Caves & Coasts

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September 3rd 2011
Published: October 27th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

Rimstone PoolsRimstone PoolsRimstone Pools

One of many cool, wacky rock formations inside the Skocjan Caves.
I was surprisingly perky the next day. I could even eat.
Walking through Ljubljana to the train station, I noticed that the city was awash with school kids who all had their faces and arms smothered in graffiti. Dule had told us last night that yesterday was the last day of the holidays so perhaps this is some kind of Slovenian freshers ritual.

Anyway, we caught a train to the small town of Divaca, the closest town to the Skocjan Caves.
We were a bit lucky on arrival - there was a free bus waiting to take us to the caves.
It didn't get us to the caves fast enough for the 2pm tour though unfortunately, so we had about an hour to kill.
To kill it, we started walking up a path that circumnavigated the caves.

A phenomenal system of caves, the Skocjan Caves were carved out by the underground Reka River, which runs all the way from the caves to the Adriatic Sea.
Entrance to the caves is via a huge hole in the ground, and we got an awesome view of it from the rocky ridge that the path snaked along.
The path would have eventually
Piran MarinaPiran MarinaPiran Marina

Piran felt a lot like an old, little, Italian fishing village.
taken us to the cave museum, but we had to get back for the start of our tour.

We had a fairly large group of about 40 people in our tour group and we were split into two groups - a Slovenian/German-speaking group and an English/Italian-speaking group. I marvelled at the tour leaders' ability to switch effortlessly between four different languages - I wish I could do that.

You're not allowed to take photos in the caves, which is a bit of a shame as there are some pretty crazy rock formations in there. Lonely Planet describes the caves as "like being in Jules Verne's Journey To The Centre Of The Earth". I would not disagree.
It is cool in the caves - a constant 12 degrees as we descended further underground.
We pass through a chamber called the "Organ Chamber" due to the shapes of the rocks inside it, before arriving at the huge "Great Hall" which was at least a few stories high and contained the biggest stalactites and stalagmites that I have ever seen.
However, it was nothing compared to the main event.
After passing through the "Silent Chamber" (which was in fact, quite eerily

Taken from atop the citadel.
silent), we make it to the massive underground canyon that is the highlight of the caves.
Clambering down from the Silent Chamber, you get to a bridge that crosses the canyon some 45 metres above the river below.
You then follow the path along the canyon walls, the river roaring below you, the sound amplified by the echoes bouncing off the walls of this gargantuan chamber. The floor is a bit slippery as well, so you have to watch your step - the walk isn't the shortest either, so the less able and elderly had to be looked after by our guide, while the rest of us stormed ahead. I used the opportunity to take some sneaky photos - seeing the phenomenon that surrounded me, it just had to be done.
We pass by rimstone pools that look like steps, before seeing daylight again through a 165m-high opening.
I haven't seen a lot of caves in my lifetime, so I'd have to say that these were the most spectacular caves that I have ever seen - definitely a must, if you are travelling through Slovenia.

It was now 1700 and we had about 22 minutes to get back to
Underground CanyonUnderground CanyonUnderground Canyon

This is the biggest cave with the river running through it.
Divaca to catch our train. What we hadn't counted on was the bus service that brought us here stopping after 1600. So we were now stranded.
Carrying our backpacks, we now had a 5km walk ahead of us - not happy. The trains from Divaca to Koper are quite infrequent too, not to mention the bus we had to catch to get from Koper to our eventual destination, Piran. We'd be there at midnight at this stage.
About five minutes into our trudge back to Divaca, we stuck out our thumbs in an attempt to hitch a ride. We had nothing to lose, really. And to our great fortune, a lady stops for us!
As we got talking in the car it turned out that she used to actually work at the caves during the summers, so she knew where we were going. From what I remember, this may actually have been my first ever hitch, which is a bit hard to believe given how far I have travelled.
We were eternally thankful.

We arrived in Divaca right on 1722, not expecting to catch our train. To our great fortune again, the train had not yet left! The driver
Cave ExitCave ExitCave Exit

Light at the end of the er, caves.
even waited for us to get our tickets from the ticket office. Bonus.
When we arrived in Koper, the bus to Piran was waiting for us. Win.
After staring down the barrel at a marathon journey across Slovenia, we ended up arriving in Piran about as quick as we possibly could. Score.

