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May 11th 2018

A Stage with far more plus points than minus points!

The day before yesterday I set off with a lot of anticipation to finally start the first stage of the Via Alpina. That was because of several reasons not very successful: I stranded somewhere on a desolate industrial area with moreover the threat of a thunderstorm. Today I started with regained energy to find my way back from that desolate industrial area towards nature and fresh air. That proved to be more difficult than I thought: which bus stop at which industrial area was the right one… Finally I got off the bus, where I had started the last time: a few stops before Muggia. There I had spotted a road sign referring to the hamlet of Santa Barbara and the pedestrian trails. In the mean time I had understood the confusion around the starting point of the stage: on the website of the Via Alpina itself two different starting points are mentioned: at the Piazza Marconi near the Cathedral or at the Castello

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Muggia: an alternative starting point of Stage B1

The Via di S. Barbara is a quiet road, steadily going uphill with many nice photo moments, today as well as the day before yesterday. Along the road there are not only many small olive groves, orchards, vineyards and vegetable gardens, but also bushes and rough parts. There also are beautiful views, like towards the opposite hill on which Muggia Vecchia is situated, where I have been on Tuesday. The advantage of walking the trail for the second time is that the dogs appeared to recognise me, because they did not bark at me as fiercely as they did the day before yesterday (it seems to me, that the smaller the dog, the louder its bark is!).

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On the road to Sta. Barbara: View on the opposite Mountain with Muggia Vecchia

It is also the border area between Italy and Slovenia – nowadays a “green border” with only a simple sign, but until 1990 things were quite different for sure… I have been growing up during and living with the Cold War and therefore it is a rather peculiar feeling to be able to walk here peacefully in an area where until recently the Iron Curtain divided Western and Eastern Europe.

In the hamlet Santa Barbara there is also a war memorial for the fallen during the Second World War. The commemoration service had been held shortly before.

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Santa Barbara: Wall with the names of the fallen

On both days I arrived at the point where the paved road changed into a small path with ancient pavement of natural stone: here the beautiful part of the stage starts. Quite a  relief to hear nothing but the singing of the birds, the rustling of (invisible) lizards and today the increasing wind. The stage of the Via Alpina concurs with the Alpe Adria Trail, another long distance trail which runs in 37 stages from the Grossglockner to Muggia. The last stage of this trail mainly follows the first Stage B1 of the Yellow Trail of the Via Alpina (in the opposite direction).

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Just outside Santa Barbara: now things get serious!

From Santa Barbara to Rabuiese, the border post on the motorway into Slovenia, nature is rather untouched with a steep, stony descent towards this hamlet; the humming of the motorway is not much of a disturbance. When reaching the houses the trail loses all its charm. I arrived at the same point where I had quit on Wednesday, but now I decisively walked on and after five minutes I left all industrial activities behind me. Through a next hamlet, Vignano, with olive groves, I arrived at a point where the paved road ended and a narrow, overgrown path started.

This path led to a natural reserve, the Laghi de Noghere Lakes. These lakes originally were clay pits belonging to a bricks works on the industrial area, but after its activities had ceased in 1980 these pits have filled up with (rain) water. Over the years the area has developed into a green oasis in which many rare plants grow and animals live. I left the track and walked over narrow winding footpaths towards the lakes – a wonderful resting area. A good example of the self-healing power of nature.

Every now and then a splash was heard which was too loud to be caused by a frog or a duck – indeed: a turtle! Besides the indigenous European pond turtle unfortunately also the exotic Florida box turtle lives here (released by people who apparently were fed up with their pets…) and the latter is threatening the biological balance.

The small river Rio Ospo runs quietly through the untouched green scenery and is thriving with life: I heard frogs croaking and saw dragonflies criss-crossing at high speed over the water and at the bottom of the clear water many fishes, small and large, swimming in the shadow. What a marvellous sight – and quite a difference with the listless, dull stream it later becomes, more towards the estuary near Muggia.

