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Monday, 27 April 2009

Europe trip 2009 - Katschberg to Bled

22nd March
Once down the scary mountain pass from Katschberg, it was a gentle run to the pretty walled town of Gmünd.

Gmünd was the wartime refuge of the Porsche factory, Ferdinand Porsche lived and worked in Carinthia from 1944-1950 and the first car to bear his name, the 356, was built there.
In 1982 a Porsche museum was established by a Mr Helmut Pfeifhofer.
I couldn’t resist a look and although half an hour from closing time Mr Pfeifhofer said he would stay open until we were satisfied. He produced an English version of an interesting video covering the life and work of Porsche up to the early 80’s. He was an amazingly prolific designer.

In charge of design at the Austrian car maker Austro-Daimler, and later at Daimler-Benz, Porsche eventually set up his own car design company in Stuttgart, figuring that working for the big companies was a mug’s game.
As well as cars, his company produced all kinds of industrial and military machinery, including the Tiger tank and other military vehicles during the war – for which he was imprisoned for war crimes!
He was an inventor and engineer far ahead of his time, together with his son Ferry, they designed a hybrid electric car before the concept meant anything to anybody. (GPS: 47.0120 N, 13.4326 E)

The Malta-Hochalm Strasse rises from Gmünd to the Kölnbreinsperre dam 30 km away and is, according to the Green Guide, a “magnificent valley and one of the most beautiful destinations in Carinthia”
We got as far as the toll booth at the Falleralm Restaurant where a sign informed us that the road was closed. Considering the number of fallen trees we had already passed, it was no surprise, though this was probably normal for the time of year.

From the Womo guide, Sue had found a free camping spot by the Malteiner Wasserspiele.
We took a walk to the waterfall, but much of the route was blocked by fallen trees, one had even destroyed a viewing platform! (GPS: 47.0120, 13.4326 E)

Anyhow we settled down for the night in glorious solitude. Then the wind began to rise, bits of debris began landing on the roof. This was too much for Sue, and very sensibly we moved down to the car park at the (closed) restaurant.
Reminded of what happened the last time we shifted for fear of falling trees in Italy, I kept my fingers crossed….. but we awoke unscathed, no dings or dents from drunken/drugged drivers. (GPS: 47.0100 N, 13.4371 E)

23rd March
The open valley back to Gmünd is still very scenic and worth a look, a massive frozen waterfall was a highlight.

We headed down towards Spittal and took the B98 along the north side of the Millstätter See to Camping Brunner am See. (GPS: 46.7678 N, 13.6458 E)

What a perfect spot - although open all winter the site was almost empty and we pitched ourselves right by the water’s edge with a view stretching down the lake to the mountain peaks beyond.

Millstätter lake from Camping Brunner am See

By the evening, the lake’s surface was totally still and we gazed out of the window as a few distant lights came on, reflected perfectly in the glassy water. Sue cooked a special dinner - it doesn’t get much nicer than that.

24th March
On came the hiking boots and we did one of the lesser Panoramic Rundwegs on offer, though it did entail a 220 metre climb and around 10 km.
Interesting to wander through these tiny alpine villages, do they all make a living from timber and a few livestock, or is that just a hobby for some? Looking at some of the smart newer dwellings, I don’t think so.

25th March
Enquiring after the wi-fi, I was again surprised at the prices, cheaper than Winkl campsite but not much - €9 for 2 hours, €17 for 10.
The problem is they rent the system and are then tied to the rental company’s pricing scales, whereas if they installed it themselves it they could absorb the (fixed) cost in any way they wished.

Out came the Vodafone modem again – fast 3G for several hours before it fell back to GPRS.
Meanwhile Sue exercised the camp washing machines, her favourite occupation – not.

26th March
A lovely day in a lovely spot, just seemed a day to do – well, nothing.
We strolled into town in the evening and had a pleasant meal in the Hotel Post.

27th March
Topped up with fuel and groceries in Spittal before running back past the glittering lake again and taking the B98 to the Ossiacher See. We needn’t have been concerned about finding a good supermarket – with the proximity of the large Bad Kleinkirchheim ski resort, there were plenty along the road.
We had a brief look at BKK - it was struggling with snow on the lower slopes, but not a place that captured our imagination.

The 98 is an attractive valley road, with isolated hamlets and villages, Feld am See and Afritz, both with pretty lakes. Another ski area at Verditz, now closed for the season.

We did the circuit of the Ossiacher See - the north side is largely built up, and with the railway running lake-side, not very attractive. The south side is better, with a string of large campsites, most of them still closed.

On the outskirts of Villach is Landskron, it is dominated by a castle on the skyline but seemed a bit down at heel.
We went round in circles trying to get onto the B83, passing the same chicken farm twice - odd to see a large free range chicken farm in what felt like an urban area.

Our target now was a stellplatz attached to a guesthouse at Rosegg, there is a schloss there and a wildlife park.
Following the GPS coordinates from the Bord Atlas, we curiously passed through Rosegg and out towards the hamlet of St Martin where we received some very bewildered looks, and no Gasthof in sight!

