Friday, August 30, 2013
Lake Bled, Vintgar Gorge, and the Julian Alps

Woke up at 6:15 this morning. Now I think I've over-acclimated to the new time zone. I made some instant coffee in the room with tap water, and later we went across the hall to the dining room for another big breakfast.

Tom is now feeling the effects of the air travel, so we got a later start today, but by 11:30 we headed to Lake Bled, the most picturesque town in Slovenia, located less than 30 minutes from Skofja Loka. We went directly to Blejski Grad (Bled Castle). The last bit of the drive to the castle was harrowing, up an extremely steep, narrow road, where we met two buses coming down. Yikes!

Blejski Grad, over 1,000 years old, is perched atop a cliff above Lake Bled, with the Julian Alps in the background. In the middle of the lake is a precious little islet named Blejski Otok (Bled Island). While we were there, a live band started playing in the castle courtyard, just in case things weren't awesome enough already!

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Lake Bled and Blejski Otok

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The Alps from Blejski Grad

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Live music in a beautiful setting

Leaving the castle, we proceeded to Vintgar Gorge, just a few minutes' drive from Bled, even following our confused route. Once we located the entrance, we followed a boardwalk path along the crystal clear Radovna River, full of fat fish, through the striking little gorge. It was a wonderful walk, about 3.5 kilometers round-trip. There are a couple of slaps (waterfalls) along the way, but the walk through the gorge is the real treat.

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Vintgar Gorge

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Scenic slap (waterfall)

After the hike, we decided we still had time to take a drive through the mountainous northwest corner of Slovenia, around Triglavski Narodni Park, Slovenia's only national park. The park is named after its most conspicuous point, Triglav, the highest mountain in Slovenia (2,864 meters/9,396 feet). Our route is through the Julian Alps over Vrsic Pass, down into the Soca Valley, and finally back to Skofja Loka.

But first a road map! Tom pulled in at a gas station, and I ran in and bought a map, “Avtokarta Slovenija, Hrvaska, Bosna in Hercegovina,” which covers 99 percent of the area we'll be traveling the next two weeks. This map will be my constant companion for the rest of the trip, because with Tom doing the bulk of the driving, it's my responsibility to do the bulk of the navigating. Often our roles are reversed, so this will take some getting used to for both of us.

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The Julian Alps, Slovenia

The road over Vrsic (vur-SHEECH) Pass is narrow, twisting, and steep, with 50 hairpin turns, 24 on our way up and 26 down, with up to a 14% grade. The turns are made of cobblestone to provide better traction. This road is not for the faint of stomach! Bless you, Dramamine. There's many opportunities to pull off to the side and look around.

After switchback No. 8, we hiked up to a little Russian chapel. This road was built during World War I by over 10,000 Russian POWs, who endured horrible conditions and many of whom died during its construction of illness and exposure. The chapel is built on the site where hundreds of workers were buried by an avalanche in March of 1916.

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Ruska Kapelica

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Majestic mountains

We reached Vrsic Pass (1,611 meters/5,285 feet), then began our descent into the Soca River Valley, an absolutely gorgeous place, with a beautiful clear river flowing over brilliant white stones, dominated by the Julian Alps.

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Soca River Valley

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Jana above the Soca River

Some of World War I's fiercest fighting occurred in this valley at the Soca Front. Passing through the town of Soca, we continued to Kluze Fort, strategically built at the narrowest part of the valley leading to Italy. The fort was used during WWI by the Austrians to keep the Italians out of their territory. A previous fort built on this same site was used in the 1400s by the Italians to keep out the Ottomans.

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Kluze Fort

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Soca River

In Bovec we stopped at a market and bought a couple of beers and some Borovnicevec sani liker, a 20% alcohol concoction with a picture of blueberries on the label, made in Slovenia. I hope it doesn't taste like moonshine. It looks good, anyway.

From Bovec we drove to Tolmin and then turned east on the very curvy 403 toward Skofja Loka, passing through some very cool Austrian-looking towns and villages along the way. We fairly raced this last bit, arriving back to Turizem Loka at dusk.

Around 9:00 we went to dinner at Pri Inglicu, two blocks from our hotel. We saw this place Wednesday when we were famished and couldn't find anywhere to eat, but it's closed on Wednesdays. I had spaghetti carbonara and Tom got a pizza. I was holding off on ordering pizza, because I'm pretty sure we'll get to some places later where pizza is the only option, or at least the only acceptable option. It was all good. We got way too much food and a couple of average beers for a reasonable price.

The Turizem Loka proprietress was at the front desk when we returned for dinner. The Internet wasn't working earlier, so she rebooted the router for us, and now we're back online.

The Slovenian blueberry liker we bought earlier is excellent. It contains real, whole blueberries. A great ending to a great day!

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Yum!



Continue to August 31, 2013

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