And that's it! I am sitting on a train from Trieste to Venice, the first leg of a 23-hr journey to Berlin for the finale of my trip. Earlier today I crossed one last border, where Slovenia and Italy meet on the Adriatic coast. No memorials, no statues, nothing to hint at any significance of the location. Just a standard border marker looking out to sea. More thoughts and reflections to come later, I hope, plus more backlog posts. But right now I'm going to enjoy my first daytime doze in nearly seven weeks, in a warm carriage, sheltered from the sheeting rain outside.
I am almost at my goal. I am in the Slovenian port of Koper and once this post is done I will pack the bike and ride the short distance around the coast road towards Trieste. On the way I will pass the Slovene-Italian border and thus the place where the iron curtain entered the Adriatic. I had meant to pass here on my way to Koper from Trieste yesterday but didn't have the time.
I woke up to a rainy Trieste, went to book my train ticket to Berlin, and had a look around the town, which is a bit shabby and well past its glory days of 100 years ago. I then left for Koper via the Carso/Kras/Karst (Italian/Slovene/German), a high limestone plateau 400m above the Triestine riviera that forms the city's hinterland. It was another major battlefield in the first world war. This meant a big climb through the suburbs of Trieste, roughly up the hill starting at the top-left of the 3-D city model below. It took me along probably the steepest road of the whole trip and a forced dismount and push. Half-way up the section I slipped on the manhole at bottom-left of the second photo and fell to my knees with a crunch that has left me with two nice bruises (but luckily nothing worse). But when I finally got to the top I was rewarded with a break in the rain and a great view of the bay.
In Koper I met up with Gregor Belič, a contact I met last year in Brussels airport when our plane was delayed. Gregor is a ship's captain and involved in expanding Koper's port, and I knew he'd have interesting things to tell me about life near the border. Too many to mention in this post - again, they'll have to wait until later! Gregor took me to a superb seafood restaurant in Koper - a place whose visitors' book includes Eric Clapton, Robert Plant, Deep Purple, REM and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. It was the best meal of the trip and a great way to end the last evening of my ride.
Going back a few days: the top of the hill in the background of the first photograph, above the Slovenian village of Rateče, is the place where Italy, Austria and Slovenia meet, and therefore the meeting point of Europe's three main language groups, Romance, Germanic and Slavic, all of which are represented on the village welcome sign.
In practice the language frontier is blurred, especially along the Italian/Slovenian border, a line that was drawn fairly arbitrarily by the French after the second world war and this has had consequences ever since, such as the division of Gorizia/Gorica I mentioned earlier. At one place, Miren, the border went through the middle of a cemetery. Around Trieste the signs in many villages are in Italian and Slovenian, and linguistic tensions linger, as shown by many cases where locals have used spray cans to add or delete the Italian or Slovenian version of the name.
This abandoned Yugoslav army watchtower is the last surviving one on my route from north to south along the old iron curtain, as far as I can tell. It stands yards from the Slovenian border with Italy, near the village of Lipica, where the Lipizzaner horses come from.