Travel Theme: Clean

Ailsa of “Where’s My Backpack?” is concerned about clean air and is choosing CLEAN for the theme this week. If you would like to join in with her challenge then please do. Everyone is welcome.

My personal bugbear is that of clean water. We take it for granted that we can turn on a tap and have water so good we can drink it, let alone wash in it or clean our clothes in it.  Sadly this isn’t the case in a lot of the world.clean 5

In Slovenia in the Vintgar Gorge flows some of the clearest water I have ever seen. The 1.6 km long Vintgar gorge carves its way through the vertical rocks of the Hom and Bort hills and is graced by the Radovna with its waterfalls, pools and rapids. 

Discovered in 1891 by Jakob Žumer and Benedikt Lergetporer, the gorge was soon after equipped with wooden observation walkways and bridges, and was opened to the public on August 26, 1893. Wikipedia

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On a hot day there is nothing better than walking through this gorge in the shade with the sound of the water beside you.

cleanWhere is the clearest, cleanest water you have seen?

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A Quiet Corner in Slovenia

Bled and its perfectly formed lake located in the Julian Alps is in the Gorenjska region of Slovenia, not far from the Austrian and Italian borders. A lake just the right size for a comfortable stroll around its shores with spectacular views from all sides. We found ourselves there for a week in June 2012 when my OH attended a conference. Not far from the airport it was a quick transfer to the Hotel Golf, an ugly sugar-cube building above the lakeside, which had pluses and minuses.

The plus was a lakeside room with wonderful panoramic views. The minuses included no air-con, a steep climb back to the hotel from the lakeside, poor breakfasts and a noisy bar close-by where the natural amphitheatre of the lake basin amplified the sound.

The 6 km trail around the lake is long enough to take in the views of the island with the Church of the Assumption which demands a climb up the 99 stone-step staircase; visitors should ring the bell for good luck, and a local tradition at weddings is for the groom to carry his bride up these steps. Behind the island the background is of the Karavanke mountains. The castle is perched on the high limestone mass at the north of the lake and you will see the colourful traditional Pletna boats and boatmen who will row you over to the island; swans, ducks and fish swim in glacial waters so clear you can see the bottom. There are convenient benches for you to rest and absorb the beauty surrounding you.

The lakeside town is charming and popular with lovely cobbled streets in the old town, plentiful lakeside restaurants serving the famous Bled cake (kremna rezina), a delicious custard and cream confection, and the lovely neo-gothic St Martin’s Church below the Castle. The castle can be reached up a steep route from the Castle beach, or slightly less tortuous routes by road from behind the Bledec hostel. The castle offers magnificent views and is an interesting medieval fortress, well worth the effort of getting there.

When you are tired of the scenery around the lake you can visit Vintgar Gorge, 4 km north-west of Bled. A public bus will get you there and back. The 1.6 km gorge carves its way through vertical rocks and you alternate between paths and boardwalks alongside the River Radovna and its waterfalls, pools and rapids crossing over wooden bridges. It is a lovely cool place to visit on a hot day.

The Triglav National Park covers almost the entire Julian Alps and offers a completely different experience. Majestic mountains, steep gorges, clear mountain streams and traditional farms. Take an exhilarating and spectacular drive up the hairpin bends of the Russian Road to the Vršič Pass which is on the border with Italy.

Triglav National Park
Triglav National Park

Not only is it special for the views and scenery, but there is a history behind its existence. It was built by Russian prisoners-of-war in 1915 and because the road had to be kept open all year round, prisoners were kept in camps to shovel off the snow. In 1916 an avalanche buried one of these camps killing around 400 prisoners and 10 guards. There is a small cemetery near hairpin 4 and a beautiful Russian Orthodox Chapel on the site of the camp at hairpin 8.

sLOVEnia – then and now

I step out of the bus into the bright light and look around. In front of me is the railway station; a good example of Austro-Hungarian architectural style. Across the busy dual carriageway is a tree-lined park with minor streets and avenues leading to the old city centre. Nothing looks familiar: I look around hoping that some kind of recognition will take place, but I have no memory of this place – neither the station nor any of the streets.

Ljubljana Railway

Usually when I return to a city my memory clicks into place as smoothly as a child’s jigsaw puzzle. Not today though. I sigh. The smells are all wrong, the noises are wrong and the colours are definitely wrong. As the sun burns down on my skin and the noise of the buses and cars fill my ears I remember the last time I stood in this spot…

I stepped out of the lorry and into the gloom of a wet late autumn afternoon. The driver clasped my hand, grinned and bid us goodbye. A part of me was relieved to have reached this little border town of Ljubljana in northern Yugoslavia. The journey through the Austrian Alps with its hairpin bends in torrential sleet and rain, was not the most relaxing, but as the heavy rain ran down the back of my neck and soaked through the shoulders of my jacket I craved the warmth of the cab. We headed to the information booth inside the railway station to try to find a room to stay the night. Camping was definitely out of the question.

Doorway

A grey-haired woman in the booth gave us directions to a house nearby with a room to let. When we reached the address we looked up at the multi-storey building in dismay. Its concrete façade was black in the rain and the huge solid door seemed quite forbidding. Paul raised the heavy brass knocker shaped like a fish and let it fall. The noise was like a gunshot and startled me. After an interminable while we heard the sound of a key being turned in the lock and the door slowly opened. A diminutive grey-haired woman dressed in black stood before us, unsmiling. We asked her about a room for the night, speaking hesitantly in German and miming laying our heads on a pillow. A brief movement of her head indicated for us to step inside. As we stood dripping onto the tiled hallway floor we heard her locking the door behind us. I shivered: this did not feel good.

The woman beckoned us to follow her up the wide staircase with intricate wrought-iron balustrades to the second floor where she unlocked a drab brown door and waved us inside. The room was huge with high ceilings and a large sash window on one wall. Despite the size of the window the room was very gloomy mainly due to the still falling rain, but also the furnishings – a very large old-fashioned dark brown wardrobe dominated the main wall, twin metal beds with thin brown blankets faced the window, with a small worn rug between them on the brown linoleum floor. The only decoration was a dull painting of a castle in dark browns and greys in a dark wooden frame. My heart sank – but at least it was dry – and cheap.

Not wanting to go back out into the storm, we heated some soup on our little gas stove; glad of the warmth it gave out and then climbed into our sleeping bags to keep warm. It was not a great night for sleeping. The rain lashed down onto the windows, which rattled in their sashes. The beds were hard and uncomfortable and someone in the next room had a hacking cough. Eventually an overcast dawn broke through the darkness and we could get up and get on our way. The rain had stopped and a watery sun attempted to shine, but the wind was blowing from the Alps and was tinged with snow. Standing at the side of the main road to Belgrade we shivered in this grey unwelcoming communist country…

Then was October 1973 and we never did get that lift. By mid afternoon we abandoned our vigil and returned to the station to get a train through to the capital city of Belgrade and on into sunny Greece. Neither of us wanted to spend another damp, cold night in Ljubljana.

cafe culture

Now is June 2012: a cloudless azure blue sky, the sun caressing my skin and the light so bright it makes my eyes hurt. Walking into the centre of the city I find it to be filled with charming cobbled squares, baroque churches and brightly decorated art nouveau architecture. It is vibrant with pavement cafés lining the riverside and young people sit and drink their coffee and beer. A lot has changed in this region in the intervening years – Yugoslavia is no more and Ljubljana is now the young capital city of Slovenia and even the station got a face-lift in 1980 and the only grey-haired lady appears to be me!