It's raining. It rained all
night. It will probably rain for the rest of the day - steady, persistent
mountain rain you'd be daft to argue with. But it has given the pretext
for sitting in George (our VW Camper), working on this week's photos and
enjoying the unparalleled view from our camp looking straight up the Vrata
valley into the heart of the northern Julian Alps to where Triglav would
be if the valley were not filled with rain cloud.
We completed the eastern and southern circuit of Slovenia by returning to our start-point in Ljubljana. The hubbub at Ježica campsite was such an unwelcome contrast to the peace and darkness of our wild camp at Baza 20 the previous night. But it was only for one night, and the following morning we set out on the northern and western circuit, in and around the Triglav National Park and Julian Alps, the centrepiece of our previous visit; would we notice the difference after a 30 year gap?
We began with a short stay at Bled, not so much for the town which has few if any attractions, but for the nearby lake with the picturesque Church set on an island. (Photo 1). In spite of the superb setting, excellent facilities and helpful staff, Bled campsite proved to be one of the least pleasant experiences of the trip, due to the oppressively noisy bedlam of northern Europeans with their dogs, kids and satellite dishes - exuding all the materialistic values we were trying to escape from with our new life-style. In spite of this, we spent a relaxing weekend in and around Bled, including a walk along the amazingly impressive Vintgar Gorge, a deep and narrow canyon carved out by the rushing waters of the River Radovna. Part way along, the railway line from Bled emerges from a tunnel high up above the gorge, crosses on a lofty arching stone bridge, and disappears into another tunnel on the northern side.
It was a relief to be leaving Bled, heading along the Sava Bohinjska valley to camp at Bohinj Lake where we had camped 30 years ago. It was a glorious setting among the woods along the lake shore. The campsite was quite full, mainly back-packers here for one purpose only - to climb the mountains and enjoy the wonderful surroundings. Each morning, mist and cloud filled the valley, clinging to the 1,500 feet high cliffs across the lake. By 10-00 am, the mist was lifting and cloud breaking to give fine sunny early autumn days (Photo 2). Traditionally, Bohinj with its lush grassy upland meadows, has been a major centre of alpine dairy farming and cheese-making. Our mountain walks around Bohinj involved passing through high meadows which not only provide summer pastures for the cattle but also host a wealth of alpine flowers. There were so many to photograph and identify that we have included a special supplement with this edition of our web - click on the link at the foot of this page. We spent 6 happy days re-experiencing the pleasures of mountains and high alpine meadows around Bohinj. From 1,700 m on the slopes of Vogel, we were able to look northwards across Bohinj and pick out details on the distant southern face of Triglav, Slovenia's highest mountain (2,864 m and featuring on the national coat of arms), which we had climbed in 1974 (see Photo 2 subsidiary). From this col which led up to the summit of Vogel, the views southwards across tree-covered mountains gave us a foretaste of things to come when we shall camp down in the Soča valley. Another area of high alpine pastures was the Dolina Voje which we walked up to along the gorge carved out by the Mostnica river - 80 feet deep and only 5 feet wide in places with spectacular waterfalls and rock walls sculpted out by the swirling torrent. This valley had been the starting point of the route we took in 1974 up into the Julian Alps, leading up from the village of Stara Fužina to Vodnikov hut at around 6,500 feet. It was a nostalgic revisit, but we could not identify the barn in the village where 30 years ago the farmer had offered to keep our car while we were up in the mountain huts.
Mid-September is an important time in the alpine dairy farming calendar, when the cows are brought down from their summer-long grazing in the high meadow-pastures to spend winter down in the valley enclosures living off the hay that has been dried on the kozolec (hay-racks). To celebrate this return to the valley, Bohinj holds its annual Kravji Bal (Cows' Ball) in a field at the head of the lake. We were lucky that this event was held on the Sunday we were at Bohinj - and a splendid occasion it was. There were displays of local traditional dancing, stalls where you could buy anything from a wooden hay-rake to alpine cowman's hats and woolly slippers, - and of course the Laško pivo flowed copiously. The highlight was the parade of alpine herdsmen and their families, dressed in traditional finery, leading their garlanded cattle newly returned to the valley. And the afternoon's entertainment was provided by Gamsi, a cross between pop-group and Tyrolean yodeling band, so that the music managed to be throbbing and schmaltzy at the same time, with seemingly 2 variations - sentimental 3/4 time and pulsating 2/2 time - clearly very popular with all ages in Slovenia, and everyone joined in with the dancing.
Monday started week 8 of the trip, and it was time for us to move on round to the northern side of the Julian Alps along the other arm of the Sava river. We camped at the small Kamne Campsite on a grassy hillside near the village of Mojstrana, looking straight up the 10 km long Vrata valley which leads up into the heart of the mountains, with Triglav itself forming the valley's head-wall (Photo 3). We spent the next 2 days walking around the head of the Vrata, beyond the distinctive memorial to the mountaineer-partisans of Gorenjska killed in WW II, which takes the form of a 10 feet high piton and karabiner (Photo 4). Triglav's mighty north face, over 1 km high and 3 kms wide, dominates the views around the valley head. Again we found superb specimens of alpine flowers, particularly Gentians, to add to our photographic collection.
And then the rain started, which is where this edition started, and continued unabated for 48 hours, hiding the view of Triglav behind impenetrable cloud layers. But that evening, some news reached us which cut through all the gloom of an impossibly wet day. When we rang Nicky and Pete, they announced that they are expecting their first baby. To receive such wonderful news in such memorable surroundings somehow made it even more special for us. We are just so delightedly pleased for them.
Our time in Slovenia is drawing to a close, and in our next edition, we shall report on our final 2 weeks to be spent in the south west of the country along the Soča valley and in Notranjska. Stay tuned for more news next time.