Monday, December 28, 2015

Predjama Castle and Postojna Cavern

The giftshop inside Postojna Cave

Some of Slovenia's most interesting sights are underground.

I know you've always wanted to learn about the geology of Slovenia, so here we go: Much of Slovenia (and part of Italy) is part of what's known as a "karst region" - meaning that the landscape is made up of some particularly soluble kinds of rock like limestone and dolomite.

In short, southern Slovenia is riddled with caves.

Postojna Cavern

Some formations in Postojna Cave

The most famous of the caves - and the first one we visited - is Postojna Cave. Somewhat surprisingly, this is apparently the number one tourist attraction in Slovenia, and it's allegedly "the best-known cave in the world." I don't know about that, but it is a very cool cave.

To give you an idea of the size: One of the caverns is sometimes used as a concert hall. Entire orchestras play there. And 10,000 people can fit inside. Apparently the acoustics are exceptional - though I'm still not entirely sure I'd want to go to a concert inside a cave.

Note: Cave photography is hard - particularly without a tripod - so please forgive the blurriness of some of these photos.


To get to the main part of the cave, you ride a train. That's right, you go underground, hop on board an open-air train, and ride it for about ten minutes deep into the heart of the cave. The ride itself is a bit of an adventure, and you pass some tantalizing glimpses of tunnels and caverns along the way.

The view from the Postojna train.

Once inside, you're assigned to a group based on what language you speak - but we got separated from our group and ended up going on our own (the walkways are clearly marked, so there was no chance of getting lost. I only mention this because getting lost in a cave is one of my biggest nightmares.)

It's a beautiful and majestic and awe-inspiring cave. I didn't want to leave.

There's a little bit of everything: Cave popcorn, cave pearls, soda straws, draperies, and various other speleothem.

A picture to give you an idea of the scale of some of the caverns.

A cool cave drapery in Postojna

Yes, some idiots threw coins into this pool in the cave

I liked the contrast of colors between these two formations

...Yet it was still only the second-best cave system I visited in Slovenia.

But you'll have to wait for another blog post to read about that.

Don't chase the train.

Having too much fun with the camera

Predjama Castle

I saw a lot of castles and fortresses during my 2 1/2 months in Europe, but Predjama Castle - a short car ride away from Postojna Cave - was certainly one of the most distinctive. 

What makes it so unique? Well, see for yourself:

Predjama Castle

Yes, that's right: It's a castle built into a cliff - and it also hides the entrance of yet another cave system. This provided an obvious strategic advantage - if the castle was ever put under siege, the inhabitants could escape into the cave system. (Quite conveniently, one of the tunnels in the cave apparently leads to an exit several miles away.) 

Nowadays it makes for a great photo opportunity.

We took the audio tour and got a pretty comprehensive outline of the castle's history - most of which I've now forgotten.

The castle has a bit of everything - from kitchens to barracks to the obligatory dungeon. It apparently wasn't the nicest place to live - what with the extreme temperatures radiating from all the rock (particularly in the wintertime) and the draughts coming from all the tunnels and caves.

But it's a very fun place to visit.

The view from a natural opening in the rock of the castle

One of the tunnels directly behind the castle

The castle has its own roofs - directly below the natural roof of the cliffside.

The caves underneath and behind the castle are open for tours - but we didn't get a chance to visit them. From what I've read, they pale in comparison to nearby Postojna anyways.

One of the entrances to the caves underneath the castle.

On a final note: I would like to point out that Slovenia is a really beautiful country. As soon as you leave the city, everything becomes green and mountainous and altogether beautiful. The drive to the caves from Ljubljana takes you through some spectacular countryside.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Resting on a cliffside above Plitvice Lakes

One of the most internationally famous sites in Croatia is the immensely photogenic Plitvice Lakes National Park. Yet another Unesco World Heritage site, Plitvice is an all around awesome place that you should visit.

Some of the (many) famous Plitvice waterfalls, from above.
Waterfalls, caves, pristine lakes, precipitous cliff paths, travertine pools - Plitvice has it all.

Hanging out in one of the caves

The main entrance to the park starts several hundred feet above the lakes, but you soon begin your descent to water level. Much of the path actually takes you along boardwalks built on the water.

I kind of love this picture. 

Sometimes the water actually runs over the boardwalk - but who cares?

There are lots of little pools and cascades and waterfalls here. You will get wet - and so will your glasses and camera lens - but that's part of the fun. As we walked along the boardwalks and climbed up a cliff path beside a waterfall I felt a sense of exhilaration and euphoria.

After an hour or so of exploring, this became one of my new favorite places.


I loved Plitvice. It's a wonderland. Though it's all very, well, watery, it's actually a pretty diverse landscape. From the boardwalks to the waterfalls to the lakes and travertine pools, the different sections of the park are actually quite distinct. Which is what makes it so fun to explore. We were there for five or six hours, and I never got tired or bored. I took nearly 200 pictures.

Apparently the park can be utterly flooded (pun intended?) with people during certain times of the summer - but the crowds were very manageable while we were there in mid-May.

And note that all the above photos are from the "first" part of the park. There's a whole second area of the park that we were only able to begin exploring before it started getting dark - but that's ok. It gives me something to look forward to when I go back.