So.... where were we... ah yes, I signed off last time on my way from the Grmecica waterfall back to my car in Nomenj.
I always enjoy it when i feel like the first shooting destination of the day has been a success. On a trip like this I usually end up with a handful of pictures that I am satisfied with and if I am lucky then maybe one that I really like... so when I feel like the day has started well then it means that anything good from the rest of the day feels like a bonus. Of course the opposite is also true... an uninspiring beginning increases the pressure on the rest of the day. Just a little something for any psychologists out there.
I decided to head for the mountains to continue my day. I drove to Lake Jasna in Kranjska Gora. Lake Jasna is actually made up of two artificial interconnected lakes and is usually a lovely place to catch your breath before continuing into the mountains. On this occasion however dark clouds were gathering overhead and rain was starting to fall.
It did not seem very promising weather for landscapes so I turned my attention to wildlife where the well diffused light was an advantage and the dark skies were not a disadvantage. The first bird I spotted was a black redstart... a really beautiful bird and a relatively difficult one to find in Finland, but I have been lucky enough to see one in Germany, Austria and now Slovenia as well as Finland this year.
As you proceed from Lake Jasna the road takes you up into the mountains through the Vršič Pass, a wonderful road which connects Kranjska Gora to Trenta via the 1611m high mountain pass. This is quite an experience to drive with 24 hairpin bends on the way up and 26 hairpins on the descent towards Trenta. The present day road was built on the route of an earlier track during the first world war by approximately 10,000 Russian prisoners of war, their work and their losses (in a major avalanche which swept aside the avalanche fences) are commemorated by the wooden Russian Chapel which stands about half way up the mountain on the Kranjska Gora side.
As you approach the highest point of the pass you can find the starting points of a number of hiking or climbing routes and marvel at spectacular views of the nearby mountain peaks. The huge face of the Prisank mountain provides two points of interest which can be clearly seen from one of the roadside parking areas - the Prisank Window and the Pagan Girl.
The Prisank Window is a 80m high, 40m wide hole which goes right through the mountain, one of the largest and best known mountain windows in the Julian Alps. The Pagan Girl is a pretty good attempt at a human face looking back at you from the rock wall, formed by erosion and rock falls, I remember reading at the site that the face was 120m high, but I cannot find confirmation of that from any other source so it may not be correct.
In order to appreciate the sheer scale of these cliffs I think that the following picture which I took in 2017 might help - the three tiny ants you can see on the top of the ridge are mountaineers.
At the highest point of the pass there are a number of restaurants, a good amount of parking space and the possibility to follow many hiking trails. On this occasion I just looked at the view and headed back to base.
The following afternoon England were playing Sweden in the World Cup quarter final and I wanted to watch the match... but I also wanted to take pictures... so I decided upon an early start and an ambitious road trip.
I left the hotel at 0400 and was in position at Lake Jasna shortly after 0500. The water level was remarkably higher than the previous day and the sunrise was a total non-event... I moved on shortly after 0600.
By 0700 I had negotiated the 24 ascending and 26 descending hairpins of the Vršič Pass and was following the path of the very beautiful Soca river through the valleys.
I stopped to stretch my legs at the Great Soca River Gorge before 0800, this is a section of river which has carved out a steep sided canyon for itself, it is a beautiful and dangerous place with an unguarded drop to the raging water and rocks below. The section of river downstream from the gorge is a bit more open and gentle and a popular spot for sun worshippers and people in need of the refreshing experience of leaping into pools of cool water from the less high and less dangerous rocky banks. Although I enjoyed being there I did not find good ideas for photographs.
By 0900 I was having a latte in the hotel near to the Boka waterfall. After a steep uphilll climb it was possible to observe this mighty waterfall, with an initial vertical drop of 106m and a secondary drop of 30m before feeding into Boka creek. The creek is one of the shortest in Slovenia, joining the Soca river after only a few hundred metres. The waterfall has the highest flow of any in Slovenia, reaching upwards of 100 cubic metres per second in the wettest season. On this occasion the flow was significantly less.
