3242 kilometers! In the summer of 2019 I am turning my back on the Ruhr area. What a feeling! After a year of hard work, leave all the commitments behind and hit the first song on the travel playlist. “Trailers for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents…” comes the soft voice of Dean Martin from the loudspeaker. I belt out “King of the road!” as loud as I can. and whizzing down the A3 towards the south. I won’t be back home until a good three weeks later after a long tour of five European countries.
Over the Wurzen Pass
The plan was to first see Salzburg and then, instead of going through the Karawanken Tunnel, which is subject to a toll, to get to Slovenia via the pass. But Salzburg was completely overcrowded and rainy that day. It just wasn’t fun cruising around town looking for a parking spot. In the end, however, I was able to park the Mowglimobile somewhere for free. Not far from there I came with Mowgli to this beautiful viewpoint:
Sorry Salzburg, we’ll be back when the weather is better…
From Salzburg we drove on the A 10 through Austria in the direction of Villach, from there it is not far to the Wurzenpass. Following the B 83, a sign soon appears on the left showing the way to the pass. And this one has it all: partly 18% incline and in the further course a lot of hairpin bends, but grandiose views! At Podgoren turn left towards Kranjska Gora. There you turn right to the Triglav National Park. Road 206 leads directly to the Soča Valley. There are several campsites along the road.
I was a bit late and had imagined going straight to the largest and most beautiful square. But it was completely overcrowded and for the first time I had the idea that word of the “insider tip Slovenia” must have gotten around quite a bit. I actually noticed that more often during the trip. So I drove back to the first place I had seen on the road and thought it was an ugly duckling as I drove by. But that was a terrific misjudgment! The site is run by extremely nice people, has very clean sanitary facilities and direct access to the river. Mowgli and I had a wonderful time there. Here is the address: Kamp “Triglav”, Trenta 18 A, 5232 Soča, Slovenija.
Down by the river
It’s afternoon. Mowgli and I hiked through the forest along the river, breathed in the tangy air and scent of the trees, then returned to the campsite for a little refreshment.
Now I tuck a book under my arm and walk down the path to the Soča with Mowgli. We wade through the ice-cold, turquoise-green water and drink from the river. Then I look for a rock in the shade and sit on it. Mowgli lies beside me on the sand and rests.
My book only serves as an alibi, because actually I’m just sitting here, watching the reflections of the sunlight in the water and listening to the constant murmuring, gurgling and murmuring of the river. Cheerful laughter and calls from children bathing in the river reach my ears and a light breeze stirs the leaves of the bush behind me. Is there anything nicer? Thoughts appear and flow like little boats down the river, one after the other. I let it go and am amazed that each new thought is a little clearer and brighter than the one before. I think: the closer the source is, the clearer and purer the water is. A whole fleet of colorful ships has already set off and the backpack of my soul is now very light. A melody lights up inside me and I start to sing.
The sun has moved on and it’s getting cooler. We are now refreshed and strengthened and say goodbye to the wonderful Soča. Later, when we are in Italy, we will see her again. Then it is called Isonzo and is wide and dark green.
Closed society in Bled
A few days later we left the Soča Valley towards Bled. I wanted to see the famous island in the lake and maybe row there with Mowgli in the boat. The journey led through small villages and a gentle meadow, forest and mountain landscape in countless switchbacks. This is where the roe deer accident story I told in this post happened. Towards evening we reached the campsite, more precisely, the queue of cars on the lane to the reception. The first campers were already turning and I found out from two young women in a Bulli from Germany that the place was full. They got the tip to go to the big campsite Šobec and we agreed that I should just follow them.
Šobec! I stood in the reception hall, looked at the wall of shelves with the key compartments and was speechless: was I in a five-star hotel or on a campsite? The whole place was set up as professionally as the check-in was handled here: different zones for different price ranges and needs, an area for short-term guests, supermarket, no – actually a small shopping center, restaurant, animation program…
Actually, I didn’t want to go back to Bled, but to continue to Ljubljana the next day. So I decided not to set up the tent and just enjoyed the evening.
