Yellow bellies

We left our campsite this morning at around 10, and drove off from Podbela to Breginj. In Breginj there were several marked parking lots, from where you could hike up the summit of Mt. Stol. We didn’t need to summit. My only goal today was to reach the treeline. Above the treeline is where my beloved vipers live. Above the treeline is where I want to be.

I think we parked at 11am, just below 600m asl. near a little church. From there, we decided to hike and aim for the treeline.

In the first three minutes, I found some yellow bellied toads (Bombina variegata). Very cool. I had never seen them before, even though they should occur close to home. About five minutes later we spotted a whip snake (Hierophis viridoflavus). These awesome large pitch black snakes are almost always too fast to grab your camera, so you’ll have to look back in this post to see a crappy picture.

About four hours of hiking later, we were getting awfully close to the treeline. I could see it at Google maps, being about 50 horizontal meters away. Unfortunately they also probably meant at least twice that in vertical meters, and we had reached what seemed to be the end of the path. We would have to Bear Grylls this one if we wanted to reach the open mountain slopes. It was clear that we would not reach the treeline. Not today. We were also completely exhausted from four hours of struggle. The hike up was alright. It was the kids that made it slow, even when they behaved like little angels almost the whole time. I’m also noticing that the 18 kilos of kiddo on my back are not making it any easier. I guess I’m getting old after all.

Of course, we didn’t see a snake after the first five minutes of the hike, nor any other interesting animals, but at least the views were nice.

The goal was clear in sight. We never made it.

The hike down was much faster. After a little over an hour of descent we had a nice ice coffee in Breginj, and were ready to go back to our site for the night in Podbela.

Very cool little bar in Breginj. Recommended.

Getting above the trees…

We’re currently in the town of Podbela, Slovenia in the Nadiza river valley. I have to say it’s extremely pretty and all, but of course that’s not the only reason we’re here. (It may be the only reason for the rest of the family though.)

You don’t even have to guess. Of course the other reason is snakes. This place is supposedly filled to the rim with snakes, and I think there should be somewhere close to twenty different species in the larger area. Of course I care about all snakes, but especially the vipers have a special place in my heart. And this…. This is a special place when you like vipers.

This particular valley is one of the rare places in Europe where three species of viper from the Vipera genus occur in the same location, being the slopes of a nearby mountain ridge. This is probably the Northeastern end of the range for the common asp (Vipera aspis), which is pretty common West from here in Italy, France and parts of the Iberian peninsula. It’s also almost as far West as it gets in the range of the long-nosed viper (Vipera ammodytes), which is common in the Balkans and Greece. And well, there’s the common Adder (Vipera berus), an awesome beast that probably has the largest distribution of any viper, reaching North into the Arctic circle, West even in the UK, and East for quite a stretch into Russia. I’m not completely sure how far South they go, but this might be close to the southern boundary for their range. Anyway, there’s some overlap in viper range in only a handful of places in Slovenia and Italy, and for some other species in Northern Spain.

I’m staying in the middle of one right now.

There’s only one problem: they don’t typically live on the bottom of the valley, which is where I stay. Reaching the tree line is probably where I’d find the best odds of encountering them. The tree line is a substantial distance up, I’d guess about 600 to 800m higher than we are now. There are no real roads there…

Tomorrow, we’ll see how far we can get by car, and how easy it is to get to the treeline with two kids in tow. I surely hope to find some of my beloved vipers, but I’m a bit worried that I should have tried harder to find them when I was on Mt. Matajur, which was literally the next mountain, that probably would have yielded one or two species… I looked but didn’t put proper field herpetologist efforts into it. Let’s hope it works tomorrow. Wish me luck!

The Nadiza river valley
I need to be in the lighter left part of the ridge that goes through the center of the picture, seen from Mt. Matajur.

We made it!

This morning we conquered our first peak in a long time. We really love hiking in the mountains and via ferratas, but especially the latter has become impossible since the birth of our son Rafa. We have always taken Rafa out on mountain hikes, and on his first 2000m hike, he was probably two months old. We always carried him in a sling, which was replaced by a special backpack when he was about a year or so. Hiking in the mountains was our regular getaway on weekends.

Since the birth of Lara, things have changed again. The first months were easy, and we could bring her anywhere in the sling. But then she had a phase that was difficult to handle, and certainly not ideal for mountains. In the meantime, Rafa grew huge, and much more mobile. He started disliking the backpack somewhat, and was certainly not up for a mountain hike.

Today, we hiked from our camper lot, at about 1200m, to a peak of 1642m. Most of the way up, this three year old dude walked himself. And how. He loved it. He said he was our guide, and of course we followed him in that. We enjoyed a beautiful panoramic view over Italy in the South, and the Slovenian Alps in the North. It’s fantastic here.

On the way down, I carried Rafa in the backpack. Heike and I were surprised about how fit we felt on the way up, two weeks after COVID. But on the way down, we also felt that our knees were wobbling more, and we were certainly more exhausted than we used to be for such a short hike. But anyway, it was a start, and a successful one at that. I guess I know where our weekend trips will go to in the coming months… Living an hour from the Alps is a real treat.