The scale of the waterfall is difficult to communicate in a photograph due to the scale of the surroundings... a 106m waterfall does not look so impressive when it is set in a 400m high rock face. You need such a wide angle lens to communicate the whole scene that the waterfall itself is reduced to a miniature size in the frame.
I had understood that there was an even higher viewpoint from where the view could be further improved but after ascending for another 15 minutes or so I began to feel that the downward journey would be a bit too hazardous if I continued upwards, there was quite a lot of loose rock and stones underfoot and it was a bit slippery. With no other people around I thought that the possibilities of having an unnoticed accident were higher than I would like.
Anyway, this was a great place to visit and I recommend it for anyone who is in the area. It was possible to see the high water mark from the rocks at the base of the waterfall, I believe that it would be absolutely spectacular when viewed in peak flow.
Onwards... my next stop was supposed to be Kozjak waterfall... but a difficulty with navigation brought me instead to a lovely hillside in the middle of nowhere... after ascending a large hill by a series of hairpins on a road which was not very wide.
Here, on this beautiful hillside, battalions of insects were going about their most important business - pollinating left, right and centre.
I once again negotiated the hairpins on the way down the hill and found the spot I was aiming for in the first place, eventually managing to park in a "not big enough for all the cars" car park - a task which was complicated by some "its too hot and I already had enough of this and the kids are getting on my nerves" driving from some other visitors. Onwards... to Kozjak waterfall.
The waterfall is easy to find by following the signs, and the crowds, as the path winds its way up the hill and along a wide canyon. The final 40m or so is on a narrow, wet, raised wooden ledge on one of the canyon walls into a cave like area where the waterfall is situated. This area requires attention and care - the wooden boards are generously sized for proceeding in single file but they have to carry two way traffic and passing is already a bit hazardous. The drop to the rocks and water below is only 4-5 metres, but a fall from that height to the rocks would already be a serious matter. I imagine that in the times of heaviest traffic there could be some unsafe situations there.
In order to get a great photo at this waterfall I think it would be best to time your visit to avoid the crowds (including the crowds of cavers arriving on ropes from above the waterfall) and also to consider wading along the bed of the stream instead of following the raised platform, that would have been a practical alternative on the day I visited but may become less practical if the water flow or water level was significantly higher.
I had planned to visit the Tolmin Gorge next, but time was ticking and after being sent in another wrong direction by the navigation system I decided that I continue my circuit towards the hotel and get there in plenty time, maybe having a swim before the game. This proved to be a good decision, as the navigation system in the rental car took me on an extreme cross country route winding up and down hills, finally getting to a place where the road I needed to take was closed for maintenance. The detour was extensive and added nearly an hour to my journey. I arrived 3 minutes before kick-off. Still, a good day.
The following morning I headed for Jamnik once again, hoping to get an interesting sunrise. The period before the dawn was perfectly pleasant, but not that interesting. No nice colours to be seen, no interesting clouds, no mist... just plain. I decided to wait around for the moment when the sun first cleared the mountains in the background.
After leaving Jamnik, an impractically located church in the middle of nowhere on the top of a steep hill in front of the mountains, I decided to scout a new location. I drove towards St. Tomaz - a totally different impractically located church in the middle of nowhere on the top of a steep hill in front of the mountains. Variety is the spice of life.
While proceeding towards St. Tomaz I had a number of navigation related mishaps. In Slovenia it seems that you have perfect motorways and the roads to major towns are very good, but outside that the road quality degenerates very quickly. The navigation data is very noticeably worse than in other European countries, no matter which mapping data you rely on (I saw no difference between Here maps and Google maps). It seems that context data is totally absent. Yes there is technically a road, yes the limit might be 90km/h on that road... but in practice a normal car should not attempt it at all and if you do have an offroad vehicle then it would still not be sensible to try and drive faster than 30km/h. This means that the "what is the best route" decision making is very, very poor.
Eventually, after more than an hour of detours and circles, I arrived at St Tomaz, and it was a fantastic place.
