Sunday, May 20, 2007

Vertigo on Vrstic Pass

Sunday morning in Ljubljana and headed for the Croatian capital, Zagreb, for a quick walking tour this afternoon. Then it is on to budapest at 0200 tomorrow on the venezie express.

Yesterday, we joined thousands of other holidaymakers in heading for the Slovene Adriatic, specifically Piran, a lovely seacoast town with a venetian walled inner city area. We had never seen dubrovnik or any of the other towns and cities associated with Venetia and Lombardy, those consequential Italian states, so it was a real revelation. We were getting very international, communing with Italians(they used to own the place after all), Germans, French, Slovenes, Croats and the occasional Serbs even. it was all very cosmopolitan and certainly multilingual. we thought the Italians cut the widest swath with their beach clothing, or lack thereof, and demeanor.

The previous day was quite a milestone in my Europa driving education. We rented a car because we were unhappy with the train schedule, in fact getting to Kobarid/Caparetto would have been impossible if we had not gotten the auto. We did not have a great idea of distances, but we wanted to maximize our ability to see things, so we headed first for Lake Bled, the spectacular body of water with several small islands in it, one of which features a 14th century church. That was predictably impressive...all superlatives apply there. afterward, we decided in our wisdom that we would head for Kobarid, over the mountains in the Soca river valley. Our cheery rental agent had told us that it was a "little bit windy," as in winding, but that the mountain drive posed no major problems. The trip began with us nearly veering into Austria when the exit we were to take ended up closed, with no indication where the detour began. Once we backtracked and found our way, the Vrstic pass adventure began. This is basically a drive over and through the Slovene Julian alps, so we had visions of something like traversing the Sierra Nevadas at home. Alas, no comparison there at all. We found ourselves on a "road" narrower than the one that goes to pullman that had us doing hairpin turns every two or three minutes up the steepest incline i have ever experienced. That would have been challenging all by itself, but we were joined by bicyclists, walkers, suicidal german motorcylists and other vehicles, all competing for space on a road narrower than the one to Pullman from Walla Walla. It was, to put it mildly, hair-raising, and we were cursing the other roadsters in very unacademic language at each near- miss collision. it was not just scary, of course...when we did dare to look up from this "road," we beheld the most spectacular mountain scenery i had ever seen in my life. About halfway to the summit, we glimpsed a chapel built in memory of russian prisoners of war killed by an avalanche in l9l6 as they worked along this "road"...a very sobering and impressive sight. Stop the car, pull the brake tight, everybody out for photos! All along this drive, we struggled to imagine soldiers trying to schlep cannon, supplies and horses up this pass...as the car lurched and careened around every twist and turn, i found it all impossible to imagine.

Needless to say, we finally did make our way down off the pass to land in the soca valley, a most spectacular passage between two high sets of peaks, and the Kobarid museum, site of the crucial Caparetto struggle of l9l7. The museum was fully deserving of its reputation as one of the greatest in europe. But we felt the experience of the shock and awe drive over Vrstic was an incomparable and irreplaceable element of the experience...it is one thing to see the old pictures, inspect the weaponry and hear the testimonies, quite another to try to navigate their route, even with the most modern automotive technology. It gave us new and far deeper respect for the feats of the soldiers who fought on the eastern front of that awful conflict.

historical travel...you gotta be there!

3 comments:

german said...

while in budapest, maybe you could take a look at the underground city. its supposed to be on tonight here but i think i missed the first run. it might be new or old news to you but i thought you might want to continue your "european Vacation" with anoother newfirst hopefully

LaPopessa said...

Well, good to have you all in 1 piece after that. Now that Pullman road won't seem so bad after all.

FrankHew said...

29Moville,

This might seem out of the blue, but would you mind dropping me a note today (Thursday, May 24) as quickly as possible at schreck@imedia.ru? My name is Carl Schreck, and I am the News Editor at The Moscow Times. One of my journalists is finishing a feature story today on Mathias Rust, and I saw your post on the topic. If you were an eyewitness, I'd love to plug in your comments.

On a side note, I'm originally from Wenatchee and grew up playing hoops in the Big 9. Pasco was a particularly pesky foe in my years.

Anyway, drop me a note if you get a chance.

Cheers,
Carl