Hiking in Triglav National Park, Slovenia

Triglav National Park
Sean McLachlan

We’ve been talking about Slovenia for the past week here on Gadling. It’s got everything you’d expect from a European country: beautiful architecture, medieval churches and castles, world-class museums, a distinct cuisine … but every European country can boast these things. What really sets Slovenia apart?

The countryside. The Julian Alps take up a large part of the country and are full of incredible trails for all levels of hiking ability. You can stroll around Alpine lakes or slog up sheer mountains, have a picnic by an emerald stream or explore remote valleys. Add to this the fact that Slovenia is considerably cheaper than other Alpine countries and you have a hiker’s dream.

The best place to see Slovenia’s nature is Triglav National Park. Slovenia’s only national park takes its name from the country’s highest mountain. Triglav is 9396 feet (2864 meters) tall and offers a challenging climb. Sadly, I went too early in the season to make it up there. It was still snow bound and dangerous without proper equipment.

Instead, I picked an easier but scenic hike to Savica Waterfall. Part of one of the many streams that feeds Lake Bohinj, the largest lake in the park, the waterfall cascades down a steep cliff some 256 feet (78 meters), making it the tallest in the country.

%Slideshow-636%Setting out on a typically rainy day (Ljubljana gets twice the annual rainfall of London), I passed the tranquil Lake Bohinj, a serene alpine lake with fine views of the mountains. Several little chalets and B&Bs sit around its shores, making it a convenient place to base yourself. It’s much less touristy than Lake Bled and has the advantage of actually being located inside Triglav National Park. Lodging can also be found in the many villages scattered throughout the park.

Getting on the trail, I worked my way through a dense forest. The trail, like most in the country, was clearly marked. It was also nearly abandoned. Granted it was raining, but this was one of the most popular hikes in the country and it was already on the cusp of the high tourist season. Except for central Ljubljana and Lake Bled, Slovenia is surprisingly undervisited, yet another advantage to this lovely country.

While the rain hardly let up for the entire day, in one way I was grateful for it. Low clouds rolled over the mountaintops, making for a constantly changing scene. At times all but the verdant slopes would be hidden from view, and then the clouds would suddenly lift and the snowcapped peaks would glint in a brief patch of sunlight. Clouds lingered in the steeply cut valleys, rising like curtains between the forested ridges.

The trail crisscrossed an Alpine stream that was a bright, stunning shade of green. Passing by a few farms set amid fields full of yellow wildflowers, the trail began to ascend. After a rough mile or two it ended at a vista point overlooking the waterfall.

When I first got there, the clouds were hanging low and the water looked like it was spouting from the sky itself. Then the clouds broke up and I could see where the waterfall was cutting through the top of a cliff high above. Savica waterfall is set in a narrow cleft in the side of a mountain, and looking out you have a good vantage point to see several other mountains.

As I headed back the clouds finally broke up for good. The sky cleared and I got to see the Julian Alps in all their glory. I only wished I had more time in Slovenia to explore more of them.

Check out the rest of my series, “Slovenia: Hikes, History and Horseburgers.”

Coming up next: Eating and Drinking in Slovenia!

Lake Bled: A Tourist Trap In Slovenia You Really Must See

Lake Bled
Sean McLachlan

If you don’t already know that Lake Bled is the most popular tourist attraction in Slovenia you’ll know it the moment you arrive. There’s a casino. There’s a Shamrock Irish Pub. There’s even one of those tourist buses made up to look like a choo-choo train. It’s horrible.

But look out across the emerald-green water sparkling in the sunshine and all that disappears. Instead, you see a storybook landscape – a lush little island with a church spire peeking out over the greenery, snow-covered Alps beyond and, on one shore, a steep cliff atop which looms a formidable castle. It’s like something from Wagner.

The best way to see Lake Bled is to take a slow stroll around it. A path makes the entire 3.7-mile circuit. Most of the hotels and nearly all the businesses are clustered into one small town, so you soon leave the noise and people behind. Much of the walk is shaded and you can admire the lake from all angles. At one point there’s a sign for Osojnica hill. A moderately challenging 15-minute climb will reward you with fine views of the island and its church.

Most visitors head up to Bled Castle, one of the most impressive of Slovenia’s many castles. It’s a 16th-century fortress/manor house built on 11th-century foundations. While picturesque from afar, I’d recommend not visiting it because you’ll spoil the illusion. As soon as you enter the front gate someone shouts, “Smile!” and snaps your photo. When you leave they’ll offer you an image of yourself looking slightly surprised and confused for only €6.50 ($8.60).

