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.