I left Vienna Monday lunchtime. Tim, Elizabeth and Vian would be flying into Ljubljana on Tuesday evening. Ideally I wanted to spend Monday evening in Italy so that I could use my TIM internet sim card and a cheap or free Aree Di Sosta. It seemed the closest Italian town to the northern Slovenian border was a place called Tarvisio. A quick look at my list of sostas failed to show anything in Tarvisio but I headed there in any case. I arrived in the evening and very quickly noticed a car park full of motorhomes, all of them Italian registered. There was a ticket machine that indicated the charge was €0.60 per hour and so I paid enough to take me to the following lunchtime and began to catch up on some emails.
Tuesday lunchtime I left Tarvisio and within what seemed like minutes I was in Slovenia. I pulled over at a fuel station as soon as the border was crossed and purchased a monthly vignette to use their motorways and then continued on to Camping Bled. Having only visited this part of Slovenia recently everything was very familiar. Once I was allocated a pitch at the campsite there was just enough time to relax for an hour or two before having to drive to Ljubljana airport.
The flight was due to land at 6:40pm and I arrived with about 20 minutes to spare. Before long the arrivals board indicated the flight was on approach. The weather was wet and stormy with the odd bolt of lightning. The arrival time came and went and then suddenly there seemed to be confusion. I met another Englishman who had married a Slovenian girl and now owned a travel company in Bled. He was there to meet some customers from the same flight and seemed equally unsure what was going on. His parents were in the departure lounge waiting to board the same plane for the return to London. It seemed the pilot had decided to divert due to the weather but nobody seemed to know where. We knew nothing until Tim called me to say they had landed at Graz in Austria and were waiting for further information. The weather improved slightly and no other flights were cancelled…..just typical! The logical thing would have been to take off again and fly to Ljubljana but instead the passengers were taken on coaches from Graz to Ljubljana, not arriving until about 10:30pm! The passengers waiting in departures were not given any information at all and were then told their flight was cancelled. I can only assume the plane returned to the UK empty.
It was not the best start to the trip and the late arrival also meant that we would not be able to access the campsite as the barriers closed at 11:00pm. Tim, Elizabeth and I had not eaten for hours but restaurants and supermarkets were all closed. Arriving in Bled we asked a local who was drinking at a bar who advised that the only 2 places we might find food were the local casino which was still open or a take away ‘hatch’ near the bus station. The hatch was indeed open all hours and so we ordered kebabs. While on one side it looked like a take away window, we were invited to sit at tables in the bar area on the other side which also allowed us to buy a beer to wash the meal down with. Appetites satisfied we headed to the campsite and parked up in their car park for the night.
The following morning we converted the motorhome from sleeping mode to driving mode and accessed the campsite. I was surprised to find our numbered pitch was being occupied by a Portuguese family with their large tent. Camping Bled has both numbered pitches which can only be given out once and ‘free’ camping areas where you can camp wherever you find a space. I was more than mildly pissed off by this stage and went to reception to ask why someone was in my pitch. The Portuguese family were asked to leave the pitch but then took well over an hour to pack everything away.
In the afternoon we decided to walk around the lake and do some shopping. Tim wanted some pain killers for his knee, Elizabeth bought a disposable camera and Vian wanted a battery for her head torch. We also visited a Mercator supermarket to buy some supplies, including beer and wine. On the subject of beer the two most popular brands in Slovenia are Laško and Union. Union do a beer called Radler which is only 2.5% alcohol and comes in either Lemon or Grapefruit flavour. During the trip Radler became a firm favourite, the general opinion being that it was the perfect drink for a hot summer’s day. For the remainder of Wednesday we did a walk up three small hills around Lake Bled which gave the viewpoint of the island in the middle of the lake that you often see in all the postcards.
The weather forecast was supposed to be bad for Friday and Saturday which was not good news as we had a 2 day hike to the summit of Triglav to fit in. We decided to start it Thursday morning in the hope of at least summiting in good weather and accepting that the descent on Friday might be wet. We rented some via ferrata equipment and booked places at the mountain hut which was situated just below the summit. Having paid to park the motorhome for 2 days we started our hike up the northern route which was considered harder but shorter.
