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Published: June 20th 2011
Day 29 & 30 18th & 19th June Vrsic Pass, Lake Bled – Dolenjske Toplice
Day 29 18th June
It is with regret that we packed up and left Lepena but nevertheless we waved goodbye and headed up towards the Vrsic Pass (not the Triglav Pass as previously mentioned). The Vrsic Pass is only open between late May and the first snows and was originally built by Russian prisoners of War, 400 of whom were sadly buried in an avalanche in March 1916. El Piloto & Big Bess relished every single bend and every switchback was another tick in the Lorry Log of Achievement!
There were a number of ‘moments’ but none scarier than the one at Switchback No. 32 when a large coachload of tourists arrived at the turn in a bend at exactly the same time as we did. Not much room for manoeuvre and cars behind both the coach and the lorry. As each driver claimed his inch or two of terrain I noticed the terror in the eyes of the coach travellers (bearing in mind we are at the same height) – for they were on the valley side of the road and the
drop was sheer - how, I wondered, could they put their faith in some random coach driver on such a vertiginous road? Finally, with our bit of territory gained, we are off. At 1611m you start descending, through another set of switchbacks, to the other side passing a military cemetery at 1525m. The town of Kranjska Gora lies at the bottom of the pass and from there the valley opens out into a wide plain with the mountains receding into the background and eventually becoming tree covered hills.
We were heading south eastwards towards Dolenjske, a region which lies on the Croatian border and which is renowned for its spa towns and vineyards. The valley is either side of the large fast flowing Krka River and the gentle rolling hills frame the valley. Atop the hills are castles, monasteries and abbeys together with the white hilltop churches with their red-tile roofs that you commonly see in Slovenia. But first decided to drop in on Bled…
Lake Bled is Slovenia’s most popular resort as it has an emerald-green lake, a sweet little church on an islet, a medieval castle gripping precariously to a rocky cliff and to top it
all is surrounded by the peaks (in the distance) of the Julian Alps. BUT…..it is also packed with tourists and has some truly awful concrete hotels and other edifices running down to its shore. Yes, it was pretty but no more so than other parts of Slovenia and, in our opinion, not worth the detour. We were, to put it mildly, unimpressed. We moved on…..
Dolenjske Toplice is the oldest Spa town in Slovenia and we arrived there late afternoon. There is only one campsite on the edge of the town. It was inauspicious but with no other choice and the knowledge that we were only ‘stopping over’ to sample the thermal springs we pulled in for the night. The campsite had little hard standing but as the weather had been, and was still, very hot we deemed it safe enough to edge onto the grassy area alongside the stream. The outside temperature was hovering around 30 degrees and it was humid. All our windows were open and in spite of the mosi nets on the windows the critters were in the lorry in a flash. Mosi spray and citronella candles were in force and for only the second
time on our journey we used the mosi net over our bed. The frogs made the most diabolical noise and all in all there was little sleep to be had. In the wee small hours of the morning, having finally fallen into fitful sleep, we were woken up with the drumming of rain on the roof, the most almighty clap of thunder and lightning that lit up the inside of the lorry. The mother of all storms then carried on for hours. As each hour passed we lay awake wondering whether the ground would hold up and whether we would get out in the morning…
Day 30 19th June Dolenjske Toplice
It was just a drizzle when we opened the door of the lorry the next morning. The stream had risen by about a foot and was murky with mud. Our neighbouring campers had left – the wheels of their car leaving very ominous tracks in the ground. We formulated a plan:
We would have breakfast, pack up for our trip to the thermal baths, after all that is why we had come here – to sample the curative powers of the thermal springs which had been
taken since the 14th century – and then, before setting off for the baths, we would reverse the lorry onto the hard standing ready for our departure later that afternoon (reverse was the only way out).
No such luck. The clay soil had gripped us like a vice, our wheels were down and spinning and we were going nowhere. What to do?
1. Check the lorry manual – did we have differential lock? NO
2. Position the wooden levellers so that the rear wheels could get a grip and go…..DIDN’T WORK
3. Try to go forward and then back onto the wooden levellers – DIDN’T WORK
4. Time to get serious – change into our wellies and carefully consider our options…
5. This was fast becoming a challenge that is set to young officers at Sandhurst….what would they do?
6. Levellers were thrown to one side, out with the old army poncho, mats and cardboard which are placed behind the wheels……….but we needed a pathway out – a runway….
7. Down to the pile of brushwood cuttings we go and create our very own runway…
8. Come on, Big Bess, you can do it…….every time I get into the
cab I have to clean my wellies off or my feet slip on the pedals……Il Piloto is outside running the operation……….”Reverse…gently…….handbrake……reverse……..gently……handbrake”, each time he tries to push brushwood under the wheels for them to grip on to.
9. We work for nearly 3 hours and decide that we have indeed, stubborn though we are, been defeated.
You may have been wondering where all the other campers were or indeed where the campsite personnel were – nowhere! The few campers that were there had left and, it being a Sunday, the campsite office was not open until later in the afternoon. We rang the campsite number – the soon-to-be-wonderful-campsite-owner listened to the tale of woe and promised immediate assistance. In spite of being a Sunday afternoon within half an hour he, plus a truck and two men, were down on the campsite and within 20 minutes had pulled Big Bess clear. We were some £70 worse-off but it was worth every penny and we won’t be leaving the hardstanding ever again!
There is perhaps a moral to this story for we could have just rung the campsite owner in the first instance but I think it is something to
do with taking responsibility for one’s actions – we had driven onto the grass, we should TRY to get off it ……..which we did and the campsite owner & the rescue team were pretty impressed at our attempt!
The campsite owner persuaded us that we should still ‘take the waters’ and that his other campsite, by the main river, some 12 miles on, would suit us much better that night and we didn’t need to get there until late. Done deal.
The thermal spa mineral waters come gushing up from 1000m below the ground and the temperature is around 36 degrees. The town has been built up around this gift of nature and there are a number of hotels and a large pool complex. We spend two hours in these incredible waters which now incorporate powerful Jacuzzis – it was a great way to relax.
The new campsite is indeed much more suited to Big Bess. Tomorrow we intend to cycle the vineyards and castles before we consider our advance into Hungary.
P.S. I don’t think I will apologise again for ‘lack of antics’ !
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