Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Exploring--Slovenia's Julian Alps & World War I History

Slovenia is so rich in charms and interesting sights that I will have a difficult time keeping this post (my third about travel in Slovenia) to a reasonable length. Leaving Lake Bled (see May 20 post), we rode through a breath-taking pass in the Julian Alps, climbing to about 5.000 feet above sea level (Slovenia's highest peak is about 9,400 feet high). First we were in dense forest, then in more forbidding, rocky terrain. At times, we were within 1/4 mile of both the Italian and Austrian borders. The constantly changing vistas were stunning and inspirational. I snapped the majestic peaks above through the bus window. 
Our amazing tour bus driver expertly steered his mighty Mercedes around the 50 switchbacks through the pass, making tight hairpin turns when at times it seemed as though we had two wheels out over nothingness. We frequently crossed or glimpsed the Soca River, narrow and fast in the mountains, its remarkable pale aqua color due to the minerals in the limestone it cuts through. We stopped once on the way down to take in the beauty and to cross a swinging bridge high over the rushing river. The center photo above is a view looking down from the bridge. At our highest point, we stopped at a mountain lodge where we sipped a homemade mixed fruit brandy our guide, Saso Golub, had brought for us--yummy!--and warm all the way down as a few snowflakes drifted by on a chilly mid-September day.
Earlier we had made a more sobering stop at the small Russian Orthodox chapel pictured on the right. This mountain pass was the scene of terrible battles in World War I and was the setting for Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, based on his personal experiences as a Red Cross ambulance driver in the war. The very road we were traveling was built by Russian prisoners of war under appalling conditions. After several hundred had died of exposure, illness, and mistreatment, a huge March 1916 avalanche killed hundreds more. This chapel honors the work and the sacrifice of those Russian soldiers. In the town of Kobarid, an excellent museum (voted best in Europe in 1993) presents a comprehensive look at the tragic battles on the Soca Front--how the local people and soldiers on both sides suffered through that terrible time and how human dignity, honor, and inner strength still shone through.
We stayed in Kobarid at the Hotel Hvala, where I so enjoyed the generous, scrumptious dinner that I couldn't do justice to the amazing buffet breakfast spread the next morning. For those of you interested in menus, our dinner began with an excellent pasta course of fettuccine with prosciutto, then a baby greens and vegetable salad, followed by a choice of fresh roasted trout from the Soca River or roast lamb, served with greens and roasted potatoes. A warm berry compote with ice cream was the perfect finish to the meal. I won't even try to describe all the breakfast choices, but for me, the stand-outs were a warm apricot croissant and an immense bowl of cut-up fresh fruit, including kiwi, pineapple, and local fruits.
I hope these three posts have whetted your appetite for a journey to Slovenia--or to another destination you dream about. In the next few posts, I'll stay closer to home for creative everyday life. If you wonder what is "everyday" about Slovenia, well, I guess it is not. However, travel dreaming and reading, travel planning, remembering past journeys, and saving for future travel are a significant aspect of everyday life for me, even though we may only take a major journey only once in five or more years.
Question of the Day: What has been your favorite "road less traveled" destination?


  1. Hi Mary..

    WOW!!! You are really on a beautiful odyssey!! I so love to travel. Met my husband while traveling.. (He's a Venetian). Trouble is although he LOVES being with all kinds of people, traveling isn't his favorite thing.
    I may just have to venture out on my own.
    Your descriptions and photos are just wonderful. AND
    I especially like your little saying on the top ... "Love Life.... live it fully"... GREAT motto...

  2. It's great to hear from you, Marian! I also live with a reluctant traveler, but he was game for 4 weeks in Eastern and Central Europe this past fall. I'll always be grateful for that. Other times, I have journeyed on my own when he was unavailable or not interested.

    Thank you for your enthusiasm for our blogging venture.