but there was no way I was about to pay £9 for what I imagined would be a small exhibit, so Marcus and I bought a couple of cheap single tickets into town so we could take advantage of the National Rail 2-for-1 offer.
“Imagine Moscow” is inside the Design Museum’s basement gallery, which is certainly a heck of a lot easier to get to than the ones upstairs (I guess you get what you pay for). I’m happy to report that the toilets down here are also even closer to the ones in Bob’s Burgers than the ones by the upstairs gallery (still not quite there, but they were slightly claustrophobic completely walled-in greyish green cubicles). No photography was allowed inside the exhibition, and there’s no exhibition guide available online (I think they want you to buy one), so this is going to be based on my probably faulty memory, but here goes.
After the Russian Revolution, Lenin, and later Stalin, wanted to redesign Moscow in a more communist style, and this exhibition showcases six of these proposed designs (which obviously never came to fruition), illustrated with sketches, blueprints, and other Soviet art (which was the part I was most excited about). It was all contained within one large room/gallery, but the way to move around it was somewhat confusing. From the very vague map on the wall (I wasn’t even totally sure where the entrance was on the map, so I didn’t really know where I was supposed to start), I got the impression that we were supposed to go around in a clockwise manner, but when I got to the opposite end of the exhibit, I found out that was where the exit was, so I ended up having to backtrack to see everything, and walk through the exhibit again to get out. So don’t do what I did, is what I’m saying…leave Lenin’s Tomb (or whatever it was called) for last.
As you can probably tell from the photos on the exhibition website (if you clicked the link at the start), there wasn’t a terribly cheery atmosphere (not surprising given the subject matter). The walls were all a dreary black, and the lighting was dim, so it was kind of a downer being inside. I also felt that many of the captions were awkward to read…instead of putting labels beneath each item, they put them all together in the corners of each room, so you’d sometimes be reading a label for things that were on a different wall, which made it hard to keep track of what you were actually looking at. Still, the information that was provided was very interesting.
For example, I learned that some of the plans for Moscow included a city in the sky, which would have consisted solely of skyscrapers, though judging by the sketches, I’m not even sure that they would have been structurally sound; a somewhat regimented sounding “holiday city,” built on the Black Sea, where people would be served in the cafeteria by conveyor belt, so even on holiday they weren’t being inefficient; and a library city. Clearly, it was the last plan I was most intrigued by. I hadn’t realised, given how repressive Stalin et al were, that early Soviets put an incredibly high value on education; they even turned trains into mobile libraries, so that everyone could access knowledge, and printed books in over a hundred languages, so that all the people of the diverse regions that made up the USSR could read them. Of course, the Soviets being the Soviets, there was a more sinister ulterior motive behind this, which was that if everyone could read the same material, they would buy into the propaganda, and all begin to think the same, but still, I love the idea of a library train, and there was some fantastic posters here that they used to encourage people to read.
I was also fascinated by the idea of the “Palace of the Soviets.” This was meant to have been built on the site of a beautiful, historic Russian Orthodox Church that Stalin had dynamited, and would have been a “shrine” to communism. However, Stalin died before it was built, and Khrushchev basically said “to hell with it” and built a giant open air swimming pool instead, which, in anywhere but Russia, would have sounded much more fun. They had a video of people swimming in it, and there was actual snow and ice all around the pool. I mean, I assume it was heated, because there was steam rising off the water, but it still looked awful. The pool was closed in the ’80s, and after the fall of communism, the Russian Orthodox Church received permission to the rebuild the original church, so I guess it kind of has a happy ending (not that I’m into religion, but I do support historic buildings!).
