Postojna Caves

Today was the test of whether I could still drive a stick shift after all these years. The nice young man delivered a slightly battered Volvo to the Mayer and, after almost 45 minutes of paperwork, he reminded me of the shift pattern and left us. Fortunately, the Volvo shifts smoothly, and we encountered no hills on our unexpected route.

This was the most touristy thing we’ve done so far but it was totally worth it.  The caves are the number one tourist attraction in Slovenia, which means lots of hype and enormous crowds in the high season – busy enough today but it was bearable. You enter and take a seat on the open electric train, which then whisks you through the cave for about ten minutes. It’s truly amazing – enormous stalagmites and stalactites, illuminated dramatically, while we kept ducking our heads as the roof of the cave swooped down on us. The train stops, you walk over to where your language group is indicated, and a live guide takes over.

As he led us through the spaghetti caves (short, skinny stalactites hanging from the ceiling), over the Russian bridge (built along with some tunnels by Russian POWs during WWI, need to find out more about this), and by the aquarium where we could see the so-called human fish (a blind salamander with vestigial hands and feet, actually more translucent than in this picture),

all we could do was look around in amazement.  At one point the lights went out and of course it was absolutely black, pitch dark – a reminder of the three million years while the cave slowly developed, unknown to any humans and never illuminated. Then a final train ride back to the entrance, where we could (but didn’t) pick up one of the pictures they took of us as we started off on the train.

We took a few pictures, but it’s hard to get good ones and most of the way photos were forbidden, so those above are from the web.

Although the Skocjan caves are a World Heritage Site and less visited, we chose Postojna because it is much less scary. Tina, hearing our plans, said firmly that Alison could not go to Skocjan (and neither could I). Here’s one picture to demonstrate why.

Shades of every cave novel you’ve ever read, especially The Lord of the Rings.  Though I also thought of The Perilous Gard  and the weight that bothered Kate so much.  Luckily, the ceilings here were high and we were unaffected.

From here we drove to Predjama Castle, which Rick Steves says is notable only for its facade, so Alison dutifully took pictures while I slowly and carefully reversed the car in the crowded parking lot, and we were off.

The trip to Postojna had been uneventful, divided highway all the way and most drivers courteous. The way back should have been the same, but it wasn’t. The exit for the highway towards Ljubljana, our direction, had a red line through Ljubljana. We were baffled, but since the truck ahead of us entered anyway, we followed. Shortly we realized that we had followed a road construction truck and that we were about to enter a lane closed to traffic because it was being repaved! All we could do was back up about 100 yards – no one else was foolish enough to enter – and ask the oblivious young woman at the booth how to get back to the highway. We had to ask a couple times, but finally took the correct turn and headed back through Postojna in the right direction.

Or was it? We kept going and going, farther and farther with no highway in sight. At last I saw the green autostrada logo and made a turn. But was it right? We drove through a tiny village in search of help and found a 12-year-old boy who tried to explain but finally called for his mother, who spoke Italian but no English. She very kindly told us he would get in the car and direct us, which he did, escaping a few seconds later at the village limits. But we continued on a narrow winding road for quite some time, wondering whether we had taken another wrong turn,  until FINALLY we saw signs for the highway. Whew!

Home to the Mayer and a glass of wine on the balcony, then an okay dinner in town. The young folks enjoyed a concert on the lake that woke us up at 1:00 am, but otherwise all was well.

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