I woke up in San Vito di Cadore at a respectably late hour, gathered my motorcycle from the garage and rode it out to the front to load up. Checkout was quick, and after a last wave to my hosts, got onto the road. In spite of the gorgeous surroundings, I felt a little unwell and my heart was not really in the riding. Maybe the euphoria of the previous day had been a bit much to handle. If that were true, I pondered what an entire week in the Dolomities might do to my system. It didn’t bear thinking about.
I decided to ride to Tolmudin before setting on a route for the rest of the way back to Slovenia. The road was every bit as fantastic as could be, with the added benefit of zero traffic on the road at that early hour. What few stragglers I did encounter, I could easily overtake. It still intrigues me that Europeans didn’t mind getting passed by motorcycles at all. Some of the stunts I pulled would have gotten me shot in the United States (land of the free).
Anyway even despite my groggy state, I enjoyed the few passes and switchbacks I rode through. By noon however, I was ready to stop and get something to eat. After getting lost a little in Tolmudin thanks toÂ the GPS continually routing me onto a road dug up by construction, I spied a bright, gleaming cafe called Cafe Leopoldi, went around the block and came back again and pulled onto the sidewalk across the street. A few drops of rain fell as I walked into the cafe.
I ordered my usual panini (ham and cheese sandwich) and water (still water from tap, no gas) and sat at a windowside table. After finishing half the sandwich and poring over my maps of Italy and Slovenia, I laid my head down again, still not feeling very good. I had originally planned on routing through the middle of Italy to enter Slovenia at Socka to ride up north through the Soca Valley and Verzic pass to Bled and finally to Ljubljana. It seemed more than I could do though. I could have split the ride into two days, but they predicted heavy rains in Slovenia the next day which was now becoming increasingly tiresome, and I made the same decision I made in North America the previous year when I was faced with the prospect of riding the Skyline Ridge through a rage of thunderstorms. I decided I’d rather skip that ride than ride through it in miserable weather and not see very much anyway.
I routed instead through the northernmost tip of Italy over straight roads to reach Slovenia at Kranjska Gora. From there it would be about 40 miles to Bled to see the famous lake, and then a short stint to Ljubljana.
Straight roads necessarily meant a great deal of dullness and passing of cars and trucks although I was lucky in that there weren’t very many of either out on the roads. It was a dull, lacklustre day although the mountains and crisscrossing bridges still provided a certain thrill.
Before I knew it, Italian road signs changed to Slovenian and I was on the west end of the Slovenian Alps. The roads gradually narrowed, the surface appeared more and more eroded, and traffic increased as I passed from one little town to another, gingerly testing the waters to see if the good Slovenian people had the same indulgence to eager lane splitting motorcyclists as the Germans and Italians did. They appeared to, so I continued.
Traffic ground to a complete standstill and stop-go pattern as I neared Bled. Far ahead in the distance, the reason was apparent. A tall construction truck with blinking lights crawled along at approximately 5mph and speeding cars in the oncoming lane negated all attempts at passing. I ground my teeth with frustration as I crawled with the traffic, before I finally gave up and pulled in to a gas station to refuel. I texted Tadej to see if he was back home from his travels and received a response that he was still at the airport and wouldn’t be home until late that evening. I called his brother who said I could come over to his place and spend the night, an offer which I gratefully accepted.
I got back on the road where traffic was now flowing normally and rode to the lake in less than 5 minutes. Even in the dull, lacklastre light, it gleamed green and clear. Ducks floated on its surface and little boats plied across the waters towards the island at its center. A castle stood in the distance in a matter of fact manner, as they do in Europe. I walked by the bank and took a few pictures before leaving.
70 more kms to Ljubljana. On the freeway, I could do it in less than an hour, but the freeways in Slovenia require one to have a vignette (paid for a week, month or a year), which I didn’t have and had no intention of procuring for an hour’s ride. I set the GPS to turn off “Toll Roads” and headed southeast.
To say that I flew through the rolling hills and backroads would be an understatement, but my ride possessed a certain fluidity and although I’m not a gamer, it had that feeling of playing a video game where you didn’t really care how many lives you got because you knew that just the one would be enough and no matter how dangerous a casual onlooker would deem your rate of acceleration, you knew you could do not wrong. For here I was in my element, in my favorite type of roads – low, rolling hills, corners aplenty, rural farmlands and green trees and gray cracked tarmac for as far as the eyes could see.
I was on the outskirts of Ljubljana before I knew it, a few lumbering trucks ahead of me signaling that the dream ride was over. I slowed down and rode the last few kilometres to Pegamova, pulled up outside Matej’s apartments and called him.
End of the ride and a meeting with a familiar face! :D There’s no better feeling than this. I parked and we carried my stuff upstairs, laughing and joking all the way. Deep down, I was a little sad at the thought of the epic journey coming to an end. I knew that I would still ride in Slovenia for a couple more days with Tadej, but those would be day rides. The major part of it was over.
