Road Trip – Part Four
Off to Slovenia
I had slept really well in very comfortable accommodation at the Residenza Glave. After showering, getting dressed and making myself a drink I walked the short distance to get by bike from its overnight parking place in the rather large garage.
My host Gianfranco, had given me the remote control for the garage door and in no time at all my bike was back outside the accommodation and ready to be loaded up. Before going down to breakfast I packed my luggage and clipped the panniers to the bike.
I had a seriously good breakfast taken al fresco in the sun-drenched courtyard. Gianfranco and his wife Laura couldn’t have looked after me any better. The courtyard/garden really was a lovely place to have breakfast and I can’t recommend this place highly enough as an excellent place to stay – whether as a stop over or for a longer stay. It’s even pretty close to the beach at Campomarino Lido on the Adriatic coast if that’s your thing.
I looked at maps and checked distances on the sat nav whilst I ate breakfast and enjoyed a couple of excellent cups of coffee. I had decided to head to Slovenia for a couple of days, but would definitely need to stop somewhere overnight en route. I had decided that I would head to a place called Sigillo some 20 miles or so from Perugia for that mid journey stop.
After breakfast and before leaving, I borrowed a small screwdriver from my hosts so that I could tighten the screw that was holding the left hand indicator in place – a small sketch and the use of Google translate were helpful with that request.
There are actually two screws that hold the indicator in place on its rubber mounting brackets and although I had managed to make a temporary repair after leaving Pompeii I hadn’t been able to get the screw in as tight as I had wanted – the small screwdriver that I borrowed was just the job and allowed me to make a fix that I knew would be fine until I was back home when I could do the job properly and re-fasten the second and more awkward to reach screw.
I had some pictures with Gianfranco and Laura and then was on the road for around 09.00 am – this was actually a little later than I had intended but there had been internet connection problems and the owner had not been able to process my payment … but rather than delay he offered to do it later so as I could get on my way.
I headed for the coast and to the town of Pescara which was probably only a dozen or so miles away. Once there I stopped to take some pictures on the seafront and then headed for the town of L’aquila before pointing my bike in the general direction of Terni in the Italian region of Umbria.
Terni is a pretty modern type of city but has an old and ancient central area that dates back to the 7th century. Interestingly there is also a connection to my home city, in so much as it was an important place in the ‘second industrial revolution’ in Italy and has been nicknamed the ‘Italian Manchester’
The weather was good again and very warm, around the 26/27C mark. Despite starting the day in glorious weather, by early afternoon the sky in front was darkening and the weather looked ominous.
The strange weather that Europe had experience several times throughout 2015 was back, and the rain started to fall. I pulled over to swap to a clear visor and get my wet gear on. In fact the conditions were so bad that it didn’t make much sense to continue to ride. This enforced stop provided another opportunity for a coffee, which is exactly what I did whilst I sheltered for the next 30 minutes or so until the rain had eased.
It was whilst I was having this coffee that I dropped Pat a text message to let her know that she shouldn’t worry if I was late making contact that night and that as conditions had changed I would not now be taking in Assisi or Perugia but I would probably take a more direct route to Sigillo.
But wouldn’t you know it – literally within 10 minutes of setting off the clouds cleared, the sun was out and it was time to stop again to get the wet gear off as already I was way too warm.
The change in the weather was so dramatic that I decided that I would head to Perugia after all and make the most of the now decent weather.
I was so glad that I made the journey to Perugia. If you’re not familiar with the geography then Perugia is about 100 or so miles north of Rome and about 90 miles east of Florence and is in, what I think is a very special part of Italy. It’s actually the capital city of Umbria, which in turn is bordered by Tuscany, Lazio and Marche.
I was able to ride around the old town and it’s not an overstatement to say it’s quite stunning. Perugia is also famed as a significant seat of learning as a university town and in fact there is more than one university located there.
Although I was able to ride around the ancient town, leaving it was not without some peril as I inched down the steepest incline that I have ever gone down on a bike. It was less than ideal as it was a mix of cobble types stones and concrete and I was glad to get onto the main road.
After leaving Perugia I headed for Sigillo some 20 miles or so away.
I was heading for my accommodation at the Albergo Ristorante and had looked on Google Earth that morning and sort of knew what I was looking for and I knew that although the postal address was Sigillo it was actually a little way out in the Monte Cucco Natural Park in the Appenine mountains of the Ranco Valley.
As I got closer to my destination I was on brilliant roads that seemed as though they were trying to tie the bike and me in knots as they rose up and curved back on them selves time after time.
Eventually I reached the town of Sigillo and turned right for Monte Cucco.
The road was steep and in parts quite poorly surfaced. From the base of the mountain towards the top meant I had to ride three and a half miles to rise to 1,200m. Once I was pretty much at the top it looked to me as though I needed to take a sharp left to reach the Albergo Ristorante but the road looked like a loose gravel track that a 4×4 might have coped with but it wasn’t one that I was prepared to even attempt.
I decided that it couldn’t possibly be right so rode on a few hundred yards, turned the bike round and then walked a little to see if I could see any possible sign of life or activity – I could see none.
