The Diary of a Hedonistic Hiker II

Last year Gina Dark entered and won a competition with Italia! magazine to join one of our hikes.  She came in June to Slovenia  knowing nothing about Hedonistic Hiking and when she returned home wrote this wonderful diary of her HH experience.   Happily for us she was willing to share it!

Part II

Monday 2 June 2014 (Tour Day 2)

After a good night’s sleep, a refreshing shower and a healthy muesli/yogurt breakfast, I met the group at the entrance of our hotel, the Hotel Jezero in Ribčev Laz, Bohinj. It was a beautifully sunny day again. We crossed the bridge over Lake Bohinj, taking numerous photos en route, and then went past the Church of St John the Baptist, up the road for a bit until we began a 3-hour-ish walk through the woods and ascending Rudnica, a low mountain around 946m high. It was a fairly steep walk and there were quite a lot of fallen branches to clamber over.

We took breaks in the alpine meadows, where there were still wooden huts for cow herders. At the second or third such pasture was a truly beautiful view onto Lake Bohinj and the snow-capped mountains. The flowers were lovely and the scenery really breath-taking. We then carried on up to the summit of Rudnica where we had a spectacular view of the valley and Stara Fužina below, especially its church whose bells could be heard ringing.

Marking the summit was a rock with a metal container on top with a book inside. We all signed the book, paused for photos and then began the descent. We initially took the same route down but at one of the pastures, diverged onto a stony path leading down – quite slippy in places. By now, we had all got used to the idea of sneaking off when nature called – there were no ‘loo breaks’, or loos for that matter. This was real countryside.  We continued down, chatting along the way and then met up with Isabelle who had been busy setting up a fantastic picnic by the church in Stara Fužina, the largest of the upper valley villages. We were all hungry by now and gladly tucked into the local salami and other meats, olive and lettuce salad with pumpkin oil (a local speciality), tomatoes, carrots and a dip, washed down by a Tramarec white wine and a red Pinot (my intention to not drink alcohol at midday falling by the wayside). During the picnic we learnt that if you offer a cherry to a local Slovene, he will happily take the whole bowl!

While we rested and relaxed, Jackie read an extract from the book ‘The Sound of One Hand Clapping’, by Tasmanian writer Richard Flanagan. It tells the story of Slovene emigrants Maria and Bojan Buloh, their daughter Sonya and their new life in Tasmania after World War II. (I have just ordered the book from Amazon and look forward to reading the entire novel).

After lunch, we visited the Alpine Dairy Museum in Stara Fužina. The museum, a former village cheese dairy built in 1883 which produced cheese until 1967, was opened in 1971.  Bohinj was the most important centre of alpine dairy farming in Slovenia and the museum tells the story of the gradual decline of alpine dairy farming in the area and its more recent, but limited, revival – mainly for tourism. The first room shows the inside of a herdsman’s dwelling from 1849. The other rooms present a herder’s backpack, dairy and cheese-making equipment such as cheese presses, butter moulds and copper rennet vats, as well as old photos of herders and dairy-maids.

After our museum visit, we walked through fields and woods by Lake Bohinj before returning to the Church of St John the Baptist, just across from the stone bridge where we had started out from that morning. It is a medieval church and one of the most brilliantly frescoed in all Slovenia. The nave is Romanesque but the Gothic presbytery dates from 1440. The walls, ceilings and arches are covered with 15th and 16th century frescoes: holy figures, the Apostles, Cain and Abel and a white devil, angels with vampire-like teeth (apparently the mark of the local artist) and men with goitres – a common affliction at the time due to the lack of iodine.

Finally, we returned to the hotel. It was bliss to take off my walking boots, and have a refreshing swim and sauna before supper in the hotel. Supper consisted of a Bohinj cheese soup accompanied by a Šipon Verusvino white wine, followed by trout from the lake, spinach and mash with carrots and finally, ice-cream with a berry sauce, all washed down with a Pinot Noir red wine. Delicious, generous, and very filling. I retired around 9:30pm ready for an early start the next day.

Tuesday 3 June 2014 (Tour Day 3)

I slept like a log! At breakfast I sat with Dianka, who has Polish roots, and her husband Philippe, who is French, and so we talked in French for a while. After breakfast at around 9:30am, the group were then driven in the Hedonistic Hiking buses up to the 500m level of another nearby mountain in Triglav National Park. Our walk was a steep ascent for several hours, but we paused to take in the view over the valley half-way up. On the way, we saw wild mushrooms, crocuses and other Alpine flowers. It was a tough climb and eventually we came to a flatter snowy part. There were a few slips and stumbles but everyone did really well and managed to negotiate the deep snow more or less successfully.

