Slovenia – a pocket-sized country with what seems to be a difficult-to-pronounce name for its capital Ljubljana (somewhat like : Lube-Lee-Yah-Na. Let’s address Ljubljana as LJ from now on.)
However, don’t be fooled by its small size – it has so much to offer for travellers that many don’t have any traces of regret left after visiting this charming country. Check out Rick Steve’s praise for this country on his website/blogs! You’ll fall in love with it and that’s why their Tourism Board pitches their slogan as:
Day 1 : Day Trip from LJ to Vogel (Vogel Ski Resort) (Triglav National Park – Triglavski narodni park), Lake Bohinj (Bohinjsko jezero) and Lake Bled (Blejsko jezero)
Gaurav and I stayed for two nights in LJ in Hostel Vila Veselova run by a sweet lady called Vandana ( she has visited India before). We woke up quite early on 29 June to catch a bus to Vogel from LJ. We had booked the bus ticket from LJ Bus Stand the evening before and started the journey at around 7 AM while it took us around 2 hours to reach Vogel (Vogel Ski Resort) bus stand. This is not a scheduled bus stop and we had requested our bus driver before to let us off there. We passed by Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj on the way and the valleys below the Julian Alps looked quite pretty. We walked a bit uphill to the main entrance of the Vogel Ski Resort from where we could get tickets for the Cable Car to the viewpoint of Vogel. Once we are at the top, we could feast our eyes on the fantastic 180 degrees panoramic view of Lake Bohinj below. Vogel is a part of Triglav National Park which is the only national park of Slovenia. The Julian Alps provide a picturesque backdrop. It was in the Julian Alps in Slovenia that Michael Palin started his journey in the 2007 TV Series titled ‘New Europe’ where he describes the life of the South-East European countries including the Balkans.There is a café on top where we had some beverages. Time to take the return Cable Car ride down back to the Visitors’ centre. We then walked downhill to check out Lake Bohinj in a Tourist Guided Boat ride. The young guide explained to us how the Lake Bohinj came into being and the different legends associated with it. The lake abounds with various types of fishes including trout . In terms of popularity, Lake Bled edges out lake Bohinj but the views of the surrounding area from Bohinj are mesmerizing. The 700 years old Church of St. John the Baptist is surrounded by the lake and an old stone bridge. It is a Gothic church with a Baroque bell tower and known for its fresco paintings. Lunch consisted of a dish of fresh trout from the lake and some Turkish coffee, in a nearby restaurant .Immediately after lunch, we took a bus to Bled.
Lake Bled was formed when the Bohinj glacier melted away. The lake and its surroundings fit the ideal description of a postcard-perfect picture! We took a casual walk around the lake for sometime admiring the views and some of the ducks and swans there. There are gondola like boats that ferry people from the shore of Lake Bled to the Bled Island (Blejski Otok) (supposedly Slovenia’s only natural island) . This type of boat is known as a Pletna. Legend has it that their origins go back to around 1590. We took a ride on one of those and they start only when they have around 10 people to ride. It’s a respectable profession handed over generations is what I read about the Pletna oarsmen. The island houses the Church of the Assumption of Mary (Cerkev Marijinega vnebovzetja). Since it has a separate entrance fee, we decided not to enter inside it. The island along with the church have often been described by people as if they look like a “ferry crossing the lake” when seen from afar!
Perched atop a cliff around 130 m above Lake Bled, Bled Castle (Blejski Grad) is more than a thousand years old and is Slovenia’s oldest castle. On 10 April 1004, the German king Henry II signed a donation deed in Trento, Tyrol, ceding the ownership of the Bled estate in Carniola to Albuin, Bishop of Brixen. The castle walls are Romanesque, and other castle buildings are Renaissance in origin. From Lake Bled area, it took a steep climb for us to reach the entrance to the Castle. We spent some time checking out the museums inside and also the wine cellar where the guy there supposedly slashes off the tops of wine bottles with a sword in one go provided you tip him enough!
Gaurav bought the famous pastry of Bled – the Bled cream cake or kremšnita, from a shop nearby the Bled Bus Stop and it was really tasty ! Here’s some history of this dessert – “The cream cake was invented by Ištvan Lukačević, who moved to Bled in the 1940s from Serbia to become the pastry chef at the Bled Park Hotel. To create the now famous dessert of custard and cream layered between thin sheets of puff pastry, Lukačević used a traditional recipe from his native region of Vojvodina, substituting half of the custard used in Vojvodina cakes with whipped cream.” It was time for us to admire the valleys by the Julian Alps again on the way to LJ from the bus.
