Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Europe Vacation, Part 5: Triglav National Park

The area to the northwest of Lake Bled is the only national park in the country. The area is absolutely beautiful. We rented a car (1.4 L Volkswagon Golf – the larger option) for the day and Chris drove through the twisting, winding roads. I want to warn you right now that this post is going to be full of pictures!

From Bled, we got onto the highway and headed toward the park. On the way, we got to see Mt. Triglav – it is the highest mountain in the country.

We also drove past a lot of the hay drying racks. These racks are all over the country but we were surprised that we didn’t see any in Austria right over the border. Slovenia must be the only country drying hay.

Once we got closer to the park entrance, we started the first section of the drive up and over the Vršič Pass. The road had a ton of hairpin turns – 24 on the way up and 26 on the way down. Each “hairpin” turn had cobblestones to improve traction and was labeled with a marker that indicates which turn it is and what the elevation is in meters. There were plenty of turns that were very sharp but for some reason weren’t labeled.

There were plenty of places to stop along this portion of the drive. One such stop was at a Russian chapel. During WWI, there were over 10,000 Russian POWs that built the road in order to supply the front lines. There was a terrible avalanche in the area that killed hundreds of these workers. The chapel was built in their honor.

There were a lot of spots along the road that had remaining structures from WWI. There was a guard tunnel, some building ruins, and telpher line bases (a system used to transport items around the mountain range – weapons, food, etc.).

When we got to the top of the pass, there was a large group of cyclists getting ready to head down the road. Fortunately we stopped often enough that they all passed us quickly and we didn’t have to worry about hitting cars or cyclists while going around a bend (or cyclists hitting us!).

Below are some pictures of the beautiful views from the first part of the drive.

At one point in the drive, we stopped to hike to the source of the Soča River. It was a tough but short hike uphill. Close to the source, the footing gets quite tricky but luckily they attached a wire rope to the rock face to help out. When we were leaving the source, a ton of hikers were headed in the opposite direction. We had to wait awhile before we could safely pass them.

The next part of the drive was through the Soča Valley. The road followed the river all through the valley. The water was sapphire blue and brilliantly clear – such a difference from the rivers back home. At times it even had a milky blue color.

We did stop at a couple WWI sites in the valley. The first was the Kluže Fort located at the narrowest part of the valley leading to Italy. It originated in the 15th century when the Italians were trying to defend against the Ottomans. In WWI it was used by the Austrians to keep the Italians out. Just across the road from the fort is a set of rungs (in the picture they are in the center) so that the soldiers could quickly get up to the top.

The next stop was at the Kobarid WWI museum. We went through it pretty quickly but it was very informative. A lot of the museum was dedicated to the plight of the soldiers fighting in the severe mountain conditions.

We were running short on time because of our hotel check in so we hurried through some very, very windy, narrow roads. We found that most drivers stay in the middle of the road until they are faced with another vehicle – then they decide whether or not to move over. Also, many drivers were in a much bigger hurry than we were!

We finally made it to the outskirts of Ljubljana but had trouble reading the signs to get into the center of the city. After a lot of wrong turns, we finally found out that we couldn’t drive to the hotel and had to park in a nearby lot.

Our day driving through the mountains and valleys was definitely not long enough. Out of all the things we saw on the trip, I would have loved to spend many more days in that area.

Up next…Ljubljana!

No comments:

Post a Comment