Tuesday, 26 February 2019

A rainy day in a cave

After the first two nights spent in Czech Republic and Austria, we were ready to cross the Slovenian border. 

We had no idea where we wanted to stop and if we wanted to stay at one campsite for the whole time in Slovenia or change it somewhere on the way. We had some idea that the best place to stay for us would be somewhere in the area between Postojna, Ljubljana and Bled.  So we kept driving forth, passing by Maribor (hey, we’ll come back to see you), Ljubljana (we’ll be back to see you, too), until we realised that, hey, it’s time to choose our destination! Cause if we keep driving, we’ll end up either in the Adriatic Sea or in Croatia or Italy. No bad (I mean the last two, cause driving a car into the sea, any sea, isn’t that good an idea). So we stopped on one of the resting places along the highway. Probably not far from the exit to Postojna, as there was a train truck there advertising Postojna Caves.

Anyway, while the kids were running around, trying to get rid of the energy they were accumulating since we left the last campsite, we were trying to figure out where we want to spend the next few nights. At last, we decided that the campsite in Ljubljana looks promising. And since it’s situated close to highways, it would be a good starting point for sightseeing in any direction. We got back into the car and drove back to Ljubljana. Luckily, they had a free spot for the ten nights we decided to spend there. The pit was shadowed, so it wasn’t getting too hot in the tent, close to the sanitary area and the playground.

We spent the afternoon setting up the tent, organising our things and getting to know the area. We also went for a walk along the river, which was right behind the campsite’s fence. Any drawbacks? Yes, the train line connecting Ljubljana with the surrounding areas, also right off the campsite’s fence. It was loud every time the train was passing. Not to mention the sound signals. But after some time, we even got used to that. 

Our first night in Ljubljana was… wet. It started raining in the evening, around 9-10 p.m., if I remember correctly. And stopped around 8:30 in the morning. And it was really pouring rain, with three-four thunderstorms on the way, without a break. We ate breakfast in the tent. Everything was wet and we had a huge pond right at the entrance to our tent. Ok, a tiny little bit to the side, which allowed us to even leave the tent. Luckily, we had no water inside. But what can you do on such an uncertain (weather-wise) day? Seeing any landscapes in heavy rainfall – not so much. But what is Slovenia famous for? Yes, you’re right! Caves!

We weren’t planning to hit the caves right for the start. But the choice was pretty obvious. The choice was between Skocjan Caves and Postojna Cave. We chose the latter, as it was closer. We drove to Postojna, parked the car at the huge car park ready to take in the tourists. M. was asleep, so K. went to stand in line, while me and the kids stayed in the car. We waited until the baby woke up and joined K. then. We didn’t book the tickets online (we could have done it while standing in that line, too, I know), so we spent a few hours in the line. Once we got the tickets, we still had about two hours to wait for our turn. We wanted to grab something to eat, but all the places in the restaurants were (surprisingly) full, as it was lunch time. We bought some crepes, and it was basically our time to get into the cave. I only wrapped up the baby and put her down to sleep. That way, she wasn’t bored, and we could all enjoy the beauty of the cave. And there was a lot to feast our eyes on.

First, you ride in a tiny train. It takes a few minutes. Then you walk for another hour or something and you leave the cave by riding that tiny train again. Once you get into the cave, you have a guide that’s leading your way and telling you the story of the cave. I have to say that the guide is rushing and trying to make you run through the cave instead of helping you appreciate it. Their job, most likely, especially if they want to squeeze in all the tourists willing to see the cave, but also annoying. Once you wait half the day to be able to get into the cave, you wish for a little bit more time inside. Or at least no rush.

Apart from the amazing rock formations, stalactites, stalagmites in various shapes and colours (our imaginations were bursting with ideas of what we’re looking at. And I can’t tell you how many Elsa’s castles we saw there…), at the end of the tour, you get to see human fish. In my opinion, seeing them and listening about them, was the most interesting part of the visit to Postojna Cave when it comes to our guide’s involvement. Human fish are creatures living in the darkest parts of the cave. And our guide talked about them with interest and passion. They live in water, their skin colour resembles that of humans (hence the name), although it has no pigmentation. It doesn’t have eyes, but its other senses are better developed. We not only got to see the adults in the aquarium in the last chamber (they change the ones in the aquarium often, so that they can get back to their natural habitat), but we also got to see the newborns on the screens (they were in the laboratory). So it was very interesting.