To satisfy a bit of our hunger pangs, we bought some cheap McD cheeseburgers in the LJ Railway station. We also enquired about the train to Divača ( entry point to the Škocjan Caves), but the lady at the booking corner told that since the tracks were under repair, a replacement bus would take us all the way and hence we booked the train (or bus!) tickets.
LJ is compact enough to walk around and visit the main areas of interest. This city is heavily influenced by the work and designs of its local architect Jože Plečnik. We mostly kept our geographical coordinates in the Old Town. We walked uphill to the Ljubljana Castle (Ljubljanski grad) . It offers fantastic panoramic views of LJ but we were a bit late and hence could not go up to the Viewing Tower. A favourite pastime of the locals (who are dressed immaculate) is to hang around in the cafés by the embankments of the river Ljubljanica. We checked around some of the famous bridges in LJ : the Cobblers’ Bridge (Čevljarski most), the Dragon Bridge (Zmajski most) ( a great example of Art Nouveau architecture adorned with four green dragons – the symbol of LJ), the Triple Bridge (Tromostovje) (the middle bridge has stood since 1842, when it replaced a medieval wooden bridge which was a strategic point of connection of the north-western European lands with south-eastern Europe and the Balkans) among others. We actually had dinner at two different places ! One was a dish of stag steak with mushroom sauce at a restaurant and one was Doner kebap in a Kebap joint on the way back to the hostel.
It was time to call it a day.
Day 2: Day Trip from LJ to Škocjan Caves (Škocjanske Jame)
Imagine scaling down the size of the Grand Canyon of Arizona by many times. Add the colour of limestone. Cover it with a roof and let an underground river pass through it. That’s a bit of a way to describe the mesmerizing rock-architectural wonderland of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Škocjan Caves. Some sources refer to it as the largest subterranean canyon in the world and some quote it as ‘The Underground Grand Canyon’.
On 30th of June, we again had to wake up early to visit the Caves but this time had breakfast in the hostel and started off from LJ at around 9 AM for Divača. The famous and more touristy Postojna Cave (Postojnska jama) is also on the way. Tourists can take an underground train to traverse under the Postojna caves in real style (supposedly the oldest show cave in the world) but we preferred to visit only Škocjan as it is definitely more beautiful as online sources promised! There’s a free Shuttle Bus from Divača to the caves and it is generally timed with the arrival/departure of the train (bus) from/to LJ. We took the 11.15 AM shuttle from Divača.
We enquired an attractive lady in the info-centre about the guided tour. She explained to us a bit about the caves.
There are three types of visits to the caves:
1. Through the Underground Canyon ( mandatory with a guide. Disappointing fact is that there is no photography allowed. So you won’t find any photos in this blog to do justice to the cave’s beauty )
2. Following the Reka river underground
3. Along the Škocjan education trail
We opted for the combined ticket for (1) and (2).
Turned out later that that lady was the guide for the German group ( we were divided into three tour groups that day- German, Italian and English). Gaurav and I were a bit disappointed by not having her as our group’s guide ! Anyway it was time for us to enter the caves with our guide for the noon tour. Owing to the cool temperature in the caves, a light jacket or sweater is preferred. We entered the passageway in the Globočak Collapse Doline (doline is a natural enclosed depression found in karst landscapes. Dolines are also sometimes known as sinkholes. Doline derives from “dolina”, a word of Slav origin meaning valley, Collapse dolines are among the most striking surface features in karst areas. Although they can be the result of different formation mechanisms, evidence suggests that large collapse dolines form due to chemical and mechanical removal of material at and below the level of groundwater). We walked on towards the Silent Cave (Tiha jama), so called because it is a dry area and there is no sound of water. The guide lady showed us numerous stalactites and stalagmites in various stages of formation and hence we were cautious enough not to touch those stuff on the way. These formations look like snowflakes at many parts of the cave. The Silent Cave leads to the pièce de résistance: the Giant Hall , with a jaw-dropping display of stalagmites called the Giants and the Organ.