Having found the church itself I tried to make my way to a good viewpoint, this church is better viewed in context, from a distance (in my opinion). Here the navigation outdid itself once again. From my parking space it sent me down the hill again, a couple of kilometres of steep, winding, single lane road... and then had me turn right, right and right again before proceeding back up the hill via the same road to where I had started... in order to continue along a dirt track located 30m from where I had been parked in the first place. The ruts were so deep that the vegetation in the middle of the overgrown track was scraping the bottom of the car... there is no way I was going to commit my rental car to 11km of this before the next turn... so it was back down the same damn hill again to find a different route.
Eventually I got the the place I was looking for, on a nearby hill close to Rantovse.
This was a good scouting mission, finding the best angles to shoot the sunrise the following morning. Now there was the simple matter of just driving back to the hotel. Once again the navigation system sent me on a tour of the worst possible roads. After 40 minutes I saw a church and stopped to allow my frustration level to settle down... maybe a prayer would have been helpful also. I saw St Tomaz from the church... it should have been 40 minutes behind me but I could see it sitting there a few kilometres away. Great. The butterflies fluttering around the church garden cheered me up.
Taking personal responsibility for all navigation decisions, I made my way back towards the hotel using the "largest road is quickest even though it says it is not" principle.
After a short rest another failed attempt was made to find interesting sunset light at Lake Jasna... once again nothing much happened.
A somewhat trying day... but no matter. The following morning I was up at 0315 to make my way back to St Tomaz for the sunrise... and it was almost a success but not quite. There were some nice colours in the sky but the clouds were too big and too dark only starting to thin out when the sun was already well above the mountains.
In the right conditions this could be a truly magical place for a photograph, but all you can do is make the best of whatever conditions you happen to get. Sometimes you are lucky, but 95% of the time you just have to make do with something which is not quite what you hoped. In such situations you can anyway enjoy just being in such beautiful places, safe in the knowledge that all the people who are sleeping instead of standing on a remote hill before 0500 are missing the whole thing completely.
For my final hours on this trip I returned to Bled and had a last walk around that beautiful lake, pausing to visit St. Martins church before heading back to the car.
Overall this was a really enjoyable trip to a magical country. I hope to return to Slovenia sometime in the future.
Thanks for reading!
For some time now I have wanted to return to Slovenia, a beautiful and mountainous country in Central Europe, bordering Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary... so I was very happy to visit there for a few days earlier this month.
As with my previous Slovenia trip, I decided to concentrate on the north-west of the country, basing myself in the town of Bohinj, quite near to beautiful Lake Bled.
One defining characteristic of Slovenia is the multitude of churches all over the countryside, often located in the most beautiful (and most inconvenient) positions on the top of hills. My first stop on the way to Bohinj was at one of these, the church of St. Primoz in Jamnik. The conditions were not that good for photography so this visit was more to see the status of the location, I would return at a better time later in the trip.
The hot and humid summer was well under way in Slovenia which meant that all the flowers were blooming and all of nature's creatures were out in full force.
My arrival day was one of low activity... the early morning flight did not fit well with the schedule of the World Cup, especially as the previous night's final game between England and Columbia required extra time and penalties to decide the tie. Sleep was prioritised over sunset.
The next morning I was somewhat restored and drove to Bled to catch the sunrise at about 0430... and faced an unwelcome surprise. The Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria, on an island in the lake, is the primary subject in most of the best Lake Bled photographs... but on this occasion it was covered in scaffolding, which rather dented my hopes, and slightly wasted what would turn out to be the only beautiful sunrise of the week.
Scaffolding or not, Bled is a beautiful place, especially in the early morning before the inevitable multitudes arrive. I walked around the lake on the mostly flat 6km long trail, passing a number of fishermen and fisherwomen, while being lapped by the early morning joggers.
The calm beautiful waters of the lake provided some nice opportunities for reflections and started to ease my scaffolding related disappointment. I was also partly relieved to realise that (due to the scaffolding) I would no longer feel the need to make the steep and exhausting climb up to Mala Osojnica... the view from the top is fantastic, as long as you survive the climb. Luckily there are more things of interest to photograph at Bled.
Although the majority of Bled's occupants had not yet emerged from slumber it was clear that some people were already starting their adventures as a hot air balloon rose majestically from the far end of the lake. This was a stroke of luck for me, it was fascinating to watch and also made a nice element for my pictures.