Greeting us when we arrived in Piran, was the town's picturesque marina, lined with old wooden dinghys, speed boats, and small yachts.
Following the road around the marina, we arrive at the town's centre, Tartini Square, which is just as picturesque.
We were quickly realising why this was Slovenia's most visited town on the Adriatic.
Making our way into the bowels of this old town, the old, pedestrianised, narrow, cobblestoned streets gave the place a real Venice/Dubrovnik feel to it, albeit a bit dirtier (though not as dirty as Morocco).
Being by the sea, we naturally had seafood for dinner at a restaurant 50m from our hostel.
Ahh...the hostel.
We got the basement dorm, which was basically a double room with an extra bunk-bed in it. There was no natural light or air coming into the room, and no ventilation for our ODB (old dirty bathroom, rather
Tartini SquareTartini SquareTartini Square

The centre of Piran.
than old dirty bastard). I wasn't too impressed with the hot, old, crusty, stuffy room but considering how old the building was, I'm not sure a lot can be done to improve the place without considerable expense.
Nevertheless, it was pretty horrible.

When you're knackered though, you'll sleep anywhere and sleep we did - for eleven hours.
After grabbing a really cheap salami and bread roll, we chilled out at the "beach" before exploring the old town.
I say "beach" because it's more "concrete-platform-and-rocks-by-the-water" than it is "beach".
In terms of our town exploration, again I'll let my pictures and captions do the talking and save myself writing a thousand words for each picture.

After a relatively taxing tour of Piran in the 30-degree heat, we hopped on a bus to the nearby resort town of Portoroz, which is possibly the wankiest place in Slovenia.
There are proper beaches and flat land by the water here and as a result, a multitude of swanky hotels have sprung up here, a relatively extravagant summer playground for the more affluent.
To our great disappointment, but to no great surprise, almost all of the sandy beach space is privatised, and a

The wanky resort town just around the coast from Piran.
deckchair and umbrella will put you back 15€. Completely out of principle, we not-so-politely declined. It's just not right when you know it will always be free to lie on a beach back home in New Zealand.
There is a hard, wooden jetty that strikes out into the sea which is free - so we end up lying on that.
Diving off the jetty and into the water, the swim was refreshingly nice. What was a bit weird was the long slimy grass at the bottom of the water, which motivated me to keep swimming rather than stand still in the water.
There are various water activities available in Portoroz including sailing which we were keen on, but it was late in the day and would probably have cost an arm and a back to Piran we went.

While we decided on a waterside restaurant for dinner, our strange Hungarian dorm-mate settled on some canned food he had brought all the way from home, that looked and smelled suspiciously like dog food.
"I thought there would be a microwave" he tells us.
I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
I absolutely love alfresco dining in the
Sunset Over PiranSunset Over PiranSunset Over Piran

The sun sets on Piran's cute marina.
summer, and Piran's location on the Adriatic was perfect for it. The locally-run restaurant was very quaint as well - just about the quintessential Mediterranean experience.
Dining by the sea wouldn't be the right without having seafood, so I went for the scampi, having not had it for a while.
What came out looked delicious, but I probably should have recalled my previous scampi experience before ordering it again.
Scampi are pretty much like prawns - except that the shells are hard. So there I was for about two hours, trying to break the bloody shells to get to what little meat there was inside. At one point, I just said "the hell with it" and shoved the whole thing in my mouth only for one of the bloody claws to cut my tongue.
Was it nice? Yes. Was it worth it? Definitely not. Never again.

Looking around us, we notice that Piran seems to be a place for families, couples and old people - so we figured there wouldn't be much nightlife tonight. Even Portoroz didn't look like it had much going on unless you wanted to hang out at the casino with old folks a lot richer than you.
Trg 1. MajTrg 1. MajTrg 1. Maj

The Square Of The 1st Of May. Not sure what the significance of the date is though.

I also noticed that the tourists here were mainly German/Austrian or Italian who seemed very fond of PDA - yuck. This place is too fucking romantic.
There was a cocktail bar on the water near Tartini Square where a live jazz band played and the crowd was about our age, so we chilled out there for another couple of hours.
There was another place down a dodgy alley, with dodgy neon lights that spelt out "Night Club", but it looked pretty er, dodgy, so we gave it a miss and retired to the hostel.

Following the coast towards the south from Piran will get you to Portoroz - following the coast towards the north will get you to a rocky stretch of beach that admittedly looks better than it actually is. The beach is just rocks and there is only a metre between the sea wall and the sea.
In any case, we settled down and enjoyed our brunch - a Slovenian donut called a krofi, which is basically just a jam donut.
The water was beautiful and the sea was calm - lots of yachts and speedboats had nestled themselves on the water, some of which had large
Narrow BeachNarrow BeachNarrow Beach

Stretch of coast just around the corner from Piran. Lots of boats parked themselves here, pumping tunes while the boat occupants chilled out and took a dip in the beautiful sea.
groups of people on board, some of which pumped out music - but all were chilling out and relaxing underneath the sun, just like us.
Looking around the beach, it was more whale watch than Baywatch unfortunately. Eugh.
For the rest of the day, we made the most of the sun and the beautifully refreshing water, and before long we had our last swim in the ocean before making our way back to Koper.
It was certainly sad leaving - I wished I could have taken the hot sunny weather back with me to London.

