Milan, 28 June 2021
My wife and I, together with our daughter this year, have just finished our annual week-long hike in the Dolomites. We went back to the valley where we had started our hike last year, the Val Fiscalina in Alto Adige (or Sud Tirol).
I will hopefully post my usual photo-essay of the hikes we did, once our daughter sends us the photos – as she repeatedly reminded us, the camera in her iPhone is way better than ours, so she took most of the photos. But here I want to talk about something that happened during an easy hike we took on one of our five days of hiking, to give our muscles a rest. It was along the side of the valley between Sesto and Dobbiaco. Along the way, we crossed this panel.
It was announcing that we were crossing the sources of the Drava River. The Drava River! … I knew this river as a tributary of the Danube, somewhere in the Balkans. Yet here was its source, some 500 km away as the crow flies. To memorialize the moment, I took this picture, just when a young boy happened to be messing around with the stream of water.
I immediately recognized that pastime from my own childhood, damming and undamming streams; I still enjoy undamming the rivulets that trickle down the side of tracks we hike along, poking away at the amassed debris with my walking sticks. I would also float sticks on streams and watch them disappear around the nearest bend. Where would those sticks end up, I wondered.
Once, when I was a bit older, I spent hours poring over maps of England, trying to figure out how I might be able to kayak down the stream which ran along the bottom of the valley in front of my school, all the way to London. Ah, the foolishness of youth! I’m not sure a kayak would have even fitted in that stream.
A few years later again – I was in my mid teens by then – I was consumed with envy when I discovered that my two cousins had spent a couple of weeks tubing down some river in France. Just the thing I had wanted to do with my kayak!
That evening, I was once again studying maps, to see where the Drava river went. And suddenly, I found myself dreaming up an imaginary tubing journey down the Drava with my wife, all the way to its mouth on the Danube. This picture gives my readers an idea of what I’m talking about, although this particular tubing expedition is taking place in Tuscany.
I decide that we will start our imaginary tubing journey in San Candido. At its very beginning, the Drava is really a miserable little stream, there’s no way we could float two tubes in it – plus a third one carrying our stuff. But at San Candido, it receives the waters of the much bigger Sextner Bach.
So off we go, down the Drava!
After some 8 kilometers of going east the Drava stream will carry us out of Italy at Prato alla Drava and into the province of East Tyrol in Austria.
30 kilometers later, the stream will bring us to the town of Lienz. Here, the Drava meets the much more powerful Isel River, which bulks it up.
After Lienz, the Drava, a river now, although still a small river, will carry us into the upper Drava valley. We’ll first pass through the Kärntner Tor, or Carinthian Gate, which is a narrowing in the Drava Valley and the entry point into the province of Carinthia.
The river runs between the Kreuzeck range of the High Tauern in the north and the Gailtal Alps in the south. After carrying us past various picturesque villages like the village of Greifenburg
the river will turn sharp left and squeeze through the Sachsenburger Narrows.
We’ll be traveling faster on the more rapid currents and we’ll burst out of the narrows, spinning perhaps in our tubes, to find ourselves floating past Sachsenburg itself.
We will have travelled some 50 km by now since we plonked our tubes down in the stream at San Candido.
Just after Sachsenburg, the river receives the Möll river, swelling it still further.
Maybe a few flecks of gold will cling to our tubes at this point! The Möll, but also the Isel earlier and other streams coming out of the High Tauern Mountains, carry alluvial gold out of these mountains. For several thousand years, pan handlers have earned a modest but honest living along the Drava River downstream of the High Tauern Mountains, panning the river’s detritus for gold, all the way down into Croatia. Even today, some hardy souls try their luck.
We will now be floating by Spittal an der Drau.
Soon after, Villach, the biggest town we’ll have seen so far, will hove into view.
After Villach, the Drava River becomes more of a lowland river, running slower and beginning to twist and turn across the landscape. Our tubes will follow it in these twists and turns, eventually entering the Rosental valley and running along the northern side of the Karawanken mountain ranges. Here, the river, and my wife and I, will end our travels in Austria. We will float gently by Völkermarkt
before following the river south as it slips through a gap in the mountains and enters Slovenia. In total, we will have travelled 255 kilometres in Austria.
Onwards into Slovenia! We will soon reach our first Slovenian town, Dravograd.
The river, and us, will now turn eastward, and after running through a sparsely populated area we will arrive to Maribor.
After admiring the quays of Maribor as we slip by, we will let the river take us southward to Ptuj.
Shortly thereafter, after traveling some 120 kilometres in Slovenia, the river will carry us across the border into Croatia.
Croatia, here we come!
We cruise by Varaždin, which we don’t really see, it being set back from the river. Quite soon after, the Drava is joined by the Mur River.
For 130 kilometers or so, the river now becomes the border between Croatia and Hungary. It has become a very slow-moving river, meandering its way across the landscape, which has become a pleasant forest- and marsh-filled environment.
We will patiently follow the meanders, moving sluggishly past the Hungarian border town of Barcs.
From now on, we’ll have to be careful not to be run over by the ships which begin to ply the Drava for trade. Further on, we will glide past the small Croatian town of Donji Miholjac.
The river now stops being the border with Hungary. On it goes, looping and relooping as it crosses the region of Slavonia.
It will eventually bring us to Osijek.
I think I’ll stop our imaginary journey here. We’ve already travelled some 160 kilometres through Croatia, and some 7 kilometres beyond Osijek the Drava finally flows into, and loses itself in, the Danube.
I don’t think there would be anywhere for us to get off the river there, and I don’t feel like continuing all the way down the Danube to the Black Sea.
Well, that was a nice dream! Alas, I suspect that doing a trip like this in real life wouldn’t be possible. For one thing, the river has been dammed to within an inch of its life, for hydropower. There are no less than 22 hydroelectric stations along the river. Assuming one is even allowed onto the lakes behind the dams, at some point we would somehow have to schlepp our tubes around the dams and down onto the river again – assuming that there would be enough water downstream of the dams to plonk our tubes into. For another, I rather suspect that having one’s bum in the water all day, for something like two weeks (my guess as to how long this little trip would take), might not be too good for the skin of the bum. For a third, the waters of the Drava up to at least the Möll River are all from glacial or snow melt and so would be pretty damned cold. But hey! What would life be like without dreams?
I read, however, that they are constructing a bike path all the way down the river. Maybe it would be more sensible for my wife and me to simply bike down the Drava …