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Report 866: Castles, Caves and Cablecars

By wendy lynn from California, U.S.A., Spring 2005

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Page 9 of 16: Vrsic Pass, Soca River (Trenta Valley) and Kobarid

photo by Joe

Wendy in the shadow of Triglav

Much to our surprise, this turned out to be the most difficult day of driving.

The sun was shining, and it looked to be a good clear day. We set off for the Vrsic pass where we read that 10,000 Russian POWs died during WWI building the pass. The road was narrow with more than a few hairpin curves and, in part, paved with cobblestones. Beautiful views of the mountains, pristine sunlight and pleasant short hikes along the way made the drive memorable. When are these kids going to have their meltdowns?

Then off to the nearby Trenta Valley, famous for its Soca River. Beautiful crystalline water over white limestone gives the ever-present turquoise color. It really looked like a postcard, except that there weren’t many postcards for sale here.

We tried to eat at what the Lonely Planet book said was the best restaurant in Slovenia (Topli Val), located in the town of Kobarid, but no one seated us, and it looked like a tour group of WWII vets had taken over the restaurant. It seemed like too much trouble so we headed across the street and had some good pizza. Brother ate about 10 slices.

After, we went down the street and visited the WWI museum. There was one other Slovenian couple walking about, but we were the only other patrons. Apparently there had been a big battle in the area between the Italians and the Germans involving thousands of deaths from mustard gas. They showed us a moving film that explained some of the background history and detailed a few of the battles. Mom and Julia couldn’t help but tear up. Alex wanted to touch all of the exhibits including exploded shells. Joe was afraid they might have mustard gas remnants. Julia was disturbed by the photographs of some of the soldiers. Afterwards, the kids enjoyed an ice cream cone because they had behaved so well. It was hard to forget about the sad history and the lives lost so nearby.

Joe pushed us to find the path to get closer to the river that we had been seeing all day. We got a Kobarid Historical Walk map from the museum and headed out, knowing that we were unlikely to find any obvious signs to help us. After a few minutes back on the main road, we did find a few markers and, based on the location of the town’s castle, we found one of the paths which started off with a steep descent through brush down to the river below. It was gorgeous and natural but a bit dicey with two kids.

After some walking we discovered a wobbly and narrow suspension bridge that allowed us to cross the Soca River. Joe was very unsure of the safety, especially when a group of men jogged across while he was on—the bouncing took him off his feet. The bridge did afford a stunning view of the river below.

Joe had to carry Alex a lot of the way down and up, through WWI pillboxes and trenches and ultimately over multiple gerry-rigged platforms to a magnificent waterfall at a chasm. It was unbelievable that at the end of a dirt path that was barely marked except for a few red arrows spraypainted along the way, we encountered this sight: A gorge of sheer rock wall with a large and beautiful waterfall pooling into clear, green water and rushing along over rocks. Because the gorge was so narrow that there was no room except for the river and the rock, someone had built a wooden path (with a few loose boards) into the side of the rock, supported by small iron beams. A wire guideline attached to the sheer rock allowed us to get close without actually getting in the river.

Unfortunately, all we got here was video (no photos). Our digital camera’s battery chose this trip to start losing power. After only a few photos in the morning, it was exhausted.

Again, we saw only one other family and that was only on our way back. We found out later that these spectacular falls were named Kozjak and are the source of one of the tributaries of the Soca River. (You can view the Kozjak waterfall by clicking on the weblink to the right.) There were no entrance fees, no people and no fanfare (certainly no postcards) despite the fact that we felt that this had been one of the more impressive things we had seen. This was the Slovenia we had been hoping for.

The ride home was a chore. We followed the signs to one of the larger towns (Skofja Loka), but it soon became clear that we were heading over the mountains, through the woods and through the forgotten part of Slovenia. Given our somewhat crummy map and no good alternative, we plugged on, growing increasingly angry at Lonely Planet for making it seem like this was a viable route. After two hours of hugging mountainsides, we found a “diskont” store in Zelezniki and got directions. Alex had a small meltdown in the car when he woke up from a two hour nap and had to use the potty.

Zelezniki was a decent sized town in the middle of the mountains. Of course, even after driving for two hours toward what seemed to be the biggest town in the area, this was the first time we had seen a sign mentioning the town’s name. We would have loved to explore had it not been dusk, but we knew we wouldn’t return again over the mountains. At least not on this trip.

When Wendy told the store employees in Zelezniki that we were trying to get back to Mojstrana (they didn’t speak English or German), they rolled their eyes, looked concerned and spoke rapidly to each other in Slovene. This didn’t appear to be a good sign. We got decent directions which were comprised only of a list of small towns to head for. Without their help, we would have never gotten home. Nonetheless we still had two more hours of hugging mountains, this time in the dark.

In hindsight, we would have planned to spend the night in Kobarid, allowing us to further explore the beautiful walking paths in the morning, eat lunch in Zelezniki and thereby avoid the long drive through the evening.

Eventually we made it back to the Gostilna Psnak for some goulash, polenta and spaghetti for the kids. We started the meal with what Tanja said was “grease” soup. When we raised our eyebrows, she pulled out her dictionary. Turned out she had her German and English confused, and it was actually semolina soup. It tasted great.

Funny thing, despite our disappointment over the lost opportunity to take a better way home, Tanja told us that we may have actually gone the most efficient way! The myth that everything is close in Slovenia once again proved false; the mountains make the distances look deceivingly short. Although the Lonely Planet guide wasn’t entirely to blame, we felt it should have warned us about the difficulty of the drive. We decided to permanently retire our Lonely Planet book. Joe had become convinced that the author had only heard about Slovenia but had never been there.

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