Ljubljana – a city to live in
Someone recommended a hostel to me on the way that was close to the center. A good idea! Dogs were allowed and I got a room in a villa outside the actual hostel, close to downtown and right on the train line. Actually a quiet area – if you hadn’t had the impression that every passing train goes straight through the room.
But the pros far outweighed the cons! Every morning Mowgli and I walked along the railway line to Tivoli Park and crossed it towards the center. A beautiful, spacious park – you can see some impressions here:
The Old Town along the Ljubljanica River is one large pedestrian street with nice shops, cafes and restaurants. In many places street musicians enrich the atmosphere. Here a really good jazz combo, there a string trio, under a bridge a singer who lets her sonorous voice be amplified by the natural reverberation in endless melismas… Friendly people, not a few of whom made loving contact with Mowgli. I wandered through the streets, along the river, over the famous bridges and soaked up the impressions. Thanks to Happycow I found several vegan restaurants and a snack bar. It’s worth taking a boat tour in the evening when the city lights glitter in the water.
I stayed for three days, immensely enjoying each and every one of them. One day was market day. What a party! I came home with hand-carved bowls, Italian blouses and dresses at a good price, and a kilo of real blueberries from the forest. The ones that make your tongue blue, sweet and delicious and especially good for the eyes.
How about living here? The beauty of this historic city and the openness and friendliness of the people is definitely very inspiring. I didn’t visit a single museum (which would have been difficult with Mowgli). I just felt good.
But then it was time to move on, because I still had a lot planned. At the gas station, the young Slovenian gas station attendant spoke flawless German and I learned from him that Slovenian is harder than Russian and German is very easy. Aha!
Via Trieste to Aquileia
My plan was to go to Aquileia via Trieste, visit the Roman excavations and then maybe visit Venice and Verona.
It feels very strange that now, as I write these lines, all of northern Italy is under quarantine. But half a year ago the world was still okay and I want to keep the memory of it alive.
But to get straight to the point: I haven’t seen Venice and Verona. And it came like this:
After an encounter with the police, who after a detailed check let me continue without any complaints, and a bumper car-like ride through Trieste, during which I lost the desire to visit the city more closely, I arrived at the campsite in beautiful Aquileia in the late afternoon.
A quiet place with a swimming pool near the excavations. It was hot and a friendly camper with a dog suggested I drive to the banks of the Isonzo so Mowgli could cool off in the river. Somehow I didn’t find the place he had described. So I came up with the idea of driving over the four-kilometer causeway to Grado to take an evening stroll along the beach with Mowgli. Very naive thought! You can’t just go to the beach there, you have to buy an expensive day pass. But I was lucky. The woman at the cash register let us go to the dog beach free of charge because it was very late in the afternoon. The water of the Adriatic Sea was much too warm and full of algae, not suitable for cooling down and actually disgusting. I would have been really annoyed if I had paid 26 euros for it.
But I liked the campsite. What was new to me was that you had to bring your own toilet paper, which is probably common in Italy. In the evening I read by the light of my flashlight with the sliding doors open, enjoyed the warm air and the chirping of the cicadas, tried to block out the boasting of my Bavarian-speaking neighbors who had formed a group of wagons with their huge off-road camping trucks and tried to outdo each other with the, what they had and could… and noticed too late how much the mosquitoes loved us. They were probably targeting Mowgli in particular, because he hasn’t been feeling well since that evening. He was restless, licking and pushing himself desperately and obviously suffering.
Actually, I didn’t want to do a sightseeing tour in Venice, which was overcrowded with tourists, for him. My thirst for new things was pretty much quenched and I wanted to relax somewhere cooler for another week. While I was still pondering whether I would like Lago Maggiore or Lake Garda better, I received a text message from a friend who was staying in the Aosta Valley with her mobile home. Huge joy! We arranged to meet at a small campsite in the western Alps. And so it happened that the next day I drove across northern Italy in the direction of Turin, not without first appreciating the excavations.
