Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scottish Highlands, UK
Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scottish Highlands, UK
  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles
    • 05/10/2019
The big box
(I need to pack my bike for the plane ride home)
Walked across town to find a bike shop, and hooray they have a load of cardboard bike boxes from recent deliveries sitting around, more than happy for me to take one away - slightest catch is the size - fully assembled e-bike size rather than efficiently packed size - still, too big is better than too small right?
Until the airport transfer guy says its too big. Not that a brompton folding bike would have fitted in his minivan. Idiot. Thankfully Aleks the helpful hostel manager conjures up a better minibus driver and I get to the airport still much earlier than necessary, where they don't seem to care about the size, ( even though it definitely exceeds the max length in their small print by 40cm, but I guess they haven't read it)
And back to Luton, uneventfully, the box is battered but the contents is undamaged and soon reassembled.
Finding the way out of airports is always a challenge and i have to keep repeating "drive on the left, drive on the left" as it seems so weird and unintuitive. 10km of dark lanes later (fortunately I did remember to charge my lights), and I'm in a pub for a pie and a proper pint of ale, what a relief after nothing but pilsner all summer!

Contemplation of a pavlova, text commentary of Liverpool vs Salzburg, and unintentionally eavesdropping on some entitled tory snobs on the next table, thinking how weird it is that I can understand what everyone around me is saying, (and thinking I preferred it when I couldn't) is interrupted by the arrival of four more cyclists, a surprise at 9pm on a dark night - turns out they are part of the local C2C cycling group, out for a regular evening "pub ride" - they have spotted my bike outside and all profess to be very impressed and jealous with my trip, although by the sound of it they cover more miles in a week than i have all summer. Generous ale fuelled offers of campervans to stay in and invitations to speaking engagements rebuffed, I'm off to find a nice field to sleep in under a clear starry sky and the Luton airport landing path.
Nice field turns out to contain noisy pheasants, but the rude awakener is a distant aeroplane engine morphing into a tractor roaring past exactly 6am. Poor farmers. Just a hint of a glow on the horizon, and in the chill of the morning I end up watching the horizon turn to molten gold, the sky from crystal blues to pinks and oranges, maybe not in that order, and finally the sun itself rises into view like a fried egg.

Signal failure at Doncaster
Home
  • not just another cave
    • 05/10/2019
Skocjan cave
Took the train for a day trip like a proper tourist (although the real tourists go on by guided coach). The cave starts off nice but not revolutionary since I have visited 3 other caves recently, some nice stalactites and stalagmites, and a rather massive cavern - then I realise there is a difference - this is the first tour with an English speaking guide - but he almost rushes past these wonders, and upon turning the corner you forgive it - the cave opens up into an underground canyon, 150m high floor to ceiling, where the river has eroded away the limestone over quite some time...
Lamp lights show where the path meanders off into the distance, carved or fixed into the cliff side, into a slight mist, every bit evoking a scene from Lord of the rings or something, its fantastical.
So that was cool.
  • Loobleyarna
    • 05/10/2019
Small capital, green city, pretty town,
Lovely to stroll along the river past the cafes and the fountain and the triple bridge and the opera house, all overseen by the castle, all very charming, bakeries selling bureks and pizza and cherry cake everywhere, the occasional flurry of a swarm of Chinese tourists with the clicking of their massive cameras like the thrum of the wings of locusts.

In a poem, every word does a job

Always something wholesome in the main square - Olympic sports taster session, university open day and talent show style performances, free concert, and then a big screen showing the European volleyball championship final, an occasion where early elation turned to muted frustration and then the disappointed crowd fragmenting and melting away like mist burning off from the valleys in the morning.

Recycling everything everywhere - if you remove all general rubbish bins and make recycling easy or unavoidable, then, people do it? It becomes second nature?

Metelkova - a bit like Christiana in Copenhagen, this area of partying squatters is now officially tolerated, and adorned with murals and artistic creations. At night the beer starts flowing and several nightclubs open the doors, and laws are certainly broken. The city centre is covered in street art, scrawled epitaphs and unfortunately, also lots of pointless tags, juxtaposed with the pastel painted walls with the wooden shutters and the patchy cement. And then a park, an allotment, a patch of green.

Crack up, crack down is the title of a graphic art exhibition around the city, covering a range of social commentaries, taboos, satires, etc, and sometimes also aesthetically interesting.
Maximising a day of culture also went to an exhibition of photography, mainly black and white shots of architecture, playing with shapes and textures, light and shadow.
And the national gallery, standard fare through the ages of hideous religious art, nice landscapes, portraits ranging from life-like to offensively ugly (surely unintentionally?)

Staying in one place for a few days gave me a chance to actually meet a few people in a hostel, including french medical student Benoit and Belgian motorbike tourer Joran, two weeks into his first trip after quitting his job, reading Dostoevsky and Buddhism, full of excitement at breaking free and seeing the world for the first time. Somewhat reminds me of my younger self, and he seems happy to use me as a vindication of his decision to break out of the rat race so good luck to him!
  • Conquerors of the useless world
    • 27/09/2019
The Vrsic pass was a fairly reasonable climb, as it has 50 numbered hair pin bends winding up and down the mountain, giving a manageable gradient of about 10% on the Kranjska Gora side I was attacking from, so the biggest obstacle in reaching the summit was a flock of sheep deciding to cross the road near the top.
Quite chilly now but have to keep stopping to admire the soca river on the way to Bovec, with the peaks vanishing into clouds.

Spent a day in Bovec, taking a beginners white water kayak lesson since it was drizzling anyway might as well get wetter, but managed to avoid falling in.

