Slovenia 2016 – a fairytale trip
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;/ For he to-day that sheds his blood with me/ Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile”
The first part of this quotation is apposite, the rest less so. Just five of us gathered together at Stansted to catch our flight. Tragedy came almost immediately when the airport authorities, drunk on power, confiscated my Nutella and WowbutterTM and briefly accused my bag of being a bomb. Luckily these were only brief setbacks and soon we took to the skies, Ljubljana-bound.
Our flight having been a late-evening one, arriving after the last bus to the city left, I hoped that we would be able to spend the night in the airport and leave in the morning. The terminal turned out to be tiny, but a person behind a desk chirpily informed us that it was fine to sleep there, on the benches or the floor. We tried, but some flies had decided that our faces were the places to be. As we were not yet at one with nature, the hectic hexapod party going on around us was too disturbing to allow us to drop off.
An early bus delivered us to the capital. We wandered around as the city woke up until we thought it would be acceptable to check into our hostel. There we met up with Sophie, who had arrived by bus from Germany the day before and completed our team. After a nap we went on a guided walking tour of the city, which was made more surreal by our drifting in and out of sleep. In the evening the market square came alive with street food stands. We took in the smells and admired Jimmy the one man band before hitting bed for an early start.
Slovenia’s first and only national park, Triglav national park, is nestled in the North-west of the country, covering part of the Julian Alps. We caught an early bus which took us round the North of the park and up into the mountains. Above us the forested valleys gave way to stark white jagged peaks. We disembarked at the road’s highest point in the Vršič pass, the location of our first hut, Tičarjev Dom. The manager kindly let us leave most of our kit stowed away for the day while we went for a day walk up the nearby peak of Mojstrovka (2332m). After being set back by long scree slopes and friendly sheep we arrived at the top, whence we could see out to the ridgelines along which ran the borders with Italy and Austria. A rousing round of “Happy Birthday” was sung to Helen, and the singing continued as we made our way down. After being passed by some cool cats jogging directly down the scree slopes we became envious and adopted the technique for ourselves, making great time back to the hut. For supper we took our stoves out to the top of the pass and sat there through twilight and nightfall.
The first two days of actual trekking involved descending through the forest to the floor of the Trenta valley and then slogging back up out of it to Pogačnikov Dom, dramatically placed on a saddle overlooking the way we had come. We had begun doing exercises such as press-ups and full-rucksack-sit-ups in our spare moments, but sadly the only thing getting ripped was my only pair of trousers while attempting a squat. The highlight of the walk up to the hut was discovering Emily’s flair for improvised storytelling as she regaled us with the Tale of the ancient Greek hero, King Willy, among others. The weather was for the most part glorious while we were walking. On both evenings we experienced a thunderstorm; we were very much in one as we sat in the campsite in Trenta, but from the Dom we could see lightning crackling in distant clouds, while we had clear skies and a crescent moon above us. Rhodri singed every hair on his hand while lighting his evil stove.
We spent two nights at the hut. On the day in between I had hoped to conquer Škrlatica (2740m), the queen of the park, however, the weather had turned miserable. Low grey clouds bringing pelting rain had rolled in, eliminating any chance of a view, and having left the trees below us, we were exposed to the elements. In many ways it felt like a standard UBES day walk. We decided to do the nearer and lower Stenar (2501m) instead. As we were the only guests on the second night, the girls running the hut decided they would use the communal area for a “Madagascar” marathon, which none of us completed.
There then came a highly eventful day. We had a large amount of steep descent down into the Vrata valley, followed by a long walk Northeast along the valley floor, out of the national park. It was a good day for wildlife; we saw our first chamois grazing below us, we passed through a wood overflowing with birdlife feasting on berries, and on the stony floor we came across a salamander wriggling in the undergrowth. Lunch was had by a hut and a large boulder covered in sport routes which we responsibly decided not to climb. The trail along the valley bottom was lovely. We passed by the galleries – a huge rock formation overhanging the path with trees coming out of it which grew downwards, did a U-turn, then went up again. The highlight of the walk was Peričnik Falls found a little way up from the road, which we could walk behind. For the last few kilometres we entertained ourselves by singing Disney songs in English and German simultaneously.