It was a little concerning as the light was fading, and my fuel reserve light was on. I reasoned that I must have taken the wrong turning and that it couldn’t possibly be this high up and/or this isolated. So despite having checked this in the morning on Google Earth I decided I must be wrong and so picked my way back down the mountain.
I eventually got back down and asked the first people that I saw, who confirmed that it was indeed back up the mountain – I asked them about the gravel/shale road I had seen and they told me that no if I carried on I would see signs for the Ristorante.
I was too low on petrol to attempt to go back up there so tapped the sat nav for the nearest garage and headed off there to fill up.
None of my credit cards were accepted in the automated machine but thankfully I had a €20 note which almost filled the bike up. It was now dark as I headed back but this time, the darkness allowed me to see lights high above me, which had to be the place I was looking for. I made my way up pretty slowly, the first run in the falling light had given me a clue about the road service and I knew there were some bad patches as well as the need to look out for rocks on the road.
The second run up the mountain presented me with the additional bonus of a large white cow on the road but it wasn’t at all interested in me and I passed close by it without incident. So once again after a little over 3.5 miles and about 15 minutes I was back at the top and then this time able to find the place. I cursed myself for giving up first time.
The place looked was very very quiet but looked good. The Albergo Ristorante was different and bigger than I had expected. It also like it was past its hey day, and although perfectly fine it was a little old fashioned and the rooms would have benefitted from a make over/update. But I received a warm welcome when I arrived there and my bike was secure, I had a bed for the night, the restaurant was open and the food smelt good – what more could a biker want after a long day on the road.
After getting showered and changed I made my way for something to eat which I think was at about 20.45 they served until 21.30 so I had plenty of time and had a really nice meal, Ravioli Bolognese as my primi pasti and then a nice pizza with two glasses of red wine and all with excellent service. After my evening meal it was FaceTime with my wife, albeit it with a fairly slow and intermittent internet connection and then it was bed.
To be honest I didn’t sleep too well and woke a few times with pains in my arms, wrists and hands. The legacy of 2010 was making itself known again and the constant use of brake, clutch and throttle for the last dozen days or so was taking its toll.
I was up packed and ready for breakfast by 08:00an but in truth it was quite a contrast to Saturday’s breakfast, it was acceptable but a bit more on the basic side than what I had become accustomed to for most of this trip – but the coffee was good and I had plenty of that.
When I checked out, the owner who was a really pleasant man was keen to know where I was going and where I had been, his English was more than decent and he wished me well for the rest of my journey.
Today was the day that I would make for Slovenia. I had decided to stay in the small town of Kobarid.
Kobarid is in the westernmost part of Slovenia and as such is within the Julian Alps, has a population of around 1,500 and is located on the Soca Valley.
I had never been to Slovenia before which probably was the single biggest reason why I had decided to go there.
It was also the town that Ernest Hemingway described in his book A Farewell to Arms as ‘a little white town was a campanile in a valley’ and ‘with a fine fountain in the square’ – but I have to report the fountain is no longer there.
The odd weather continued and as I left the Albergo Ristorante and made my way of the mountain I had seen that behind me the sky was darkening and indeed it caught up with me after about an hour and I stopped to put on my rain gear … thirty minutes later it was dry and bright and around 27C so another stop to take off the rain gear and then for almost all of the rest of the day, the weather was good again.
I knew in advance of leaving the Albergo that it wasn’t going to be the best of rides – no matter which way I held the map up it looked a bit of a dull ride and for the most part it looked to be away from the mountains and hills and across the ‘flatlands’ of the Gulf of Venice, which borders Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. I headed in the general direction of Trieste. I could have headed for the coast and sort of gone up via San Marino, but instead I opted to stay in the mountains a while longer and so headed first towards Gubio and then Citta di Castello and this way I knew I could probably get the best part of a couple of hundred miles or so before it all got a bit flat.
My route took me towards Bologna but I dropped down below that so as to avoid the city, I still had a fair way to go, today was a long day (the best part of 400 miles) and the second half of the journey was pretty much as expected and for the most part rather dull.
There isn’t really a great deal I can find to say about my ride, other than I went on one particular road that was probably the longest and straightest road I have ever been on and which I think was the SS14 that ran towards Palmanova interspersed with two of the biggest and most bizarrely oversized roundabouts I have ever been on and only seemed to serve as a break to the monotony of the road to Udine.
As I approached my destination the weather darkened again and it looked like it might rain, I slipped my rain jacket on over my textiles just in case, but the rain held off, although it had clearly rained along the latter part of my route before I had got there. The town of Udine had clearly had something of a drenching.
From there it was only around 40 miles to my destination but the air had definitely turned cooler. In fact had the roads not been so damp it would have made for superb riding as I made my way on very good roads into the Slovenia and alongside the Soja river … which was a raging torrent. In fact the water seemed to be more brown than aqua and that along with debris on the road was evidence that there had been some pretty heavy rainfall in that area earlier in the day. The damp roads and the debris made the only sensible option being that of riding at a moderate pace.
