European Masters Swimming Kranj Slovenia
I’m beginning to wonder how much longer I can do this independent travel thing. I’d never been to a European Masters meet and the fact that is was in Slovenia (where’s that?), a country I haven’t been to before, clinched it. You have to have entry times and the only one I couldn’t enter was the 200 Backstroke – I think they made a mistake as it was incredibly fast. I had the usual trouble finding out information, like where was the accreditation? I had no reply from my enquiry and I’m a bit past the stage of delighting in the unknown. I like to be certain of what’s
going to happen and when.
Booking the coach to Stanstead Airport was a bit strange. Nowadays you have to register before buying anything on-line (so they’ve got your details and can bother you later) and it can take some time to recall a long-forgotten password. In the end I get to Stratford, have my usual coffee at Pret only to find the bus stop has moved, five minutes away, due to road works. The Coach is waiting but I’ve managed to book a return fare from Stanstead, not Stratford. It doesn’t matter in the end and I’m allowed on the bus which is leaving five minutes later than I’d calculated. Just as I wonder what else might go wrong on this trip, an accident on the M11 slowed us down, but I was still on time for my flight. Phew. I can just about manage Easyjet and avoid baggage charges by packing everything, including the laptop into one carry-on bag and dashing to the gate the moment it’s called. Weather over Austria and congestion in the air delayed us an hour.
Two things worry me now sitting in the plane, at the gate – I have to get to the Accreditation Centre to register before 18.00 to confirm my place the 800m freestyle tomorrow morning. Fortunately, I’m sitting next to other swimmers (the plane is full of swimmers and hikers) who suggest I phone them, while we are still on the ground. I somehow manage to find a phone number on my downloaded hand-book which involves getting the lap-top out of the overhead locker. Amazingly I get through, but have no idea of my registration number. In the end it’s ok and I’m able to follow up with a text to Slovenia. Stress levels reduce significantly and I breath deeply; technology can be wonderful. It’s good to chat to the couple from Nottingham about swimming though I quickly fall asleep for most of the flight. The Airport at Ljubljana is small and two flights have just landed, so the passport control area is crowded. There’s a sign pointing left for European passports and this moves rapidly. I reflect once again, that I’ll be in the other queue next year. Finding the car hire place is easy, there’s no queue and no extra insurance thrust at me. The shock is that there’s no 4G for my phone to hook up with google maps and take me to Kranj.
Fortunately, I’ve been studying maps of Slovenia and more or less have the gist of where to go. It will, I tell myself, be just like the old days when I found my way around the world without a phone. I know that Ljubljana is East and Kranj is West but all roads lead to Ljubljana so I just carry on in the opposite direction from Ljubljana until a sign to Kranj appears. At Kranj there are suddenly signs to the Masters Games parking and all is well. I actually manage to find the Accreditation tent, next to the outdoor pool, pick up my stuff and have five minutes before 18.00 to double check that I’ve been entered in the 800m. I have. I spend some time checking out things like the marshalling tent and changing rooms before continuing on to Bled. Road signs helpfully take me there via the main motorway, but there is still no 4G for navigation. I take a wrong turning and end up in the town centre and bus stop. There’s a travel information place and it’s closed, but a hotel has a local map at reception – they always do – and a very helpful young woman points out where I should go. Bled is a small place and it’s really easy.
My hosts are out walking, leaving their teenage son Greggor to check me into my cosy and well-appointed basement bedsit with en suite. Armed with instructions on where to find a supermarket for breakfast things I set off to explore. It’s getting dark, but my first impression is that the lake and surroundings are incredibly romantic – like Disneyland, only real. Bled Castle high on a rocky outcrop becomes floodlit as does St Martin’s, nestling below. At the other end of the lake is the famous island featuring the Church of the Assumption. The place seems very quiet for a Saturday night, but I find a busy pub restaurant up in the old village near the bus stop. It looks popular and does traditional Slovenian food. Three large slabs of roast pork floating in gravy with mashed potatoes seems a suitable fill-up for tomorrow’s swim. The portions are huge and with a mixed salad, I am defeated.
Sunday: Up before the lark, breakfasted on fruit, bread, ham and cheese, I set off for the pool. Rain threatens, it’s cold and I’ve been allocated Heat 2, side A, lane 0 in the 800m freestyle. I hate lane zero, it’s right on the edge of the pool – almost out of the race. Lost in translation, side A and side B refer to the ends of the pool and we will swim two to a lane with end B starting off ten seconds later from the other end. I’ve done a reasonable warm-up but although the promised rain hasn’t quite arrived, it’s still not warm. I pile on layers and line up in the marshalling tent where we are given different coloured swim caps. I get a yellow one (they are not compulsory, but they would like us to wear them) and Side B get white ones. It’s actually all well organised and there are large laundry baskets which take all my bags. Organising and paying for a locker key for one race, just seems to be one hurdle too far. Even though I’m swimming up against the pool wall, the race seems OK and I attempt to implement coaches notes from the Paris Gay Games. The score board at the end has me 6th with an improbably fast time. I decide not to get excited until I see the results. It’s a long treck to the indoor pool to warm-down, it involves going right around to reception and through the changing rooms again. Time for a coffee and croissant at the small café. My Nottingham friends from the flight are there and we talk about teaching and coaching stuff. The results are live on-line (4G is working today) and I find that the time displayed on the board at the pool was actually my 700m split time, so no PB, as I suspected.
I have the rest of the day to explore so after stocking up on breakfast stuff at the supermarket, I find a posh café overlooking the lake. Their Salad Nicoise featuring fresh seared tuna, is perfect with a pint. The place quickly fills up with tour groups all booked for their mandatory portion of the famous Bled Cake. It looks hideously sweet – a custard base with a layer of whipped cream and pastry top and bottom. I shall have to work my way up to this later in the week. The Sun is out and perfect for a walk around the lake; everyone is doing it.
Tour boats rowed by fit looking men are taking tourists at quite a speed over to Bled Island where lies the Church of the Assumption, making the lake extra photogenic. At the bottom end there is a popular swimming area and every now and then a white Disney-like train pulls tourist with their phones on sticks filming the experience. For the more traditional there are pony trap rides around the lake. Two elderly ladies on one such trap, are having a great time looking at their mobile phones. By the time I’ve finished, my legs are telling me that they’ve had enough work for the day. It’s time to lie down before finding another Slovenian-style restaurant. I can have a glass or two of wine tonight as I have the day off tomorrow.