On the road: Zagreb to Ljubljana

The following morning, I woke up feeling under the weather. As a result, we were delayed by a few hours as I struggled to collect my wits and not let anything get in the way of getting to our next destination: the Karst region in Slovenia.

I think it’s safe to assert that this whole trip happened because I had stumbled upon some stunning images of Slovenia. I already had a weekend trip planned for Belgrade, and I decided to connect the two and pull together a 12 day road-trip. I was incredibly excited to see Slovenia, which would be our last leg of the trip.

Our first stop was the Skojcan Caves, a massie cave system in the Karst region and one of the largest underground canyons in the world. Since discovery, it has made it on to UNESCO’s list of cultural and natural world heritage sites. The Reka River flows into the cave and runs underground for 34 km until emerging above the surface again. The cave itself runs for 3.5 km and is 140m high at its highest point. The view inside the cave is jaw-dropping. Tourists are not allowed to take photos as the million year old rocks are adversely affected by the lighting, but do check out the link above.

When we arrived at the cave, I was mortified by the sheer number of tourists in our guided group. It had to be more than 200 people. I wasn’t sure how the tour would end up being, but luckily, we were split into two groups. The German and Italian speakers went with one guide, and the English and Slovenian speakers went with another. Slovenia is full to the brim with Italian and German tourists, so we ended up in a surprisingly small group and with a guide who actually worked with the park, and therefore extremely capable of answering all our questions.

We then headed to the Predjama Castle, a 25 min drive from Skojcan Caves. Predjama Castle is a structure built into a cave mouth, dating back to the 12th century. The castle itself is a sight to behold. It looks like a true engineering marvel, and even appears somewhat foreboding.

The inside, I have to admit, was a tad disappointing. They have tried to recreate how the lives of the castle’s inhabitants must have looked like back in the 12th century, and in that attempt, have installed lame looking life-size dolls. It put me off a bit, but the castle itself is incredible. You can even walk up to its top floor and into the cave mouth. There was a wedding going on while we were there, with Slovenian folk music playing at full blast. So if anyone is looking for a wedding venue, I can highly recommend this secluded castle!

Our next stop was Postojna Caves, another cave that forms part of the Karst region. You can get a combi ticket with the Predjama Castle, which is merely 11 km away from it. We were quite tired by this point, but we decided to see it anyway. You must reserve a slot for one of the tours, as we learnt from the lady at the ticket counter. This somehow implied that space was limited and had a hint of exclusivity.

Anyhow, we carried our tired bodies to the cave entrance, which naturally, was swarming with tourists. We made our way to the train inside the cave (yes, you read that right: train inside a cave), and found ourselves a spot right in front. By this point, I’m beginning to wonder what was going on. The Skojcan Cave was jaw-dropping. One could even say it commanded respect. In comparison, the throngs of tourists at Postojna made us suspicious. We waited for awhile and then the train set off. We rode through the cave for about 10 mins, and even passed through a large opening that had, to my consternation, a massive chandelier hanging from its ceiling. By this point, the train felt like a kitschy roller coaster ride through a strange amusement park. We nevertheless arrived at our ‘destination’ and were asked to get off. Our guide then led us through the cave. There were no fewer than 250 people in our group. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Much to my surprise, there were public announcement systems installed at certain points, and our guide began to speak once we had reached the first microphones. By now, I felt quite weary of the tour. Having seen the Skojcan Cave just earlier in the day, this felt like a tourist trap. We still survived the tour, picking up interesting tidbits of information along the way. Postojna, despite its gaudiness, is the second-longest cave in Slovenia, measuring 20.5km in length. It is truly massive, and the rock formations are mind-blowing. Once you get your head around how many millions of years it must have taken for it to form, you start to feel kind of bad that you are contributing to disrupting its natural habitat with the other few million tourists, snapping away photos and no doubt, causing some negative effect on the formations.

 

There was none of the strictness with photography here as there was with Skojcan. There was a mild request by the guide to not use flash, but no one seemed to care. The tour ended with a glimpse into a glass acquarium, housing one of the very few living creatures that calls the Postojna Cave its home. The white, cave salamander, called Olm (or Proteus Anguinus), is unlike most cave-dwellers. It is entirely amphibious and can live upto a 100 years without any sustentance. It is nearly blind, having adapted to the pitch-darkness of the caves. After saying a quick hello (our guide helped us spot the little guy – he apparently has a favorite spot where he prefers to hang), we headed for the exit.

Before we could board the train back, we found a souvenir shop. A souvenir shop. Underground. Inside the cave. Did I mention we were below the surface of the earth? In a cave that dates back more than a few million years. I was not impressed. I couldn’t see any need to hack into the cave structure for a souvenir shop.

After the tour ended, we made our way to Ljubljana, our stop for the night. Ljubljana is a lovely European city. It is also known to be one of the greenest cities in Europe. After we checked in and washed up, we had a wonderful Slovenian dinner at a traditional gostlina. Gostlinas are restaurants that serve traditional Slovenian food. Did I mention that they serve massive portions enough for two people?

Once we had digested our massive dinner, it was time to head home and call it a day. Our first day in Slovenia had been a success.

Here’s some wisdom to wrap up with, fresh from the streets of Ljubljana.

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