26 July 2011

Putting the Gorge in Gorgeous

The first time we visited the Vintgar Gorge, in October 2008, it was grey and rainy. We showed up, bought our tickets from a man who was very surprised to hear we weren't students (we're far too honest to accept an untruthful discount) and traversed the slippery wooden walkway. Then, we were surprised to find two other couples trekking the boards after encountering only a handful of foreigners during the whole week prior. This time, at the height of the high season on a non-rainy day, it didn't surprise us too much to find the parking lot full. It's hard to get too upset about it when this is your scenery.
The walkway was built and opened to the public in 1893, two years after the gorge was discovered. So, it has a long and esteemed tourist tradition, especially in Slovenian terms. Of course, it's been renovated a few times, but it remains simple and wooden, giving you that extra material connection to the natural setting. Metal stairs and platforms would feel so incongruous. Most of the trail hugs the canyon walls, crisscrossing the water every so often. It's not steep or difficult or remotely dangerous, but somehow you still sort of feel like the access is special, exclusive, almost magical.
Water rushes thunderously in some sections, frothing up against the rocks. This is the Radovna river, which carved the gorge out after being detoured by a glacier at the end of the last ice age. At other turns, the water laps gently into pools, turquoise and clear enough to see fish swimming beneath. The walkway takes advantage of a few natural indents in the rock walls, providing picnic tables and resting spots. It's easy enough to walk down to a rocky shore here and there and pose on a fallen tree.
The 1600 meter path culminates in the Šum waterfall, which literally means "noisy" waterfall. Boy, does it crash. It's 26 meters high, which is over 75 feet for all of you back home. Standing at the designated 'photo point,' at least 150 feet away, our lenses were still sprayed with mist.
We continued on after the gorge, as we had three years ago, on a marked trail down toward Bled. Vintgar is within walking distance of Lake Bled, making it an easy outing if you're staying at one of the multitude of hotels near the water. Last time we navigated our way along the path, we met a friendly salamander. This time, we had a human run-in. We couldn't successfully communicate with either.

At Saint Catherine's Church, an old pilgrimage site which still has remnants of its 15th century fortification, we looked down at Zasip and, further on, Bled. The clouds were beginning to move into place for a short rain shower that would wet our windshield on the drive home. Mount Triglav stuck up amongst the mountain views and we wondered how many of the hikers we saw setting out early this morning from our campsite were up at the top at the moment. Then, after the short breather, we backtracked to Vintgar.
Our walk back through the gorge was much quieter - as far as people go, the rapids still roared. Now we know, even in the summertime, traffic at one of the most popular natural wonders in the country dies down a little after 2pm. Moving along at our own speed, relatively alone, we were reminded of that first visit again and decided that it was more beautiful than we'd remembered. Water always looks better under a bluer sky.

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