Tag Archives: frescos

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.

Bulgaria (my 106th country) – a couple of days hanging out in Sofia and a day out to Rila Monastery and Boyana Church

One minute in Tel Aviv and a two and a half hour flight later we arrived in Sofia for the first part of a trip around Bulgaria.

First stop had to be the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral – dramatically situated in the Centre of the city and a hive of activity on this particular Saturday evening as it was the weekend where most of the kids graduated high school – this seems to entail wearing long ball gowns and driving around town hooting their horns and counting to 12 (to reflect the 12 long years they have suffered in school!) Just wait until they start work!!

Actually Sofia has a multitude of spectacular churches mostly Bulgarian or Russian orthodox with exteriors and interiors (which often include brightly coloured frescos of the saints and religious events from the New Testament). Examples below.

And the church below tucked in amongst government buildings was built on Roman ruins.

We snuck into the Russian Orthodox Church below as a service was ending – beautiful singing and great pomp – but we then got told off for taking pictures!

But it is not all churches

There is also the 2nd largest synagogue in Europe (it is Sephardic) and a mosque that remains a mosque (many of the others remain from the Ottoman Empire but are are now churches which is why the exteriors often look mosque-like as that is exactly what they used to be before they were repurposed rather than pulled down.). Great recycling. Although not quite as close together as shown below they are only about 3 minutes from each other.

There are monuments – that’s Saint Sofia and the guards outside the President’s place of work; there is MacDonalds of course (but I have never seen it written in Cyrillic before) and also klecks- meaning “kneel” shops as below bottom right. After the communism era ended people wanted to become more entrepreneurial and because they couldn’t afford expensive real estate they converted their basements into shops which you have to kneel at to see what’s inside. Loved them, although some comfort cushions would be an idea for those of us with creakier bones!

There is shopping for local ceramics at the Ladies Market.

A popular day trip from Sofia is a visit to Rila Monastery (about two hours away) and the glorious Boyana Church (about 20 minutes from Sofia).

I loved the Boyana Church. It is tiny, in a peaceful forest and only 10 people can go in at a time. It dates back many hundreds of years and while simple outside it is the stunning frescos inside that give it the “wow” factor – even more special because they are in good condition and are painted in a real life style where people’s expressions are clear in their faces rather than the previously stylised approach to painting saints. Unfortunately they do not allow photos inside so I have swiped a couple of pics of the interior from the internet so you can see what I mean.

Then on to Rila Monastery – via some very pretty countryside – and a real rag and bone man!

Rila was a spectacular place although rather crowded on a Sunday so I had to include some people in my photos – Grrr. Only 7 monks live here now but visitors or pilgrims can stay over. It once housed 300 monks – times have changed and not many people want to be monks anymore hence the reduction in numbers. It is nevertheless right that it is being preserved so well and both Rila and Boyana are UNESCO heritage sights.

I loved the colourful frescos and below there are some that show what happens if you go to hell compared to the prettiness of Paradise.

The floors with the carpets hanging from them are where people can stay over. I think the rooms are very basic!

A great start to my visit to Bulgaria.

Israel, Masada, River Jordan and the Dead Sea

And back to the bible – this time it is the River Jordan and the spot where John the Baptist is believed to have baptized Jesus. Back in 2012 my friend Beth and I visited Jordan and we saw this site from the opposite side looking back at Israel so it was great to now see it from the Israeli side looking back at Jordan. The river is very narrow and is in fact an official border between the countries but there is no official crossing here. People come to be baptized here and also to collect water to take home for baptisms. Due to climate change the water levels of the river are dropping substantially.

From Jordan in 2012

From Israel in 2019

Then we headed to the Dead Sea – the lowest point on earth and you can feel your ears pop as you descend from well above to 430 meters below sea level. Once again climate change is impacting the scenery – those holes you can see are giant sink holes caused by the continued reduction of water in the Dead Sea. It means these areas are also no longer able to be used as beaches. Real shame.

We then “mudded up” and enjoyed a bit of floating in the Dead Sea. It is a very strange experience as the sea is 30% salt compared to 5% in most oceans and you cannot even stand up with your own propulsion once you are above your knees in the water – you just have to float and try not to giggle too much as this is NOT good stuff to swallow. Getting out again involves dragging yourself along the bottom with your hands until you get to a point where you can stand up again.

The pics below show how climate change has caused the evaporation of a lot of the water and in fact the Dead Sea is now two seas as a portion has dried and created a land mass in the middle of the Sea.

Next we headed to Masada – a very special place both as the location of one of the many palaces that King Herod built and then later as a citadel. King Herod – who I tended to think of as the guy who wanted all the first born killed as he heard a rumor there was to be a new King of Jews born – was actually a huge influence in this part of the world as he was a great builder and loved to use all the latest techniques to do so. He rebuilt the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem and Masada was one of his palaces where he had all the latest mod cons.

He built this one on top of a high mountain (because he could) and we ascended to the top by cable car. We walked around for 90 minutes in 39 degree heat but it was well worth it as the place is in very good condition and extensive.

The subsequent period of importance was when this became a Jewish citadel during the Roman Empire period. The Romas held the city under siege for 2 years and when the Jewish populace realised that the wall was going to be breached and they had no chance they decided to commit suicide rather than be slaves. In the Jewish religion suicide is forbidden and means you cannot be buried in the cemetery. Therefore they decided that the men would kill the women and children and when the last 10 men were left they picked lots to decide which one would kill the next until only one was left – so they reduced the number who had to commit the sin of suicide (although quite why murdering their kin was not a sin is a mystery to me!). When the Romans walked in the next day they found the place full of dead bodies except for two women and a few kids who had rather sensibly decided that they would rather live – and of course that meant they were around to tell the story of what happened.

Having said all that there is a lot of debate about whether the whole story is really true and they are still reviewing the archaeology to see if they can be sure it is. Thats the thing about Israel – everything we understand about the past is constantly changing as we get smarter in understanding the evidence that is found.

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