A Farewell to Arms

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I woke up this morning and thought, "What the heck? It's sunny!" Actually, my first thought was "Stupid church bells", then I opened my eyes and saw the sunlight. It was good weather, and I had another day of hiking planned, but first I had to drive to Kobarid.

I set out from Bohinj to Kobarid, following my usual tactic of navigating by town names. The road wound up and down a mountain, and somewhere on the up side, I took a wrong turn. I'm not exactly sure when or how it happened, or precisely where I ended up, but at some point the road turned to gravel, and I stopped seeing town names I could find on the map. The only town I recognized was Škofja Loka, so I started following the signs for that.

Other than being lost, it wasn't a bad drive. The weather was nice. The road was good, considering it was gravel, and I started the day with almost a full tank of gas. Slovenia isn't huge, and I was sure at some point I'd get to a major road. The only time I started to doubt was towards the end of my unintentional detour when I passed a sign for a town that pointed off to the left, and then a few kilometers later passed another sign for the same town pointing off to the right. Then I began to get a little worried I might be going in circles.

Luckily, by that time I had started seeing town names I could find on my map, so I was fairly confident I would know where I was shortly. I popped out in the town of Zelezniki. I was back on a main road, but maybe 10 km east of where I had intended to meet-up with that road. On the plus side, Zelezniki looked like a nice town. There seemed to have been a lot of recent development. I would recommend checking it out if you're looking for Slovenian mountain real-estate.

Thinking back, the problem may have been that I stayed on paved road too long. There was a point where the path forked, and I chose the paved road over the gravel route. On my maps and in my road atlas, the road I was trying to take is the same width and color as paved roads, but I think that may be inaccurate. At any rate, after joining the correct road at Zelzniki, I passed the intersection I had expected to come out at in the first place, and saw that road was closed. So, ironically, it may have been just as well I took my unofficial detour.

The rest of the trip went smoothly. It was a scenic drive through a mountain valley, running alongside a river. When I hit the Soča river, the water turned the deep cyan some mountain rivers get. I followed that river north to Kobarid.

Kobarid is a small town located near the Soča river. That river was an important line of the Isonzo front separating Austrian forces from Italian during WWI. The setting is said to have inspired Ernest Hemingway when writing "A Farewell to Arms", and was the scene of the pivotal 12th Battle of Isonzo (and maybe a few of the other less-pivotal 11), when German and Austro-Hungarian troops finally broke the Italian line. Although the Italians forces were driven out of the area and back into Italy, the part of Slovenia containing Kobarid was awarded to soon-to-be-fascist Italy at the end of WWI.

There was a small museum in the town, which focuses mainly on the WWI history of the area, although it did have a room or two dealing with Roman and late Antiquity settlements near the town. More interesting than any of the museum exhibits, however, was the living museum of the Kobarid Historical Trail.

The Kobarid Historical Trail was a 5km loop through the hills above the town. Part of it ran past ruins of Kobarid's late Antiquity past, part of it ran through WWI Italian defensive works, as one of the Walks of Peace (Pot Miru), and pretty much all of it ran next to the Soča river. It had everything I like in a hike: monuments, ruins, historical locations, a waterfall, a river, bridges and caves. (Actually, I don't like caves. I'm into staying out of caves, lest I get attacked by rabid bats in a foriegn country or any country for that matter.)

I would say it was my favorite hike of the trip thus far, especially given it was the first hike with good weather, and I have a hard time imagining what could top it. The difficulty of the route was between that of my two hikes from the previous day. It was well marked up until the very end, but you could follow it easily using the tourist map, even when the signposts mysteriously disappeared. I was going to write about the highlights, but first I typed "the highlight was...", and then deleted that and typed "the two highlights were...", then "three", etc. So instead of writing about everything I liked, you can just check-out the pictures and assume if there's a picture of it, I liked it.

Two stops do merrit a little discussion, though. The first is the "Italian Charnel House" or ossuary. Because the Italians controlled the area up through WWII, and the defeat at Isonzo battle had a big impact on the psyche of their country, the bones of their soldiers were collected from smaller graveyards and monuments in the area and assembled into a single massive monument perched on the hill above Kobarid. It was opened by Mussolini in 1938. It consists of three levels inscribed with the names and ranks of the known Italian soldiers, crowned with a small church at the top.

Flipping through the guest book, some of the visitors wanted to read an expression of "the tradgey of war" into the monument and church, but I didn't get that impression at all. It was erected by facist Italy between the wars. The ranks and important medals awarded to the soldiers were inscribed next to the names. With pillaging having gone out of style, medals and rank are the spoils of war for the modern soldier. I believe including those details was meant to inspire visiting fascists, with dreams of medals and glorious death in the name of Il Duce. Maybe their names would be inscribed on a monument for future generations to see. Plus, even the murals in the church had something of an ominous, not entirely peaceful, tone if you stopped to look at them. I found the whole thing a little unsettling. Interestingly, the memorial is still managed by Italy, not Kobarid.

But then, back to nature. Nature is happy, unless it's a rabid bat or icky spider. Other than scenic views of the river, the big "nature" spot of the trail was the Kozjak Waterfall (Slap Kozjak). It seems like every hike I take ends-up involving waterfalls at some point. I've become quite the connoisseur. This waterfall was not terribly high, and it didn't have a large volume of water, but it was excellent. It was hidden back in an enchanting grotto where it fell down into a wonderfully cyan pond. It was on a path off the main circle of the hike, and I was starting to get a little tired at that point, but I'm glad I went down to see it.

All in all, it was a nice bit of hiking to end on. Tomorrow I will be leaving the Julian Alps and heading towards Slovenia's little piece of the Mediterranean. I shouldn't have any more hikes in my future for a week or two. Just some (hopefully) sunny seashore.

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