%Slideshow-599%Once you make it past the photographer, you can visit an old-style print shop, where you can buy handmade prints; or you can visit the wine cellar, where you can buy wine; or you can visit the smithy with its fake forge and array of metalwork for sale. The only redeeming spots are the fine little castle church with its 16th-century frescoes and the views over Lake Bled. Since you can get just as good views from Osojnica hill for free, there’s really not much need to come here.

While Bled Island and its Church of the Assumption are equally touristy, they feel slightly less spoiled than the castle. At least people aren’t trying to sell you something all the time. The approach is nicer too – instead of slogging up a steep hill, you’re rowed across the lake on a gondola. When I went to the lakeside to catch a boat, a tour bus pulled up and disgorged a huge crowd of South Koreans, mostly women in their 50s with a couple of camera-toting husbands in tow.

We all piled into three gondolas and set out. The women in one of the boats started singing and their voices carried nicely over the water. I shared the stern of my boat with two ladies. Everyone thought this was funny for some reason and started snapping photos of us. The lone Korean man in our boat stood up to take a shot and, figuring I’d give him something to talk about back home, I put my arms around the two women. They started giggling. For them, at least, I’m still a young man.

The photographer gave me a wide grin and took our photograph. After he sat down one of the women turned to me and said, “That’s my husband.”

Oops.

The man must have overheard because he laughed. Then he pointed at me and said, “You kimchi.”

I swear to God that’s what he said. “You kimchi.”

Maybe Gadling’s resident Korea expert can shed some light on this?

Once we got off the boat, the oarsman grumpily announced that we only had half an hour. That’s plenty of time because the island is tiny. A quiet little path goes around the edge. It took me barely five minutes to make the circuit even though I kept stopping to take pictures. Then I rejoined my temporary travel companions in the church.

The church has some lovely 14th-century frescoes but that’s not why people come here. They come here to ring the bell. There’s some local legend about how it gives you luck for some reason or other. I didn’t bother to write it down since it was probably made up for tourists anyway. Still, I wasn’t about to pass up the chance for some good luck and I got in line with the rest. A sign on the floor gave strict instructions not to swing from the bell rope. Most of the women did anyway.

That bell rang and rang. Since a steady stream of visitors passes through the island, you can hear that bell ringing from early in the morning until sunset. It hardly ever seems to stop. Lake Bled has a lot of luck to give.

The women thought I was very strong because I could ring the bell without swinging from it. Thanks, ladies! Maybe that was the luck the bell had for me – the admiration of a crowd of middle-aged South Koreans. It’s not much, but how much magic do you expect from a tourist trap?

Despite all this nonsense, is Lake Bled still worth a visit? Oh yes. It is simply beautiful. Even in a steady downpour it had a majestic quality to it, and when the clouds broke it became one of the most beautiful spots I’ve seen in 25 years and 34 countries of travel. I would suggest visiting Lake Bled but actually staying at the less-visited but equally beautiful Lake Bohinj in Triglav National Park. More on that in the next post.

Check out the rest of my series, “Slovenia: Hikes, History and Horseburgers.”

Coming up next: Hiking in Triglav National Park!

Retreating Italian Glacier Reveals Dead From World War I

World War OneTwo soldiers’ bodies from World War I have been discovered on an Italian mountain, the Telegraph reports.

Workers on the Presena glacier in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of the Dolomites in Italy found the bodies at an altitude of 9,850 feet. The glacier has been receding because of an unusually hot summer and the workers were covering it with a giant tarpaulin to keep it from thawing further.

The soldiers are believed to have been from an artillery unit of the Austro-Hungarian army and were killed in 1918. The skeletons were identified by remnants of uniform and insignia. No word yet on whether they can be named.

During World War I, Italy fought against Austro-Hungarian and German forces in the bitter cold of the mountaintops. One favorite tactic was to fire artillery shells above enemy positions to cause avalanches to bury them. In other cases soldiers died from wounds or exposure and were lost. Many of these bodies have been found in later years.

From more on the Italian Front, there is an excellent website and photo collection here.

The Presena glacier isn’t the only one melting. The entire Alps is seeing less ice cover, reducing the number of ski slopes and increasing the risk of avalanches for trekkers.

[Photo courtesy German Federal Archive]

Gadling gear review: Arc’teryx Gamma MX Hoody

Many people turn to a single jacket when winter weather rolls in. They have a go-to parka that keeps them warm and dry. If your winter activities are limited to commuting to work and running errands, then one such warm coat probably is all you need from November through February. But if you are as active in the winter as you are in the summer, then you know that aerobic activity can often keep you warmer than any amount of down filler can. As such, you need a coat that is breathable, water-resistant and allows for an active lifestyle.