Views like this is what we hike for…
Look at him go!
Lots of these bad boys. Willow gentian (Gentiana asclepiadea) I suppose.
A huge tettigoniid. Lovely too.

Not my kind of present…

I don’t usually feel bad about aging. It’s a normal part of life, and I think you can age gracefully if you embrace the process. Heck, why am I even talking about this… I turned 36 today. I’m not that old. I don’t need to think about being old. Or worry about it.

Or should I?

I received an email yesterday that gave me a sour taste.

Some company I have never dealt with apparently bought my information somewhere, and decided to send me a birthday email. How thoughtful of them. Except the content was a bit off.

My birthday present from them was a heavily discounted senior’s travel discount card…

I don’t know where this lame company bought my information, and what they paid for it, but it’s clear that they missed some essential information. Like being 30 years too early. I do like traveling, so at least they got that right.

Senior discount card. Pffff. I was almost hesitant to write back to them, but who would read it anyway? Better vent on the blog. Why not.

An Aperol Spritz on a mountain on the Italian Slovenian border – with views all the way to the Mediterranean – cleared away the sour taste, and I remembered life is good, even when the back aches a little more each year…

Happy birthday me 🎈🎈🎈

The Reunion

We met my brother and his family at lake Garda today. I was a bit worried that it would be impossibly crowded at this hotspot for Dutch and German tourism, but I have to admit, it was pretty good. We spent a lazy day at a small and partly shaded beach. The crowds were manageable and – surprisingly – Italian. In all honesty, even the RV park is the best we’ve had thus far, and is by far the cheapest. No, southwest Garda is alright for a day. Maybe my Dutch – German family is the target audience…

The cousins had to get to know each other for a couple of minutes before the actual playing could commence. Communication via pictures and video is not a great basis for childhood friendships, but the boys adjusted well and then played all day. At the end of the day both agreed that they were best friends, at least for the day.

I wish I was this good at establishing best friendships.

The worst family picture ever. Better than nothing.
Typical Lara smirk
Besties for a day

As long as there’s ice cream

We had a bit of a change of plans for the coming two days. We never planned to go to the Northern Italian lakes on this trip. First, we went to several already in the past few years, and we also just wanted to explore other areas. Our plan for the coming week was to explore the Italian Slovenian border region instead.

Last week, however, we learned that my brother is also on holiday in Italy, in some glamping village in the overly developed Southern coast of the Garda lake. This is the last place I would spend my holidays if I could choose from so many nicer places that are also closer to home. My brother apparently didn’t know, or didn’t mind. In a way it illustrates how different we are.

Over the past year, my brother and I, we’ve had our difficulties over the pandemic, or the way we both decided to deal – or not deal – with it. We’ve been cautious. They refused being cautious, and for this reason, we haven’t met in more than a year. I’ve vented about it here a couple of times over the year. It’s frustrating when differences of opinion lead to broken relationships. Despite the fact that we don’t share very much in terms of general interests, he is still my brother and I prefer having him and his family in my life. They also have a young kid, whom I would have loved to see more of. He’s four, and I’ve probably seen him fewer than ten times. The distance between Freising and the Netherlands, the pandemic, and mutual stubbornness probably didn’t help.

And so, with a small detour to Slovenia, tomorrow, we’ll skip by lake Garda, to spend some time together. Being boosted and less than two weeks after full recovery from our own COVID ride we’re probably at peak immunity. I suppose meeting even the least cautious people outdoors in the hot Italian sun is now probably more acceptable than ever.

Anyway. Today was driving day, and we drove our first leg from the Apennines – which actually turned out to be the Alpi Apuani – to Garda. Heike and I had a bit of a discussion about where to stop for the night. I insisted we’d drive to Mantova, because it looked interesting on the map, and was relatively close to Garda. The North Italian Po plains are not that interesting besides some of the cities, so I figured we’d rather check out one of those than park for the night in some tomato field.

I think afterwards Heike also agreed that Mantova was the right decision. Before we had kids, we always enjoyed exploring old towns. After the kids, we sort of conveniently ditched that part from our holiday itineraries. This evening we discovered that it’s actually pretty fun, even with kids.

As long as there’s ice cream!

Chasing Sun and Spritz

For me, few things give me more of a holiday feeling than an Aperol Spritz on an Italian beach at sunset. I remember the first one I had, about five years ago in La Spezia. We were there in October, so the beach was empty, the bar quiet, the temperatures very comfortable, and the sunset was early. I remember the beautiful late afternoon sun rays lighting up the orange substance in the condensation-covered wine glasses. The way the light played with the water droplets was almost better than the taste itself. Some prism magic going on right there. The small snacks on the side didn’t hurt either. Ever since, I like to drink a Spritz when I’m in Italy. Unfortunately, it’s hard to replicate the first experience.

