Christmas in Bled

Christmas morning began early as it would have in any locale: 6:30 am. Fortunately Santa knows how to find American children in Slovenian hotels to deliver presents of Legos, dolls, and medical kits. We quickly unwrapped all the presents and begin the transition to our festive breakfast song and dance. 

Because this is a Kinder Hotel, the dining room was full of families with small children. This helped us feel less out of place as we spilled and fumbled our way through the buffet. We met the hotel mascot, or rather his sister, named Rosie, the swan mascot of the town due to the large white ones that endlessly glide across the lake. 
We spent the better part of the morning in the hotel pool, which was fortuitous as it was fairly empty since apparently everyone else was still busy eating Christmas breakfast and opening even more presents. I brought only my most communist swimsuit which I purchased four years ago in Spain at the Cordoban hammam and quickly felt out of place as even the most Rubenesque guests were in two pieces. The tantrum quotient soared to 10 with Eleanor while we attempted to decamp in various states of re-robing. Victor lost a sock. Everyone was exhausted. 
So we decided to go up to the lake for a walk on the path with the stroller we had borrowed from the hotel since we had left ours in Florence. Victor and Jason were starving and so succumbed to what Jason described as a very unclean, greasy, Tostino’s Pizza while I pushed a now deeply napping Eleanor in the stroller. I was hanging out in front of the kielbasa stand having fond recollections of similar nibbles in Prague. Jason met me there and we promptly demolished a kielbasa with mustard between the two of us, and a cup of what we thought was mulled wine? Or mulled white wine? Or cider? Uncertain. I also missed the caraway-studded rye slices that the Czechs wrap around their kielbasa as the Slovenian analog was a somewhat pasty white roll. Victor hauled Jason into the local toy store for another Lego set to supplement his rather thin Christmas morning take. I for my part stood outside deeply appreciating the availability of mulled wine at all hours.

As a spa aficionado, I am bound to sample spa services whenever and wherever possible, especially when on vacation. The spa here was bustling and businesslike, and I had reserved a massage and a pedicure. I waited in a large candlelit salon with a collection of mostly Italians drinking orange juice until my massage appointment arrived. At exactly a minute to the hour, a troop of aestheticians and masseurs trotted out calling names and services, and immediately sorted the guests out into the warren of dimly lit rooms. My massage was vigorous and no-nonsense, and I was promptly released back into the candlelit salon. Did I want any orange juice? Err no, my water is fine, thanks. I was met with a frown. I surveyed the scene of midlife Italian couples, a certainly American college student on break, and Italian man in a spa robe who was alarmingly manspreading. At :59 the same cuckoo-clock-like summonses began, and I was brought back into a different dimly lit cell for an extremely thorough and technical pedicure by a Slovenian woman with a Dremel tool who spoke to me in Inglesitaliano. When she finished, I was again asked if I wanted orange juice, or perhaps melon juice. Melon juice!? what is that?! I’ll take the orange, thanks. I sat back down on the sofa for the third time and chugged my juice. Overall, a very positive experience, and I have to say, my feet look fantastic.

Yesterday was a true challenge and test of all parental stamina and nerve. However, today started equally early and promised to be better, and it was. I finally got some decent sleep overnight, and only minded a little when Victor woke me up before sunrise and told me that “it is best to make Legos when the sky is pink.” I lazed on one of the critter beds in the kid room and read Tolstoy short stories, which I have found to be a fine accompaniment to a late December vacation in Slovenia. Victor periodically requested specific and focused help as he worked on a giant Lego set he received the morning before from Santa. I took advantage of my early rising to take a dozen pictures of the indeed gorgeous sunrise that I was very glad to have seen with Victor. 
Breakfast this morning was easier as the kids seemed to realize what the drill was, and we saw down in the dining room not just Rosie the sister Swan but Zack the main swan. His assistant asked us if the children were terrified to which he promptly replied yes, as they scurried behind a sofa. She gave me a carafe of M&Ms from which to salt out a few for the kids, which I did, joking about “swan food,” which she thought amusing indeed.
The weather here has been gorgeous. Our goal this morning: Castle Bled and a dance with the lord of the castle, as advertised. The way up was long and steep, and counted not a few stairs, so much so that I felt a bit like a Japanese tourist on pilgrimage. We ditched the stroller at the foot of the stairs and herded the children up the hill. And up and up and up. Victor, who had formerly complained of intolerably sore legs on the lake path, suddenly found his goatlike scamper and raced upward. I had bribed him with promises of another Lego set at the appropriately named Pik-Pok store, and a sack of popcorn to boot, so we repeatedly discussed the vernacular of bribery and extortion. “I will shake you down, mommy!” he joyfully reminded me. 

The sun atop the hill in the castle courtyard was glorious. We quickly found our way to the top court, where indeed a dance was about to take place with several Slovenian Ren Fair actors in period costume. (Assumed period: medieval.) But not before … an actual sword fight! By knights! Two swords each, on in each hand! Victor was transfixed and sold. No more was said of the shakedown for a long time. The came the dancers, who after a bit invited the crowd to come pair off with them. Of course I wanted to but our hands were full trying to ensure that Victor did not quickly dart over the Murder Cliff, or Eleanor slide down a medieval drainage hole.  Then as though we had not had enough … the actors had prepared another testosterone slice (first swords, then dancing …) that featured. … a fire-breathing knight! With a dragon insignia on his tunic! Victor’s jaw again hit the flagstones as we spectated. “That red guy was sooo cool,” Victor said. “He has awesome fighting methods.” 

We peeked around the castle, and chapel, and souvenir store (3D wooden dragon puzzle: 15E). We still had not obtained a family photo, so went over to a scenic area of the court (proximate to murder cliff but every child well surveilled).  Some princesses and ladies stood around smoking, and we asked one to take a picture for us. She gestured at her double-fisted lit cigarettes and laughed – she was holding for another princess. That princess saw us, and instead of taking a picture of us, understood that we wanted her in our family picture, to hilarious effect. She was very gracious and went back to her cigarette after kindly enriching our portrait.
We welcome all comments on this particular moment in time. I laughed and joked that she looks like his new royal wife while I seem perhaps an eldest daughter or governess. She actually looks a lot like my friend Traci. The whole episode was hilarious.
We slid back down the hill where Victor indeed received his bag of popcorn and a new Lego kit at Pik-Pok. I picked up a new dolly for Eleanor because I hate gifting imparity. We gawked at the ice skaters again and felt nostalgic even more for the endless loop of George Michael sining “Last Christmas (I Gave You My Heart).” A quick stop by Mercator for lunch provisions and back to the room for a family siesta.
Tomorrow, we leave for Ljubljana, where, it is said, there is a Lego store of great fame, and where Victor can burn the 50E that his grandparents have told us to spend on him on an item of his choice for Christmas. Eleanor will have to find a similar item of enormous appeal. We can help her with that.

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