We get to the Vogel gondola by 8.30am but still it’s busy, the car park crowded. A young woman by me complains at her inability to get near the window to get a good picture. I’m quite glad I can’t see out. As the cable rolls over the top of a tower, the car sways, and a collective ooooh is followed by collective laughter. Everyone (except my neighbour) is good natured but glad to escape at the top, rushing for the viewing platform. I hang back. I’m not good with heights, and I’m certainly not good when I’m 1000m higher than the ground I can see through the metal grid below my feet. I cling to the wall as I risk a tentative look in the vague direction of down, where remnants of the morning’s mist drift across the lake.
We fasten our boots and head away from the crowds as two blokes leave the bar with beers. Proof of what we had read – that Slovenians drink beer at any time! We walk uphill on grassy slopes scattered with scree, the stone so white it’s blinding. Despite how high we are the surrounding dark craggy peaks, flicking in and out of thin cloud, seem so tall, circling lower domes on which scrubby green vegetation clings. The paths are well marked and easy to follow, and whichever way I turn there are stunning views and steep drops.
After over an hour of steady climbing (and a slight detour to ring the wishing bell!) I decline the option to climb further to the top of Sija. The path we’ve already walked is rough, with rocky patches where the stones slip from under even the best hiking boots, and I don’t fancy it. Neil climbs it alone as I traverse the vertigo inducing path across its flank towards the rocky peak of Vogel, which keeps disappearing in the cloud. Despite the height and the thin vegetation, the upside down bluebells we’ve seen before are scattered around. I tread warily to avoid squashing a grasshopper that bounces along the path in front of me, dicing with death by leaping directly where I want to put my feet rather than jumping off to the side.
I’m much more anxious than I should be, carefully planting poles before moving forward, casting nervous glances down where the land falls away sharply, even more nervous glances up towards where I think Neil is. I worry that he may fall, that I may fall, that we may somehow miss each other at the path junction where we’ve agreed to wait. I’m surprised but relieved when I look back and see him behind me. He reports I was right not to attempt it, the path being treacherous underfoot and almost straight up. He hadn’t fancied the ridge path he’d thought to take so scrambled back to where we’d parted and followed me.
Unbelievably, the path down gets steeper, merely a suggestion down a cliff, marked with iron hand and foot holds, a bit like a section of the Lake Surprise track on Ruapehu. In both cases mountain goats would struggle. As we descend, the cloud swirling above and around us like a whirlpool, the going gets easier. We eat lunch with a view of mountains above us and a delightful little planina below, where a handful of brown cows graze, their bells ringing around the mountainside. It’s a beautiful after lunch stroll through Planina Zadnji Vogel, the cows barely registering our presence. I may be a little dehydrated or I may have slipped into a parallel universe but I swear that Neil gets close enough for a photo.
Over a rocky ridge there’s a couple of buildings, a small barn and the owner’s house, with a makeshift café under a few umbrellas where chickens scratch.
One struts around trying to boss the others but has feathers that look more like fur, including leg warmers and fluffy slippers, so appears more comical than domineering. It reminds us of Spain: finding a cafe in the middle of nowhere; the terrain – rocky mountains in the distance behind round green hills, white stones scattered haphazardly amongst the grass; a general feel of age, of rural lives lived much the same as they have been for centuries, untouched by the modern world.
Forty five minutes of relatively easy walking through woodland gets us back to the twenty-first century and the crowds at the gondola. We’ve been out for about five hours, only walked about eleven km, but for the most part it’s been challenging terrain and I feel I’ve done more. We have to queue for the gondola but no one seems to mind and the car passing over the towers generates the same response as it did on the way up. At the bottom it bangs into the station heavily.
‘I think we’ve arrived,’ I say. The English bloke next to me laughs.