A week in paradise
We were the first to arrive at our agreed meeting point and had a head start, so to speak. Mowgli was acting extremely strange. He was restless and would sit down every two meters on our evening walk. I took a closer look and noticed that thick matted tufts of hair had formed at the base of his tail from the nudging. It had to pull a lot and understandably spoil his desire to move. Some spots on his bottom were already licked clean and several mosquito bites could be seen. The poor darling! I tried to cut out the tufts and fought with a squeaking and screaming dog that took every opportunity to escape the procedure. The first campers came to visit us to see who the animal abuser was… What felt like an hour later I had cleared the thicket and Mowgli was visibly more relaxed.
“He doesn’t look like a healthy dog,” my friend said the next day, referring to the “Healthy Dog” printed on Mowgli’s harness. And she was right: Mowgli crouched under her mobile home and looked pretty unhappy. It got worse as the day progressed, so we decided: vet! The lovely people on reception were very helpful and looked up the number of a vet who was now open on Saturday. It was already late afternoon. I frantically converted the Mowglimobil to drive mode and less than 10 minutes later we were rushing to the address that had been given to us. We got there literally at the last minute and were met by a very friendly, helpful vet. Calmly and concentrated she examined the little treasure and asked me a series of questions that I could not answer. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Italian and she couldn’t speak English. Hands and feet, gestures and facial expressions were also not enough to clarify medical issues. But Google translator came to the rescue! Mowgli had a fever and blocked anal glands. The doctor carefully cut away more tufts of hair and took care of his bottom. Equipped with medication and a foam to rub in, we left the practice a little later. Mowgli had been given a plastic collar and looked like Prince Mowgli the First. But he could do without the homage of the campers who saw him that way. Instead, he let me know how much the collar annoyed him. I remained stubborn for two days. Finally we made a deal: I’ll take off the collar and it won’t rub anymore. What can I say? Both sides kept the deal!
My colleague friend had an answer to the question of where I could spend a few more relaxing days: Gran Paradiso National Park. The Pont Brieul campsite is located at the end of the road, at 2000 meters above sea level:
Priceless! Here you really are in paradise. The big square is framed by giants. I adjusted my awning so that I could see the glaciers. The square has a small shop and a fun power supply. The supply helicopter comes one day a week. You hardly hear German here, but Italian, French and – Dutch. The place is a popular starting point for mountain hikes. From here you can reach the Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele II. To get there, we should have left much earlier and taken more water with us…
But I really didn’t want to make any effort. Wandering around a bit, admiring the beauty of the area, resting and reading “The History of Bees” – that was enough for me.
When the sun wanders over the mountain peaks in the late afternoon, it quickly becomes noticeably cool. How demoralizing cold can be! In this period of time between day and nightfall, the cold creeps into my dwelling, the thermometer quickly drops below 10 degrees and I feel somehow lost. Only later, when the starry sky becomes visible and we have moved a bit, does our mood improve again. The temperature is near zero and I have no heating, just hot tea, a hot water bottle, a pocket stove and candles, yes, and a warm sleeping bag and blankets. I use all of this and carefully cover my Mowgli. To my surprise, it’s really warm and cozy in my sleeping bag. In the morning the indoor thermometer shows 5 degrees and there is frost on the meadow. I usually take cold showers. But that’s really not necessary this morning! Of course I warm myself up under the hot shower. Hot coffee and a couple of delicious rolls give me a heavenly feeling…
Just through Switzerland
And then comes the day when I “break the tents” and say goodbye with a heavy heart. It takes a long time before everything is stowed away and it’s already noon when I roll off the seat. Today’s stage is over the Great St. Bernhard and then through Switzerland to Freiburg. But I don’t want to go through the tunnel, I want to drive over the pass. But I only discover the inconspicuous sign that leads me to the pass on the second attempt. It’s easy to find the tunnel and I was already standing at the barrier and – equipped with a vignette – drove back again. As a result, valuable time was lost again. But the effort was worth it, because the drive over the pass is really nice and not difficult. The late afternoon sun glitters on Lake Geneva as I pass it. The trophies are emblazoned on my windshield: vignettes from three countries. I only reach Freiburg in the late evening. There is nothing free either on the campsite or on the camper site, so I stand on a parking strip for the first time. I share my fate with some other campers who have not found another place either. But I think it’s adventurous. That’s why I don’t make myself any coffee the next morning and have breakfast at the first motorway service station on my way home. In the evening the Ruhr area has me back.