A Farewell to Arms in Kobarid

Trip Start Jun 03, 2010
Trip End May 28, 2011

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Farewell to Arms in Kobarid
August 28, 2010

Writing this from a dry and warm perch in the front of the van, but parked in a soggy wet campground in Kobarid on the edge of the Julian Alps in Slovenia.

We left Bled this morning, in sunshine with a bit of cloud hanging over the mountaintops. Pretty soon we were driving the narrow, switchback road up and over Vrsic Pass, around Mt. Triglev. The road has 24 switchbacks going up, and 26 going down. I was a little worried about the van because the rear axle joints squawk sometimes when they are strained. I managed to keep easy enough on the accelerator to prevent that for the most part, so I am still hoping the CV joints will last for another 10 months.

The uphill stretch was beautiful, with stops and views of the Julian Alps, and the occasional cow herd and sheep flock to pass through. At the beginning of the descent, we stopped for a picnic at a restaurant near the source of the Soca River. There was a nice little hike up to that source…about 15 minutes, but pretty rugged. Impressive sight, as the river comes bellowing out at full force directly from a crack in the rocks.

The rest of the trip was a casual drive down the Soca Valley to this town of Kobarid.

The very interesting thing about this region is that it was the site of some of the most fierce carnage of WW I, with the Italians trying to break through the Austrio-Hungarian defenses on the mountain ridges. As in the north, it became a battle of futile attrition, as the Italians made 10 attempts to take the ridges over the next 23 months. Eventually the Austrians solicited the aid of the Germans and mounted a huge attack against the Italians in October of 1917. They mustered an incredible 600,000 soldiers in these inhospitable hills and successfully broke through the Italian defenses, driving well into Italy. Amongst the German leaders was one Irwin Rommel, later to become the "Desert Fox" of El Alamein.

The Italians eventually came back with their British allies, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire was crushed. What futility… more than a million casualties, and 300,000 deaths… and for what?

It was this battlefront that Ernest Hemingway served as an ambulance driver, and which he describes in “A Farewell to Arms”. The local museum here has a great display of this whole mess, with photographs, displays of armaments and a film.

I wonder what “Papa” Hemingway would make of me reading his book on my iPod in a campground where Germans, Italians, Austrians and the occasional Canadian are all happily washing their dishes side by side.

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