The communal living plans were equally intriguing, not least for the planned daily schedule posted on the wall. There were a number of things I found perplexing, from the scanty amount of time allocated to meals and exercise (most of the day was meant to be spent working down the mines), to the fact that they got up at 6, worked eight hours, but didn’t have lunch until 3 (they must have been starving!) and dinner at 9:25, even though they were meant to go to bed at 10 (maybe Soviets had tougher digestive systems, but for me, eating right before bed is a recipe for indigestion and poor sleep), but the oddest of all was that they only got five minutes for a shower, but were meant to spend 8 minutes washing their hands at one point! I wouldn’t be surprised if the creator of that schedule ended up being “purged.” Communal living was meant to liberate women from the drudgery of housework, so that they could take jobs outside the home, but of course there was a more sinister motive to this too. The ultimate aim was the destruction of the family unit, which was seen as a threat to communism, and the establishment of communal child-rearing, so that everyone’s first loyalty would be to the state. Fortunately, this was mostly a failure.
Though there wasn’t quite as much Soviet art here as I was hoping, most of the objects chosen were pretty great (even if it wasn’t clear what some of them were thanks to the confusing labelling). My favourite thing was probably a plate that said in Russian something to the effect of “He who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat,” but it was on this colourful, fun-looking children’s plate with a cartoony picture of a smiling Lenin right in the middle. Talk about mixed messages. I loved most of the posters too (you can see some of them on the exhibition website), especially the ones showcasing powerful women workers (of course employed in grim looking factory work). The most striking piece had to be the giant copy of Lenin’s finger that was originally meant to have been part of an enormous statue of Lenin that would have stood atop his tomb and pointed out across Moscow. The finger was at least ten feet long.
Although the exhibition wasn’t very large, and certainly not worth £9, I definitely got my £4.50’s worth out of it. It didn’t rely too much on visitors having any background knowledge of architecture or design (which I lack, so I was glad this wasn’t the case) and there were some absolutely fascinating facts in here, and it was neat to see the city that could have been (though fortunately wasn’t because most of the plans looked awful), though I think I would have gotten more out of it if I’d ever actually been to Moscow. Other than the famous landmarks like the Kremlin and the Red Square and St. Basil’s and stuff, I have very little idea what modern Moscow actually looks like, and they didn’t have much information on this inside the exhibit, so I couldn’t really compare things to see what the difference would have been. But I’ll still give it a 3.5/5, and continue hoping that library trains become a reality in Britain (minus any dystopian ulterior motives, of course).
Well, here’s another William Morris related property (It’s been a while though! I think all that leaves is Kelmscott Manor, which I’ll probably have to hit up the next time I’m near Gloucestershire). Even though it’s still technically in Greater London (really only about 18 miles away from where I live), we’d been holding off on visiting because we’d have to drive from one end of South London to t’other to get there, which takes an annoyingly long time. But on an unpleasant rainy weekend where we’d already spent the Saturday trapped inside, riding in the car on a Sunday seemed preferable to just sitting in the flat all day again, and at least we could explore a cool house when we got there.
Red House is a National Trust property (I’ve been pretty good about not including those for a while, but I’ve got another one coming up next week. I purposely didn’t write about a few smaller sites I visited to save you the boredom of reading about them. You’re welcome), so we waltzed right in, otherwise it’s 8 quid, which I would be hesitant to pay, if I were in your shoes (also, the National Trust recently redesigned their website, and I hate it! It’s a pain in the ass to navigate, and when you click on things, they just pop up over the same stupid screen instead of having their own address, so whenever I try clicking the back button, out of habit, it just takes me back to Google or whatever I was on before their website. It’s awful). Red House is a bit weird in that they offer guided tours until 1, and then after that (and only after that), you’re allowed to wander the property on your own. So if you want to avoid a guided tour, show up at 1:30 or later, otherwise get there as early as possible to get your ass on a tour.
I know I like to bitch about getting ignored by National Trust volunteers, but that was not the case here at all. Someone greeted us as soon as we walked in the door and gave us a detailed tour of the entrance hall, and volunteers in other rooms were equally anxious to fill us in on all things William Morris. (I’m not going to go into much background here, because I’ve done it before on other William Morris posts, but by all means look him up if you’re not familiar with his work.) And this was during the “free flow” time! The house was commissioned by William Morris, and designed by his friend Philip Webb to showcase Morris’s Arts and Crafts aesthetic. It was completed in 1860, and Morris moved in with his wife, Janey, and proceeded to have two children here in short order, but moved out only five years later when the commute to London became too much (the surrounds being countryside at the time, in contrast to the ugly urban sprawl that exists today).