We then descended to a refuge for our picnic lunch. Just as we were putting out the food, it began to pour with rain, and the refuge hosts invited us inside. Isabelle had conjured up a salad, cheese, salami, blueberry schnapps, and wine and we were offered apfelstrudel from the friendly hosts and given a lovely cup of hot chocolate. The hosts played the accordion for us and we rested up well. The rain stopped and we were able to take pictures of the lake and the valley which was dotted with wooden huts.

After lunch, we continued our walk and the descent through the woods. I chatted a lot with Nick and Annette, as well as Jo, who is the most energetic grandmother I have ever met and puts my fitness levels to shame. Everyone in the group is very friendly.
We finally got to the road and the Hedonistic Hiking buses were there to meet us. They took us to the cable car at Vogel Ski Center, žičnice Vogel Bohinj, in the heart of the Triglav National Park. We went up the mountain in the cable car taking in the wonderful views of the Julian Alps, despite some rain. At the top, I had a lovely hot cappuccino and went outside onto the platform to admire the ski-slopes and the panoramic views of the Triglav mountain range. On the way down, I chatted with a young American who had just graduated and was camping nearby… fortunately for him, the rain had stopped.

We then drove back to the hotel and had a couple of hours to relax. I went for a quick swim and a sauna where I was joined by five to six naked male and female Austrians… but being an English prude I kept my towel firmly wrapped around me. As it was our last night in this hotel, I nipped out to take some photos of the hotel and the lake, and posted my post-cards.  We met up at 7:15pm and went for supper at the Gostilna Mihovc restaurant in Stara Fužina, not far from the museum. We had a lovely mushroom soup followed by succulent lamb and pork chops with mash and salad, accompanied by Refosk and Sauvignon wines, with a dumpling filled with cottage cheese and a berry sauce - probably highly calorific but very nice - and a mint tea to finish. I sat next to Diane, who used to live in Winchester too and was a nurse at the hospital. We exchanged Winchester memories and stories and talked music a lot, which was very nice. It was then time to go so we got the bus back to the hotel. I packed my suitcase and had an early night ready for our departure the next morning.

Wednesday 4 June 2014 (Tour Day 4)

We set off early for the Primorska area. We drove for about an hour and then had an approximately four-hour walk, mostly on road tracks through beautiful pastures and valleys. There was no snow this time but the hum of aeroplane training going on above instead. We passed cows, goats, sheep and farmsteads. We saw buzzards, mushrooms, a stag, butterflies and more beautiful Alpine flowers – I only wish I was able to name them! The weather once again was gloriously sunny. We paused for a group photo by one of the many hayracks in this area, then walked further until we stopped for a drink at a small café.

We continued our walk to the Franja Partisan Hospital, about 7km northeast of Cerkno. The hospital is named after Dr Franja Bojc Bidovec, a partisan physician who also administered it for some time. This clandestine hospital was set up during the Second World War by the Slovenian resistance movement following the capitulation of Italy in the autumn of 1943. It is hidden away in the steep and barely accessible Pasice gorge, not far from the village of Dolenji Novaki. The injured were carried up secretly to wooden huts at the top which formed the hospital. Only 78 out of approximately 578 people who were treated there, died.

Seeing the wooden huts of the hospital, housing an operating room, isolation ward, kitchen, x-ray room and several recovery rooms, was an incredible sight. Sadly, all but one of the original huts were washed away in the 2007 floods, but the hospital has been rebuilt as it would have been based on pictures and photographs. Reconstruction and restoration work was completed in 2010. After our visit, we retraced our steps back down the gorge and drove down to the Gačnk v Logu guesthouse, a lovely gostilna in Dolenji Novaki. Father and son were the cooks and they introduced a delicious array of food. Firstly, we were offered three types of soup – beef, vegetable (zelen) and the tastiest mushroom soup I’ve ever had – together with home-made bread. Then we were spoilt for choice with a buffet of salads, meats, pasta, cheese, etc. etc. followed by tiramisu and the local speciality cake with poppyseeds called gibanica. The red wine was lovely too. The meal was truly special – we were all at one big table and it was great fun.