This afternoon, we took the kids for a stroll along the lake. The kids were tired. The parents were tired. There was a small bar with some shabby plastic chairs and a shaded terrace.

They had Spritz.

Of course they had Spritz.

Of course we had Spritz.

Nope. It wasn’t the same.

It was alright. But not the same. I could blame the lack of sea views (but the mountains were great). I could blame the shaded terrace (but shade was a welcome gift). I could even blame the kids (but I love the little buggers). No, in the end, it was probably the shabby plastic chairs (although my best travel adventures have included shabby plastic chairs).

Maybe I should just not try to replicate old experiences and just embrace the new ones…

Everything about this shot depicts how the experience differed from expectations. You can almost see the light magic though.
You make me sit here watching you drink orange stuff and I can’t even get a sip?
It certainly wasn’t the company or the location…

Fifteen degrees better

After packing up the van this morning, and telling our friends goodbye, it was time for us to continue our journey. Where we would go didn’t even matter much, as long as it was less warm, and we would be less sweaty. It was great spending time with our friends, but this weather was exhausting! Temperatures between 35 and 40 degrees are not normal. Not even on the North Italian coast.

We had no clue where to go, but about two weeks’ time left to kill… Lower temperatures meant it should probably be somewhere high. The closest option would be in the Appenines, a small mountain range just North of Pisa. I wasn’t sure how much of a difference it would make. These mountains are not that high. Surrounded by terrible temperatures, they might also heat up.

They could be cooler though. I’m still not completely sure.

When we drove up to our destination – a campsite close to a hydropower lake – we could slowly see our temperature sensor go from a high point of 40.5 degrees to 30, and even crawling towards 28 briefly. That’s where it was stuck for a while. Then we entered some unexpected downpour. Fucking fantastic. I was already wondering how this valley could be so green in permanent blistering heat. The rains explain most of that, I suppose. The rains quickly drove outside temperatures down to 18 degrees. God, it was even getting a bit chilly. Nah, can’t complain. These are temperatures I can sleep at. Perfect.

On the last stretch towards our destination, the temperature also crawled back up, but stayed at reasonable levels. 23. Not bad. Not bad at all. I just now brought our two kids to bed I’m the campervan at normal temperatures. It could be the start of a great night!

And it doesn’t look too bad here either. No wait. I could probably live in this area. It’s brilliant!

Home for now
Pisa temperatures. It was 40.5 three minutes earlier, before stopping in the shade. And it wasn’t even the hottest part of the day…

Wasps and sweaty (and warm too)

Last night was the warmest night of our holiday thus far. Our dark blue campervan reached temperatures over 40 degrees, and I am pretty sure that it never gets below 30 in the roof – ever. The first below 35 time point is probably around 2-3am. It’s bloody hard to get to sleep, and to stay asleep. It didn’t help much that my boy decided to completely shit himself in his sleep. Since COVID, he has trouble keeping his end product in, or at least in until he reaches a toilet. He never wet his bed. These last three weeks it’s a flip of a coin. You can see the frustration in him, he’s so proud of not needing diapers. But really, these days he might need them again, at least at night. Last night at 3am, he started a literal shitstorm, that required me cleaning our entire roof bed, and showering the both of us quietly in the dark outdoors. What a mess.

After a rough night, the day seemed to start good, and he was fit enough to go for lunch and a swim. We had a fun day, and ended it with a nice barbecue. He was having lots of fun preparing it and grilling the sausages with us. Until the last five minutes of the barbecue came. He stepped into one of the many many wasps that tried to get some nutrients from our meat, or some droplets from the condensation on our beer bottles. I think it’s his first wasp sting, and he got a good blow between his toes. Poor kid. This has been a rough vacation for him… Tomorrow, we’ll say goodbye to our friends, and part ways. Let’s hope Rafa will be more lucky for the duration of the trip.

Rafa finding his bearings

Warm, sweaty, and pretty nasty (but with a happy ending)

Warm and sweaty days are the worst when combined with diarrhea. I was lucky and didn’t get any of that. My son on the other hand, scored an ‘entirely liquid’ on the Bristol stool chart. That’s a pretty nasty level of diarrhea. My son, of course, is three. Guess who wiped butt juice from a sore and painful sphincter all day? (Hint: it was me.)

I was wise enough to foresee the worst outcome early in the morning, and got meds and electrolytes at the pharmacy to make sure that my boy’s butt would get the mildest possible experience. Yet, they took their time to kick in. Until about 6pm there was a lot of agony, and because of it the boy looked like a roadkill. I wasn’t sure if he would recover anytime soon. Then he ate some salami, and as if touched by the gods of gastroenteritis, he suddenly came alive. By 7pm he assured us that we would drive up the hill to see the sunset, something we had talked about since yesterday.

Unsure, and armed with baby wet wipes and extra diapers (I don’t need diapers anymore dad!) we drove up the hill. The medicine had clearly done its job. Roadkill Rafa turned into the chatty old Rafa that we know and love.

The sun set. It was a good end of a bad day.

Sunset at Populino
Back to normal?
Castle Populino