Because Morris lived here for a relatively short time, much of the decor was left unfinished, like the ceilings that had pin pricks painstakingly marked out as a guide for painting patterns on them (alliteration), where only a small section ended up being painted (later owners filled in more of the design, but it’s still far from complete). The walls are papered in Morris & Co prints, but that too was done by the later owners; Morris himself seemed more into painting the walls with his artist friends like Edward Burne-Jones and Lizzie Siddal (Pre-Raphaelite model and ill-fated wife of Rossetti). There also isn’t much furniture, but thanks to all the small Morris-y details, these limitations aren’t terribly noticeable.
The incredibly detailed room guides also help with that, as do the unusually effusive volunteers. Even though the house isn’t that big, you can still spend a fair amount of time in each room just reading or listening. And there’s a couple rooms with activities (if looking through wallpaper samples can be called an activity; I reckon it can. That’s how I used to pass the long, boring hours trapped in home improvement stores with my parents. What can I say, wallpaper samples are a hell of a lot more interesting that bathroom taps or cabinet handles). There’s also some Lego stuff, and some sketchbooks where you can share your William Morris inspired art; my boyfriend drew a crackin’ wombat, but failed to snap a picture. Wombats are a recurring theme throughout the house; one was recently discovered inside one of the Burne-Jones paintings, and they even have Christmas workshops where you can make your own wombat ornament.
There’s lots of delightful painted stained glass throughout the house (more on that later), but there are three main actual paintings here worth speaking about. The first is a cabinet in the entryway, painted by Morris himself. He was, by his own admission, pretty crap at painting people, especially his wife, but he still did a much, much better job than I could ever do, and the detailing on their clothing is beautiful (you can see it in the third picture in this post). The second is a mural that was hidden behind a cabinet built by previous owners, and was only discovered in 2013. So I think they may still be working on restoring it, but it is based on figures from Genesis (the book of the Bible, not the band, though I would think it was hilarious if someone had a Arts and Crafts style Phil Collins painted on their wall. And I would totally get an Arts and Crafts Departure-era Steve Perry on mine), and though it’s very faded, you can make out some of the details, particularly the figure of Rachel, who is believed to have been painted by Lizzie Siddal, when she was staying with the Morrises for a time when she was ill (I guess with her laudanum addiction?). The third is a sort of medieval banquet mural painted by Burne-Jones, and judging by the animals hidden throughout the picture, I suspect this is the one with the wombat in it.
This latter mural was in a room with a cool little stage in it, built for Christmas plays, apparently, though I probably would have hauled a bunch of cushions up there and built some kind of a fort. With books. And candy. Also upstairs is one of the few sections of the ceiling where Morris actually finished the painting; hidden in one corner is a little smiley face, which a volunteer showed us with her flashlight. It’s neat to think it was painted over 150 years ago by Morris or one of his friends, since smiley faces seem like more of a modern thing (I like to think Philip Webb painted it; he’s my favourite).
One of the guides made sure to point out to us that all of this was done when Morris was in his mid-20s, as were his friends, which really made us feel inadequate. I mean, my boyfriend and I are both 30, and we can’t even afford to buy a house, let alone have one built for us in a style we invented, and hand-paint all the features inside it, all whilst running our own business. So I suppose it is somewhat gratifying in a schadenfreude kind of way that Morris quickly became overwhelmed, and had to abandon the place to move to London (and never returned, as the sight of his dream home would have caused him too much pain). On the other hand, it’s a shame he never got to finish it, because it really is a beautiful home (much as I tend to prefer the overly ornate style of Victorian architecture. I want a house with a turret). I’d kill for that staircase and balcony, or the bird windows downstairs.
