How to see the Alps without driving or hopping on a huge tour bus? Book Tina, recommended by Rick Steves, for a day-long tour in her van. She picked us up at 8:00 and proceeded just a few minutes outside of Bled to a small village known for its 18th century beekeeper and the wonderful painted bee panels.
Soon enough we came to the first of many, many gorgeous views of the Alps. From here it was one wonderful view after another, first as we ascended the Russian Road, constructed by Russian prisoners of war during WWI, and consisting of 50 switchbacks. Partway up is the charming Russian chapel, chillingly constructed to commemorate the death of hundreds of Russian POWs in an avalanche in 1916 (?).
On the way up, we stopped here for coffee, and Tina pointed out the amazing rock formations. Here are some words about the so-called Front Window. At the top of the pass, we found a number of sheep bleating piteously at the tourists.
Tina offered us both a sip of blueberry brandy from a little leather case where she stored tiny metal stirrup cups. If you can’t be Slovene until you climb Mt. Triglav (she’s climbed it three times), then you can’t say you’ve been to the mountains until you’ve sipped brandy at the top.
From here we could see two valleys, the Trenta and the Soca, one carved out by a glacier and the other by a river. The views continued to be spectacular as we wended our way back down. We stopped for our picnic by a statue of the man who most loved these mountains.
– Tina took the pictures while I cowered partway over –
The Soca Valley was also the site of lots of WW1 battles, as mentioned in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Tina stopped at a cemetery that is used now but also has a memorial to the soldiers of the then Austro-Hungarian army who died in the war. There’s a 16-mile path along the river that I would love to take one day…
Tina told wonderful stories about traveling to Austria and Italy under Tito to buy shoes, dresses, and other wonderful things, always telling Customs that all they had was groceries – witness the bag of coffee, toilet paper and detergent. Of course, one time the six-year-old Tina, when her mother replied in the usual way, had to say, “But, Mama, what about the new shoes we bought?” To say nothing of the friends who bought a refrigerator. They had to declare it, of course, but inside were a TV and VCR that went unmentioned…