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May 7th 2019

A beautiful palette of many shades of blue and green!

Last Sunday, May 5th, passed on in a mix of plenty of rain and a strong northern wind, which caused the candle-like flowers of the chestnut tree in front of my hotel room to dance. I took a quiet day as to outdoor activities: I just focussed on Slovenia and her recent history. The country has been allotted to ever changing coalitions… Until the mid-19th century the modern Slovenia belonged to Austria. The Slovenes were living in the Duchies of Carniola, Carinthia, Styria, the Slovene Littoral (Primorska) with the County of Gorizia and the hinterland of Trieste. When in 1866 the new Kingdom of Italy was formed, the western territories were allotted to Italy. In 1918 the Slovene Littoral (Primorska) also became Italian. Areas in the north that originally belonged to Austria, were joined into what eventually became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In 1941 Slovenia was occupied by Germany, Italy and Hungary and the territory split among these countries. Here as well the occupiers have tried to force the Slovenes to give up their identity (so Germanisation, Italianisation, Magyarisation…). In 1945 Slovenia fused with Istria occupied by the Yugoslavs into the “Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia” (from 1963 to 1991). After the collapse of the Soviet Block the government of the “Socialist Republic of Slovenia” has skipped the word “Socialist” from the name on March 7th 1990 and after a clearly positive answer by the people in a referendum about the question whether Slovenia should be independent, has announced to the Yugoslav central government that the country would leave the federation on June 25th 1991. Subsequently the Ten-Day War started: on June 27th until July 7th 1991. The Yugoslav national army lost this war without great losses on the Slovene side and Slovenia could move on as an independent country. Slovenia joined the European Union in 2004. The Euro is legal currency since 2007. Now that I have read quite a lot about it, I have a lot of admiration for these friendly people who fought with bravery, determination and wise policy to gain its freedom!

Yesterday, Monday May 6th, the weather had considerably improved and I could see the mountains around Bled for the first time! The mountain slopes were covered with snow until low into the valley! It still was quite cold, surely when exposed to the wind… It was wonderful ‘though to be able to go for a walk and in the sunshine! That day I had the intention to hike to a mountain gorge, approximately 4 kilometres to the northwest of Bled: the Vintgar Gorge. Here over the centuries the river Radovna has eroded a deep gorge up to 250 metres deep. There are many rapids and small waterfalls. At the end of the gorge there is the waterfall of “Šum“, the highest waterfall in a river in Slovenia: here the water falls down 16 metres. This area is the most eastern part of the Triglav National Park.

Because also this time I did not follow the most direct route, I entered shortly after the open countryside of Bled, where most dandelions in the rich grasslands had already dried out. I had a beautiful view on the mountain range of the Karawanks, which forms the border between Slovenia and Carinthia in Austria. The highest mountain top is the Veliki Stol (in German Hochstuhl), 2.238 metres.

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Bled: view towards the north on the Karawanks mountain range, the border with Austria

The rural character of the landscape was emphasised once more by the many constructions of concrete poles with wooden round poles on regular distances covered with a small roof: these are drying racks for hay, of also other produce, like corn. In Slovenia they are called “kozolecs“. There are different forms: the single kozolec, the kozolec with a half-open shed attached to it with a sloping roof (practical for parking equipment etc.!), as I spotted here, but also complete barns with an additional first floor and elaborately decorated walls. In the southeast of Slovenia there is even a special open air museum for the kozolec!

In a hamlet to the north of Bled and later on in the village of Spodnje Gorje, near the Vintgar Gorge, there are many nice, older houses, barns and stables, which are rather well-kept. Against a pleasant house with a lot of woodwork an impressive vine was growing, that already started to sprout. At a barn still a lot of corn cobs and old chart wheels were hanging on the walls. On a wooden panel leaning against the barn, names and numbers of (probably) cows had been written down, but perhaps of goats of sheep. Near one house an old pear tree was standing, rather roughly trimmed. A lot of pear trees are growing here: from the pears mainly pear brandy is made, which is – besides beer – considered a national beverage.

After I passed the barn with the chart wheels there was a slight bend in the paved road: behind a stone wall I saw a tranquil little lake, surrounded by beech trees – the leaves had still that light green colour of spring. A few moments later I arrived at the crossroads, where I could take a look at the railway tracks of the Nova Gorica–Bled–Jesenice. Later on I climbed the hill to visit the St. Andreas church. The church was closed, but I could look into the direction of the Vintgar Gorge, with the mountain world at the horizon.

After less than 10 minutes I walked along a steep slope into the village of Spodjne Gorje. There was a sign welcoming me in the Municipality of Gorje, which consists of several smaller and larger villages. In the coat of arms of the municipality a cow bell is shown: it is to indicate that these villages have a long tradition of making these bells. Another sign, higher up in the village, mentioned that it takes another 1½ kilometre to the Vintgar Gorge.

Near the exit of the village towards the Gorge road works were carried out. A deviation was put in place, which wasn’t only indicated with signs, but also guided by traffic wardens. Luckily hand signs form a universal language! By the deviation I passed a small memorial: a piece of rock with a plaque commemorating Dr. Albin Belar (1864-1939). On the information panel was written that he had been a “natural scientist, seismologist, inventor, originator of preservation of natural beauties in Slovenia“. Two years after the earthquake of April 1885, destroying the city of Ljubljana for the most part, he has founded a seismological research centre. In those days that was something special. Furthermore he took great interest in and had a lot of knowledge of nature: he encouraged the founding of the first national park of Slovenia, the Triglav National Park, was created (1906–1908). After his retirement he stayed in connection with Sp. Gorje, because he moved into his villa, built here in 1902 by the architect Max Fabiani: they had met in Ljubljana as Fabiani had supervised the rebuilding of the city after the earthquake. Also in this villa he had his own seismological research centre installed.

