Caves, castles and capitals 

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.

A model of the baby dragon since it is illegal to take photos of the real ones

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!

Some of the awesome stalagtites

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.

The ceiling of spaghetti chamber

Fabulous bacon curtains of Postojna

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.

Ted ready to conquer Predjama castle

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.

Central Ljubljana

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.

Finally some rain in the middle of all this heat

Next stop the Julian alps in Northern Slovenia…

Going around the bend

After Budapest we wanted to get out into smaller places and some nature. Therefore we decided to drive up the Danube bend. This area is not huge but nice and scenic. The first place we stopped at was Szentendre. It used to be a small artist village. Nowadays it is still small and a popular day trip from Budapest. It is a bit run down and not as pretty as it used to be but still nice. The center consists of a main square, two main streets running through it and a promenade along the Danube. Judging by the flood preparations they seem to get some severe flooding every now and then. Visitors can see a few art galleries, a Serbian orthodox church and enjoy a nice few from the top of the hill with another little church. We did not go into any of said places but enjoyed good quality ice coffee in a little street cafe. After around 2 hours we conitunued our journey.

Lovely cobbled streets in the centre of Szetendre

It was not long until we reached the town Visegrad. This small town lies just a short distance downstream of the Danube’s cut through the hills. The place is marked on our map with two stars meaning it is worth a journey but like a few places before we failed to see why. The most noteable sight was a castle ruin overlooking the river.

Considering we were running a little bit late and still wanted to see the basilica in Esztergom we drove on.

Ted on historic monuments

Esztergom is bigger than Visegrad and also marked with two stars on the map as it used to be a royal seat. Shortly after entering the town it was impossible to miss the reason for it and our last and best sight along the river bend: Hungary’s biggest basilica. It sits on top of the hill in the centre dominating the area. We went straight for it and were overwhelmed. The church is not as colourful or gold covered as the runner up (St Istvan basilica in Budapest) but it uses the size and huge open space inside to take visitor’s breaths away.  In order to make the most of our visit and the location we opted to pay the entrance fee to climb up the bell tower and the dome. On our way up we stopped in the gallery cafe to enjoy the views over the town and across the Danube into Slovakia. The views from the top gallery of the dome were even more impressive and totally worth walking up super tight spiral staircases. This time the rating of the town is justified.

The giant basilica dwarfing its neighbour the castle

Around the basilica was the royal palace of which only a few buildings remain. They have been re-built and now house a museum and event spaces. Ruins of other former buildings can still be seen all around the basilica. We would have visited the palace interior, but the most interesting sections i.e. the royal private rooms could only be visited as part of a tour. With only half an hour left before closing tours were not an option and we had only hardly enough time for the museum so we left. Walking around the town it turned out that there is hardly a center worth mentioning. We strongly recommend to make the effort walking up the outcrop of the hills opposite the palace to a small chapel. The main perk of this walk were the best views of the entire basilica and the palace on eye level.

So many stairs….

A view from the top of the Basilica

Now that our sight seeing mission was complete we had another desire: pizza. After buying an electrically heated pan in Budapest, almost solely to close this hole in our kitchen arsenal we had to put it to the test. Armed with two frozen pizzas we arrived at Dömos campsite halfway between Esztergom and Visegrad and set up camp. We were able to use power in the communal kitchen and produced two yummy pizzas. From now on, this favourite of ours will feature more often on the menu and we might even try to make them from scratch.

We also made a last minute change of plans and decided to visit Hungarys biggest open air museum called Skanzen on the edge of Szentendre. Here they have collected and reconstructed all types of buildings from all across Hungary. Some are as old as 200 years! There is also Europes longest normal gauge museum railway with 2.2km of tracks. Entry costs 2000 HUF per adult plus 900 for parking a car. The added bonus of visiting on a summer weekend is people bringing history to life in some of the buildings like the watermill, the blacksmiths or the boot makers. In addition some normal buildings are used to show traditional crafts like needle work or baking. The only issue we found with this was only the boot maker did his presentation in English. All the other actors and actresses either really struggled with another language apart from Hungarian or couldn’t speak any. Like in the past we felt that we missed out on a lot of stories and information.

A wine making village

Some of the many Hungarian houses

We turned up half an hour after opening and found the place almost empty. This it one of the advantages of the vast space. Buildings are arranged in eight villages based on their region of origin. A few bigger buildings in the museum are used for special exhibitions; both permanent and temporary. We liked that sort of arrangement but found the type and setup of the buildings leaving a bit to be improved. Halfway through we only went into every other house as the majority were rural dwelling houses with the interieur layout pretty much the same. All rural ones had a living room and one sleeping room with the kitchen inbetween and maybe pantry. Differences between regions were marginal and we found the most noticable variations between rich and poor as well as time period. Again the shops and boot maker stood out in terms of equipment and set up. We felt there were opportunities wasted if they described as house for example as a coopers house but then not presenting a workshop, tools or info about the profession at this time. This did not help the increasing monotony of looking at similar houses.

Our lesson in boot making

One of the best exhibits about making milk, bread and sausages

Don’t get me wrong: it is a great museum and we enjoyed this educational trip into Hungary’s past (we spent 6h there) but it could have been more exciting. Skanzen is well worth a visit and if you can you should visit it at a weekend just for these extra reenactments. Two things that made our day were the bakery cafe and the big farm with animals including the special hungarian grey cattle and two lovely dogs.

After a quick coffee in the restaurant accompanied by folk music we set of to make the most of the sunny Sunday afternoon and make some good way towards the next country.

The adventure begins…

We are finally on our way!

After the best weekend and biggest party of our lives, we are finally ready to kick back and relax. All the wedding planning, organising and clearing away was worth it in the end and we are over the moon with how our weekend turned out. In fact we were sad to leave Harvest Moon on Monday and there were watery eyes and tears as we got on our train back to Edinburgh. At least we have each other for an endless supply of hugs.

Our first new experience, whilst in Edinburgh, has been couchsurfing. Although we have been on couchsurfing for the past year, and hosted surfers from all over the world, we were yet to surf ourselves. Our first hosts were a lovely quirky retired couple living in the centre of Edinburgh. Staying with them, gave us a great base for getting the last few things sorted before we left the U.K. but also a place for adventures and discovering a few lesser known things about Edinburgh.

Aside from the boring jobs we spent a couple of hours meandering around Edinburgh and along the river Leith. To our surprise we captured a glimpse of something yellow as we crossed a bridge near Dean Village and were even luckier to capture a few shots of a bird neither of us have seen before. As it turned out it wasn’t a ‘greater yellow-bellied Leith dipper’ but a grey wagtail, and after a quick google we discovered a few exciting facts. Firstly, they are migratory birds who return to the U.K. each summer to breed, and are most commonly seen flying about grassland grazed by cattle. This along with their red status (less than 15,000 breeding pairs in Britain) made our sighting even more special. We spent a while watching the pair building their nest in a rocky crevice before we had to move on and buy some ingredients to cook dinner for our hosts.


Back at our hosts house the conversation seemed to flow easier than the first night which had seemed a little like hard work. We chose to cook a German speciality of Allgäuer Schnitzel with Spätzle. It seemed to go down very well and the chocolate fondant rounded it off nicely. The rest of the evening flew by chatting about couchsurfing, woofing and campervanning experiences. We thoroughly enjoyed our first couchsurf and are looking forward to using it again soon.

Unfortunately lots of journeys start with an early morning that follows a late night packing, so we left our hosts and Edinburgh with sleepy eyes. It’s a very surreal feeling to finally be on our way…

Now the travelling begins!