(All photos © Sean D Sorrentino, 2012)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

From down in the mud to high in the sky

I think I’ve pointed out that this area was a big battlefield for a couple of years during WWI.

It’s hard to look out at the mountains and the valleys and imagine that for more than 2 years the Italians and the Austro-Hungarians pounded each other silly. What a travesty. War is an ugly and brutal thing, how much more when such ugliness is visited upon such a beautiful place.

We took the morning to drive just outside of town to a pair of forts built by the Austro-Hungarians. I knew that they had fortified this area before WWI, but I had no idea why they did so. It turns out that they had good reason to believe that this was a good place to invade them from. This is where Napoleon invaded. Naturally, the Austro-Hungarians took the past as prologue and resolved not to get caught with their pants down ever again. To that end they built some fortifications.

This is the fortress Kluže

And this is Fort Hermann

You can see the damage left by the Italian shelling of Fort Hermann. I’d rather not imagine having to live there during that shelling.

This is a military cemetery for the Austro-Hungarian dead. They moved the Italian dead to Kobarid, which is more famously known by its Italian name, Caporetto.

I spent my time as an infantryman. I didn’t fear deserts. I grew up in Los Angeles, so deserts were old hat. It was cold that I hated. I can’t imagine having to live through the winters here while getting shelled and shot at. It’s not like they knocked off the war until the weather got nicer.

I got to see Kobarid today as well. Though I got to see it in a much different way than Hemingway could have imagined. I went there via paraglider.

I’ve been saving this town for the last location on our trip in hopes of being able to go paragliding. Failing that I would have gone white water rafting. To be honest, I don’t think that very many of the people who come to Bovec think of the military history. They think of Bovec as a center for adventure sports like white water, paragliding, and skiing. It’s only people like me who wander around kicking over rocks and wishing I had a metal detector.

We arrived at Avantura at 4pm and once weather got checked, we were off in the van for a ride that was almost as much an adventure as the glide. Zep (short for the Slovene name for Joseph) drove us off the main roads and up the side of the mountain on dirt roads. The view was spectacular, but the roads rather narrower than I would have liked.

He set up the glider (they look like parachutes, but they are gliders), dressed me out in the very stylish jumpsuit,

hooked me in and away we went.

I was really worried about the takeoff. I knew, being a former paratrooper, that I could handle the landings. I’d done that before. If the worst comes to the worst, just tuck and roll. Hope you miss all the rocks. But with an inflated glider, the wind, and two people harnessed together on the edge of a steep hill, tripping Zep by being a clumsy oaf could have serious consequences. I shouldn’t have worried. I just ran when he told me to and before I knew it we had slipped the surly bonds of earth.

Forget all you think you know about this sport. It’s not an adrenaline sport at all. There’s no leaping off cliffs, death defying barnstorming, or anything really scary about it at all. You just fly.

Don’t get too close to the other gliders, stay off the rocks, and fly.

It was relaxing, if a bit chilly. I would have done better with a pair of gloves, but I did my best not to whine about it. Cold hands seemed such a small price to pay for the experience.

We flew for almost an hour. First this way and then back, searching for the best lift. Zep caught some updrafts along the hill and we were soon soaring way above our takeoff point. We looked down on two more gliders getting ready to fly.

Then we flew down the valley for a couple of kilometers, stopping here and there for updrafts, heading towards our goal, a landing in Kobarid.  We flew over the Charnel House in Kobarid. Here is where all the Italian dead were moved long after WWI.

Hemingway described his Caporetto as

I remembered it as a little white town with a campanile in a valley. It was a clean little town and there was a fine fountain in the square.

The fountain is apparently no longer there. The campanile is.

So Mr. Hemingway, your campanile is still there. The area is quiet now, and as beautiful as it ever was.

Federal Trade Commission Disclaimer:

These blog entries reflect my personal opinions about the locations The Wife and I visited during our travels. I have not received money, freebies, or any other inducements to provide positive coverage of anyone, anywhere, or anything. In fact, no one on this trip knew or had any reason to know that I am a blogger. I do not work for the Tourist Boards of any country, nor am I employed in the travel industry in any way.