Biking in bright sunshine the beautiful eight miles or so to the Bohinj Bovine Ball we were in high spirits. Arriving bright and early at 10.30am things were just starting to kick off. Accordion music blasted from outdoor speakers, craft and food stalls had set out their wares and the barbecues were just cranking up.
We looked set for a good day out. No cows to be seen yet as the parade was to be later on. Three hours later on. That would have been fine if the weather hadn’t deteriorated. The clouds appeared, got lower, and lower, and lower, then drizzle came and then the rain. Not torrential rain but that steady wetting sort of rain. Not prepared, we mooched about in our sandals, shorts and non waterproof jackets slowly getting wet through.
Three hours was a long time to wait in the rain, with no shelter, for the parade of the cows. We broke up the wait with a traditional Slovenian lunch of sausage, corn mush and sauerkraut which I can only describe as a flat sausage patty served on a bed of grit. The cows, led by their herdsmen, were worth waiting for though trotting through the crowd, bells jangling, replete in their bouquets. Calves, some as young as a few days old, and a bit skittish, hopped, skipped and jumped along after the adults. They will graze in the valley now until early spring when they’ll go with their herdsmen back to their mountain pastures again.
Back at the campsite we wrung out our clothes and sat steaming away in the van with the heater on full blast to dry out. After another couple of days hiking and biking in dodgy weather we threw in the towel and headed for the north eastern coast of Italy.
Once again, it was a bit of a culture shock driving back to civilisation once away from the Triglav National Park. Several miles of retail outlets lined either side of the road into Udine where we’d planned a stop for the night. It was one long strip of Malls, DIY stores, food outlets, supermarkets, garages and car showrooms which seemed to go on forever. And ever. The weather was warm and sunny but I already had that sinking feeling of ‘what are we doing here’ having no interest in any retail therapy and already missing the calm tranquillity of the Slovenian mountains, albeit a grey, wet and cold tranquillity. We did, however, walk to the Decathlon shop a mile or so away after we’d parked up the van at the aire to peruse the miles of aisles of sports equipment. Yeah, I know, double standards.
Not feeling the love for Udine, even though it is said to have a historic centre, we pressed on to the coast the following morning. We were waylaid for a few hours in Palmanova though. We knew nothing about Palmanova but the shape of it on the map drew me in. Planning our route I hadn’t even noticed it. It was only when we were a few miles outside the town, whilst I was faffing with the Maps.Me app zooming in and out, that I realised it was definitely worth investigating.
Built by the Venetians towards the end of the 16th Century the nine pointed star structure was conceived as a defence system to keep out the Turks. The town is now designated as a UNESCO world heritage site.
A walk around the inner ramparts followed by a second lap around the outer ramparts and a mooch about the town square took up most of the afternoon and we were really glad we had stopped.
Not least because we spotted these guys basking in the sunshine in the moat below the upper path.
We hit the Italian coast at Grado. This was our first glimpse of the sea since early May when we’d left the French coast. The sun was out, it was warm and there was an aire (aka large carpark) fifty metres from the beach at €4 per night. Life doesn’t get better than that let me tell you.
Approached by a four kilometre long causeway Grado, in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy, is a little island beach resort backed by lagoons teeming with birdlife. It was a pleasant place to spend a couple of days enjoying the sunshine whilst biking around the nature reserve.
Onwards then east along the coast and back into Slovenia. Slovenia has just over forty kilometres of coastline sandwiched between Italy and Croatia. We based ourselves for a couple of nights at an aire on the marina at Lucija. When we arrived there were only about seven or eight vans parked so we felt mightily pleased with ourselves that we were able to bag a ringside seat right next to the sea. Perfect. When we returned from a bike ride to Piran several hours later though we were completely surrounded by Slovenian and Italian vans settling in for the weekend.
Piran, set on a triangular shaped peninsular, is just charming. Thanks largely to nearly five hundred years of Venetian rule much of Piran and the coast of Slovenia is Italianate. It’s a compact warren of alleys lined with narrow houses and tiny churches.
The following day we thought we’d cycle to Croatia. Now, Tim has been itching to get to Croatia for months and his plans have been scuppered by our dilly dallying here and there. But finally, finally he was going to get there. We picked up the Parenzana Cycleway just outside the marina which took us past the salt plains to the nearby border. Once at the border we were confronted with passport control. What? Taking our passports hadn’t even crossed our minds. We haven’t needed them on any other border (apart from Gibraltar). I tried it on with my driving licence but passport control man said ‘NO’. Croatia, then, still eluded us.
Returning to the van I left Tim to check on the back of his eyes whilst I cycled to Koper along the Parenzana Cycleway in the other direction. And what a great mostly traffic free ride it was too. A bit up and down, a couple of tunnels, views of the coast, vineyards, and olive groves. A very popular day out it seems and a well used section of the path.
On Sunday morning we nudged Ollie out through all the vans, camping tables, chairs and bikes surrounding us and made our way to the Croatian border. This time clutching our passports.