Yep, I’m a complete sucker for a chicken (I found these amazing chicken plates at Anthropologie a while back, but I didn’t buy them because I have enough trouble storing all my dishes as it is. I still regret it). I liked all the stained glass, but the chicken windows (actually, the one I really like is a rooster, I think) were my favourites by far (painted by Philip Webb, who was also responsible for drawing most of the animals in Morris’s wallpaper designs. No wonder I’ve always loved Trellis and Strawberry Thief, which has particularly derpy birds in the pattern).
The final room was a museum room, with a timeline of Morris’s life for the years he lived in Red House, some objects donated by Philip Webb, who outlived Morris by nearly twenty years (Morris “wore himself out,” apparently, and died in his 60s), and the awesome caricatures by Burne-Jones pictured above. Webb’s possessions included Morris’s snuffbox, which was given to him in Morris’s will, and a pistol he carried everywhere with him. I guess he was kind of paranoid in his old age?
The property also includes a small garden, a shop, and a tearoom, which had a Christmas wombat peeking out of the kitchen window. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the house, given the small amount of furnishings, and the National Trust-ness. It’s certainly not worth 8 quid, but if you’re a National Trust member, I think this is one worth checking out to see all the whimsical touches (seriously, I love that damn chicken/rooster. I even bought a postcard of it in the gift shop. They also have stuffed wombats, though I resisted temptation in that case). 3.5/5.
I also got to do something else I’ve been meaning to do for a long time, while we were sort of in the area: see the Pocahontas statue in Gravesend! You see, after Pocahontas married John Rolfe, and returned to England with him for a visit, she (inevitably) picked up one of the many European diseases she hadn’t had a chance to build up an immunity to (possibly smallpox or TB) and died in Gravesend, en route to a ship back to Virginia. She’s buried in St. George’s Church here, which has irregular opening hours that aren’t posted on their website, so we didn’t get to see the inside of the church, but we did get to see the statue next to it. Gravesend is not really a nice place to visit, but the statue and church are pretty damn cool, and only about a 20 minute drive from Bexley.
Oh, and ’tis the season I guess, so Merry Christmas everybody!
At long last, I finally made it to Queen Victoria lived, and more importantly, died here, but obviously I’m going to go into way more detail than that. Osborne House is near East Cowes, in the north of the Isle of Wight, and is plopped down on a huge plot of land that encompasses gardens, woodlands, and a private beach. The Italianate house itself is similarly massive, though only a small section is open to the public.. All you really need to know about this place (to convince you to visit) is that
This is another English Heritage property, and they were quite aggressive with their membership spiel when we entered the gift shop/admissions. I was tempted to tell them that I frequent the National Trust far more than English Heritage, so there was no way I was coughing up their membership fee, but I held my tongue, and simply paid the £13.40 admission. The main attraction is of course the house, but the whole estate served as a summer home for the Royal Family, and was where Victoria retreated to after Albert’s death, so there are a number of outbuildings, some designed primarily for their nine children. We decided to first head to the Swiss Cottage, which Albert built as a place for the children to practice their domestic skills. I wasn’t kidding about the size of the grounds; the signs claimed it was a kilometre away, but as it took us a good half hour to walk there (and I’m usually a pretty fast walker), I think that was a lie. Never fear, there is a sporadic shuttle bus for the less intrepid. This supposedly “child-sized” cottage was bigger than most actual chalets I’ve seen, with “rustic” furniture that was still incredibly ornate. Only the upstairs part is open to the public, as half of the lower level has been converted into a tearoom, so we trekked slowly behind a gaggle of elderly people through the handful of rooms. I don’t wish to disparage the elderly, as I generally prefer old people to young people, but damn, these people moved so slowly that they had caused an unnecessary queue, (this is not a criticism of their walking pace, which I know they can’t help, but of the time they spent gawping at things) and had no qualms whatsoever about completely blocking my view, something which would prove to be a common theme throughout the visit. I suppose I shouldn’t be so hard on the poor dears; some of the older ones probably remembered the latter years of Victoria’s reign, and were simply reminiscing.