We then drove for over an hour along the Soča river to Kobarid, just 9km from the border with Italy, and to our next hotel, Hotel Hvala (‘hvala’ means ‘thank you’ in Slovene).  The rooms here were much simpler than in our previous hotel, but my bed was just as welcome for an hour’s lie-down and the shower was just as refreshing.

After our rest, we had a fish dinner which was exquisite. Each course had a separate local white wine and was beautifully presented. Smoked trout paté, tuna tartare and marinated scallops were accompanied by a Rebula (Sirk) wine.  Orrechiette with Adriatic scampi followed with a Sivi Pinot and then sea bass fillet with a potato purée and a Malvazua wine.  A trio of the chef’s desserts were washed down with a dessert wine. Delicous! Jeremy and Carmel celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary too, so yet another special evening. I finally retired around 10:30pm, having thoroughly enjoyed the day.

Thursday 5 June 2014 (Tour Day 5)

I slept really well and still felt sleepy when I went down for breakfast. It had been pouring with rain overnight, but fortunately the rain stopped just before our meeting time of 9am. We set off on foot from the hotel to do the Kobarid Historical Walk (Kobariška Zgodovinska Pot), taking Trg svobode, a winding road lined with crucifixion scenes set in stone. At the top of the road on Gradič Hill was the Italian Charnel House (Italijanska Kostnica), a cemetery/memorial set up by Mussolini in remembrance of the Italian soldiers who gave their lives in World War I.  It consists of three-tiered octagons going upwards to the Church of St Anthony on top. Inside the huge ossuary are the remains of more than seven thousand soldiers who were killed fighting on the Soča Front. Their names are engraved on the walls.

We continued our walk by going through the woods to the left of the memorial until we came to the remains of an ancient fort, Tonovcov grad, where we rested for a bit whilst Jackie got out the map and gave us some background history of World War I. It began to rain, and the map got a bit soggy, so we put on our wet weather gear. However, the shower was short-lived and we walked down to the road, crossed it, and continued through the woods seeing the World War I trenches of the Italian line of defence en route. It was amazing to think that a very bloody war took place in these now idyllic and peaceful surroundings.

After a while, we reached the suspension bridge over the Soča river (Brv – čez soča) in the Soča Gorge. The Soča is really turquoise here – beautiful! We crossed the bridge, pausing to take photos, and then walked on until we came to the Slap kozjak, the impressive 15m high waterfall set in a cave, although some of the group didn’t risk the steep and slippery climb up to get there.  We then backtracked, passing a salamander on the way, and made our way down to the campsite Kamp Koren where we ate the picnic lunch which Isabelle had prepared – lovely salads, meats and delicious apple pie to finish. The picnic area was perfectly situated right by the Soča river, so again, very picturesque.

After lunch, we got the minibus back to the hotel where we had some free time. After a quick change out of our hiking gear, Jo and I headed into Kobarid and bought maps, guidebooks and picked up lots of leaflets in the very friendly Tourist Information Centre. We had a quick wander around the town before visiting the Museum of World War I, which was quite graphic in its scenes of war and disfigured soldiers, but very good. Extracts from Ernest Hemingway’s ‘A Farewell to Arms’ were on display.  We were shown a video of the history of the war and the battles on the Soča (Isonzo) Front and then went round the museum at our own pace. It was interesting, vivid and very moving. There were photographic displays of the history of early aviation, of soldiers and maps, medals, guns, ammunition, lanterns and other artefacts relating to World War I and the Austro-Hungarian/Italian battles along the Soča. The Slovenes were part of the Austro-Hungarian army, but it is a complicated history which I would like to investigate and research further when I have more time.

After a short rest at the hotel, we drove a short way to the Hiša Franko restaurant for another excellent meal. We drank the apéritif outside, against the beautiful mountainous background, and then had a wonderful six course meal in the glass covered area. The waiters were friendly and the chef came out and explained the numerous dishes and local wines which included Rebula, Malvasia, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris and several others. An interesting entrée of spring herbs and flowers was followed by chicken foie terrine and apple chips, then by asparagus in tempura and black truffle zabaglione. Pasta with an olive, tomato and cottage cheese filling came next with a final dish of melting pork neck, black garlic, and spinach and lemon confit. This was rounded off by a dessert entitled ‘Chocolate Garden’… delicious!  Another fun evening with a lot of laughter.

To be continued…