Župan Janez Fajfar has been re-elected mayor of Bled once again. He was standing unopposed. Here is an interview he did for the Firsthand Guide to Bled (now out of print).
Apart from his formal duties as the person who runs the town and plans its development, Janez can be seen at almost every event throughout the year, often welcoming tourists and VIPs. Sometimes he even goes back to his teenage years as a tour a tour guide and picks up the microphone to give a commentary as special guests are taken around town.
Professionally and not so co-incidentally his background is in the hospitality industry. Once the manager of Vila Bled, his childhood was spent in the company of other children from abroad when their families stayed with his in rooms rented to tourists.
Always charming, always entertaining, Janez and I have had many long meandering conversations. But for this, to keep us both focused, I asked him to answer a questionnaire. His story is fascinating.
He tells us about his past, the many famous people he has met, his hopes for the future and his legacy when he retires.
How long have you been mayor?
What does a mayor do?
It would be much easier to ask what he doesn’t do.
With such a long history, are there historic ceremonial duties?
There are no special historic ceremonial duties, but some have been introduced [over the years]. The nicest is the pruning of the castle vine plant, a cutting, a “baby” of a 400 years old vine from Maribor, and cutting of the ripe grapes in autumn, of course.
Do you have duties at the castle, too?
When we have a special guest or just for fun I put on my burgundy coat with the black hare collar and fur cap with apeacock feather and the shiny mayor’s chain, of course. Groups from the Far East drop by, all wanting a picture with me and my costume. I have to address numberless delegations and groups and give them a short talk on the past and present of Bled, if possible in a humorous way.
Who are some of the famous and important people you have met?
I am still meeting lots of them. Whenever someone important visits Slovenia, they normally come to Bled, too.
Being a tour guide as a student, then managing the Vila Bled, (Tito’s summer residence for 22 years) and now more than 10 years a mayor, I’ve seen lots of dignitaries. The Queen with Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Prince Edward, just to mention the British, your numerous ministers, like Rifkind, Miliband.
Last year I enjoyed a lot the meeting with Bartholomeus of Constantinople, the world chief of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The most entertaining was the visit of the Spanish royal family, Queen Sofia asked her husband, King Juan Carlos to make a photo. The digital camera just came out, so he was not yet used to it. His royal spouse said to him as any other wife would do: “Is it even this you can’t make?”
Mrs. Laura Bush also made a great impression on me, being so well read. Jeff Bridges, William Hurt, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Palin, Paul McCartney. Most of them can be really nice people, some cannot. Normally the more import they are, the fewer problems with them.
What did you do before you were mayor?
Before having my present post, I used to run Hotel Vila Bled, once Tito’s mansion at the Lake Bled. The government opened it as a hotel four years after Tito’s death in 1984. I stared as a reception manager and advanced to the manager in some years. In 1987 Vila Bled was accepted into the nicest hotel chain of the world, Relais & Châteaux. Our clientele was fabulous, very few snobs, mostly good old money, well behaved and respectful. Those who came to show off normally came just once, to the joy of the real ones. The City of London liked us a lot; I was even made a freeman in 2004.
The government rented the place for peanuts to a number of people who had no clue how to run a place like this and I just couldn’t stand it anymore and decided to quit in the autumn of 2006. I just wanted to have a break in the winter to learn some of the excellent cooking of my 86 years old mother, retired chef. The municipal elections came in October, some friends finally convinced me to run for mayor and I got it… Now it is my third, four-year term.
Tell us about growing up in Bled
Growing in Bled was nice. We were not rich, but parents got a loan from the municipality to build a rather big home on the condition we rent some rooms to the tourists. I was just six years old when I sold the living room to two Viennese, when my mother was shopping. We had to sleep in the cellar then.
As a child, I could meet many foreign children, we played together and subconsciously learned from each other. Sometimes they would take us with them to Holland for example; they sent us from one to another of the other people coming every year to my home, at the end some one of them would take us along driving to Bled to us, or to one of our neighbours.
Our home was like a railway station, always full of people, coffee, schnapps, salami, cake. Bled as a tourist place, attracted all sorts of people from anywhere. Children found some people to curious, unusual, so we gave remarks and got a slap from the parents.
We liked it a lot when Tito turned up with some exotic president or a royal. The school was out, the teachers sorted us along the main road, we got one of those colourful paper flags to wave when the endless line of the limousines passed by. The handles of the flags were the best materials for arrows for our cowboy and Indians battles.
What did your parents do?
We were a family of five; I was the middle one of three children. My mother was a magician of a chef. In the sixties and seventies guests were staying at our home on full board. We served about twenty people, also some tourists staying with our neighbours. So many dishes to wash and dry. My father was a mechanic, really widely known. He was always dressed in his blue overall, liked the cognac too much. Anyhow, police left him in peace, because they needed him more as he needed them. Both parents were good in several languages, something rather normal in a tourist place…
What are some of the best things about Bled?
The best thing is just to make an early morning or an evening walk the six kilometres around the lake, depend less of the weather or the season.
Do you have a favourite legend?
Definitely the legend of the sunken bell. (You can read about it later in the book.)
How many languages do you speak?
Next to the native Slovene, practised by just two million people, I learned the Serbo-Croatian; we started to learn English at school with eleven years. I picked up Italian and German from or guests, specially their children. I learned quite good French at the college, Polish as a side subject at University and some Spanish. I picked up Dutch as a tour guide on the bus.
When did you start learning languages?
I was always keen of music and wanted to understand what they sing. Being all the season with lots of foreign children, I learned the most of them.
What would you like to see happening in Bled in the future?
To be a bit political at the end: my first wish is for both very necessary bypass roads, the northern and the southern, they’ll push the traffic away from lake. This will be the basis for an even better level of the tourists coming to Bled.
I’ll do my best to keep Bled green and respecting our enormous natural and cultural heritage. I would also like to make Bled as good for our citizens as for the foreigners.
The Firsthand Guide to Bled 2018 is no longer available as a book or for Kindle. It is not yet completly out of date and you can download a PDF free.