Putting in the street address instead of the coordinates, we retraced our steps and soon found the Roseggerhof. Yes, the Bord Atlas is wrong, the owner of Roseggerhof is well aware of it – and the people of St Martin are still bemused why all these motorhomes keep driving through their tiny hamlet!

The guesthouse is just at the back of the church in this tidy little village. The motorhome parking is well set up with electrical cabinets and mostly on grass, they obviously get very busy in the summer. (GPS: 46.5897 N, 14.0202 E – definitely!)

There is a nice Italian restaurant in the main street, as well as a bakers/coffee shop, another small hotel and a unisex hair salon.

28th March
Feeling a bit frayed around the edges, I treated myself to a haircut at “Suzannes”. Cheery pair of girls, one of whom gave me a nice trim and blow dry for €15.

Boots on and with a packed lunch we walked past the schloss and the wildlife park – both still closed. There were a few deer on view, looking shabby and dejected, wild animals in captivity always look the same.

On the other side of the main road, past a Celtic crafts centre, we hit the river - a wonderful glacial green, and walked along the bank-side. A picnic table had been thoughtfully provided and we ate our sandwiches in the rain.
The spring wild flowers were already popping their heads up

29th March
The rain increased during the night and poured, unrelentingly, all day, no point in going anywhere. As it got dark the sound of the rain on the roof softened till it sounded like an open fire, flames licking over the logs. Crikey – it’s snowing it again!

30th March
By midday the snow had turned to rain again and we made our move.
The south side of the Wörther See is well developed, but nicely done, and there are good views of the lake all the way.

In Klagenfurt we set out to find the Austrian equivalent of Kwik Fit or ATS. Our front tyres were obviously not going to see us to the end of the trip, so I had decided to swap the back wheels with the front as they had much more tread.
Luckily, without looking for long, we came across Reifen Ruhdorfer and they did the job, complete with a pressure check, for €28.80.
(http://www.reifen-ruhdorfer.at/ )

It's always an anxious time, handing over your precious home to a stranger - the mechanic drove me through a vehicle lift towards the back of the workshop, but left the back end of the van just inside the frame, if he had jacked the van up in that position there have had another ding in the body work! We pointed out the problem and he pulled us ahead a bit more.

Next stop was Ferlach, 14Km from the Slovenian border. A deserted but excellent stellplatz was on the edge of town, €4 for 24hrs, €1 for water or 8 hours electricity. (GPS: 46.5247 N, 14.2970 E)

Took a short walk into town, bit of a mish-mash architecturally, the ultra-modern steel and glass Rathaus or town hall overshadowing the ancient church and at odds with the adjacent buildings.

31st March
A peaceful night by the river.
In more light rain we picked up maps for Slovenia and Croatia from a local garage and headed for our crossing into Slovenia, the Loiblpass.
As mountain passes go it was a pretty one, with rise and fall and little hamlets dotted about. We were soon moving in and out of the cloud – what drives people to live so high, in such isolation?

The Loiblpass to Slovenia

The final stretch to the summit is no longer a through road - the “Goodbye/welcome to” border signs are in the middle of a tunnel!

Customs posts are at either end, but neither were manned. A spooky atmosphere in the mist, all the same.

Slovenia declared its independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, joined the EU in May 2004, and introduced the Euro in January 2007. The Slovene language is spoken only by its population of about 2 million people, so they tend to be good linguists.
(http://www.slovenia.info/ )

Autogas in Slovenia is called Avtoplin, pronounced “Outoplin” - plin (fairly obviously) being gas.
Despite being told that Autogas was scarce in Slovenia, we soon came across a "Petrol" garage selling it, going through the large town of Kranj.

From the Petrol website (http://www.petrol.si/ ) - good name for an energy company - I have made up a list of 28 Autogas stations around Slovenia, including a regional map and GPS coordinates for the ones we have used. This is now on a small Word file which can be read on our PDA's. If anybody is interested in a copy, drop us a line at motorhometrips@tiscali.co.uk

The capital, Ljubljana, was a must see for us, really because the capital city of a strange country tells you so much about the rest of it.
(http://www.visitljubljana.si/ )

Ljubljana Resort Camping is the only campsite with easy access to the city and is a full holiday resort complex with holiday bungalows, sports arena, etc.
We had a 10% reduction for our ACSI card which brought the daily rate to €18.20.
Very friendly, helpful people. Wi-fi is available, €10 for 24 hours. (GPS: 46.0981, 14.5186 E)

1st April
The 15 minute bus ride into the city costs €1 each way, but you must have the exact change.
The landscape soon changes to modern apartment blocks and car dealerships, then tall office blocks and hotels, you start to wonder where this famed old town is hiding.

The Ljubljanica river runs through the city and from where we got of the bus it was actually only quite a short walk to find the famous triple bridge by Slovene architect Plecnik, which is the focal point of the old quarter.

Old Ljubljana

The Café society that Ljubljana is renowned for was just beginning to stir, but the streets were fairly quiet. A lot of renovation work was going on.
Walking around the cathedral trying to find a way in, we admired its amazing bronze doors with heads popping out of them. This and the main door are contemporary masterpieces, created in 1996, which just shows that such skills are still alive.
Behind the cathedral we came across a large market with some fantastic flower stalls.

