by Ellada Sophocleous

As published in In Focus Vol. 11, No. 3, September 2014

Yearners for reveries, lovers of the sublime, unrepentant romantics of the world, console yourselves!

There is a place made just for you: Bled. If, on a summer’s starry night, you happen to be in Bled, pause for a moment and gaze up at the sky. Mark out a star and you’ll see, it will nod in your direction with a strange glow from above! Your wish has already been fulfilled! If again you are scared of heights and want to keep your feet firmly on the ground, embrace its invitation: walk by the lake, stroll along the picturesque neighbourhoods with the dollhouses and gardens in bloom, or ask a boatman for a romantic boat ride; and when you tire, sit at a coffee-shop by the lake, surrendering yourself to the wealth of its images. Let awakened emotions infiltrate you as deep as they can and see how, soon enough, they will take flesh before you, either in the form of a painting, a lyrical poem or an erotic serenade. A word of advice: before you leave Bled, make sure to climb its castle. Don’t look for a train or any other means of transport. It is a towering, steep place. But do take the trouble to climb the flight of stairs to the top. You will be immensely rewarded. Take a deep breath and scale the three levels on which the castle spreads. Stand on the highest point and look down. The view is mind-blowing! The lake and the green. Nothing else. All the buildings and houses blur into dim, insignificant figures!

I stand there still, motionless, observing the miracle and making a wish. If only time could forsake me! It can’t be done. I have asked for the impossible! The driver appears, alarmed by my lateness, and reminds me of the return.

“But life, freedom is here”, I tell him. “I refuse to enclose myself behind the walls of a hotel, regardless of how fond of it I am! Take as much as you like and drive me to the edge of the horizon”, I ask of him.

He looks at me puzzled, obviously unable to understand!

The route is never the same in Slovenia. Its landscape keeps revealing something new. No matter where you travel, a surprise awaits. No matter where you tread, the green will follow suit, a permanent companion alongside the presence of water that comes in rivers, creeks, lakes and waterfalls!

We leave behind the idyllic Bled. The landscape is now alpine, with dense forests and harsh, white-rimmed mountains, as grey clouds start gathering in the horizon. For a moment the place grows dim with a heavy downpour. I am overwhelmed by its ferocious beauty.

Not a single human being or house can be seen along the entire route; there’s just us and the forests, the wilderness looms as something more than a wilderness, silence more than silence amidst such vastness.

At last, a few traces of human presence come into view. The landscape is assuaged, regains its blissfulness.

“This is the site of the biggest waterfalls in the country”, the driver informs us.

“There are more than a thousand steps and the slopes are steep”, he tries to discourage us in a roundabout way.

In spite of him, we make towards the waterfalls. He sits comfortably at a cafe, basking in the warmth of the fireplace, and waves goodbye with an insinuating smile, as if what he actually means is: the prudent ones are on this side; the crazies on the other.

“Let him be blissfully ignorant, he can only believe what he knows”, I compassionately think of the “unsuspected” driver.

The only thing that’s certain is that boldness does not conform to reason and that men achieved great things while in a state of recklessness. So, if something important is to come out of madness, then down with logic forever!

We approach the first steps as the rain resumes.

“I’m not drawing back”, I declare, determined to move ahead.

No obstacle can stop me! I put on a raincoat and start climbing the steps. Around me people, mostly young ones, form a chain and greet one another meaningfully; they’re united by their common passion for wandering and adventure. All of them are equipped with climbing gear; only we have come unprepared. A brave heart has no need of redundant accessories!

We follow the course of the river. The rushing waters, their gurgle, the melodious sound of the rain landing on a thick layer of leaves — everything blends in with the sounds of the woods, keeping us company during our hike, wounding our silence.  Halfway through, I start to pant. But nothing stops me. Sweet fatigue tingles my body and my knees are bending. Nothing will stop me. I have been injected with the vaccine of madness and I have sprouted wings to fly! The landscape becomes fiercer and sheerer. The rain won’t stop, the steps have become slippery with mud, the hurdles are multiplying but my soul is undeterred, it stays focused on its aim at the finish.

We are counting our fortitudes, counting our breaths! We are almost there. We are so close. At last, we reach the finish line!

The water, a vast volume of it, springs through the rock, crashes violently down, then breaks into smaller waterfalls pouring along the steep hillsides.

Below, chaos, utter emptiness! But I no longer fear anything. I have wrestled with my strengths and won. I have achieved the unattainable. I want to say it, scream it! I have triumphed!

At the end of the day, I want means I can!

I could have never imagined a greater reward than this day.

I am grateful to Bled for the lovely journey.

On my return, I meet the driver, delighted in his blissful neutrality.

I feel a hunger pang in my stomach.

“Straight to the restaurant”, I tell him, noticing his excitement for nearing the end of his ordeal!

We deliberately choose a restaurant with walls of glass for an unimpeded view of the lake. We would settle with nothing less than what we had just experienced.

The rain gradually weakens, caresses the roof, then falls in thin crystal threads on the glass walls. Never would I have conjured up a better setting to part with Bled!

Translated by Despina Pirketti

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