That’s why I was excited to test out the Arc’teryx Gamma MX Hoody. Arc’teryx is known for making outdoor gear with sleek lines and durable construction. The Gamma MVX Hoody is made for alpine conditions, and, as such, provides flexibility and warmth while remaining breathable. I brought the Gamma MX Hoody to Newfoundland, Canada for some adventure activities to see if it lived up to the Arc’teryx reputation.First, the nitty gritty. The Arc’teryx MX Hoody has the stretch necessary to allow for a full range of motion. With two chest pockets, two hand pockets and one sleeve pocket, there is ample storage space. It does, however, lack an interior pocket. It is well-sealed, water-resistant and immaculately constructed. You get the impression that you could fall off of a mountain, hit every rock on the way down and the jacket would be in perfect condition (even if your body wasn’t).

The fleece lining in the Gamma MX Hoody provides ample warmth provided it is supplemented with aerobic activity to generate additional heat in your core. It is not meant to replace a solid winter coat for when you’re walking the dog or waiting in line for a movie in sub-freezing temperatures. But, if you’re snowshoeing, mountain climbing or hiking, you’ll be more than comfortable in the jacket.

The warmth and resistance to the elements come from the Polartec Power Shield softshell fabric that makes the jacket both durable and breathable. It also allows for that full-range of motion that an outdoor athlete needs.

Like almost all other Arc’teryx gear, the Gamma MX Hoody features a very slim cut. I wear a medium in virtually every other coat that I’ve worn (ranging in manufacturers from Cloudveil to Patagonia to Mountain Hardwear). Arc’teryx gear is taut and constrictive on me in anything less than a large. However, in the proper size – in this case, a large – the Gamma MX Hoody fit snugly while still allowing for several base layers to be worn comfortably.

The snug fit did pose a problem in the cuffs. Many winter coats provide Velcro straps on the cuffs to allow for adjustment in the tightness around gloves. The Gamma MX Hoody lacks these tabs. As such, the cuffs on the Gamma MX Hoody are tight, which makes taking the jacket on and off more challenging than it should be. Adjustable straps would solve this problem simply.

As you can imagine from the name, the Gamma MX Hoody comes with an attached hood. It does not retract into a pocket, so, regardless of the conditions, the hood will be hanging off of your collar. Since I much prefer a coat that allows for rolling the hood into a zipped pocket in the collar, it took some getting used to when I would find my hood uncomfortably wedged beneath my backpack. The hood is made to fit over a helmet, which is necessary considering that the jacket is intended for alpine use. However, despite being able to tighten the hood, I still found it comically large when I wasn’t wearing a helmet. Despite attempts to tighten it fully, the hood often billowed over my head and would fall off as I walked. This would expose my neck and face to snow and rain.

As always, I like to boil things down to the basics:

Pros

  • Outstanding construction and incredible durability
  • Flexibility allows for full range of motion
  • Plenty of pockets
  • Water-resistant and well-sealed
  • Fleece lining provides warmth to supplement aerobic heat

Cons

  • Slim cut may create a tighter fit than expected
  • Tight cuffs with no adjustable straps
  • Hood is large and does not retract into the collar

Overall, this is a fantastic coat if you maintain an active lifestyle in cold weather. While it is not a replacement for a heavy parka, it is an excellent addition to the gear collection of any winter adventurer. The jacket provides ample warmth once you start your activities and is built to last. However, I strongly recommend that you try it on in person, as Arc’teryx products are cut much slimmer than other outdoor gear brands.

You can purchase the Gamma MX Hoody directly from the Arc’tery website for $379.00. The durability of the coat will surely ensure that it pays for itself over years of aggressive use.

How Much Would You Pay for a Pair of Lederhosen?

A new world record has been broken recently — most expensive pair of Lederhosen. A version of the traditional alpine outfit recently sold for 85,000 euros, which is $115,000. Lederhosen, which are traditionally made from the hide of an animal — typically a goat, pig or elk — is strangely enduring fashion trend in the Alps. This particular pair is adorned with 116 diamonds, each set in gold. Doesn’t that seem a bit … I dunno … excessive?

onsidered to be to the Alps what the kilt is to Scotland (according to the Lederhosen entry on Wikipedia), the leather knee-length shorts-and-suspender-combo can be worn while hiking outside, pounding back a few at Oktoberfest, or anywhere else, I suppose. Still, I don’t think I’ll be picking up a pair any time soon — and certainly not at that exorbitant price.

Don’t stop here — Gadling has a ton more Oktoberfest 2007 coverage!

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