One on each corner of the Dragon Bridge

We visited the iconic Dragon Bridge and then walked up one of the many paths to the castle. A funicular railway was running as an alternative, but Sue was not keen. The castle has been heavily restored over a period of 20 years and has some modern additions - work is still going on, but it seems popular for weddings.

The Ljubljanica river

Lastly a visit to the main tourist office, again very friendly and helpful, dishing out a pile of large brochures in English.

2nd April
We left Ljubljana Resort in torrential rain, which apparently is unusual for the time of year!
On the road we witnessed the aftermath of two accidents within 10 minutes of each other, both on crossroads, the first a car hit side-on by a cement truck, the second, a car that had put the Landrover-based fire truck out of commission!

From the Womo guide we found a car park in Skofja Loka. It would appear to be a bus park for the summer tourists, but at the time it was in use as a general car park. By late evening we had the place to ourselves. (GPS: 46.1669 N, 14.3092 E)

3rd April
By morning the streets had dried up and a pinch of sun squeezed through the clouds.

Skofja Loka, an ancient town

We took a walk across the bridge and up the narrow streets towards the old castle which overlooks the town.

Skofja Loka castle goes back before the 12th Century, but has been a museum of the town and surrounding area since 1939.
Having climbed to admire the views we decided to take a look at the museum. On two floors, there is a wide range of archaeological, cultural, art and natural history collections.
The natural history collection of wildlife from the area was particularly good, but there was plenty of interesting stuff on life in the area over the last couple of centuries.
We were issued with an English guide sheet and there are English scripts on most of the exhibits. Entry €4.
(http://www.loski-muzej.si/ )

Down in the town they were preparing for their Easter celebrations in big style, the main street was taken over with tiered seating, raised stages, lighting towers and speaker systems. I wonder who was paying for that lot.

The 403 out of Skofja followed the valley floor until we turned off for our next destination, Bohinj lake, the largest permanent freshwater lake in Slovenia. More than two thirds of the Bohinj area lies within the Triglav National Park, Slovenia’s only national park.
(http://www.bohinj.si/ )

The Bohinjsko pass rises to 1277 metres and the road deteriorated rapidly as we climbed.
Just as we thought that we had made a stupid decision and we might topple over a broken edge, we came to a new section - some extensive and skilful roadbuilding has been done there.
At the peak the snow was as high as the van on the roadsides, 3 metres or more, they certainly got their fair share this winter.

Just outside Bohinjska Bistrica we passed an open campsite, but our aim was to find a spot from our Womo guide by the lake.
All along the lakeside, laybys and carparks were adorned with the Slovenian equivalent of "No overnight parking" signs, the curse of the "free camp" guide book.

The lake is in a fabulous setting and in the late afternoon sun, absolutely beautiful. No pleasure boats yet disturbed the water's glass like surface.

The serenity of Bohinj lake

At lakes end there is another campsite which was still snow bound, as well as several large carparks, guesthouses and holiday apartments.
A French camper was in one car park and he confirmed to us in excellent English that he had spoken to several people who said we would be Ok to stay, as the campsite was not yet open. Good enough for us. (GPS: 46.2775 N, 13.8361 E)

4th April
I rose early to photograph the lake in the hope that the air would be quiet and the sun out. The sun was just rising above the trees and colouring the mist pink. The water was utterly still and the atmosphere magical.
Completely alone, I snapped away for 30 minutes as a finger of mist crept up the valley.

The Savica Waterfall is 5km up the road from our overnight pitch - it is a double waterfall, 78 metres high on its longest side.
The water flows underground from a lake 500 m higher up. In heavy rainfall the underground system cannot cope and a 600 m waterfall is formed. The bottom of the waterfall is at 894 m though, and it's a steep old climb to the viewing station from the car park. €3 for parking, €2.40 each to walk to the waterfall.
(http://www.bohinj-info.com/ ) (GPS: 46.2896 N, 13.8019 E)

Returning to the car park I noticed a screw head in between the treads of our offside front tyre. Fortunately, the tyre didn't appear to be deflating and we judged that we could get to Bled for a repair.

Lake Bled, the island, the castle, the church, the Julian Alps

Lake Bled and its surroundings are magnificent, the setting for a lake almost perfect -with the Julian alps as a backdrop, a 100 metre sheer rock outcrop with a castle on top by the water’s edge and Slovenia's only island decorating the middle.
It has spas, hotels, a casino and a rowing centre that hosts international events. Situated on the edge of the Triglav Park, all that the park has to offer is easily accessible. (http://www.bled.si/ )

Camping Bled is in a prime position at the opposite end of the lake from the town. Almost empty when we arrived in warm sunshine, we thought: “hello, we’ve struck lucky again.” Even more so, when they offered us a special deal for 3 nights or more at €15 plus tax, including, yes, the seductive free wi-fi! (GPS: 46.3615 N, 14.0793 E)
(http://www.camping-bled.com/ )

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