Monday, May 18, 2015

Slovenia

We had no idea what to expect from Slovenia. It could have been relatively poor, being a former 'Iron Curtain' country. Then again it has been a part of the European union since 2004. It's also a relatively new country, having declared its independence as recent as 1991. But then again  when we look into the history of Slovenia a bit deeper, we'll find it has been under the Habsburg Monarchy for over 500 years. Today we see Slovenia as a former communist country, yet that is only 45 years of its history, a history which dates back to the 5th century BC. Quite a few conflicting situations, making it difficult to work out what to expect. We thus rode across the border with no expectations, an open mind and wondering what we would find. Which is, quite frankly, often the best way to do it.

Andries from the campground we stayed at in Austria had suggested to take the Nassfeld pass back into Italy and ride from there into Slovenia. A good tip as that meant riding into Slovenia through the Julian Alps. Strangely enough the Julian Alps are relatively unknown by most people. Named after Julius Caesar, who founded the town of Cividale del Fruiti at the foot of the Julian Alps, they stretch from north-east Italy to Slovenia. Mount Triglav, in Slovenia, reaches 2,864 m.


The ride into Slovenia was nothing short of stunning! We had been riding through the Alps for a while now but the Julian Alps impressed nonetheless. The weather forecast had been overcast and rainy, so we got sunshine and warmth instead! It was clear though that staying put the day before had been a good choice as yesterday's forecast had obviously been correct. The ground was still saturated and water was standing on the road in several places. 

The predecessor of Moto Guzzi!
The Italians must have stolen the
design from Slovenia...
Our first pass in Slovenia, the Vršičpas (don't ask me how to pronounce it...) was the eye-opener of the day. Right from the beginning it was clear that this was going to be a beautiful ride. It started with a crystal clear lake, surrounded by lush green mountains and the backdrop of a snow covered peak. Quite a few people were having a lazy day along the shores. Others decided that wrestling a pushbike to the top of the pass would be the best way to spend a Saturday. No easy ride as the pass has 17% steep climbs. For some strange reason the powers that be had decided to use cobblestones in the hairpin bends... Let's just say I'm glad it wasn't raining! 

We stopped several times for photos and gazed in amazement. We were so glad we weren't here yesterday in heavy rain as, apart from the cobblestones, we would have missed something beautiful. The total length of the pass has near enough 50 hairpin bends. Some of them had my front wheel bouncing and skidding. The new suspension on Mike's XT proved brilliant here! The scenery is simply breath-taking. Don't try to race up and down the pass, you'd miss too much!

Although large parts of Slovenia are still old-style rural, with plenty of small-scale farming, it's also a quite modern country. Cars are relatively new and cycling seems a favourite way to spend the weekend for most. The pushbikes used are mostly high-tech mountain and racing bikes. Motorcycling is a favourite too. For some strange reason high performance sports bikes are the most popular, while off-road bikes with their soft and long travel suspension would suit the quality of the roads much better. It is quite bumpy in places, especially when taking the backroads, like we did.

Slovenia definitely doesn't have that old-Soviet feeling. Which isn't surprising as even former Yugoslavia, of which Slovenia once was a part, steered away from Russia as early as 1948. We didn't see the Soviet style buildings like we saw in Lithuania for instance but a building style clearly related to Austria and northern Italy. Before the first World War Slovenia had been part of the Austrian empire, which explains the building styles. What we weren't aware of is the large population of brown bears still roaming the forests in Slovenia. So we decided to give free camping in the trees a miss... Instead we found a campground run by a very friendly man who told us lots about the history of his country, a country he was obviously very proud of.




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