Fortunately, we next progressed to the museum holding the Royal Children’s collections, which was excellent! Being royalty, the objects they casually collected is the kind of stuff that would take pride of place in any normal museum; instead, it was all crammed together in dusty cases with rather terse captions, each curiosity more fabulous than the last. There were extensive Egyptian and Native American collections, a taxidermy section that included a five-legged deer, and various rocks and minerals, but my favourite bit was the mishmash of oddities in the case to the right of the entrance. Here I found a piece of wood from George Washington’s coffin (no dentures though!), a set of hand grenades taken from a lady anarchist who was executed on the street after being found with them, and a little doll made by a prisoner from wax and “partially masticated bread.” Honestly, after seeing this museum, I wouldn’t have minded if everything else was a bit crap.
Around the Swiss Cottage, there were gardens interspersed with a miniature fortress with cannons, the entire deckhouse from the ship that carried Victoria’s body back to the mainland after her death, and a shed with wheelbarrows and wagons for each of the children. After viewing all this, we decided to next check out the beach, as it was said to have ice cream for sale, and we were feeling peckish after all the walking (we’d visited Carisbrooke Castle that morning, so we weren’t just being lazy at this point).
Access to the beach was via the “rhododendron” path, another twenty minute walk through (you guessed it) a rhododendron lined trail. Not being much of an outdoors person (understatement of the post, as evidenced by my pasty complexion), or having any inclination towards gardening, I wasn’t even that sure what a rhododendron was until taking this trail. I’m still in the dark about what those terrible bushes are that smell like vomit, but which every rich person in Wimbledon puts in their garden. Can anyone enlighten me as to what those stink bushes are, and why people seem to love the foully odoriferous things so much? Anyway, the wooded trail suddenly opened up into a compact little beach, and we emerged blinking into the rare English summer sun.
It wasn’t really warm enough that day to go wading (though that didn’t stop a few other people from swimming), so we promptly made tracks for the ice cream hut. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they offered knickerbocker glories and sundaes (only one type of sundae, it is still Britain, after all, and we can’t be having all those choices) in old fashioned sundae glasses, but they were big sundaes, and unusually for me, I didn’t feel like I could put that much ice cream away right then, so I went for two scoops, which still turned out to be enormous for the price, at least by London standards, and topped it with the free (!) syrups on offer. After wolfing that down, I took the time to pose in front of Victoria’s bathing machine which had a suspiciously narrow door for her aged portly frame. I think only she was modest enough to bother with a bathing machine, as the children learned to swim in a netted safety contraption designed by Albert (I wish I could say the same; I had the fun of almost drowning during lessons at the Y, and still can’t swim properly).
Fortified by the ice cream, we felt up for another lengthy walk back to the actual house, somehow managing to bypass the Ice House, which was meant to be somewhere on the way to the Swiss Cottage. I felt like I’ve seen enough ice houses elsewhere that I wasn’t terribly bothered, plus my feet hurt and I wanted to spare myself the backtrack. However, approaching the house from the rear gave us the opportunity to investigate the well-manicured gardens, which were especially lovely, and all the flowers were in bloom, another bonus!
Upon entering the house, we were asked to present our tickets, so keep yours handy to avoid having to embarrassingly sort through the entire contents of your bag in front of the admissions lady. Photography wasn’t allowed inside the house, so you’re just going to have to use your imagination for the next bit (or have a peek at the website). The state rooms on the ground floor of the house were just as imposing as I’d imagined; the hallways were lined with classical busts and exquisite tiles (I assume they were imported, rather than being made at Jackfield, but you never know), and others were full of paintings, most with a religious or mythological theme. There was a Council Room, wherein Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the telephone for Victoria, a Billiards Room, and a Drawing Room that was a bit too yellow for my tastes. Downstairs, we got a brief view of the servants’ quarters in the form of a servery and china cabinet/room, with a handwritten list of menus on display. (Isn’t servery a gross word? It makes me think of disgusting cafeteria food.)
