05.07.2013 - 05.07.2013
Our plan today was to have a local guide to drive us up the Soca River valley and over the Vrsic mountain pass of the Julian Alps to Lake Bled.
Our first stop on the tour was Breznica, the hometown of Anton Jansa. Jansa was a painter, who later became a pioneer of beekeeping. We visited one of his original hive complexes. He painted his hives. Some paintings showed religious motifs, some scenes of everyday life, some are humorous, and some anthropomorphic animals. He became the beekeeper for Austrian royalty.
Wife dragging husband home
Women cooking trousers
Adam and Eve
Beetle and a man
Saint with a beehive
Bear in a rooster chariot
We were laughing at the speeding signs you encounter as you drive through the Slovene towns. They are basically a billboard that shows your car’s speed, just like in the US. If you are not speeding ‘Hvala’ (thank you) appears on the sign. When you are over it blinks and says something else that is probably not as nice. Our guide said ‘Don’t speed in Slovenia, if you are over the limit by 20km/hour (~12miles/hour) it is a fine of 1000 euros (1200 dollars). We also decided that if a car has a license plate that says "I" (for Italy), consider giving the car plenty of room.
On the way out to the pass we came close to a village called chicken village, which our guide Ervin said supplied almost all of the 71' world champion hockey team. One person from the town currently plays for the LA Kings. Everyone in town is upset because they are loosing their town team.
Martuljek mountain group
We then entered the town of Kranjeka Gora. It is a winter resort town. Apparently former Yugoslavian children look fondly upon this place because most school children would take field trips out here.
Traditional mountain home
We then ascended the Vrsic Pass
Vrsic pass has 50 numbered switchback turns up the mountain, this is one of them.
This mountain road was built under bad conditions by 10,000 Russian POWs during WWI to open overmountain supply lines for Austrian Empire forces. A small Russian orthodox chapel was built on the pass at the site of an avalanche that claimed the lives of many POWs.
Valley view from the pass
View of the pass summit
Traditional shingling on an alpine home
After we took in the beautiful mountain views of the Alps, we descended into territory that experienced horrible fighting in World War I. We entered the Soca River valley.
Much of the war here involved alpine warfare. These troops were very short of supplies. Commanders underestimated how long soldiers would need to be there. Soldiers literally fell off mountains. Frostbite was common and in some battles and deployments more people froze to death than were killed by the enemy. New fighting tactics emerged in such a tough environment, like field commanders giving direct orders instead of people higher up the chain of command. In fact Hemingway famously wrote about this part of the war in his book “A Farewell to Arms”. After seeing some of the old trenches and visiting the WWI museum, our guide Ervin wisely commented that after all this fighting, although some of the empires broke up, nothing really changed. All the borders to the countries birthed by the war were pretty much the same as they were before the war. Huh, what a waste, I guess some things are timeless. The museums selection of old alpine warfare gear was interesting.
Some of the remaining World War I bunkers.
Kluze fort. The fort guarded the narrowest part of the valley leading into Italy. Italians used it in the 15th century to defend Italy from Ottoman Turks, but in WWI Austrians used it to keep Italians out of their territory.
These rungs leading straight up the mountain and the tunnels on the side of the mountain are next to the fort. These structures allowed soldiers to access a second fort on top the mountain directly above the valley fort. The mountain fort was destroyed.
With all of this war talk, I asked our guide Ervin about his experience with the fighting here when Slovenia was the first republic to declare independence and break away from Yugoslavia. He said that he was young, only 5, but he remembered the air raid sirens and that everyone but him and his brother ran indoors. His parents sent them outside to play. He said his father’s response was, “Really, who’s going to attack Slovenia?”. Well he was right. The Yugoslav army approached the boarder, but within weeks retreated and left everyone alone. This was after about 75 people died from fighting, and although tragic, this was just a pittance of how many people died when Croatia and Bosnia declared their independence.
Hayracks. . . Slovenes are proud of them, and they are uniquely Slovenian. These are simply upright racks used to dry hay. They are everywhere in the countryside. I wish I would have taken a picture of this, but after scrutinizing their concrete freeway noise barriers I noticed they were built to replicate the shape of a hayrack because they had a little fake roof built over the walls. Another example, when we were driving through the Julian Alps we briefly drove through a small section of Italy where no hayracks were to be seen, but literally after you cross the border they are everywhere. I don’t get it, same agricultural hayfields on both sides of the border, same landscape, very similar people, but this was different. I guess it is a Slovene thing. It is also clear that since the 90’s the Slovenes have clearly caught onto capitalism because many hayracks were not being used for hay anymore. Instead they were being used as billboards. . . another picture I should have taken.
As we arrived in the town of Bled. We said goodbye to our guide Ervin.