Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Part 8

Friday, July 15

We were supposed to get going at 0900 but it was actually closer to 1000 by the time we got to the car.

Our first challenge was to try and get out of the parking spot. As is common in Europe, parking in Ljubljana is at a premium, and even though we have a small car, it was still tightly fit into its spot. Add to the problem a car parked perpendicular to us, with barely enough space to get the entire length of the car clear of the other vehicles beside us. I must have rocked that bugger back and forth about a hundred times (seriously, no exaggeration) before I managed to get it clear enough to be able to drive away. I couldn't have done it without Marg watching the stern and Helen minding the bow.

Once again, having the GPS helped get us pointed in the direction of Bled.

The weather took a significant change overnight. It's cloudy, a bit rainy, and much cooler today. Ever since we got here, the temperatures have been in the low 30's; today, the temperature is only forecast to hit the low 20's. We saw a bit of rain as we drove to Bled.

Bled is a resort town on Lake Bled. The area is considered to be Slovenia's leading lake/mountain resort area. And the crowds certainly bore this out. We had in mind going for a swim in the lake ... and drove around to the far end (from where the road and town are) towards the rowing centre. But the weather still wasn't very pleasant. We enjoyed the view of the castle on the hill, the church on the island and the lake itself before getting back in the car and heading deeper into the mountains towards Mount Triglav (tree-glau).

We got back on the expressway and headed west. At the ski resort town of Kranjska Gora we turned south into the Julian Alps.

Kranjska Gora was part of an unsuccessful bid for the 2006 Winter Olympics under the banner of "Senza Confini"; joining with other towns in Austria and Italy (both within about 20 km of our location). From what we saw, it's a fairly small ski area; I guess they had big plans to spruce it up a lot.

We followed the signs for Vršič and began the up, up, up climb to the mountain pass. We entered Triglav National Park shortly agter the switchbacks began. In all, from one end of this road to the other there are 50 and each has been numbered for your driving convenience.

At switchback number 8 we stopped to look at the Russian chapel. The road we're driving on was built by 10,000 Russian POW's from the First World War. Hundreds died of illness and exposure. And in 1916, an avalanche in this area killed hundreds more. This chapel marks the spot where the last of the casualties was recovered.

Just after switchback 24 we reached the summit. The story goes that you're not a true Slovene until you've climbed Mt. Triglav. Even though we were up just over 5,200 ft in elevation, it would still have been another 4,100 feet of climbing. The climb is supposed to be do-able by anyone in decent condition ... but it's recommended to be a two-day activity. Instead of climbing Triglav, we had a small lunch in a restaurant at the pass' summit and then climbed a way up a trail across the road. Climbing all the way to the top of Triglav will have to wait for our next trip.

Back in the car, we carried on down the other side of the pass into the Soča River valley. It was in this area that Ernest Hemingway drove an ambulance during the First World War ... and some say gathered material that he eventually used to write "A Farewell to Arms".

We carried on down into the Soča Valley and just past the town of Trenta stopped to jump up and down on a small suspension bridge. The views back up the valley - towards the mountains - were beautiful. I took plenty of pictures, even though I know that cameras can never do these vistas justice.

We turned around and began to head back ... past the 50 switchbacks, up and over the Vršič pass ... back to Kranjska Gora. But, since we were so close, we made a detour to the west and north to stop at the Slovenian/Austrian border.

Essentially deserted now, it still echoes of the line between "communist" Yugoslavia and the rest of Europe. Now, with Slovenia part of the EU, the border posts and passport controls are gone; all that remains is a duty-free shop that seemed to be doing a land-office business in cigarettes.

The weather had been improving through the day, so we headed back to Bled.

Lake Bled looks a bit like some sort of medieval dreamland. The lake is - by Canadian standards - fairly small. The town of Bled is at one end and a walking path circles the lake. There is a castle on a cliff that looks down onto the lake, and an island in the lake is home to an old church. Rowing is popular here with several places having small rowboats available for rent. Helen went for a swim, Marg and I walked a bit on the path that circles the lake. We then rented a boat and rowed out to the island to see the church.

The church is a popular spot for weddings, although we saw none today. Slovenian tradition holds that the groom would carry his bride up the 99 steps of the church to prove that he's "fit" for marriage. I'm starting to get the feeling that being a Slovene means that you have to be in pretty good shape! What with all the mountain climbing and wife carrying to be done.

Marg and I climbed the steps, and walked round the church. Since she had rowed out, I rowed back. Lake Bled truly is the centre of Slovene rowing culture. On our way back we had to be careful not to get tangled up with the young rowers out training in their sculls. Lames had been laid out running nearly the length of the lake and there were about a dozen boats (singles, pairs) out training. I'm sure that some of the people we saw will be competing in this year's World Rowing Championships taking place in Lake Bled late this summer.

After we returned the boat, we found Helen and headed over to the local "campground" restaurant. Since our mountaintop lunch a had been pretty substantial, we opted for bowls of juha (soup) and spent some time listening to a local Slovenian combo playing a variety of polkas and "traditional" music. Our waiter even managed to talk us into having dessert - Kremšnite - a local Lake Bled specialty.

By now, it was getting late, so we got back in the car and headed to the apartment in Ljubljana for another good night's sleep.

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