We were then directed upstairs to see the family rooms, several of which were filled with a nice exhibit on Victoria’s descendants (the vast majority of European royalty), complete with photographs of everyone, from dissipated old Bertie, to haemophiliac Leopold (and some good portraits of the Royal Family, including one that made Louis IV of Hesse look far more dashing than he did in real life (he was unpleasantly beardy, but here he was shown with his handsome youthful mustache)). Unfortunately, I couldn’t properly enjoy them because some mother insisted on dragging around her bratty child, who wouldn’t stop snivelling. I get that children lack self-control, but surely the mother could have had enough sense to take him outside until he calmed down, instead of subjecting us all to his shrieks, whilst remarking to her companion how articulate he was (yeah, it’s great that your small child can remark how he hates everything, but it doesn’t make up for his obnoxiousness!). Even the staff were giving them dirty looks. She wasn’t the only person who got under my skin at Osborne House; also up there was a lady who decided to park her capacious ass in front of the “Horn Room” for literally ten minutes, completely blocking the door with her wide frame so that no one else could hope to see inside. I thought the agreed upon social convention was to look for a minute or two, and then graciously move aside when it becomes clear that other people are craning their necks to see around you. Well, this lady clearly didn’t get the message. Ugh, all right, rant over (for now).
Moaning aside (and I do love to complain), there were plenty more delights to behold inside the house. I adored the statue of Albert as some sort of ancient Greek, clad in a revealing tunic. Though I seriously doubt (and photographs back me up on this) that he was that muscular in real life, it is a testament to the privacy and degree of comfort Victoria must have felt here that she prominently placed such a sexy statue in full view of the staircase. Also upstairs were Albert’s private office and bathroom, and most poignantly, Victoria’s bedroom, site of her death. It was closed off immediately afterwards for some fifty years, and thus preserved as a sort of shrine, so you can still see the actual bed she died in, which includes a secret plaque (intended for her eyes only) in remembrance of Albert, and has a large plaque above the headboard that her children added after her death, in memory of her matriarchal role. All the paintings in the room were behind the bed, so I hope someone had opened the curtains on the day she died, so she wasn’t just left staring at a blank wall. I guess it says something for the mood of the place, that it left me feeling quite sympathetic towards Victoria.
Looking around the house probably took somewhere between an hour to ninety minutes, after which we went to look at the walled garden, followed by a trip back behind the house to see John Brown’s bench, which we missed the first time around. John Brown as in her trusted Scottish servant, that is, not the notorious American abolitionist. After a brief swing by the gift shop to pick up some postcards, we headed to the bus stop, subject of another beef (though I stress, this is in no way the fault of Osborne House). The bus from Osborne House to Ryde (where the hovercraft and some of the ferries come in) runs only once an hour, despite the fact that the house shuts at 5, and the grounds close at 6, so clearly quite a few people are going to be taking the 5:30 bus. We got there twenty minutes early, which made for a boring wait, (even Kendal Mint Cake wasn’t an adequate distraction, but then I do prefer fudge, but it turned out to be lucky we did as only the first six people in the queue were allowed on the packed bus (we barely squeezed on). Seriously, most of the other buses I saw on the Isle of Wight were double deckers, so why on earth would they send a normal bus during what is obviously a peak time? There was a long queue of people behind us, who presumably had to stand there for another hour, or try to get a cab. The situation was pretty ridiculous, and I don’t understand why they can’t at least run a bus every half an hour, especially towards the end of the day.
Well, I clearly had some issues on the day of the visit, but none of them were really the fault of Osborne House (other than the pushy men at the door trying to sell memberships, but you get that at every English Heritage and National Trust property), so I won’t let it detract from my score, which is 4.5/5. The house and grounds were gorgeous, and whilst I wish more of the house was open to the public, I realise the upkeep must be an enormous undertaking, so I can understand why it’s not. But I can see why Victoria and Albert loved it so. A grand outing, and surely a must-see for lovers of Victorian architecture, and of the royal couple themselves – just be aware that the other visitors might cause extreme annoyance (though blogging seems to be a good way to vent those frustrations!).
