Yesterday I stood on an empty hotel patio, adjoining an empty hotel. I was hot, in need of fluids, and the large red Gostilna (pub) and Union (beer) sign was mocking me. There was no beer. There were no patrons. At the very least I wanted to see ghostly faces at the windows and hoped, perhaps, that I had always been the caretaker there, a la The Shining.
I arrived at this patio after a longer than intended cycle ride. I'd worked in the morning and mooched about in my post-bad-back lack of get-up-and-go. By five o'clock the early rain had gone and I deemed it ridiculous to be wasting a bright and sunny evening, so I pulled the bike from the small patio and manoeuvred it down the staircase to the waiting world.
Outside my apartment building, the little road leads right to Sabina's house or left to the main road. There is, however, one of Slovenia's many cycle paths just across the river and it leads, after about 12 km, to Lake Bohinj. It is a cycle path festooned with Slovenians of all sizes casually cycling vast distances without the slightest need to clutch their chests. Old ladies hurtle along chatting. Old men shepherd their grandchildren who, as I proved, travel at my speed despite not progressing past training wheels. Young families often roller-blade their way along it as an after-dinner treat. There are even places to rock-climb, if that's your thing.
I thought I'd trundle along as far as Brod, where a handsome wooden bridge goes over the Sava river. It's a good spot to play Pooh Sticks or wait for the chest pains to subside. The Sava river runs out of Lake Bohinj and winds its way down through much of the old Yugoslavia (being a bit travel-writerish here, I feel compelled to tell you that the Sava is over 900 km long, connects four countries and ends in the Danube in Belgrade). And it starts just up the road, pouring out of Lake Bohinj.
Perhaps a rush of oxygen to the brain caused me to continue all the way to the lake. I fancied an ice cream. Ribchev Laz is the village on the lake and it's rather popular, as one might imagine. There are hotels and cycle hire shops, rafting and kayak rentals. Ice cream, obviously. Even Alenka and Andre (my winter skiing teachers) have a climbing business there in the summer. It's a busy place.
Too busy, I decided, for my unappealing demeanour. By this time I was positively steaming. The tarmac was wet from the earlier rain and the sun was boiling it off in jungle-like clouds. Damply, I considered turning back.
But there is a road that leads away from the tourists and heads up into the mountains again. A sign for the Bellevue Hotel proclaimed it to be a mere 600 meters away, so off I struck, walking this time. It doesn't take a page of diagrams to explain that a valley has a bottom (the lake, the river, the ice cream) or sides (up hill). I meandered upward in a way that made 600 meters seem a lie of sorts. Rock cliffs and steaming trees put me in mind of Martin Sheen when he went looking for the frankly insane Marlon Brando. I pushed my bike ever upward.
The Bellevue Hotel commands, perhaps not unsurprisingly, a beautiful view. It looks down upon the lake and across to the craggy peaks on the other side, where Triglav -- Slovenia's highest mountain -- stands like a pyramid in the distance. From this place you can't see the Japanese tourists or tour buses. You can't see a building of any description, just a placid lake and a whole host of mountains. It is a perfect place for a hotel.
Struggling manfully around the last bend I came to the building itself. A car was in the car park and I nodded steamingly to the Slovenian couple who were exploring the grounds.
"I've always meant to come here," I said. "Perhaps I should have driven."
The man laughed, perhaps wondering if he should call a paramedic. "Yes, it's quite a hill."
"Is it open?" I asked, seeing the large red Union Beer sign.
"No. Not for some time. Such a shame. I came here when I was a student."
"If it's not a rude question, when was that?"
It might have been a rude question and, without knowing the history of the place, a frankly odd one. But the Bellevue Hotel has a small but interesting reputation.
"After she was here," he said smiling. "1970 I think?"
'She,' was Agatha Christie.
In 1967, Agatha Christie and her husband Sir Max Mallowan took room 204 at the Bellevue and set about doing very little in the way of drawing room revelations or, indeed, talking to the press. Apparently their room remains very much as she left it apart from (one hopes) a little light cleaning. Visitors, when there were such things, would ask to see it.
The patio is a large rectangular space with a wall to prevent the tipsy from falling down the hill. Broken wooden furniture lies scattered about, a half-drunk pint of Union sits on the wall and peering through the windows shows an abandoned bar. Typical of the Alps, the building is almost all roof, it's low walls made of white rock. The huge triangle developed by the roof holds a series of balconies in dark wood, each with green-shuttered windows looking down onto the water. One of those balconies belongs to room 204, and I looked up to imagine Agatha sunning herself, writing nothing more challenging than a postcard.
If one of those balconies was Agatha's, then the one next to it was taken by a cheeky reporter who, knowing how determined she was to be left in peace, took the room and handed her a bunch a flowers across the small wall that divided them. She answered a couple of questions before bludgeoning him to death with a lead pipe in the library.
Her famous answer to the question, "Will you be setting any of your books here in Bohinj?" was "...it is too beautiful for murder."
That is proudly taken as a compliment to the area, but to me it feels like a terse politeness, followed by the less well reported ..."now bugger off."
Standing alone in a tragically run-down but majestic setting I wanted a hot-tub time machine, or to magically see 1960's patrons through the window of the restaurant. I wanted to wave to Agatha then walk into the bar, sport's jacket slung over my shoulder and a Martini on its way. I wanted to always have been the caretaker there.
My friend Alenka, she of the glowing Slovenian health and new roof, worked there at the time. She travelled around the country with them and was a given a signed book.
So many little things in this country, hidden around the next bend. I should ride my bike more often.
[ps...Have you tried the Armchair Detective Challenge yet?]
Slovenia, writing, other things