Unfortunately the weather forecast was not accurate and rain began to start early. We were making steady progress when Elizabeth decided she wanted to head back. One section of the route with pegs and a wire rope did not appeal to her. I knew it would get far more exposed at the summit. Tim said he would return with Elizabeth since his knee was causing him real problems. It looked like it would be just Vian and me but she too decided she would prefer to return as the weather was getting even worse. It did not seem fair to have all three of them waiting around in the motorhome for another day while I continued so we all headed back down. My usual philosophy in such circumstances is the mountain will always be there for another day. However that’s fine in the UK but you never know if you will get the opportunity again when it’s an overseas mountain. What made the decision easier though was the fact that I knew I might have more time to try again on my own later in the month, hopefully when the weather was better. One of my main motivations for hiking is the views and when the weather is this bad you begin to question why you bother! We returned to the motorhome soaked to the skin, the wet clothes consigned to the shower. Since the weather was not due to improve we decided it would be a good chance to bring forward the visit to Postojna Caves where the weather would not spoil the activities. After returning the via ferrata kit and getting a day’s refund we headed for Camping Pivka Jama, arriving late in the evening. Luckily their restaurant was still serving and so we sat down for a good meal.
Friday morning we checked out of the campsite and made the short drive to Postojna Caves. It was still raining hard as we bought tickets and boarded the train that would take us through part of the cave system. During the journey I felt the need to duck a few times and we wondered if any tall people had been decapitated on the train before. When it stopped there were signs indicating where you should stand depending on what language tour you wanted to follow. Our guide took us to the highest and lowest parts of the cave and told us about how stalactites and stalagmites are formed and gave us a brief history of this particular cave. Both Tim and I agreed that the guide we had on a cave visit in France was much better but there was no denying that the sheer size of this cave was impressive. However my overriding impression is that Postojna Caves are just a tacky money making machine, slightly too commercial for my taste. Our next destination was Bovec, and the route from Postojna closely followed the Italian border. We arrived at Camping Polovnik and pitched next to some French people in tents. Vian and I were delighted to find that the campsite had a washer and dryer and we immediately began washing our damp clothes. Tim and Elizabeth had been chatting to the French campers and late that night we joined them and walked to a nearby marquee where a live band was playing. When they finished Tim and I and a French couple returned to the campsite but Elizabeth visited another bar with two French brothers, not returning until about 5:00am (the dirty stop out).
Saturday morning the weather was much better. Vian decided to treat herself to a sauna and swim at the local pool whilst Tim and I made a booking for white water rafting for that afternoon. Elizabeth was slightly hung over and so only three of us went rafting. We shared our raft with an Israeli family and it was a great to finally be doing a planned activity without the weather causing problems. Back at the campsite the group agreed that they felt settled at this campsite and did not want to explore another area. This being the case we looked at walking options in the Bovec area and settled on two for the Sunday.
Sunday’s first walk would visit a reservoir, Slap Virje waterfall and the village of Plužna. Finding the start point was not as straight forward as it could have been. Had it not been for the gondola cables I would have been confused since there was a major road not featured on our topographic map and the road did not look new! Once on a route following it is much easier in Europe as there are often markings on trees and rocks that you just don’t get in the UK where you really do need a map and compass. Having said that I’ve never found topographic maps anywhere that match the detail and accuracy of the Ordnance Survey maps we get in the UK. The Slap Virje waterfall was hardly a trickle but it was still a great place to relax for a while, Elizabeth deciding to take a refreshingly cold dip.
In the afternoon Vian decided to relax at the campsite whilst the rest of us began another walk that would take us past First World War gun emplacements and tunnels. The text from the Cicerone guide did not seem to match the information on the ground, in particular a sign for ‘Dolina Skratov’ was not where it should have been. After trying a few paths we decided to abandon the idea and instead headed to the river to dip our toes and cool off.
Monday was the last day and we decided to visit the capital Ljubljana. We quite liked the city, it had enough buildings and sights to occupy the tourist but felt very mellow at the same time.
From the city centre it was just a short drive to the airport where Tim, Elizabeth and Vian would be returning to London. As for me I would probably be heading back to Italy to recharge my internet sim card and save some money by staying at a free sosta for a night or two.