Next day completed a measly and super slow 40km down the valley to Tolmin, checked in to the hostel and checked out the nearby gorge walk, which was OK but another example underwhelmation having recently seen more impressive sights.
Delicious pizza and ice cream treat for dinner, followed by Slovenia vs Poland volleyball match on TV - its a small town but the bars are packed with locals cheering every point. Good stuff.

Last ride day then, 90km to Ljubljana with a couple of decent climbs, a proper day to end the journey with, the usual bittersweet combination of excitement to push over the finish and reflection as the hard realisation hits home that after today I won't be feeling the wind in my face and the sun on my arms and the satisfied ache in the legs and the satisfaction at reaching the crest of a hill, seeing a new panorama, an unexpected quirky roadside decoration, a bird of prey, etc etc, all the variety and freshness which makes up a day on the road.

Having reached the top of the second climb, its 40km all downhill or flat to Ljubljana. Unfortunately though, as I'm celebrating that fact with a cheese sandwich a couple in a car passes and then returns to say the road ahead is blocked by construction machinery - uh oh, but normally I can sneak around roadworks on the bike OK. This time more of a challenge, its a single track forest road with rock face one side and a stream the other, and the caterpillar tracked diggers and boulder grabbers completely fill it. Fortunately they very kindly maneuver a few inches to one side to let me past, only to discover I'm walking into wet cement - a hasty retreat allows me to sneak round the edge on dry ground and then its triumphant freewheel freedom with the music turned up down to the river valley.

On the approach to the city I am passed by some Lycra racers and I put on a spurt to briefly keep up, but as soon as we hit a hill I have no chance!
  • Bled Sweat and Triglav
    • 22/09/2019
Impossible to argue with how photogenic lake bled is, and the lake is a delight to swim in. Hard to imagine a better tourist honeypot, thank noodles it isn't the height of the summer season!

After an extra day chilling out its a short hop to lake Bohinj, a bigger body of water in a glacial valley, surrounded by towering cliff faces. The real peaks are hidden behind these walls, shrouded in clouds.

The target is Triglav, highest peak in the Julian Alps at 2863m.
Starting from the valley at 600m above sea level, this meant a two day trip, staying overnight in Dolic hut a mere couple of hours below the summit.
Unfortunately the glorious weather is not forecast to continue for two days straight until Friday, so Tuesday I climbed Vogel, a mere 1900m, in low clouds so no views, Wednesday I lay in bed with aching muscles, listening to the rain outside, and Thursday I perambulated around the lake to loosen up again.

So Friday morning, sunny start, with the usual mist hanging over the lake burning off already at 8am.
The approach began with a steep climb from Lake Bohnij, weaving back and forth up a somehow wooded cliff which from a distance looked impassable, but wasn't a problem, to reach a kind of plateau and the valley of seven lakes, beautiful clear water with blue and green hues, surrounded by towering peaks. Scenery magnifique.
After lunch of sauerkraut and bratwurst at the 7 lakes hut, the trial then climbed above the tree line over lots of annoying scree, onto a surreal moonscape of a plateau, populated by two friendly goats.
Arrived at Dolic hut around 5pm, to find a log fire going, drop toilets, and some confusion over whether my bed was actually reserved, and at least twenty people already hovering on the "wait list" to take any spare beds, or at worst end up sleeping on the dining room floor. Fortunately I did get a bed, though the chorus of snoring in the large shared dorm meant hardly a sound nights sleep, but fatigue and cosiness of many blankets helped. Beautiful clear starry skies outside and temperatures dropping towards zero.

Day 2, and some people left before sunrise to beat the crowds to the summit - apparently the huts on the other side of the peak hold over 500 people and they will all be coming the other way on a narrow ridge, but I am not going to miss out on my bacon and eggs so it's 8am before i set out with the landscape still shaded from the sun.
The climb to the summit involves some assistance from man made holds and chains, and stopping often to look at the increasingly spectacular panoramic views - impossible to walk and admire the view simultaneously without falling off a cliff.
When i hit the top at 10am it is indeed standing room only and a queue for photo ops. You can see Italy, Austria, the sea, etc miles everywhere. Helicopters and buzzing around below, delivering supplies to the huts.
And then the hairy bit, the via ferrata to Mali Triglav, the secondary peak. There is a chain all the way, although despite the recommendations to bring a harness with carabiniers and a helmet, only about 10% of people who have them are bothering to use them. The ridge is not very wide, making passing oncoming traffic rather nervewracking given the shear drops either side and the way all the rocks have been worn smooth by many boots, and the rest of the surface being loose scree...
My water bottle can't take any more, and slips out of the outside pocket of my rucksack to tumble agonisingly down the side of the mountain, bouncing increasingly far, smashing into rocks until it disappears out of sight. Now I feel bad for littering and because I've had that cheapo bog standard bike bottle for about twenty years.
But I'm obviously making a meal of it with my slightly jelly legs as plenty of people are racing past without a care in the world. To be fair, without the exposure I wouldn't think twice about each step and foot placement like I am, but there is the exposure
Finally down to Planika hut after what seems like an age, and a nerve calming / celebratory beer. The path is easy from here on, although still 1500m of descent to the valley, which I spend cheerily greeting people huffing and puffing up the other way, thinking "there's no chance they will make it to the top".

Understandable amount of fatigue this morning, but not as bad as on Wednesday so fairly pleased and head on 50km down the road - no big climbs today though, and the prospect of the legendary 1700m Vrsic pass tomorrow is not one my legs are currently relishing. Maybe it will rain tomorrow and I can have another day off!


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