This isn’t strictly a museum post, although we did visit a museum inside Bled Castle (of which more later), but my trip to Lake Bled was amazing, so I couldn’t resist sharing some of it! As you can see, the lake is stunning, but scenery alone does not a day out make. Truthfully, one of my main motivations for visiting Lake Bled was the summer toboggan run I’d read about, and it did not disappoint!
I first spotted the toboggan track from across the lake, and was honestly kind of intimidated. It was situated on the side of a huge, steep hill, and actually looked pretty scary, not least of all because the cars you rode on appeared to be made of plastic. I pressed through the fear for once, because it did look super fun. You can either walk up the hill, or take the chair lift, but since the ticket price includes the chair lift, why in the hell would you choose to walk? Though the views from the top are fantastic, you don’t really have much time to appreciate them once you get strapped in to your little yellow sled, as you’re too busy concentrating on not dying.
Seriously, the cars aren’t attached to the track in any permanent way; they just kind of slap them back on the rail after they get detached at the bottom and sent back up via the chair lift. And you control the speed yourself, via the brake/accelerator attached to your sled. Despite all these perils, I can’t recommend this highly enough. It was probably some of the most fun I’ve ever had. I only got to go down the hill twice, but I could have happily stayed here all day if the tickets weren’t so damn expensive.
The other main activities around Lake Bled, other than eating ice cream (which I of course indulged in) are taking the gondola (or row boat) out to the island to see the church, or walking up a steep-ass hill to see the castle. Surprisingly, despite my distaste for exertion, we opted to see the castle, as they were packing the gondolas full to bursting, and I didn’t much fancy a sweltering boat trip whilst boxed in by sweaty strangers. The long slog up the hill was helped somewhat by the ice cream vendor conveniently situated at the bottom of the trail. A generous scoop of chocolate hazelnut gelato can even turn a hike into less of a chore.
Upon reaching the castle, we were greeted with even more steps, plus an 8 euro admission charge. Having paid (there was no way I was just going to walk straight back down again), we then proceeded into the small museum housed within the castle.
Despite the presence of terrible wax figures, the museum wasn’t really anything special. I think most people just come for the view, so the museum was a bit of an afterthought. There was a section about geology, and then some information about the history of the region, which was accompanied by wax representations of peoples who had lived in the area. The most interesting part for me was a room upstairs with a video about the history of the spas at Lake Bled, with accompanying photographs. Nearly everything in the museum had an English translation, so there weren’t any language issues; there just wasn’t a whole lot of stuff there.
Naturally, if you’ve made it up the hill, you’re going to want to take some pictures of the view, which we duly did. There are a few shops and restaurants in the castle area, including a wine cellar, but the only other attraction we visited was the print shop (where I totally got suckered into buying a print. The paper was handmade! I couldn’t resist!), which also featured a wax preacher at the top of some stairs, and a small exhibit about the history of printing in Slovenia.
Strolling back down the stairs was markedly more pleasant than trudging up them, not least because I got the pleasure of passing panting people (how’s that for alliteration?) on their way up. There was an attractive church at the bottom of the hill, and of course, more ice cream.
As we could hear distant thunder, and the threat of rain was upon us, we didn’t linger too much longer in Bled. I feel slightly guilty about not visiting the island or trying the famous cream cake, but I suppose it just gives me an excuse to return. Though I still might pass on the cream cake, as it looked more like a slab of custard topped with whipped cream than an actual cake, and I have a special loathing for non-frozen custard.
The views, lake, and toboggan run all get 5/5. Perfection. The castle museum only gets 2/5, but like I said, I don’t think people are hiking up there for the museum, and I’ve no complaints about the view from there. This will be the first post in a series on Slovenia and Graz, Austria, so expect to hear a lot more about the area in the coming few weeks!