And that pretty much wraps up our holiday in Slovenia.
It was an awesome trip through a beautiful country, a country with many sides - the medieval, peaceful, scenic countryside of Bled and Bohinj; the vitality, history and modernity of Ljubljana; the amazing, unreal, natural phenomenon that is the Skocjan Caves; and the relaxing, picturesque, and Venetian-influenced Adriatic coast - and we saw them all.
I loved the variety on offer here in this beautifully natural country.
The people are generally very friendly and laid-back as well, if not the most approachable, much like their Balkan neighbours.
So in terms of nature and people,

The courtyard of Piran's old monastery.
Slovenia certainly has much in common with New Zealand (apart from Slovenia having way more history).
All in all, Slovenia is pretty awesome - go there.

The next blog is just around the corner - a weekend in Riga, Latvia, in just two weeks time.

Se vidimo kmalu!

While leaving for Koper signalled the end of of our trip to Slovenia, it wasn't quite the end of our trip just yet.
We were catching our flight back to London from Trieste, Italy, where we had to stay overnight.
From Koper we caught a bus over the border to Italy and into Trieste. The whole area around there is so built up that it was almost as if it was one city that straddled the border.
Trieste is a very old port city and is quite big, with a population of around 200,000. The grand buildings and tramlines reminded me a lot of Milan while the port reminded me a lot of Genoa.
We stayed at the Best Western for a night of relative luxury after the staying in dorms all week. It was most appreciated. Air-conditioning and breakfast buffet FTW.
We then walked about town
Bell Tower & BapistryBell Tower & BapistryBell Tower & Bapistry

The bell tower looks a lot like Venice's Torre dell'Orologio.
en route to dinner that night.
The houses in the hills seemed pretty affluent and the area around the port is very lively and very well developed - the main square where the town hall is quite spectacular, especially in terms of size. The downtown area is very clean and modern, classy, almost. There are also nice bars and restaurants galore.
After dinner we hung out at a world festival that was taking place in the town centre - there were loads of food stalls selling everything from German, Serbian and even Eithiopian cuisine. Most of the local crowd were gathered in front of a stage where the Italian version of Fat Freddy's Drop were playing. They were OK, and were perhaps a bit more funky and lively than Fat Freddy's, with more (Italian) rapping than singing.
A rather pleasant ending to a more than pleasant holiday.

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


Canal Grande di TriesteCanal Grande di Trieste
Canal Grande di Trieste

Main canal built in Trieste so that boats could unload their cargo in the middle of town back in the day.
Piazza Unita d'ItaliaPiazza Unita d'Italia
Piazza Unita d'Italia

Trieste's massive, impressive main square. The fuzzy photo doesn't really do it justice.
Hotel VictoriaHotel Victoria
Hotel Victoria

Not really a famous sight in Trieste, but a good photo.
Big Hole In The GroundBig Hole In The Ground
Big Hole In The Ground

The entrance to the Skocjan Caves, with the town of Skocjan nestled on the top of the ridge.
Southern SeasideSouthern Seaside
Southern Seaside

The southern seaside of Piran where many restaurants located.
Church Of St. ClementChurch Of St. Clement
Church Of St. Clement

Cute church at the tip of Piran's peninsula.
Church InteriorChurch Interior
Church Interior

Reasonably impressive interior of Piran's cathedral.
Streets Of PiranStreets Of Piran
Streets Of Piran

So much like Venice.
Piran CitadelPiran Citadel
Piran Citadel

Old fortress that overlooks the town.
Piran's BeachPiran's Beach
Piran's Beach

More like a concrete slab. But it was a nice place to chill nevertheless.

It looks good and tastes good, but is not worth the effort required to eat it.
World FestivalWorld Festival
World Festival

Festival that was on in Trieste while we were in town. You could get all kinds of food, and there was a Italian Fat Freddy's Drop-like band playing on stage.
Tram LinesTram Lines
Tram Lines

The tram lines and 1920s style buildings in Trieste reminded me a lot of Milan.

29th October 2011

I hear Slovenia is lovely...glad you found it awesome

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