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Published: August 18th 2016
There is a lot I can't tell you about Slovenia. I cannot speak to the cultural traditions, the traditional dress, the appearance of the cities. Although we stayed near Ljubljana, we did not go into the city center. But what I can tell you about is the beauty of the countryside, and particularly the stunning sights of the Soca River Valley and Slovenia's only national park, Triglav. The latter ranks with the best in the world, and drew comparisons in our group to Yosemite.
Leaving Opatija, we headed northward then westward to start up the Soca River valley, culminating in the park. Slovenia has sometimes been called the "green heart of Europe", and the meaning of that sobriquet was obvious on our drive. From what we saw, the vast majority of the country, other than its "toe in the Adriatic" on the Istrian Peninsula, is mountainous and forested. Everything is green, with valley containing small villages and sometimes larger towns and industrial installations of various sorts. As is generally true in Europe, it is obvious that they have invested in their infrastructure, with roads that at least rival any in the USA and frankly are generally better.
River flows through the large karst geologic area that covers most of the park. Here, soft and soluble limestone, dolomite, and gypsum rocks are continually eroded by acidic water, and the result is dramatic landscapes above ground and caves, sinkholes, and hidden rivers and springs below ground. In one place we saw a deep small valley where it was fairly obvious that the roof had fallen in on an underground chamber. The river itself flows from high in the mountains through rotting limestone and dolomite, which are nearly white, and the water therefore looks like a light green. It flows swiftly but shallowly, and in many places is the site of rafting and hydrospeeding.
As your ascend from the south, you pass through large forests of mixed evergreens and beech trees, with the flora changing as you ascend. At the 1600 meters, you come to the renowned Vršič Pass, where you can look down valleys in each direction and look up at Triglav peak and many others. Most of the 400 peaks above 2000 meters in Slovenia are within the park. It is difficult to describe the beauty of the spot, and I will have to let the photos
speak for themselves.
The iconic image of Slovenia is often a picture of Lake Bled with Bled Island and the spire of the pilgrimage church of the Assumption of Mary, with snow-capped Julian Alps in the background. Our experience at the lake did not allow such a photo. Lake Bled is a popular recreational resort for Slovenians, and was completely overrun when we arrived. We could not even find a place to park to take photos. We finally parked illegally and took a picture or two and left. I think it could be beautiful, but it was hard to see the beauty driving in a huge traffic snarl.
We spent the night outside of Ljubljana, and at the suggestion of the hotel went to a local hotel rather than going into town. It was a place where locals eat, and we had a great dinner, interrupted only by having to quickly grab our stuff and move inside when a fast-moving thunderstorm came through, making our outside seating untenable.
The next morning we headed to the Istrian Peninsula and visited Piran. Iran is a pleasant little seaside town, and the birthplace of Giuseppe Tartini, the famous violinist and
composer of the extraordinarily difficult "Devil's Trill Sonata". The central square contains his statue, and while we were there they were setting up for the Tartini Festival that was upcoming. On the way out of town we saw the large salt pans where they harvest sea salt, reminding us that we had been unable to find any for sale in town, despite its fame. We headed south to Pula.
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