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it’s 53 o’clock and the bell tolls for me

Lake Bled is timeless. Both figuratively and literally.

It’s a small crystal blue lake flanked by mountains, forest and tiny villages. A little island floats in the middle of Lake Bled. A stone stairway leads to the Spire of the Church of the Assumption which all emerges from the trees like some fairy tale.

Apparently, artifacts found on the island indicate that it’s been a holy sight for millennia and the destination of many pilgrimages. The church there today was built in 15th-17th century on 10th century remains.

There seems to be no rhyme or reason to when the church bells ring. I know, because I started paying attention when I noticed that they sound out at really strange times and intervals that don’t make sense in this time-space continuum.

They say that God has his own time for everything, so maybe that’s the answer. Or maybe He just doesn’t want us to sleep in too late or take afternoon naps. As I recall He seems to be a proponent of the work ethic.

Usually you can tell it’s lunchtime about an hour and a half after the bells indicate

it’s 26 o’clock. Maybe the bell ringer has an alcohol problem. Maybe he (or she, I don’t want to be sexist here) is a cross between Quasimodo(Quasimoda?) and Otis on the Andy Griffith show and the residents put up with him because (s)he’s a deformed drunk.

It’s not like Lake Bled is swarming with tourists. If Americans are any indication, nobody’s heard of the place. I think we’re the only ones. I’ve heard British accents, German and Japanese in the hotel, but that’s about it. Every now and then, a tour bus drives by (which Katherine and I immediately flip the bird, because we think packaged tourism is evil). But packaged tourists rarely spend the night at places like Bled (not enough shopping). So nobody seems to complain about the strange bells of the church.

There’s not a lot to do at Lake Bled, the scenery is the main lure. You can take the three hour walk around the lake, check out the monastery perched on the cliffs, wander through the tiny villages and feed the ducks on the lake. Or just perch on your balcony, read a book or take a nap (until about 30 o’clock when the bells start ringing again).

After an hour wander through the picturesque, tiny village, we begin to feel a little peckish. We spend about three hours hemming and hawing over which restaurant would be the appropriate dining experience. We come up with a range of excuse, including: “no, they have a tourist menu”, “no, I don’t understand the menu”, “they serve Pepsi, how unauthentic” and my personal favorite, “we can’t eat here, I see a fly hovering around the porchlight”.

We finally stagger into a Taverna type place with an outside deck. By this time, we’re too weak to act upon any of our rampant second thoughts (ie: “That waiter just gave me a weird look,” “this diet coke tastes funny,” “there’s a fly hovering around the deck light”)

Following a fervent prayer that none of the meat is horse, we enjoy a delicious mixed grill lunch. We might have enjoyed it more if we knew exactly what was in the “mix”.

After lunch, our stamina is up and we decide to row to the church and investigate the mysterious church bells for ourselves.

It’s about 200 meters to the island, but to non-sports people like us, it seems like the Atlantic. My father bravely rows, while Katherine and I dip our fingers in the blue waters, marvel at the fact that even at the deepest point we can see the bottom and enjoy views of the Karavanke Mountain Range and Mala Osojinica Forest that flank the lake. My mother gasps, groans and clucks with every splash and rock of the boat, which makes the noise pretty much persistant.

We scramble out of the boat and climb the stairs to the plaza where the church perches. We walk around the island to enjoy a 360 view of the lake before we enter the church to meet our maker (or at least the person ringing the bells). It’s empty.

I see a rope, but for some reason think it’s one of those emergency cords in hotel bathrooms only to be pulled if one has a bathing emergency so I steer clear. My dad, ever the explorer, boldly yanks it and low and behold, the bells ring out over the lake. He seems to enjoy the sense of power and keeps yanking.

So now we know the answer to the age-old question, “for whom the bell tolls?” Obviously, for anyone who wants to give it a good pull.

I practically have to wrestle my dad down to get him to relinquish the rope. I’ve got to say, bell ringing is not as easy as it looks. Maybe I’m exhausted by the vicarious rowing, but I have to put my whole weight into the effort before I get the bell going. But when I do, it’s hard to stop. We all have a turn.

At about 54 O’clock, we’ve had enough and tumble back into the rowboat, empowered by the experience. And who wouldn’t feel empowered accomplishing something that an hour earlier you thought a deformed drunk could do?

Dad rows energetically, mom clucks with renewed vigor and I stand up at the rowboat helm and shout “I’m the king of the world!” for all of Lake Bled to hear while Katherine heartily recoils in shame and horror.

Once we stop the boat from rocking, we hurry back to the hotel for our 55:30 nap.


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