The landscape of Europe is littered with the remains of past borders and the fortifications that defended them. Our morning started next to the overgrown remains of a vast bunker chiseled out of a limestone outcrop with a decaying long anti tank wall bisecting the forest, a reminder that this land has passed frequently between different powers. The forest we were camped in was once a large Italian fortress built in the 1930s, although the remains are not easy to find unless you traipse through the undergrowth and tempt the army of ticks that lie waiting.
Our camping spot was secluded and in the thick forest, great for not being disturbed but not so great for getting back out! We pushed our heavy bikes up a steep hill in order to join a pathway next to the mines old ‘rake’. The mine and its smelting operations required a lot of water, so further upstream a number of dams were built with a joining channel that supplied the required water – the rake. The track was good to cycle along even though it was taking us in the wrong direction, the early morning in the forest was calm and pleasant. After a few km we were able to cross a small old suspension bridge, complete with the difficult task of lots of steps on each side, in order to get to the required side of the river. After a few Km of cycling back on ourselves towards the direction we needed to go we came across the ‘wild lake’, the feature we had been looking for the night before.
The wild lake appears small as far as geological features go, after scrambling over a small stone escarpment we were met with a body of water that is perhaps no more than 30 meters in diameter. On one side are 50 meter high vertical limestone cliffs, and on the other Slovenia’s shortest river (55 meters long) flowing through a small channel. Its eerie green colour complete with early morning mist and a huge variety of plants and animals made it an enjoyable place to sit and marvel in natures beauty. The lake is connected to the underground karst system, so during heavy winter rain on the hills, it appears to bubble and boil with the upwelling water. Despite its tiny size, divers have been to a depth of 160 meters and still not found the bottom!
We headed back to town in order to find food and coffee to find it quite busy, as it is the annual injured veterans walk day and a local food celebration event. Despite wanted to see what would unfold we were conscious about making some progress so headed off. The following day there was a large bike race due so all of the local roads were busy with very professional looking cyclists, complete with back up cars and team formations – not a beard or domo in sight. Sputnik and sea noodle looked like elephants compared to what these guys were riding, but the mood was good and we received much positive attention from them, complete with a wide variety of strange greetings and hand gestures. The road started with a 15km climb, not steep but it was hot and made us work quite hard. Seeing as we were not overtaken by anyone, but passed lots of people coming in the opposite direction, we can only assume all of the professional cyclists had been driven to the top of the hill by their support teams and were just rolling down hill.
Once up on the plateau, the road undulated and alternated between forest and small alpine-esk villages sat in luscious green grass clearings. We ate our lunch next to the ruined shell of a 17th Century Austro-Hungarian hunting lodge, another reminder of the shifting ownerships of this interesting landscape. Being a Sunday, our choice of eating and drinking was limited. Although we had a supply of food the heat and work left me with a craving a cold drink prompting the worst mistake of the day. Seeing a fairly ordinary looking pizzeria in a small non-descript village I suggested a cold drink and we sat down outside. I hadn’t checked the price and although it wasn’t a fix or a con, it was just an expensive place. Unless the pizzas came adorned with edible gold and freshly snuffled truffles, they were clearly aiming above their station. A trip to the toilets inside revealed an interior that could only really be described as uber kitch retired mafia – think stone angels aplenty and walls adorned with Venetian scenes. After spending about 25% of our days budget on two tiny bottles of coke we continued through interesting scenery to a town I can’t remember the name of. Seeing a lake on the map about 4km we headed there to check out the possibility of camping there. Again, due to the underlying karst landscape the lake is known as an intermittent lake, its size changes depending on rain landing on the surrounding hills. The largest intermittent lake in Europe, its water level does not change through the inflow of water from rivers as a normal lake, but upwelling water transported through the caverns and caves formed through the slow dissolution of limestone by weak acids in the water. Despite many attempts to tame the area, its strange properties have left it wild and rich in natural beauty. We found a perfect spot, not only to camp but to get in and swim. After a hot days cycling, the cold, clear water was a luxury. We swam and basked clean in the hot evening sun while watching the many herons feeding in the water. A great way to end the day, writing this now while stuck in the tent reminds me that days like this need to be remembered.