From the Med to the Alps and back...

Trip Start Feb 12, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Slovenia  ,
Thursday, April 1, 2010

Because of Trieste's convenient location, we decided to take the opportunity to explore a couple more countries. Trieste rests on the border with Slovenia, and following our trip to Venice we returned to Trieste before heading out along the Socca River Valley. The valley was beautiful with stunningly bright blue waters running from the Julian Alps down to the lowlands. 
Our initial destination had been Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, but we were convinced by the car rental guy to make the trip along the valley and up over the Vršič Pass in the mountains. As we drove up the valley along the river, we stopped occasionally to take photos and to test our courage on the rickety rope bridges, strung across the river. It was all very pleasant and the weather was terrific. However it did start to gradually get chillier - going from about 70 in Trieste, gradually dropping the further from the coast we got. We finally reached the base of the pass and without hesitation, began the drive up. (We didn't hesitate because there was really no choice at this point but to either go over or go back the way we came.)

The pass was one of the more frightening adventures we have taken in our travels. Vršič Pass is a very high (1611 meters at the top) mountain pass across the Julian Alps in the northwest part of the country. The pass is the highest in Eastern Europe and on the other side is the popular tourist ski town of Kranjska Gora. There were a total of 48 hairpin bends and never the hint of a barrier to keep your car on the road should you lose traction and start heading towards the edge. The pass is closed in the winter due to heavy snow and in fact it had obviously just reopened for the year within the last few days. We reached the top just in time to see the snowplows finishing their work on the other side of the mountain. If not for this perfect timing we would never have made it down the other side. It was a challenge in our little Fiat as it was. We saw only two other cars the entire journey up and down the mountain - a clear sign the locals knew better than to take this pass if it can be avoided. 

We never found the giant bridge we had been looking for but no matter, we made it down alive and that is what counts. We drove into Kranjska Gora frazzled, desperately needing a toilet and a hot meal. It was hard to grasp what we had just done - in a matter of a few hours going from the beautiful Med to the top of a mountain with several feet of snow - and back down again. A plate of dumplings and Schnitzel helped calm the nerves, as well as a Slovenian beer (I gave it a 7). 

We did finally make it into Ljubljana and it was well worth the trip. Ljubljana is an interesting mix of beautiful old buildings and communist era apartment blocks. Luckily, the ugly apartment buildings remained on the outer part of the city, leaving the city centre to remain beautiful and untouched. The old town is full of chocolate box buildings showing their Hapsburg era architecture with style and color - blues and pinks and yellows and greens, all resting beneath the castle on the hill. Cafes and restaurants lined the cobbled streets that circled around the castle hill. We stopped and had a coffee while we watched the rain pass through, then after walking a bit more, ended up in a sweets shop where we embraced one of the best chocolate cakes we've ever had.

Eventually evening started to call and we had to be on our way. We were due to be in Motovun that evening and the Croatian border guards were notorious for making life difficult for travelers. Our first attempt to cross the border proved unfruitful - Google maps not noting that the small road we were on did not have an actual border guard, just a tiny checkpoint that was obviously never used. So back we went around and finally ended up at the busy border crossing. Sure enough we were asked to pull over, searched and interrogated before being allowed on our way, into Croatia. 
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