My timing turned out to be just right, because as I pulled into the car park of the Fedrig s Preno?iš?i hotel the heavens absolutely opened, with rolling thunder not too far away. A young lady came out to meet me and suggested I bring my bike in undercover and she helpfully moved some chairs so that I could put the Z1000 undercover and between some tables in the outdoor seating area.
The Fedrig s Preno?iš?i hotel was really very good and superb value. When I was booking it online I saw that I could book a deluxe double room for less than €60 (a little less than £44) for two nights and this also included breakfast.
My room was spacious, had a balcony, solid wooden parquet floors and the bedroom was complete with bearskin rug and a very solid Wi-Fi connection.
After the usual shower and change although this time not into shorts I went for a walk and borrowed a large umbrella from reception. By this time the rain was hammering down along with crashing thunder and a lightening storm that was so vivid and constant it was almost lighting the place up like daylight. The young lady at reception who had greeted me (and who was the wife of the son of the owners) told me that they had endured colossal amount’s of rain that day, she also explained that she thought it was quite localised but wasn’t set to change anytime soon.
It only took me a minute or two to walk into the centre of the town and I noticed that there was a museum there that I decided I would visit the following day if the weather was still so bad.
After establishing my bearings I took a beer and bite to eat in a small bar before making my way back to the hotel. The thunder and lightening storm continued for most of the night.
Unlike the weather the following morning, the breakfast was good. I decided that I’d go for a walk and hope for a break in the weather later on in the day. By the time I had got my things together to go out the rain had stopped, but the clouds were low, the sky was grey and the surrounding mountains were obscured by the low hanging cloud base.
Kobarid is certainly a small town and in truth was a place I had never heard of until I decided to stay there and yet it has its own place in history.
It was here that various battles took place (the Battles of Isonzo) between Italy and Austria/Hungary, one of the bloodiest conflicts of World War 1 that happened there was when Austrian troops supported by Germans broke through the front lines, and it this chaotic period that is recounted in Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms.
The museum recounts all of this, and in my opinion is a ‘must do’ visit if you ever decide to stay and/or travel in that area and is great value for the €5 entrance fee.
It was fascinating and incredibly well presented; in fact it was voted Best European Museum for 1993.
The museum (Kobariski Muzej) tells a moving story of incredible hardships and incredible loss of life – and made me think about the madness and futility of war – in the Battle of Caporretto alone the figures were breath-taking, 10,000 killed, 30,000 wounded, more than a quarter of a million taken prisoner – and all this in less than a month.
By the time I had done in the museum the weather looked decent enough – still grey and chill, but no rain and nothing to put me off getting on the bike.
The weather looked better back towards Italy rather than further into the Soca valley, at the first opportunity I turned off the main road and took a smaller road up into the mountains but it soon became pretty obvious that this wasn’t going to be great.
In places the road was strewn with stones, rocks and mud that had been swept down from the storms of the previous night. I had read on the news that morning that the untypically severe weather – apparently a rare Mediterranean storm that had crossed northern Africa has also let itself be known in parts of northern Italy was so severe it had led to loss of life with flash flooding and mudslides. My experience was just a mild taste of that but it was enough for me to decide not to press on that way, so I turned and headed back down to lower ground before heading south and back into Italy where remarkably and within less than 20 miles it was blue sunshine and 27C.
On my way I stopped and parked my bike in a clearing near the Soja river whose waters were now more like the aqua colour I had expected as the river had subsided a little after its drenching. It was here that I met and chatted to four Germans who were changing into wet suits and preparing for a days canoeing – other than that I just enjoyed the solitude and isolation of the moment.
The rest of the day turned into a sort of lazy riding day as I ambled around Italian villages and back roads, stopping to take pictures and then refreshments at a couple of small village bars..
My next to last stop of the day was in Udine where the temperature was now 29C. I made my final stop of the day at a supermarket on the way back to call and buy deodorant, but also ended up buying a gift for each of my two grandchildren.
Once back at the hotel and before dinner I decided to go for a walk and headed up a hill through a forest to the Sacrario dei Caduti di Caporetto. The monument and chapel at the top were built in memorial to the Italians who lost their lives in the battle that I referred to previously and as well as being a sombre reminder to the loss of life it also afforded wonderful views of Kobarid and the surrounding valleys. Not only that but it provided a view of a road that I decided I would take the following day.
Back at the hotel I ate in the restaurant with a couple of glasses of decent Merlot priced at just €0.85 a glass. Next it was some route planning before bed and a very sound nights sleep.
Before going to sleep I had decided that after breakfast I would head to the small village and ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio in the Trentino province of northern Italy. There were a number of options for the route, the shortest being around the 220 mile mark or a longer route that although closer to 300 miles would be sure to take me much longer as it would involve heading into the Julien Alps, the Parco natural Tre Cime, the Dolomites and the mountainous area that went with it and then west towards the South Tyrolean Province of Bolzano, before dropping back south towards the Trento area.
My final decision would be weather based – what I didn’t know before I went to sleep was that the following day was going to provide me with what was probably one of the best days I have ever had on a bike…