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New Europe

Day One: The Julian Alps

The Julian Alps 
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Looking east. The alpine valley leads down into Slovenia.
Michael Palin - New EuropeThe mountain hut has been opened specially. The climbing and hiking season hasn't yet begun. There is snow all around us, but, more worryingly for our purposes, there is cloud all around us. What should be one of the most spectacular views in the eastern Alps could just as well be someone's back garden. I nurse a mug of herbal tea, personally mixed by our guide. It's a dense, intense brew, a grappa of herbal teas. He spreads his hands apologetically, and looks up at where the sky would probably be if we could see it. It's Slovenia's fault, he says, for being where it is. Moist Mediterranean air is meeting cool, dry air from Central Europe, condensing and covering the monumental landscape like dust-sheets over fine furniture.

There's a map on the wall of the hut and he points out where we are. Almost exactly on the border between Italy and Slovenia, and between what I have grown up to know as Western and Eastern Europe.

For forty-five years of my life the Soviet Union, with its satellite states, had turned half the continent into an alien place; unwelcoming, bureaucratic, grey. For forty-five years Iron Curtains and Cold Wars (sustained for the convenience of both sides) sowed division and mistrust amongst Europeans who should have been friends.

It's been eighteen years now since the fall of the Berlin Wall signalled a new direction for the continent into which I was born. Which is why I'm here 8,000 feet up in the Julian Alps, looking optimistically east, waiting for the cloud to lift so that
I can see what the new Europe looks like.

Two hours later, the clouds start to wither, and we begin to make out solid objects: rocks and boulders peeking out above the snow, the outline of slopes soaring above and below us. Then with a sudden, dizzying effect a final stack of cloud falls off the mountain like an avalanche and the sun strikes buttresses of pink-tinged limestone, cracked and jagged and pointing at the sky. I head off along the path that leads east.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One: The Julian Alps
  • Country/sea: Slovenia
  • Place: Julian Alps
  • Book page no: 10

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