The Russians built the road over Vrşiç Pass during WWI after the Italians invaded the Austrian Empire. The aim was to supply the Isonzo Front. There’s still a well kept Russian chapel about half way up the north of the side of pass.
The 800m climb was my first riding with a full load since crashing 10 days earlier. I was happy my knee did as well as it did. I wasn’t so happy with the views. Vrşiç Pass is the highest (paved?) pass in Slovenia and gives access to the highest mountains in the country. I guess I expected the scenery to be more impressive.
On the other side of the pass, however, we descended to the Soça River which is a real beauty.
Do the names Isonzo and Soça sound familiar? Well, it’s one and the same place, in Italian and Slovenian, respectively. There were over 500,000 casualties on the Isonzo Front in WWII. Hemingway wrote about the area in A Farewell To Arms. I read it while I was there and was reminded I don’t like Hemingway.
Now the area is popular with tourists.
We enjoyed a camp next to the Soça and coasted into Italy the next day.
Our time in Italy seemed like one UNESCO site after another. The first was Cividale where we explored the old town a bit.
The UNESCO listing is for the treasures of Longobardo. I was most excited to see the Altar of Ratchis:
which from the photos looked like it might be comparable to the lahit that I like so much at the Antalya Museum:
Haha, seven centuries later yet much simpler!
Ferda and I camped one night and the next morning were at the next UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Venetian fortified city of Palmanova. Like Elvas, Palmanova is probably best appreciated from the air. Check out this air photo of the city:
You can see there are three gates. The southern one looks like this:
and the central hexagonal plaza like this:
That plaza felt deserted, too big for the size of the town. At our camp the evening before Ferda lost a filling while eating. The most exciting thing we did in Palmanova was a trip to the dentist. A technician welcomed us to the office, and the dentist arrived about 10 minutes later. He quickly gave Ferda a temporary filling, and then we sheepishly asked about the stitches in my knee which had been in about 12 days at this point. He quickly removed them and then didn’t take any money for our visit! Wow, what great Italian hospitality (or perhaps Libyan? as the dentist was from Libya)!
Our trip across the Friuli Plain was marked by one beautiful old building after another. It was the first flat riding we had since Ljubljana, and of course it went by quickly. I prefer mountain riding, but when I get small breaks in the flats during a mountainous tour, I enjoy it.
In Mortegliano we happened upon this church
and then stopped for a glass of wine to get out of the sun. The men at the entrance were all having the white wine (vino bianco di casa) so that’s what we had. Our two glasses arrived with some bread and prosciutto. And our bill: 2.40 euro. Really? This is Italy? For the record we never did find such cheap wine at a restaurant again, but after five weeks I can say that wine in Italy is a very good value.
Another unexpected surprise was Villa Manin (free entrance):
The Venetians were rich, and this plain must have provided a lot of their food. Canals crisscross the Friuli Plain. For two nights in a row we found campsites next to canals where we could bathe which felt great after a day of riding in the heat. The days were hot. It usually rained in the evening and cooled off at night.
We started up the foothills of the Dolomites directly into another of Italy’s UNESCO sites, the Prosecco winegrowing hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene.
And there we came across the beautiful old town of Vittorio Veneto.
Wow, this is Italy!