Postojna to Ljubljana to Bled

Pos­to­j­na is a place – like me – dis­tin­guished, above all, by what lies beneath. This is Slovenia’s karst ter­ri­to­ry. Scratch the sur­face and one enters the spele­o­log­i­cal Shangri-la that is Pos­to­j­na’s remark­able net­work of caves. The jour­ney begins with an under­ground train ride, pass­ing trea­sures ancient and glit­ter­ing, but too vast to steal. God’s crys­tal set, the sta­lac­tites and sta­lag­mites form a kalei­do­scop­ic con­stel­la­tion of shapes and colours, illu­mi­nat­ed by lamps and can­dles. Mil­len­nia old, yet very much alive, the cave is grow­ing still, coa­lesc­ing and dis­pers­ing with each new drop of water.

It is like a train ride through the Milky Way.

Ride con­clud­ed, I was deep under­ground, and joined the crowd of fel­low trav­ellers for a two kilo­me­tre walk through the cave sys­tem, via cathe­drals of stone and light. Here, we pay our respects to Pro­teus angui­nus, the dom­i­nant life­form in this twi­light world. Although clos­er to earth’s fiery core than I had ever been, the atmos­phere was cool and celes­tial. There may have been drag­ons in the Pos­to­j­na caves, but their fire had long gone out…

After sev­er­al relax­ing days in Piran, Slovenia’s just­ly pop­u­lar port town, I head­ed to Ljubl­jana, her cap­i­tal. You know you’re in a great place when offi­cial tourist brochures say some­thing like, “there’s noth­ing real­ly famous here, but come any­way”. Who­ev­er said you had to be famous to be worth know­ing?

The city is won­der­ful. Although small, Ljubl­jana packs a charm-punch equal to any I have vis­it­ed. Ljubl­jana is like Budapest’s ele­gant cafe strip, with­out the incon­ve­nience of being attached to Budapest. You could (prob­a­bly) even walk across the main street blind­fold­ed and not be hit by a car. Indeed, Ljub­jana is a pedes­tri­an city (in the lit­er­al sense) and the fastest wheels in town are bicy­cles, or the prams pushed leisure­ly along the Ljubl­jan­i­ca, the riv­er that gen­tly gos­sips her way through the city.

Despite the ele­gant old build­ings that dom­i­nate the cen­tre, Ljubl­jana feels young. An enor­mous stu­dent pop­u­la­tion gives the city a Bohemi­an air, fill­ing cafes with their smoke and chat­ter, as peo­ple queue for gela­to, and a local jazz band plays a free con­cert by the Triple Bridge.

Slo­bo­dan Milo­se­vic’s guns nev­er clapped in the skies above Ljubl­jana, and it shows. The city is pris­tine. Ljubl­jana may not be home to the Lou­vre or the Acrop­o­lis, but, giv­en the right com­pa­ny, some jazz, and three flavours of ice cream, there can scarce­ly be a fin­er place to pass one’s days in idle strolling. Ljubl­jana does not mean “the Beloved” for noth­ing.

My final des­ti­na­tion in Slove­nia was Lake Bled, a fairy tale lake over­looked by a fairy tale cas­tle in a fairy tale cor­ner of the Julian Alps. Bled was one of those places where every­thing felt right, par­tic­u­lar­ly at my enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly run guest­house. Some guest­hous­es have chem­istry (oth­er than that cook­ing in peo­ple’s shoes and pants), and some do not. In Bled, every­one (for once) got along in ways more than amorous, and many late nights were spent at the labour of beer and cards.

The fam­i­ly-run guest­house was spear­head­ed by D____. He was a ter­ri­ble dri­ver, a worse come­di­an, and the sin­gle most drunk per­son I have met.

“What would you like for break­fast, young man?”

“The eggs, please.”

“And how many beers?”

The old mani­ac mis­heard every­thing as “beers” … pre­sum­ably as wish ful­fill­ment on his behalf. Hap­py days were spent walk­ing the wide cir­cle of the lake, explor­ing Vint­ner Gorge, and drink­ing / eat­ing Damien’s deli­cious beer.

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