Given the expense of our scuba diving course we were hoping that Slovenia was a little cheaper than the rest of Western Europe, but sadly it’s not. To save money we were determined to spend all our time in Slovenia wildcamping even though it’s not technically allowed. Our first stopover was on the edge of a small village near a visitor centre for some temporary lakes, which unsurprisingly had completely evaporated in July. It was however a spot with a lovely view and a place for us to barbeque our gilt head bream from Croatia.
The next morning we left early to get to Postojna cave before the crowds. At 8:30am the car parks were quickly filling up but luckily Trevor grabbed a shady spot. Off to the ticket office we trudged with half of Slovenias tourists behind us. Postojna is a huge tourist attraction due to the vast cave system containing the world’s largest cave dwelling amphibian called Proteus anguinus. With lots of ticket options we chose a combination ticket for the main cave, the proteus vivarium and another local attraction Predjama castle, costing a whopping €39.80 per person (more of a gold mine perhaps?) plus 5€ for all day parking. Even at 8:30am we only made it onto the second tour of the day at 10am so we had plenty of time to go in search of the baby dragons in the vivarium.
The vivarium is an offshoot of the main cave which is almost like a tiny underground zoo. Inside there are vivariums containing all sorts of creatures that are found in the Slovenian karst caves including shrimps, fish, beetles, snails, woodlice and crickets. Some of these were pretty hard to find, mainly due to their size and lack of pigmentation but they were still really interesting to see. The most impressive part obviously were the baby dragons. Proteus anguinus are huge creamy white tadpole like animals with reddish external gills. Wierdly they lack eyes as adults and have only two toes on their hind limbs and three on their front limbs. We found them pretty fascinating to look at especially when we discovered they can survive without food for at least 10 years. Pretty amazing!
Next up was the real Postojna cave which is viewed on fairly large tours split by language. First, we queued for our train which takes you 2km into the cave through man made tunnels and several large caverns. The cave has been open to the public since the first world war with a cart system that has been upgraded to a train in order to show more visitors the deeper reaches of the cave in a shorter time. Our english speaking guide was pretty good explaining about how the caves stalagtites, stalagmites and bacon curtains formed, but we felt a little rushed about in order to hear the commentary. Despite this the 1km stretch of cave which we walked through was incredible, coloured red, white and black with huge stalagmites on the floor and stalatites meeting them from the ceiling. The bacon curtains were beautiful especially when backlit so that you could see the stripes of red and white limestone. We also enjoyed the ‘spaghetti chamber’ which appeared as though someone had cooked a lot of spaghetti and done an awful lot of tests to see if it was cooked by throwing it on to the ceiling. The final chamber was a concert chamber over 50m high where our guide sung us a classic Slovenian song before we got back on the train to the surface. Our short journey into Postojna cave was fascinating and well worth a visit.
Back on the surface we caught the free shuttle bus to Predjama castle. Predjama is Slovenian for ‘next to the cave’ and upon our first glimpse we could see why. Predjama is a fortress balanced midway up a rock face with a large overhang protecting it. We collected our audioguides and followed the tour for 45 minutes. Predjama is certainly a little different from other castles we have seen. In some places the external walls meet the rock or double walls are used to prevent the cold and damp from the cave seeping in. From the outside it appears like a castle stuck to the rock but once inside you can see water channels used to direct fresh water from the rock into the kitchen and the large cave castle with its passages to safety. One of the lords of the castle was once besiged for a year and was able to bring in new supplies via the cave passages. Unfortunatley he was later killed when a servant betrayed him by letting the enemy know that the lords toilet was thin walled and could be penetrated. He signalled to the enemy when the lord went to the toilet and the lord was killed by a big rock ball which collapsed the toilet tower. Not a very noble way to go.
Our busy day sightseeing left us weary and also pretty hot again. We left in search of an overnight parking place near Ljubljana. Luck was on our side and driving along a small road we found a layby next to a river about 7km west of the centre. We were really looking forward to cooling down but even the shade wasn’t cool so we changed into our swimming stuff and lay in the very refreshing river (yes we are really that crazy). Another very peaceful free night camping passed and we set off for Ljubljana in the morning.
Arriving in Ljubljana on a Sunday morning worked out pretty well. We parked in a residential street for free and wandered along the river to the centre. On our way we admired the bird life international photography exhibition and took a peak at an antiques market full of tat. Once in the centre we wandered the pretty streets full of shops and cafes. The centre is quite compact with a large church and the famous triple bridge. One of our favourite parts of the city was the unique weather system on one side of the triple bridge. Here is is always raining and beautifully refreshing. We found Ljubljana to be a very green city with huge parks and tree lined streets. We missed out the castle due to a thunderstorm approaching while we were in a cafe but nonetheless it’s a beautiful small city.
Next stop the Julian alps in Northern Slovenia…