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Ljubljana - how do you spell that again?

SLOVENIA | Saturday, 7 May 2011 | Views [557]

Dragon Bridge

Dragon Bridge

It was only a 2 hour train trip to Lljubljana in Slovenia, but I was still pretty tired when I arrived. Zeppelin hostel is another great, brand new hostel with massive dorm rooms and another good kitchen. I’ve been happily surprised by the Eastern European countries and how modern they are – I guess as tourism increases there are more opportunities for hostels and you end up with nice new facilities, unlike places like France and Rome where you pay heaps for old hostels with crap facilities.

One of the hostel guys described Ljubljana as “Amsterdam without the weed or the hookers” and, as I walked through the town and along the riverfront, I could see what he meant. It’s a lovely laid-back city with people relaxing in outdoor cafes on the riverfront while boats chug sedately past the overhanging willows and people try to run you over with bicycles.  I walked along the pedestrian streets eating my daily gelato and checked out the castle on the hill, as well as the famous “Dragon Bridge”. There was a massive rally going on with old soldiers dressed in their uniforms but, as I don’t speak Slovakian, I had no idea what was going on. But there were beer stalls and bratwurst barbeques so I wasn’t complaining!

Back at the hostel I met an American girl who worked in several Middle Eastern countries as well as Russia as a nanny, as well as doing a stint in Indonesia for Intrepid travels as a tour guide – she had some pretty good stories. I also learnt that you can become an Intrepid guide by applying over the net, doing a few weeks coursework in a classroom & a couple of trips as an assistant guide. Sounds great, though apparently it’s so stressful & tiring that no-one seems to last more than 6 months!

The following morning we waited in vain for our “included breakfast” as the staff member in charge had overslept. I gave up and headed out to climb the castle tower to take in the view of the city before the heat haze set in. Apparently you can see a third of the country on a good day! I then wandered through the Sunday morning flea market, which was pretty much just another flea market…but with gelatos. I took my ice-cream to Tivoli park, a beautiful green sanctuary of peace in an already peaceful city. Rome & Naples could take a “leaf” out of this place’s book (pun totally intended).

I decided to spend an extra night in Ljubljana in order to visit Skocjan Caves Park in the extreme NE part of the classical karst area of Slovenia. The Reka River created caves are UNESCO protected and are the third largest caverns IN THE WORLD (the other two are in the US). I caught the train to Divaca where I changed to a bus for the last leg and was glad to see the free shuttlebus to the caves waiting in the deserted station. I arrived just in time to join the 11am “New Tour” (only an extra E5 on top of the “Classic Tour” price) which had only been running for a month since the area had flooded in 1965 and taken so long to repair & reopen. It was almost like a private tour as there were only 3 of us on it. We walked through the village and into a beautiful forested area to the mouth of the cave, where we followed the illuminated river and learnt all about the origins of the river and formation of the caves. We were also allowed to take photos which was great, as on the main tour it is forbidden: a) to avoid blinding both animals and guides, and b) to keep the big groups of people together without people faffing about taking crap photos. So nothing to do with selling postcards then?

I had time for lunch before the main tour left, this time a MUCH bigger group of people. Despite the crowd it was still AMAZING, and definitely something out of 'Lord of the Rings'. The old steps from the original tourist path that was now too close to the river looked like something out of the Mines of Moria – all that it needed were a few dwarves and an old guy with a long grey beard who you could call Gandalf.

I arrived back to the formerly half-empty hostel to find it filled with guys from the Estonian Cricket team – the ironic thing was that half of them were Australian! Luckily they were very well behaved and it wasn't that bad being the only female in the hostel that night!

Tags: divaca, ljubljana, skocjan caves, unesco, zepplin hostel

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