After several more traffic signs and other traffic wardens I came near the Gorge. A shallow valley was visible between the green mountain slopes “Hom” and “Boršt”, but there was no indication how deep that gorge would be…

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Sp. Gorje: the Vintgar Gorge is hidden between the wooded mountain slopes

Arriving near the river Radovna, I went together with many other visitors into the valley. At the ticket box I bought an entrance ticket with a QR-code, allowing me to pass the turnpike. Actually from the first minutes it was an amazing spectacle of all shades of green and blue: the fresh leaves of the beech trees, the water that turned from emerald green into lighter blue or into foaming white, and when I looked up there was the blue sky above with the white clouds. Everybody was immediately “hooked” and walked along on the narrow wooden footbridges and over the stony paths with a smile from ear to ear. What an amount of work the first developers had to achieve before this gorge could be accessible for the public! In 1891 the mayor of Gorje, Jakob Žumer, and Benedikt Lergetporer, a cartograph and photographer from Bled, had discovered this gorge and had immediately been deeply impressed by the mysterious atmosphere and the wild beauty of this area. After a period of hard and dangerous labouring, during which footbridges and paths were built, the gorge was opened to the public in 1893. Even after over 100 years the area has not lost anything of its magnificence!

The pictures below give an accurate impression:

On the information panel at the entrance had been mentioned that here not only the brown trout lives in the water, but also the white-throated dipper ( Cinclus cinclus). I had seen this bird that is able to swim and walk underwater on the riverbed, several times before in the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen, the natural reserve with sandy dunes where the drinking water for the City of Amsterdam is filtered, and later on along the river Inn near Scuol in Switzerland. Every time I have been amazed by its ability to search for invertebrates in the water! Here two of them were sitting on a large, flat rock and were obviously only interested in each other… Such a nice opportunity for taking pictures, until a visitor deemed it appropriate to leave the path and to go to the rock: then they flew off, twittering loudly…

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Sp. Gorje: on a boulder in the Radovna in the Vintgar Gorge two white-throated dippers (Cinclus cinclus) are sitting

Continuing my tour I kept on encountering over again other beautiful spots. One could thing that all pictures have been “photoshopped”, but that really is not the case…!

The thundering of this waterfall was ear-deafening. Looking up I saw the viaduct of the railway and above that again the blue sky. Today I noticed that the view from the train was far less spectacular that from the waterfall to the train… It was worth a video!

Near the waterfall we could leave the Gorge through a turnpike and if we wished to return by the same way, we had to hold our ticket with the QR-code in front of the reader. I had a cup of espresso at the small kiosk, with the overpowering sound of the waterfall in my ears. A sign pointed towards the east, to the wooded mountain slope, towards Bled and the small St. Catharina church. I chose the walk through te forest. The further I walked away from the waterfall, the more the silence grew. The interaction of light and shadow between the high beech trees became more atmospheric. There was a carpet of Bear leek (Allium urisinum), just not in bloom yet, a sign that the soil is humid, calcareous and fertile. Every now and then I had a view on the snow-capped peaks of the Karawanks. It was a relaxing part of the trip.

Not much time later I left the forest and I arrived on a flat area, where the St. Catharina church is situated, a pilgrimage church. From there I had a nice view over the flat countryside around Bled. The small church (that was also closed) dates from 1400 AD. Above the entrance door a beautiful fresco is made; on the wall next to it there are still some faded contours of a mural painting is visible. These are from the 16th century. In the 18th century the church got its baroque exterior. The stone wall around the church is built as a protective wall for the inhabitants who during the 15th to the 18th century had to stay on the lookout for attacks from the Ottoman Empire: in which case fires were lit on the mountain tops as a warning signal!

From the hill with the church I descended over a rather steep road into the village of Zasip, that is situated just above Bled. The St. John the Baptist Church stood very much out with its fire-red church tower! This church is also very old: the oldest part dates back to the 13th century, but could be much older. It was given its baroque appearance in 1778. The cat I spotted sitting on the balcony of a house built against the slope, wasn’t – I suppose – very interested in the church and its history, but just sat there, relaxing, with possibly one eye fixed on tasty bites from the feeding table or the nesting box… The village of Zasip was mentioned for the first time in the year 1075 AD, but the area has been inhabited for a much longer period. The people lived mainly in caves near the mountain Hom. These were Celts who had left the parts of the northern Alps, dominated by the Romans. In the beginning they made a living from hunting and later on from stock keeping.

After half an hour I had returned to the hotel and felt very content about this day!

This morning, May 7th, Bled showed its prettiest face: the sun was shining abundantly when around nine o’clock I boarded again Nika’s minivan, which I had already ordered yesterday evening through the reception of the hotel for my trip to the railway station. I had a nice conversation with Nika. He knew the Netherlands well: he had been there often as international coach driver and liked the country and the people – they were very friendly. I got the impression that he missed his trips, but alas, as he put it with resignation: “The wife – it is always the wife…“.

Before I boarded the diesel train to Jesenice I had enough time to look over the now blue water of Bled Lake, and the surrounding mountains. It did not feel as a goodbye. It will not be the last time that I visit Slovenia: what a beautiful land with its very friendly people!

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Bled: view over Lake Bled from the railway station Bled-Jezero

In Jesernice I took the international train to Frankfurt am Main en travelled from there back to the Netherlands again. This marked the end of another wonderful journey with many new impressions!