What We Did. Kevin and I met our good friend Crystal in Slovenia for a week seeing the sites and all that Slovenia has to offer. Crystal has been living abroad in Scotland for almost two years and it had been over a year since we last saw her. So suffice it to say that I was REALLY looking forward to catching up with her--and in what better place than the lush green paradise and castles of Slovenia? We had a great time, and I was sad to see her go after such a short (7 days) visit. But we will see each other again when she comes back home to Seattle for a summer vacation visit. Hvala, Crystal!
During our week tour through Slovenia we visited the capital city of Ljubljana for 2 nights, then rented a car to head to the little coastal town of Piran for 2 nights. On the way to and from Piran, we stopped to see the Skocjan Caves & Pedjama Castle. Finally, we ended with 3 nights in the mountainous town of Lake Bled. Whew!
Ljubljana. Ljubljana (say it by pronouncing the j’s as y’s) was our first stop in Slovenia. We arrived on Monday to Crystal already waiting (she arrived the day before we did). However, it worked out well (for Kevin and myself, I guess) since she had not yet seen much of the sites – apparently Croatia shuts down on Sundays to observe as a holy day – so most shops and all museums were closed that day.
We spent our only full day checking out the city. Ljubljana is a large, picturesque city, but, like many other European cities, feels much smaller than its actual population. The life of Ljubljana is its lazy Old Town which is built around the Ljubljana Castle that resides atop a small mountain (or hill to those of us from the Northwest). This castle floats over the city like a watchful guardian.
We enjoyed the pathetically-small daily market (but getting Crystal’s and my favorite bottle of wine from the trip – at a bargain-basement rate of 2.5 Euros-- made it one of our favorite markets!), several stops for tea and beer, and marveled at the architecture of the late Joze Plecnik – apparently he alone is responsible for the design of 90% of Ljubljana's city center. We even toured his last residence….apparently he was quite the introvert and wasn’t that popular with the ladies – but whatever he lacked in social graces, he made up for in his talent and eye for design!
Skocjan Caves. On our way to Piran we tried to stop at both the Predjama Castle and the Skocjan Caves – highly recommended sites from Crystal’s Rough Guide book. The Pedjama Castle ended up bweeing closed that day (which we discovered quite humorously by driving several miles to the castle even though we passed numerous “CLOSE” signs trying unsuccessfully to warn us – I guess we took our English too literally and just assumed we didn’t have much further to go!).
Luckily, we did make it to the Skocjan caves, as these were easily a highlight of our trip! Slovenia is known for their caves -- they have over 7000 of them! The Skocjan cave system is one of the largest in Europe and it houses the largest underground canyon in the world (that we know of), which includes 5 kilometers of passages and many waterfalls. They are now part of the UNESCO world heritage sites and when you venture down 200 meters underground to explore them, you can really appreciate why this amazing and unique natural beauty must be preserved.
Entering through a narrow tunnel you are immediately thrown into a crazy and extraordinary landscape where stalactites and stalagmites drip down from the ceiling and grow up from beneath your feet. Or so it looks, as they actually grow at the impossibly slow rate of 1 cm every 100 years, giving some idea of the many thousands of years it has taken for the caves to assume their present form. The best is yet to come however as the roaring of the underground Reka River reveals itself at the bottom of an awe inspiring gorge that drops 100m below the bridge we carefully cross, and stretches the same distance over our heads. Words cannot describe the awe-inspiring beauty of these magnificent caves.
After exploring the giant canyon-within-a-cave, we take one last look at the gushing waters below and return to the surface, with a mind full of dramatic images stored in our heads, but none on our cameras. Photography is not permitted in the caves, and although this annoyed me at the start, I quickly understood the reason for it – the light from the flashes can damage the natural coloration of the rocks. In fact, the guides even turn off the lights in the cave behind us as our group left to minimize this impact. So instead, Kevin and I retrieved these images from our good friend Google Images. (You’ve met him before, though you may not have realized it at the time).
Hvala, Crystal! Without you, its unlikely Kevin and I would have seen this gem. And what a miss it would have been!
Piran. We rented a car and headed to the South end of Slovenia to a tiny town called Piran. After questionable weather in Lubljana, we were looking forward to some sunshine. And we were not disappointed! Piran was impossibly bright and sunny and the most charming little coastal village – right on the Adriatic Sea. It resembles a large open-air museum with medieval architecture, narrow streets, and compact houses. No cars are allowed in this old town -- the streets are way too small (in fact, some were so small no more than 2 or 3 people could fit side-by-side). In Piran we enjoyed exploring the castle, and lazy days eating and drinking al fresco – at outdoor cafes. But probably our favorite thing about Piran was watching the sunset sitting outside and drinking our favorite 2.5 Euro bottle of wine from Lubjana.
Pedjama Castle. Since we missed Pedjama Castle on the way to Piran, we made it a priority to visit on the way back from Piran. This time, to our delight, the “CLOSE” signs were removed and we were able to take a look. The castle is one of my favorites for photographs -- it is built literally into a rock wall. We decided not to tour this castle -- were a bit castled out. But the pictures were great. All in all, it was a bit off the beaten track to get to for just a few photos. But if you are passing by anyway, it is definitely worth a look.
Lake Bled. After visiting Piran and the Pedjama Castle, we made our way to the town of Lake Bled, where we spent 3 nights. Lake Bled is a mountain resort town, built around its Lake Bled, which is a medium size lake with a small church propped on a tiny island in the middle of the lake. And it wouldn't be Slovenia if it didn't have a castle perched high on a hill overlooking the lake as if in a fairy tale. While the town of Lake Bled left a little to be desired, it was the amazing natural wonders and hiking around Lake Bled that makes this area so worth visiting.
From Lake Bled, we took a quick side-trip to nearby Lake Bohinj. Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate and cut our visit a bit short, but what we saw in the rain and clouds still made for some unbelievable sites.
The rest of the time in Lake Bled we spent hiking nearby gorges (which was so much fun with its network of footbridges built over the rushing rivers making it easy to get very close to the scene), taking a boat gondola ride out to the island and, of course, hiking up to see the castle.
Too quickly our 7 days together came to an end and we had to part ways with Crystal. I am so glad that we got to share this time with Crystal and were able to meet up. You can check out all of our Slovenia pictures by clicking here.
Now we are off to Croatia to meet up with my parents...can't wait!