Category Archives: Slovenia

Slovenia – final post. More places you can visit easily from Ljubliana – Postojna Caves, Predjama Castle, Koper and Piran and more

As Slovenia is so small it is very easy to have Ljubliana as a base and then head out on day trips to see other parts of the country which is what I did in between enjoying the city.

The cave systems in this part of the world are extensive (unfortunately causing the creation of a lot of sink holes) but also enabling visitors to experience huge caverns. Postojna Caves (which I think I visited back in the 80’s) is more than 25 kms in size so you only get to see a fraction of it. On arrival you board a train that takes ten minutes to get you further into the caves and join a group to be taken around the caves for 45 minutes and then back again on the train. I like these caves as they are very airy, have fabulous examples of stalactites and stalagmites and other cave formations. The problem with caves is it is hard to give a real feel for the grandeur of the place so I have had a go but then shown some formations which appear more abstract when viewed in isolation but I quite like that.

Inside the caves as the train takes off. Massive and tiny stalactites and stalagmites

Some different formations and colours inside the caves

A short distance away we came to Predjama Castle – a feat of building that is staggering as you can hopefully see how skilfully they built the castle into the side of the mountain on top of a cave. Not sure how they did it but it worked and they were not successfully attacked. A Slovenian Robin Hood character called Erasmus lived here for a while (he managed to get out regularly via the intricate tunnel system and always bought back fresh cherries for all the people who lived in the castle so he was very popular) but he was eventually killed because someone advised his enemies that the weakest part of the castle was his toilet which jutted out from the side of the wall and that is where he met his end – blown to pieces as legend has it! His girlfriend planted a tree in his memory but it is not looking too healthy!

Predjama Castle with views all around so that the enemy can be easily spotted

The bell can be rung by anyone passing it as long as you make a wish! Erasmus’ tree looking the worse for wear – it has been struck by lightening a few times.

On another day I visited the Trinity Church in Cerkev. It is another walled church that I saw so many of in Romania and also has frescos in good condition since they had been whitewashed over back in the 15th century during the plague as a means of disinfectant and were only rediscovered and cleaned in the 20th century. While the frescos are all good I really liked the “Danse Macarbre” or the Dance of the Dead. Very popular in medieval times it shows a group of people from child to beggar to wealthy to bishop all being led to their death by skeletons. The message being – whoever you are in this world – we all end up in the same way! I like it.

Exterior of Walled Church at Cerkov

The Dance of Death frescos in excellent condition. Love the grins on the skeletons

Onwards to Koper, the second largest city in Slovenia. It has a nice square, original water cistern and some original walls but that’s about it. What you do start to notice in this part of Slovenia is the strong Italian/Venetian influence in buildings. In fact this area officially retains dual language – Slovenian and Italian – since so many people from Italy lived here and indeed many still do.

The main square in Koper

Just outside of Piran are the salt pans. An area where salt has been harvested for centuries and still is although to a lesser degree than in the past. It is an activity that takes place for 6 months of the year and looks like very hard work. Each pan is first primed with an algae mix which acts as a barrier and filters and ensures that the salt never mixed with the mud below. Then they wait and eventually salt crystallises on the surface and is collected for packing and sales. It is very high quality.

Salt pans near Piran

And then we headed to the seaside town of Piran. Slovenia doesn’t have much land by the sea but they managed to nab this bit when the former Yugoslav states were divvied up after Tito’s death. It is the usual rocky beach that you find on the Croatian coast with sparkly water and people wandering about in bikinis that are too small for them. You can see both Croatia and Italy from here.

The overview of the city was taken from the former city fortified city walls.

The former city walls of Piran

Views of Piran and the sparkling Adriatic Sea

But it wasn’t the coast I like the most about Piran, it was the side streets off the main square which were full of old Italian looking buildings in every colour imaginable.

The main square in Piran

Colourful narrow alleyways behind the main square in Piran

More Piran alleyways

And finally had to include this pic of some baby swallows I came across in a nest in one of those alleyways. So cute.

Slovenia – Ljubliana – various impressions of this delightful capital city.

Ljubliana must be one of the smaller capital cities in Europe (population 400,000 in a country of 2 millionP) but it packs quite a punch. Clear influences from Austria and Hungary are all around but the prices are (still) cheaper.

I rented a great apartment just 6 minutes walk into the main part of the old town but with panoramic views in all directions – windows and terrace on both sides!

Views from my lovely panoramic apartment

The old city centres around the river which is bordered by cafes, restaurants, shops, art galleries and pretty buildings and many dinky little bridges. It is also possible to take a boat ride down the river for a different perspective.

The Dragon bridge below is one of the most well known bridges. There is a dragon at each of the four corners as the dragon is seen as the symbol of Ljubliana. Many myths abound as to why. Apparently he lived (or still lives) in the surrounding hills. He was the dragon that Jason slaughtered on his quest for the Golden Fleece or he was the dragon that St George caught or he escaped and is living in the mountains and when he has a cold and breathes heavily the mist descends over the hills until he is feeling better!

A continuously photogenic riverside makes it hard to know when to stop taking photos!

Riverside view, a dragon on the bridge and the main squares of the Old Town

The colourful building below was an attempt by the crafty artists to develop a “Slovenian ethnic style” back in the day but it never took off. However I am glad they kept this building as an example as it is really quite pretty – although I am not sure I would like a town full of this!

