One day, instead of bike riding, Mike and I went touring in the mountains. We ended up on the highest road in Slovenia going up the third highest mountain in the country, the Mangart Mountain. You actually drive up to Mangart Saddle, which is a dip in the side of the mountain. It is an absolutely gorgeous, and somewhat scary, drive. You drive up a narrow one lane mountain road with traffic both ways. Twice we passed a row of cars with one group trying to go up and the other trying to get off the mountain. They were having massive problems trying to figure out how to get past each other. Amongst other things, you need a lot of patience on these roads. After watching this “deadly embrace” we decided to try and film the trip up and down. We stuck a tripod up through the sunroof with our Go Pro camera attached to it. We couldn’t see what we were filming but we were hoping it would work. At an altitude of 1,840 m (6,037 ft) we pulled over at a viewing spot. There was another younger couple there taking pictures as well. Just as we were leaving, this couple decided to take a selfie of the two of them with the mountains in the background. At that point they were standing about two feet from the edge of the cliff. Holding the phone up and looking into it they started to move backwards, presumably trying to get closer to the cliff edge. One of them almost tripped. The selfie was their faces and the mountains, not their feet. Why they would be so stupid as to keep trying to back up, without even looking down properly we don’t know. As it turns out we caught part of this on our camera as we were leaving. I have posted 10 minutes of our gorgeous and scary drive here. Mangart Road drive video. At 3:23 you can watch this couple trying to get a foot or two closer to a mountain in the distance.
The Mangart Saddle was at an altitude of 2,679 m (8,789 ft). We were looking over the surrounding countryside when Mike said that he could just see the campground we were parked in. I didn’t believe him, but he was correct. We were just under 7 km, as the crow flies, from our camper, even though it took us through two countries and an hour to get there. When we had first arrived at the campground, I had taken a photo of our camper and the mountains in the distance. Imagine my surprise when I went back and saw that the Mangart Saddle, which I had never heard of, was in that photo. Apparently, the road up to the saddle was built in 1938 by the Italian army in defense against Yugoslavia. Today the entire road is in Slovenia. The road is 12 km long with a 1 km change in elevation.
Once you get to the saddle you can them climb to the top of Mangart mountain. There are two routes: one for mountaineers and one for hikers. Hiking takes someone young and in good shape about two hours to get to the top. It was too late in the day and we weren’t prepared for this. From what we can see from a distance, the first part of the hike, along the side of the mountain, doesn’t look too terribly steep. The last part looks very steep which our legs don’t appreciate. Mike says definitely no to the hiking. I would like to come back and try and get as far as we can. We will see what happens. I am guessing that my driver will win. I am certainly not driving up this mountain by myself.
Note: Since originally writing this, I have since found out that the Saddle is at 2,072 metres or 6,798 feet altitude. This implies that a hiker would have to go up 600 m or 2,000 feet. I guess I will stop bothering Mike about this. Now that we aren’t going back, Mike says that he didn’t want to do this hike because the view from the top wouldn’t be much different from the view from the saddle, nothing to do with the 2,000-foot climb.
After walking around on the saddle, we drove back down the mountain. The drive down was a little more comfortable as there weren’t many cars coming up the mountain. I am guessing that is because it was getting too late in the day to start out on the hike to the top.
While Mike and I were biking around Tarvisio in Italy, we came upon a cable car or telecabine. I always want to take every cable car that goes up. My husband, who isn’t very fond of heights, doesn’t quite have my enthusiasm for them. It was late afternoon when we stopped to find out about the cable car. We met two men from the U.S. who told us that there was a little village worth visiting at the top of the lift. We decided to come back the next day when we had more time. Am I ever glad that we did return. I have to tell you, when we got off the cable car, we were presented with one of the greatest views I have ever seen. Near the top of Mount Lussari was a little ski resort village perched on the mountain. We were higher than many of the surrounding mountains and looked down on them. It was absolutely fantastic. The only problem was that rain was threatening and it was getting hazier and hazier. By the time we walked around and back to the cable car, mountains that we had seen in the beginning had now disappeared. It cost $30 CDN for two seniors to ride up to the top. If we have another gorgeous, clear day, I might pay it a second time just to try and get photos and have a look without the haze coming in.
We were told that if we want to see gorgeous mountains, we should visit the Dolomites, but it turns out that they are over 3 hours west of us in Italy. We aren’t keen on the Italian roads for our camper and we are heading north and west into Austria next so I guess that we will have to give them a miss. The main road that we want to take into Austria has a bridge with a sign that says the height of the bridge is 3.8 metres. Our motorhome is 3.9 metres high. We are going to have to figure out what we are going to do in the next few days.