The next day the skies open and it poured down all day long. Riding was out of the question. Even walking was a bit much, so I mostly stayed indoors and unpacked my luggage, blogged and slept. Matej and I got lunch at the city center, which was the only time I emerged outdoors until late that night when Tadej came over to pick me up to stay at his place the last two nights.
The forecast for the next day was glorious sunshine all day long with temperatures of 20C, a little on the cold side, but perfect for motorcycling. We planned to ride southwest down to the Skocjan caves, where I would stop to look at the caves, while the others went on to Osp to climb Apparently every Slovenian – man, woman and child is a mountain climber. It’s in their blood, bewildering as it was to me. I declined their offer to be taught how to climb, preferring rock solid terra firm myself. We planned on either riding to Piran on the seaside later, or turning back towards Ljubljana if time didn’t permit.
Since we had a super late start because of a myriad of trip logistics and we were on road a little after 11:30PM. There were five of us on three bikes, me on the BMW, Tadej and Darja on his Yamaha, and Lejla and Borut on his Honda.
Want a truly good ride? Go talk to the locals. And the locals didn’t fail to deliver as we wound through small tight unknown backroads that I would never have discovered on my own. All this without the help of any GPS even. I rode in the middle, content to follow and enjoy the ride. It was slow going because of the nature of the roads. We reached Pradmaja grad by 2:00PM where we proceeded to get a lunch that went on for far longer than we had expected. By the time we got out and headed to the caves, it was already 4:30PM. We parted ways here. I got my ticket and waited for the tour to take me through the caves.
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The caverns reminded me of the ones I had seen in Missouri many years ago at least in the first two “silent” caves. Then I reached the huge cavernous ones, gulped at how far below the river waters were, admired some rock formations that looked like an organ and others that formed a cascade of little pools. It was a good experience although I wish someone would have warned me that walking for two hours up and down 900 steps would be part of the experience. I might at least have brought a change of shoes along. I was completely exhausted when I emerged at 7:00PM.
Tadej and Darja were still climbing, so I decided to head back to Ljubljana. I knew that I should probably stop and rest because I was bone tired and hungry, but I wanted to make it back before the light started failing. The backroads would be no fun when it got cold and dark.
I navigated to a gas station to find that it was closed. I was momentarily chilled and wondered if all gas stations here closed early like they reportedly did in Italy. The next one I tried was open though, to my relief. I filled up and bought some nuts and chocolate, said hello to another motorcyclist who was stopped at the door and chatting with someone, and sat at a picnic table to eat. It wasn’t much, but it would keep me going until Ljubljana.
When I was ready to walk back to the bike, an older guy at the station gesticulated at me excitedly. Apparently he had heard from the young guys that I was from the US and was excitedly telling this to another guy who was fueling up his car. I walked back smiling, but a bit puzzled. He all but grabbed me by my arm and dragged me into the station, brought the gas station attendant with us to a back room and asked him to pull up Google Maps on the computer. They typed in “Seattle, Washington” and laughed with amusement as it came up. I helped zoom in a bit further and showed them where I lived. More uproar and laughter. He spoke a bit of English and told me that his father was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but he had never been able to visit there. I told them who I was and why I was there. It was all rather sweet and amusing. I asked them if I could take a picture of them, to which they consented, and they asked me how they could find me on Facebook. Ah, modern times! I wished they spoke better English (or I spoke better Slovenian). I bet I’d have had a grand time with that good bunch.
This incident perked up my spirits considerably and I set off for the last part of my ride feeling refreshed and cheerful. This ride again was not unlike the one from two days before, with the flying and the video game effect. It was good going until it grew dark, as I had predicted. I love riding at night, but only in the cities. I was a little paranoid of the forest rats (deer) emerging onto the roads, and I was a little annoyed at the headlamps of oncoming cars glinting onto my visor and blinding me (I wonder if the Pin Lock I had installed had anything to do with it?). It got some annoying that I finally decided to bite the bullet, risk a 300 euro fine, and got on theÂ motorway for the last 25kms back. Fortunately, I made it without getting caught, and made it to Gameljne unscathed.
It was freezing cold now. My GPS couldn’t find Tadej’s place, so I waited at a neighboring pub, Medo Bar for him. Unfortunately they had stopped serving food, as had probably every place in the region on a Sunday night. I ate the remnants of my nuts and drank water until he finally arrived. We went back to his place, made a rude meal of a tuna sandwich and a tisane and chatted with his mum until the small hours of theÂ night before finally calling it a night.
The next day was more rain and wind and freezing cold. It made me think that I had ended my tour had the perfect time. Any more of this weather would have been unthinkable. I spent my last day doing my final packing, buying some small gifts, walking around Mitelkova and the city center, and hanging out with Tadej. We met Matej for dinner later that night for (some very odd) pizza and Union beer.
And then it was over. This morning I caught a plane out of Ljubljana to head back to Seattle. Back home again. Just when I was getting used to Europe too.
I cannot wait to come back here again.