By the river and in the old town of Ljubliana. Ljubliana Castle in the distance at the top of the hill

Everyone goes to visit Ljubliana Castle which looks down on the Old Town. It has gone through many iterations and many rebuilds and repurposing. Of course it was originally built to defend the town from the Ottomans but subsequently became a prison and these days is a cultural centre which hosts events, allows visitors, has open air movies and concerts etc. I took the furnicular up and walked down but I did walk up the spiral staircase to the top of the tower for the views. The spiral staircase is designed on two levels so it looks like one but in fact it is one staircase above another so people go up on one and down on the other. Very clever. The views are impressive as you’d expect. Also pretty at night.

Ljubliana Castle, the spiral double level staircase, the views and the castle at night

The main church has an impressive metal carved door which tells stories from the bible and also local struggles. It was dedicated to the ever popular Pope John Paul who seems to pop up everywhere I go! The bit I liked the best though is if you look at the photo on the right hand side you will see a tiny shiny bit at the bottom. That is actually the artist’s signature and is an engraving of his face on its side as shown in the zoomed version bottom left. Obviously he didn’t keep this a secret as everyone has touched his face for luck and that is why it is shiny!

The entrance to the main Catholic church in Ljubliana

Another person you hear a lot about in this city is the resident acrchitect Joze Plecnik. Most of his work was between 1920 and the mid 1950s and he is absolutely everywhere so I decided to do a Plecnik focused walking tour of the city (there was only 3 of us and the other couple were from Melbourne and their son works for ANZ – of course!).

Apparently he was very grumpy (shades of FLW I think) and the photo is a very rare one of him smiling – usually he looked more like the bust below – dour. He designed the two storey market building that runs along the riverside. At ground level it is all restaurants and a few market stalls and at river level it is a full fish and meat market and houses art galleries.

Fish as art?

Also in the Center of the old town are the three bridges – Plecnik built the other two around the original first one. He always used polished concrete or limestone (it was cheap and plentiful) and recycled everything. He also loved curves and these are classic examples of his work. He liked to build on to what was already there – like on the Roman Wall below.

Examples of Plecnik’s work in Ljubliana

His most famous large building is the National and University student library – exterior shown above. Bit hard to see but the windows at the top jut out in a triangle shape so meant to look like open books.

The interior is also all his own design. We couldn’t take photos inside the study area
(which was spectacular) as there were students studying but we got to see the main entrance and have his favourite tea in the student cafeteria. The entrance staircase was meant to inspire students to work hard – carry all your books up the stairs to the “light at the end of the tunnel” and also where the study area is. He deliberately made all the chairs hard as he felt chairs were not to be lounged in but a place from which to study!

Interior of the National and University Student library building

We went on to visit the photography school that he and his pupils designed which was formerly a monastery.

Former monastery, now the school of Photography

He also designed the bridge below with the pyramid (he liked them too) which is one of the few in the world that has trees on it. The symbol on the house at the bottom right was put on houses during the plague to show that the plague stopped at this point.

Turns out Mr Plecnik was a very grumpy workaholic. The house he lived in was bought by his brother and he was supposed to live there with his three siblings. In the end only one brother lived there at the same time but they were such different characters – the brother loved people and his lady friends; his workaholic brother liked neither – so that didn’t last long and Plecnik lived here alone. He even bought the next door house so that he wouldn’t have any neighbours other than the church. Basically he used to walk into town every day either by the river or the main road and 90% of his work in Ljubliana is in that small area.

Plexnik’s house and the church next door. He was religious and got on well with the priest but no-one else

Interior of Plecnik’s house with uncomfortable chairs to discourage visitors (this one is also a self portrait) plus easy access to his coffee and the garden.

Finally of course a food tour with Jasmine – and I lucked out again as this time it ws only me on the tour. Lots of opportunity to sample local wine and local dishes in some interesting spots. I liked the soup below – meat and turnips and then you pour in the pumpkin oil. Sounds strange but it was very good indeed.

Slovenia (110th country) – Lake Bled, Bohinj and Vintgar Gorge

After visiting the less known parts of the Balkans it was a bit of a shock to arrive in Ljubliana, Slovenia where there are far more tourists and shops etc than I have been used to.

I decided I had to visit the famous Lake Bled, Lake Bohinj and the Vintgar Gorge – they didn’t disappoint for sheer gorgeousness and a perfect looking little castle (although we didn’t have time to go and see it) but now we are in July there are a few too many other tourists for my liking (and yes I know I am one of them!)

On Lake Bled we took a wooden boat (no morotorised boats or jet skis allowed on the lakes) called Barbara over to Bled Island which consists of 99 stairs to the church at the top. If you get married at that church the groom is supposed to carry his bride up the 99 steps and she is supposed to say nothing! No comment! I was huffed climbing them without carrying another human being!

The 99 steps

On Lake Bled approaching Bled Island

The wooden boats that take you across the lake plus one of the many paddle boarders

At Lake Bled it is also obligatory to try their cream cake – the Kremna Rezina – so I did. It is quite similar to the one I had in Samobor a couple of days ago but this has layers of cream and custard cream and I had a raspberry version. It was a light as a feather and it did sway on the plate without collapsing – a sign it was the real thing!

A raspberry version of the famous Bled Cream cake

We then headed on for about 45 minutes to Lake Bohinj – this is less of a foreign tourist place and more used by locals as a recreational spot – again very pretty.

Around and about Lake Bohinj

Finally we visited Triglav National Park and walked along the Vintgar Gorge – about 1.6km each way. On the way back we enjoyed a violent thunder storm but it didn’t get too cold so that was ok!

Vintgar Gorge

I think I liked this place best of all but think I may return to the lakes and stay there next year during the Autumn when the colours look spectacular and there will be far less people around.