Leaving Venice we headed east towards Slovenia. One of the lesser known European countries but a country I’ve heard a lot of good stuff about – especially its natural beauty. We were there in no time and it became immediately apparent that our first major challenge was going to be the language – lots of unguessable, guttural sounds – very different from France, Spain, Italy etc
Whilst looking to a spot to wildcamp in the countryside we stumbled across a sign for a camping and, as it was getting late we followed it to a rustic farm with a big field down the bottom of an improbable windy dirt road. The owner assured us that Frosty would make it down and sure enough we did and parked smack in the middle of the field – the only ones there.
The lady was very friendly and, after getting us set up, insisted we join her for coffee in her house in the morning and she’d give us a run-down on the local attractions. We turned in early (as usual) and I woke a few times in the night to torrential rain which made me worry we would be completely bogged by morning. But it cleared away and the sun came out in the morning so we popped up to the house for coffee. The coffee was nearly stone cold which was a bit weird but she loved the kids and gave them biccies and sweets and we planned our visit to the local cave.
The Skocjan caves are a UNESCO world heritage site and known as the ‘Underground Grand Canyon’ due to its enormity. For some reason photography wasn’t allowed which didn’t matter in the end as the sneaky ones I took didn’t turn out very well. But here’s a pic from the internet so you get the idea.
One of the many interesting things about the cave was that, because it’s so big, weird creatures have evolved there that aren’t found anywhere else. For example, there’s this pinky/white salamander thing called the ‘human fish’ by the locals. It’s never seen sunlight and, get this, it can live for up to 10 years without food (Lee, that fact’s for you!)
Anyway it was a very interesting cave visit – the first of many I’m sure we’ll do on this trip. 30 minutes away was another of Slovenia’s top attractions – the Predjama Grad – a 12th century castle which is pretty unusual as it’s set into a cliff with a cave system behind it.
We all enjoyed the self-guided tour through the rooms and parts of the cave, James & Abbie especially keen on the dungeon with bodies dangling on the rack and that sort of thing. As we were fully charged, watered and emptied, wild camping was the order of the day, given the fantastic scenery.
Slovenia really was a blast of green rolling hills and dense woods. Spring had truly sprung, the snow had melted and hydrated the vegetation so it really was looking beautiful, despite the fact that here and there were trees lying strewn around and sometimes a bunch of trees with their tops ‘missing’. Turned out a massive ice storm had blitzed the country a couple of months earlier. A local guy told me that it wasn’t the winds that had smashed the trees up but around 6 inches of ice had piled up on the branches making them so heavy that thousands of trees collapsed under their own weight! They also recorded a peak of 7 metres of snow in the mountains so I’m glad we missed what must have been a punishing winter.
Anyway, after a couple of hours winding through the minor roads, we parked up just outside a little village, next to a babbling brook and amongst the hills.
Then it was onto Lake Bled – I won’t go on about this fabulous place as James has done such a good job with his post here. Read it and comment if you haven’t already!
What I will add is that, at the campsite we made some real live friends!! The occupants of the van next to us were Ben & Nat from Adelaide (although living in Abu Dhabi for the last few years) and they were also doing a European wide tour for a year. We clicked at once, partly because we had so much in common (same ages (ish!), same language, same cultural background, same destinations & mode of transport and same length of time away (they are doing Aug to Aug)) but also because they are really lovely people. It was so nice to be able to share some of our experiences like we can with them. No offence to all the hundreds of other lovely people we’ve met along our travels but we really were right on the same page with Ben & Nat (see their blog www.hawkeseu.blogspot.com) So, they decided to stay an extra night so we could party on and we made some vague plans to catch up later following our trip down to Croatia to see the Red Bull Air Race, and some definite plans to catch up in August in the Netherlands. Note: We’ve actually ended up on a 7-day convoy across Eastern Europe with them which is even better!
So, as I hinted above, we felt the need for speed so hightailed it South to catch up with the Red Bull Air Race in Croatia.
If you don’t know about it, it’s like a cross between an air show and Formula 1 – pilots in turbo-charged jets, compete to get around a course of giant inflatables as fast as they can, only metres above the water. An Aussie, Matt Hall was racing and I can say with confidence, that, in the public grandstand, we would have been the only Australians and the only ones supporting him! But we whooped it up standing on our chairs and cheering him on, much to the bemusement of the more conservative locals.
It was an interesting experience and well worth the trip. No to mention Rovinj, where it was held, is a lovely town and gave us just a taste of Croatia, our only non-schengen destination (we were just inside Chelle’s 90 days so managed to squeeze in a border crossing without any dramas).
The plan was then to go on a bear hunt. Through word of mouth I’d managed to get the name and number of a guy called Marco who had a few hides in strategic locations and could arrange bear watching. There are only about 400 Eurasian brown bears in Slovenia so it would have been amazing to have seen one. However, after checking his spots, he found out the bears were ‘visiting’ too late – around 10pm- so it would have meant a 4 hour silent (absolutely silent!) vigil in a raised cabin for a chance of seeing something move in the murky blackness. Better to do in summer apparently…
After just 2 days in Croatia, we backtracked and headed North again to Slovenia. We were trying to catch up Ben & Nat so had a pretty solid drive to Ljubjiana, the capital city which we briefly stopped at to check out the castle and hunt for a spot to spend the night. There was nothing ideal so we carried on, back into the countryside until fairly late. We were struggling a bit to find a decent spot so I asked a local guy who was outside in his garden if he had any ideas and he said we were welcome to park up in ‘his wood’ which was an offer we gratefully accepted!
Next morning more jogs and a chance to check out the, yet again, gorgeous countryside including an immaculately maintained cemetery. Really quite amazing to see how carefully all of the graves were maintained and how many had fresh flowers which must be replaced at least weekly.
We hosted a dinner party of sorts and as usual had a great time while we plotted our next destination – Hungary. But that’s a new post, Slovenia is officially ‘done’ and highly, highly recommended.