Mr. Toad's Wild Ride: Slovenian-Style
Yesterday we drove from Austria’s wine country to the Bovec basin, in Slovenia’s Julian Alps. When I Google-mapped the route, I found three options, all of which went around the imposing mountain mass called the Triglav National Forest. But I could see on a map that there was a road, up and over that range, the Vrsic Pass. The road is renowned, a mercilessly steep ascent and descent with a combined 50 hairpin turns that redefine the word hairpin. It was built across the pass for military purposes, to supply the Isonzo front of World War I. Opened in 1915, it is known as the "Russian Road" in honor of the Russian prisoners of war that were forced to build it.
I was nervous about driving a road that Google Maps tried to hide from me, but was intrigued enough to give it a shot. Things started smoothly out from Kranjska Gora, the border town with Austria. We climbed, twisted and turned, awed by the surrounding mountain peaks. There were very few cars on the road (we enencountered fewer than ten in the whole hour-long adventure) but many motorcycles driven by lunatics.
About 15 minutes into the adventure, we came to a screeching halt when we rounded one hairpin and found an enormous tour bus stuck on the next turn. With its butt scraping the road and one of its back wheels suspended in air, that bus was going no-where. Scores of people lined the road along with police cars, tow trucks and a few totally perplexed worker bees attempting to right the ship with long wooden 4x6s.
With a U-turn was out of the question, we figured we’d be stuck there for hours. But after much feverish chitchat by the assembled cops, I was told I could squeeze around the far side of the bus. Really? There seemed no possible way that that was going to happen, but I gamely inched my rented Hyundai toward the back of the bus and saw on the other side a strip of road that MIGHT have accommodated half of my car.
The cop in front waved me forward. Really? As I crawled forward, rounding the left corner of the beached whale, my husband gasped and said I wasn’t going to make it, that I was less than an inch from the bus. The police woman continued to wave me forward, directing me to steer straight which put my left wheels off the road, onto a steeply declining shoulder. With gravel crunching and breath held, I crept a few more feet and was free. Stunned and relieved, I chugged upwards, passing a few parked downhill cars that the police had deemed too big to make the turn.
At the top of the pass, we parked on the side of the road to admire the views, and found a steep, gravelly hiking path that took us in 15 minutes to even better views. Returning to the car, we found yet another “roadblock.” This time, a posse of some 40 or 50 baaing sheep jammed the three-foot trail -- an obstacle we could not by-pass even with the help of 4x6s or Slovenia’s Finest.
The downward spiral of curves was hair-raising but spectacularly beautiful, and our destination town, Bovec, with what I am calling my Hershey’s Kiss mountain, was a welcome sight.