We knew at once that we were entering the Murmuring Cave (Šumeča Jama) as the sound of flowing water of the Reka river beckoned us ! The Eu-Reka moment was when we crossed the Cerkvenik Bridge, hanging around 50 m above the river. The final stage of the tour (No 1) took us into Big Collapse Doline (Velika dolina) and to the surface past Tominc Cave (Tominčeva jama). The total duration taken was around an hour and a half and we trekked across some 3 kms.
Our guide left us here for us to venture into Tour No. 2 (Following the Reka river underground) which is a shorter trek and could be done without a mandatory guide. So officially, we can click photographs from now on! The path took us into the Little Collapse Doline (Mala dolina).
The natural bridge where the Reka River flows into a lake in a high waterfall, separates the Big and Little Collapse Dolines. A bit of greenery as we see sunlight and again walked through caves as we reach the Ponor Reke (the Reka river sinkhole). It took around an hour to finish this tour of around 1.5 km but it took us a bit of a walk to reach back to the Visitors’ centre from there.
Škocjan is definitely the highlight of the Karst region of Slovenia (Slovene: Kras) – a limestone plateau region extending across the border of southwestern Slovenia and northeastern Italy. The region led to the etymology of karst topography. So, it is also referred to as the Classical Karst.
We took the free shuttle after bidding good bye to that lady guide from the German tour .The return journey was also by bus instead of train and we reached LJ in the late afternoon with enough time for us to have an early dinner and roam around this city. We had dinner at Druga Violina (came to know of it from our hostel and also from ‘Ljubljana in Your Pocket (IYP)’)
IYP describes it as :
“Druga violina specializes in good locally grown produce, a simple short menu of Slovene classics and a top location in the city’s old town, but there’s a twist in the tale with the ‘other violin’ (as the English translation of the name goes). It’s actually a project for people with disabilities, who produce much of the food on a farmland near Ljubljana and also work as waiting staff in the restaurant itself.” The food was wonderful. We had (Idrijski) žlikrofi “which are traditional Slovenian dumplings.They are made from dough with potato filling and are often served either as a side dish to meat or on their own. Žlikrofi were awarded a protected geographical status in 2010, the first Slovene dish to do so.” Another dish we tried was Veal Steak with mushroom sauce accompanied by Štruklji (a traditional Slovene dish, composed of dough and various types of filling. The dish comes in the form of rolls, which can be either cooked or baked, and can have a wide range of fillings – in this case cheese.). For dessert , we bought Gibanica from a SPAR Hypermarket. “Gibanica is a traditional pastry dish from Serbia popular all over the Balkans. It is usually made with white cheese and eggs. Recipes can range from sweet to savoury, and from simple to festive and elaborate multi-layered cakes.A derivative of the Serbian verb gibati, meaning “to fold; sway, swing, rock”, the pastry was mentioned in Serbian linguist Vuk Stefanović Karadžić’s Serbian dictionary in 1818.”
It was time for us to bid goodbye to Slovenia and move towards the Adriatic coast on a night bus. Next stop – Split.
Day 1 :
Bus from LJ to Vogel : 9.8 Eur
Cable Car to Vogel Resort : 13.5 Eur
Coffee in Vogel Resort: 1.7 Eur
Boating in Lake Bohinj : 9 Eur
Lunch near Lake Bohinj :
a)Turkish coffee : 1.8 Eur
b)Trout Fish Dish : 13.8 (shared by 2)
Bus from Lake Bohinj to Lake Bled : 3.6 Eur
Boating in Lake Bled (Pletna Boat) : 12 Eur
Bled Castle Entry fees : 9 Eur
Coffee in Bled Castle (they offer a discount with your Castle Ticket) : 1.3 Eur
Bus from Lake Bled to LJ : 6.3 Eur
McD Cheese burger in LJ (contains beef) : 1 Eur
LJ Vila Veselova Hostel : 28 Eur (2 nights)
Dinner (Stag Steak – shared by 2 ) : 16 Eur
Dinner ( Doner Kebap) : 3.5 Eur
Day 2 :
Return Train ticket from LJ to Divača ( was a bus journey in fact owing to repair work of train tracks) : 15.4 Eur
Škocjan Caves entrance fees: 21 Eur
Coffee from vending machine : 1 Eur
Supermarket : ~ 6 Eur
Dinner in Druga Violina : ~12.5 Eur
(Indicative daily expenses in 2015)