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A rapid in the idyllic Rio Ospo river near the Laghi di Noghere lakes

After leaving the natural reserve I went along the public road into the direction of Slovenia for a while, I had make a steep climb to Caresana through light deciduous forests. There were beautiful views over the wooded area. I also spotted over and over again high ancient drystone walls, made around olive groves. Meanwhile another thunderstorm had risen from the southeast, which although it didn’t produce any rain, accompanied me all afternoon with its rumbling.

After my trip through the woods I arrived in the small village of Caresana, near the Slovenian border. In the meantime my mobile phone had been bleeping several times: “You are in Slovenia now” – “You are in Italy now”. Much to my delight I saw the somewhat peeled logo of the Via Alpina attached to one of the posts of the sign – the first after I left Muggia.

Through the leafy woods of Caresana to Dolina walking was quite pleasant – there were a lot of flowers, which I unfortunately did not know the names (I will have to study zealously…). This Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) I did recognise: it was at its last phase of blooming.

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Dorlina: One of the last blooming, although almost fading Christmas rose in the wild

Near Dolina I saw just before I was entering the Nature-2000 area of the Val Rosandra Valley, a sculpture of a stylized hiker, made of weathering steel: it “accompanies” the real hikers on the Alpe Adria Trail and it serves as an information terminal. The day before yesterday I had already spotted one in Muggia: near the Piazza Marconi.

The trip through the south-eastern part of the Natura 2000 area of the Val Rosandra Valley, from Dolina via Crogole to Bagnoli della Rosandra, is very beautiful and peaceful – despite of the indications on the information panel at the start: bears and lynxes are living in this vast area. At one occasion ‘though two world which have nothing in common collided: twice I spotted rather large quantities of litter at the side of the track. It appeared to consist of clothing and shoes, and several (rather new) plastic bags with the inscription “UNHCR Refugee Agency”… So that should imply that through this barren, isolated land on the border people are on the move who aren’t doing so for fun (like me!). That really touched me and made me aware of my privileged position.

Over an hour later I arrived in Bagnoli della Rosandra, where also the Information centre of the Val Rosandra Valley is situated. I took the 16.15 hrs bus back to ‒ as I supposed – Trieste. However Line 40 became at first a kind of local bus passing through all hamlets and villages between Bagnoli, Dolina and Caresana (which I all had crossed). Half an hour later it returned at the info centre: it was a nice trip! Only at 16.45 hrs the bus drove back to Trieste.

The hiking part of this day turned out to be very special. However if I had the opportunity to change something in this stage, I would skip the part Muggia – Industrial area Noghere and let the actual stage start at the hamlet of Vignano. The access will pass by the industrial area, but that would not make much of an impression. The hike through the town centre of Muggia and towards Santa Barbara could be a separate one-day trip, because that is actually quite worthwhile.

This day ended with a good meal, like last Wednesday, in an exceptional nice restaurant at the Canal Grande, Antico Panada, where on Wednesday I had great food in a cosy atmosphere. Tonight I went back and was welcomed as an old friend. Wednesday’s appetizer was simple, but very subtle – something to try again at home: black rice with some green asparagus and a few flakes of tuna. Today it was a piece of poached codfish in a refined tomato sauce. On Wednesday it was followed by tagliatelle con scampi; I liked the deliciously rich sauce! Today I chose the Antico Panada plate with all kinds of delicacies, like marinated anchovies, fried sardines with onion compote (and raisins and pine nuts) and a fresh codfish mousse. The main course of the day before yesterday was grilled swordfish with a garnish of red cabbage to which grounded fennel seeds were added and which added just the sweetness that goes with the fish; today’s main course was a dorade with (peppery) strawberries and steamed fennel, going well with the strawberries ‒ interesting combination of flavours… The white house wine is the regional Friulano from Cividale del Friuli.

It was only a short distance to the hotel and I could enjoy a beautiful sunset on the seaside. It had been a special day.