We got out of the cave only to see that the skies were getting greyer again, no sun anymore, and it was starting to rain again. We got to the shuttle bus that took us to one more place we intended to visit once in Postojna – to Predjama castle. Predjama is a castle built (as the name suggests) on the entrance to a cave. It looks as though it is glued to a huge rock forming a hill. Or part of it, really. Looks amazing from the path leading to its entrance. If you have a combined ticket with Postojna Caves, you don’t need to buy a new one, of course, so you don’t have to wait in line for the ticket. Just pass through the gates scanning your tickets on the way. We had no guided tour. If I remember correctly, audio guides were available at the entrance, but I can’t be sure since we didn’t take any anyway. We just wanted to take a look into the halls of this peculiar castle. And yes, you can enter the cave as well. The look from the cave onto the surroundings is pretty amazing. Even though it was raining, it was dark and cloudy, it still looked pretty good.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Spending our time in and around Graz

Havingspent the first night of our #Eurotrip2018 in Czech Republic, we were ready to continue our road trip and head over to our next stop. The plan was to spend the night in Graz, Austria. 

Before #Eurotrip2016, we bought a book on campsites in Europe. It’s a German thing, giving details on various campsites in most European countries. Of course, Germany is most represented in the book, but each (or almost every) European country has a section dedicated to its own campsites. 

Anyway, we found a campsite in Graz. Happy, we directed our steps in its direction. When we finally got there, it turned out that, true, there is a campsite, but it is tiny and serves only motorhomes. And, to make things worse, that was the only campsite marked in the book in the area. No worries, no worries. We took our navigation that has already saved our butts in Northern Spain, and found yet another campsite, close to the highway, a little off Graz. 

We got to the spot where there was supposed to be that navigation mentioned campsite… What we saw were some gates, a huge car park right behind them and a huge building that looked like a swimming pool. Were we in the right place? Where are the tents? Or at least motorhomes?  We parked the car somewhere on the side and K. went to the people sitting at the gates to ask for the campsite. Luckily, we were at the right place. And yes, they have a free spot for a tent. Score! What we had to do was to only follow a car that would take us to our spot. We drove through recreation areas by a lake all the way up to the campsite. It took a few minutes. The pitch was small, but on grass. In the open sun (at it was around 30 Celsius), but a 5 minute walk from that lake. The lake was artificial, if I remember correctly, but it was well organised. With a few playgrounds and places for kids to play. With water equipment renting places, bars and restaurants. And it wasn’t too expensive either. 

We spent the early afternoon by the lake. The kids with K. were swimming and playing in the lake. Once they were tired, we decided to get changed and head over to Graz. We were still planning to see the town. 

We got there around 4 p.m., so it was still quite early. Finding a free parking spot wasn’t too difficult, as there are quite a few underground car parks. We took a walk to the old town square. The houses were beautifully ornamented, packed one next to another in the tiny streets and secret passages. We had delicious ice cream and decided to walk up the hill to the clock tower, which was lurking at us strolling through the narrow streets. 

The way up iis… interesting. At least from the side where we got. You can easily get all the way to the top with a stroller (checked, the kid survived) and the path goes through a park. At the bottom of the hill there is a passage leading to the other side of the hill through a tunnel. There used to be shelters in case of bombing in that tunnel. 

We got up to the hill, up to that clock tower and were actually surprised how tiny it was. I mean, you usually see a tower mounting proudly over the surrounding area. And this one… is also mounting proudly over the area but by being on the verge of the hill top. Up there, it looks as if somebody stepped on it and pushed it inside the hill. It still is beautiful, though. And the view over Graz is amazing. There are benches next to the clock tower where you can sit, rest a little and simply stare at it. Or the people around you. Or read a book. Or do anything else for that matter :)

 We went back down and through the tunnel to the other side of the hill. Walked down the narrow streets until we got to a small playground, where the kids finally got a chance to play. After a little while, we got back to the car and then to the campsite. It was already getting dark. Finally, the following the, we were ready to cross the Slovenian border.