When we arrived at the small village of Mojstrana, it soon became clear that there was some kind of ceremony going on. Just about the whole village seemed to be gathered around a small park where people were making speeches, some couples wandered about in traditional dress and a smart-looking band stood ready to play. A friendly Englishman who had moved to the village “for obvious reasons” informed us that it was the official opening of a new park in honour of the village’s 19 Olympic athletes. He also pointed us in the direction of a pizzeria…
A couple of hours later we were sitting with our heads in our hands looking despairingly at our large plates which, despite our best efforts, still contained pizza. Having stuffed an uncomfortable amount of dough down our throats we slid our distended bellies out of our booth and began to waddle over to the next village in search of the campsite. We got separated in the dark after half the group were waylaid by a cat, and we ended up getting a lift from some jovially drunk locals down the road to the camp’s reception.
The day at this campsite was available as a rest day if required, but the fact that there was an international boundary snaking along the ridge just a few hundred metres above us was too tempting a prospect for some of us to pass up. So we set off in glorious sunlight with the intention of “dipping a toe into Austria”. Despite getting slightly lost and having to scramble up a rocky stream, we made it to the border – a simple wire fence – in time for an Austrian lunch. The views back towards Triglav national park were stunning, with peak after peak vanishing into the haze.
Now came phase two of the trip. A bus took us from the far North, round the East side of the park and down South to deposit us by the beautiful Lake Bohinj. At a campsite by the water’s edge we came across a sleeping Claire, whom we gently awoke with some water. Jono and Claire had arrived from their adventure in the Dolomites and were keen to get stuck into Slovenia, despite having not really slept in a while. Together we hired some canoes and kayaks and explored the lake, uncovering such treats as “Willy beach” and Jono’s kayak hubris.
We split the walk in to Vodnikov Dom into two days. As we went we noticed that the people we passed tended to look somewhat less mountainy than those we crossed paths with in the North of the Park. The demographics were similar to Ben Nevis or Snowdon – it seemed that climbing Triglav was an activity for all, rather than just dedicated hikers. My guidebook had said that all Slovenians are expected to climb it once in their lives.
There was a treat waiting for us at the hut, where the girls behind the reception desk had an acoustic guitar and were singing a range of songs from Disney to the Beatles in beautiful harmony. In the evening we retired to our attic room and read Grimm’s fairytales to each other.
The weather forecast for our attempt on the summit was good in the morning but clouding over with possible storms in the afternoon, so an early start was called for. Most people started from one of the two huts just a few hundred metres from the summit, but we wanted to make more of a day of it. Above the highest hut the route wound steeply round the bare rocky summit. For most of the way there were metal pegs to hold onto and a cable that those with the equipment could clip into, although we were going without. We arrived at the top of the mountain just as towering clouds were rolling in from the South. In perfect conditions it is theoretically possible to see over 300km to the mountains of Italy, but the haze was still as thick as it had been all trip.
On the way down we could feel the static building up in the air. As the first raindrops fell, some of us felt some slight shocks from the metal cable. As quickly as we could, we made for the warmth and safety of the hut, hoping that we wouldn’t be blasted off the mountain. While huddled in the crowded dom, Jono decided that he was so desperate for chocolate that it didn’t matter that they only had hazelnut dairy milk and that he was allergic to it, he would damn well eat it. He then had an allergic reaction.
I awoke the next morning to find the room strangely empty. Downstairs I found many of the group already in the dining room, and I was informed by a wild-eyed and delirious Rhodri that they hadn’t slept and had in fact been playing solitaire since the early hours of the morning. We returned to Lake Bohinj via the gorgeous Voje valley. After the Slap Mostnice (another waterfall), the path followed a small but excitable river. The clear water skipped into still pools which reflected the leaf-filtered light overhead, becoming suffused with the most beautiful shade of emerald. All of a sudden the river was a long way down at the bottom of a narrow yet deep, stunningly carved ravine. We had to stop at every viewpoint to admire its twists and curves and hidden depths. Upon arriving back in town we hungrily fell into our favourite shop to fill up on large bags of crisps before catching a Bled-bound bus.
For the end of the trip we had a couple of days to admire Bled and Ljubljana. Highlights included eating a huge amount of ice-cream, poking around a couple of castles, and the wonderful effect of a combination of exhaustion and a glass of merlot on Emily. We were sorry to leave. Even outside of the national park, Slovenia seemed to be a wonderful little country covered in forested hillscapes and open cornfields. Apologies for the long and wordy blog post, but so many things on this trip deserved to be described, and in better prose than mine. Thanks to all the team for making it so much fun!