As I drove back to Bohinj for breakfast a beautiful day was beginning. The sun and the morning mist were locked in battle, a fight that as a photographer you hope will be a long drawn out struggle with no clear winner. As I drove through the village of Bitnje the sun and the mist were in an optimal state and I stopped to photograph the church.
The lush green grass and the "wild flowers" (or weeds if you are feeling less charitable) made for a beautiful scene as the mist slowly burned away.
Overall this was a most satisfactory morning despite the scaffolding setback.
After breakfast I headed for Lake Bohinj where a rather longer hike (around 12km) awaited me around the lake.
This lake is a popular destination in the summer and there is a lot of canoeing, pedal boating, stand up paddling, swimming and hiking to be done. I did not find it to be particularly interesting for photography although the nearby attractions of the Savica Waterfall and the Mostnica Gorge which I visited last time I was in the area are certainly worth taking your camera to.
On all of my visits to Slovenia I have had the same feeling - it is something of a rough diamond. The scenery and natural attractions of the country are absolutely remarkable, but the visitor infrastructure and information is not yet on the level of other countries. I found one example of this when following the long route around the lake. I had covered about 10.5 of the 12 kilometre route and was rather running out of energy when I was suddenly faced with a sign saying that the path was closed up ahead... this was the first such indication despite being on the path for many hours already. The idea of taking the 10.5km route back to my car did not appeal so a little bit of "off-road" rambling was needed to get past the part which was out of order (they were treating an area for a bark beetle infestation apparently).
An afternoon rest was required before heading out again at sunset, hoping to see the church at Jamnik in better light. One welcome change since 2017 was the lighting of the church at night. Previously the lights were powerful and extremely warm in colour meaning that night pictures showed a very orange church... but these have been replaced with something a lot cooler and more gentle a leading to a much better looking white church. Unfortunately the sunset was very uneventful.
As the night grew fully dark I tried to find alternative angles closer to the church.
Unfortunately my visit coincided with some rather inconvenient (but presumably necessary) roadworks which impeded my journeys to many of the attractions I wished to visit. One road closure blocked the route through Radovljica which would have been by far my quickest route to Jamnik, another set of ongoing repairs introduced traffic lights and a "one way at a time" section on the road between Bohinj and Bled and a third set of repairs led to long delays approaching Kranjska Gora. The detour on my way home from Jamnik meant that it was after midnight before I got to bed and I decided not to set the alarm for 0330 to shoot the sunrise.
After a luxurious lie-in until 0700 I ate a lazy breakfast and set out in search of the waterfall at Grmečica.
The waterfall was easy to find, following a short trail after parking my car near to the railway station in Nomenj.
While considering the best angle to shoot the waterfall I became increasingly aware of noises coming from the cave-like opening above the waterfall, and sure enough some intrepid explorers soon started to emerge from the darkness, on a guided caving tour. They seemed to be having fun but their presence rather intruded upon my intended compositions as they abseiled or leapt down the rock face.
Despite these distractions this was one of my favourite places on the trip, the rich green colours of the vegetation made up for the unusually low water level and water flow. This waterfall was not particularly high or spectacular but the clear pool of water over a rocky floor at it's base made for a nice location.
This day was a bit more overcast and even threatened rain (still very hot however) and that made for ideal conditions for this kind of photography. Another group of cavers could be heard approaching and I took this as my cue to head back to the car.
At this point I realise that I have way too much material from my Slovenia trip to cram into one blog post, so I think I will call this "episode 1" and continue in another post to avoid testing your patience and also to increase the chances that someone actually gets to the end of each post.
Thanks for reading!
--- to be continued ---
Summer is finally here and we decided to make doubly sure of the seasonal feeling by heading to the Adriatic coast for a short family break. The destination was the rather luxurious resort of Portopiccolo, about 20 minutes north of Trieste in Italy.
We flew to Ljubljana and in a departure from my normal practices I had booked a rental car from Green Motion instead of the ever reliable Sixt and I immediately regretted that when picking up the car. I remember that the asking price was a bit lower, and that had influenced my decision, but while checking in the "not included extras" started to rack up fast. You want to drive in a different country? €40 extra. You want to go on the motorways in this country? €15 extra.