Slovenia has a population of just over 2 million and is 20,000 square kilometers or 7,800 square miles. To put this in perspective for my Canadian friends, little Cape Breton Island is over 10,000 square kilometres and two of them would be bigger than Slovenia. Triglav National Park has more annual visitors than Slovenia has population. Obviously, others recognize what a beautiful park it is.
There is a road through Triglav National Park called the Vršič Pass. When Italy entered WW1, they had 10,000 Russian prisoners build a 50 km road over the mountains where a timber path used to be. Vršič pass is 24 km long with 50 S-bends (or hairpin curves) and is only open for about 7 months of the year due to weather. This winding serpentine road climbs to 1,611 metres or more than one mile high. It is an absolutely gorgeous drive but there are very few places to stop for photos.
We haven’t yet got to the hikes that I had been hoping to do but, in addition to these gorgeous drives, we are still biking. We recently biked south into Italy. The bike path took us through some very dark, unlit and therefore scary tunnels with potholes that we couldn’t see. Our bikes don’t have lights installed and I am not sure how much they would have helped. After complaining to Mike when we got out of the first tunnel, Mike pointed out that I was wearing sunglasses! Removing them certainly made some difference. We had about 10 more tunnels on this one bike path through Italy. Some were brightly lit, some were dark and some felt like an ice box. Mike says that I can’t complain about the tunnels because the alternative would have been a bike path that went up and down the sides of the mountain instead of through and I would have hated that even more. He is quite correct.
We have been taking our bikes in one direction on these major bike paths and taking the train the other way. This way we can bike twice as far and avoid the worst of the uphill routes. Some of the trains have special empty cars just for bikes, others have huge areas within the normal cars that can be used for bikes. We are obviously not the only bikers taking the train. One problem we have run into is that many of the train stations in Italy don’t have elevators. Our e-bikes are extremely heavy, particularly with the batteries installed. Luckily a couple of other bikers nicely helped me get my bike up and down the stairs while Mike was busy with his own bike. What do people in wheelchairs do? Mike and I stopped in three different train stations in Italy, none of which had any rail employees anywhere. The first station was totally closed up with grills over the doors and windows. You did have access through an open gate to the platform and there were automatic machines for buying your tickets. In another station, the building was open but there didn’t appear to be anyone working there.
Two days later Mike and I biked 40 km into Austria. Again, we would be returning by train because we can’t do 80 km on our bikes. On the way to Villach, Austria I had a few problems with my bicycle. When we got to Villach, we discovered that it was a much bigger town than we had realized. We stopped at a bike repair store. We did get my bike fixed but it took a little longer than we anticipated. Our plan was to go straight to the train station. We knew that we would be back visiting Villach by car on another day. We got to the train station about 5 minutes before our train was due to depart. While Mike was in line for tickets, I could see our train on the track. By the time Mike got to the counter, they wouldn’t sell him tickets as the train was due to leave before we could actually get us and our bikes down to the track. We had to buy tickets to the next train. This was also the last train and it didn’t leave for three hours. What a great thing to have happen to us. We had been surprised at how many people we saw in what we considered “traditional” attire as we biked in. Since we had to kill three hours we walked into town and discovered that Villach’s one-week summer festival was in process. It was like the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition). There were rides and fun houses and games. There were also beer gardens and music and food and food and more food. It was a super surprise as the festival would have ended before we returned in the car. How nice it is when something that appears to be a problem turns out to be so much fun.
When travelling, even doing “normal” things can turn out to be quite interesting. Recently, I went to a hairdresser in town to have my hair washed. Many of the salons in this part of the world have recliners with built-in massaging for you to sit in while your hair is being washed. It is lovely. This was another example of communication difficulties. The hairdresser asked me if something was nice. I had no idea if she was asking if the pressure on my head was nice, if the water temperature was nice or if the reclining, massage chair was nice. Since all of them were good I simply agreed. Sometime, we are going to get into trouble not knowing what we are agreeing to. As I write this, we have just returned from a laundromat. It was at the back of a little store. The women running the store looked after the laundromat as well. They were extremely nice and friendly and didn’t speak a word of English. They had no problems using Google Translate in conversation mode to communicate with us. Technology is great.
It looks like we will be in this area much longer than we originally anticipated. We are exploring portions of Italy, Slovenia and Austria all from our one campground.