Finally on the road, it is safe to say that the weather was not quite as good as expected - thunder, lightning and a "consider building an ark" level of rain accompanied us on the 90 minute journey to Portopiccolo.
Turning into the private parking hall at the Falisia Hotel was quite a relief and I felt only minor inadequacy as I parked the tiny 1.2L Peugeot 106 in an enormous parking space, in-between a Porsche Cayenne and an Audi A8.
Portopiccolo is a small, beautiful resort with a harbour and a large private beach area, near to the town of Sistiana on the Adriatic coast. Thankfully the storm of the day before had long since departed and beautiful blue sky was a feature of the new day. The area has something of an exclusive feel to it, the sailing boats in the harbour were rather enormous and the whole village is constructed in a similar style, giving a harmonious feeling.
The hotel breakfast was an experience in itself, naturally the eggs were cooked perfectly to order and the coffee was superb but the most impressive part was the 10 or 12 different kinds of delicious cakes and pastries that were laid out. Finally I found a place which shares my philosophy that it is always time for cake.
An exploration of the small Portopiccolo village followed breakfast, checking out the beach club, the spa, the selection of shops and cafes and the hotel itself.
The prevailing colour scheme, orange buildings with blue sky, was a welcome change from recent conditions in Scotland and then Finland.
The Falisia hotel provided some good opportunities to add to my collection of staircase photos.
It is often the case that you can find quite different looks depending on whether you shoot the same staircase from the top looking down (as above) or the bottom looking up (as below).
After spending a day within the sheltered environment of Portopiccolo, it was time for a small adventure. The destination of choice was Miramare Castle. The little Peugeot was retrieved from the car park and we made our way along the coast road.
Without having to focus so much on the road conditions it was possible to pay more attention to the car and its performance. The Peugeot automatic gearbox seemed to frequently get lost... as if it went into neutral for a second or two before deciding just to go back to the gear it was already in... it was not a problem, but it was a noticeable difference to any of the other cars I have driven. The low power of the engine was also rather noticeable, pressing down the accelerator made a big difference to the noise level and the r.p.m. but only a tiny difference to the car's velocity.
This was my first time driving in Italy and it took some time to work out the local driving customs. As far as I could tell, the speed limits were just a weak suggestion... the stream of traffic maintained a solid 70km/h while the limit oscillated between 50 and 90.
The castle is situated at a perfect lookout point on the coast and is surrounded by large gardens with various small buildings, sculptures, ponds and fountains.
The ponds were home to some very contented looking ducks and a number of dragonflies which spent their time chasing each other in endless circuits of the pond.
The rich interiors of the castle were fascinating to walk through. Each room had a different fancy chandelier and a different ornate ceiling design.
Miramare is a very interesting place to spend a few hours, I recommend it to anyone who is in the area.
Back in the hotel, there was time before dinner to check out the small staircase which leads from the reception to the car park.
The following day it was time to visit another castle, this time in the village of Duino just up the coast in the opposite direction from Miramare. This 14th century castle was not quite on the same scale as Miramare, but it was in just as nice a location and offered a great view of the ruins of an earlier 11th century fortification a few hundred metres away.
Duino Castle is home to a number of barn swallow families, their nests were to be found in many doorways and arches.
The main tower of the castle had a number of holes in the aging brickwork and these cracks seemed to be used as nesting or resting places for a squadron of common swifts which provided a an aerobatic display (with constant sound effects) overhead during our visit.
I also found an ornate staircase winding its way up the smaller corner tower.
The next morning we faced our final full day in Portopiccolo. We once again made a small expedition to the outside world, heading along the winding country roads to the Sanctuary of Monrupino, a 16th century church and hilltop fortification.
This was another peaceful and beautiful place, and we had it to ourselves apart from a cat, the small birds he was hunting, and a multitude of butterflies.
Back at the hotel it was time to make a final visit to the beach club... but the weather had other ideas as the relentless sunshine and blue sky prepared to give way once again to a gathering storm.
So it was that our stay in Portopiccolo was bookended by spectacular electrical storms.
This coastline, whether you are in Italy, Slovenia or Croatia is a very beautiful part of the world.
Until next time!
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