(All photos © Sean D Sorrentino, 2012)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

From the darkness into the light

The first order of business today was to get ourselves to Škocjan Caves by the 10 am start of the first tour. Since it was a 20 minute drive to the caves from our hotel, you can see I am keeping to my plan of not working too hard on my vacation. We ended up leaving the hotel at 8:30 am simply because there was nothing left to do. We had eaten breakfast and checked out of the hotel, so we might as well go straight to the caves and just kill time until the tour.

We arrived at the cave at 9am, with plenty of time to kick our heels and wait. This area of Slovenia is one big limestone plateau. That means that water hitting the limestone basically erodes it all over the place. I don’t know all the chemistry, but basically the water dissolves the limestone, leaving a bowl. This makes more water collect in the bowl, dissolving more limestone. The water leaks out of the bottom of the bowl, so you don’t just get a lake. You end up getting a big random hole in the ground. Around Lipica there were lots of random holes in the ground with trees growing in them.

In the case of the Škocjan caves, there is a river that runs underneath the ground from here at the start of the caves all the way down to near Trieste, Italy. The river actually runs underground further than it does above ground. This, plus water leaking in from the surface, carved out a beautiful series of caves that are really difficult to describe. Photography is strictly forbidden, and basically impossible without specialized equipment. It really was very pretty. It would have been nice to go in a smaller group. We had about 50 people, and they wouldn’t shut up. I’d rather be quiet and just look at the cave, but I understand that it’s difficult for humans to keep quiet in a group.

Our group was led by a lady that spoke both English and German. We only had one Italian couple so she kept them at the front and just explained things to them. All the Slovenes went in their own group, so our guide switched back and forth between English and German, sometimes starting with one and sometimes starting with the other. We only took the “Classic” tour. This is basically the same tour given since the 1930’s. There was a previous route that was much closer to the river back before the original bridge collapsed in the ‘30’s, but looking at the route up the rock face, I wouldn’t want to try it. I especially wouldn’t want to try it with a group of 50 people who were mostly older than me. If you fall off and land in the river, I don’t think they would bother to try fishing your body out. They’d probably just wait until you came out in Italy.

The trip isn’t arduous, exactly, but it isn’t easy either. You should be able to hike 3 kilometers over rough terrain. Figure that you should be able to start at the top of a 20 story building, climb down the stairs, walk a mile or so, and then climb back up the stairs. It’s not really a trip for the very young. There were some 50-60 plus people there, but you should judge your own fitness level before you try. Once you get down, it’s a long way back up. It’s worth it, though.

After the cave, we drove down to Koper. Have I pointed out that Slovenia is about as big as the state of Connecticut? That means that not many places are very far away. The original plan was to drive straight to Piran, but since it was only 12:30 pm, we could easily see that medieval core of Koper along the way. When I was in the Navy, my ship pulled into Koper. The problem is that the ship’s bus took us to Portoroz instead of showing us anything of Koper, so really I haven’t ever seen the town before. It was certainly worth the two hours we spent. Parking was 1 Euro per hour, first hour free. We went up to Titov Trg (Trg means “square”) and looked at the old buildings. Pretty interesting.

Then we wandered around looking for lunch. We found a nice restaurant that offered quite a few options, but being boring we both had pizza. It was cheap and good. Then more wandering around the square. In my historical re-enactment group I spend most of my time working with heraldry. The people in Koper were kind enough to leave lots of heraldic stuff around for me to look at. I’ve taken a few pictures so that I can use it later as proof that certain heraldic things were done. Like this one. It looks like three “bends” that are hollowed out in the middle, showing the background. I’ve never seen this done before.

After our two hours ran out, we drove off to Piran. Piran is an isthmus that sticks out into the Adriatic Sea. It is apparently named after the Greek word for fire, Pyr. That’s because the point of land had an old signal fire. Trust me when I say that running into a sharp point of land with your ship ruins your whole day. The solution, of course, is to mark that point of land. Lacking such modern conveniences as the electric signal light, they just lit a fire. Thus the name of this really excellent little city.

We just came from Venice yesterday, and this section of the world was ruled by Venice for a lot of it’s history. You can see that in the architecture and the way they seem to like to stick Venice’s lion on everything. They weren’t subtle back then any more than we are now. Piran is an interesting little town that I imagine must be a total circus in the height of summer. Right now it’s pretty quiet. That makes it perfect for us.

We had dinner (twice) and drinks (I forget how many times) and just wandered around the town. The central square is interesting

The lighthouse/church is interesting

And even prettier after the sun starts to go down.

Piran is a medieval city, so they didn’t consider the difficulty of driving a car in a town that has streets narrow enough to touch both walls. This means you have to park outside town. The Fornace car park costs you $15 a day, but they have a free bus that takes you to the central square. Everything in the town is easily accessable by foot from there. The biggest problem you will run into is that the streets are so small and the signs so hard to find that you will have a bit of trouble at first trying to navigate. Press on, the city is so small that you will eventually figure it out. We stayed in Val Hostel, which is a pretty inexpensive place closer to the point of Piran than to the central square. Neither will take you more than 5 minutes to walk to. Part of the room rent is that the owner will validate our parking, so we don’t have to pay for it. Don’t worry. Piran got it’s money back on us buying drinks. We’ve had quite a time.


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Federal Trade Commission Disclaimer:
These blog entries reflect my personal opinions about the locations The Wife and I visited during our travels. I have not received money, freebies, or any other inducements to provide positive coverage of anyone, anywhere, or anything. In fact, no one on this trip knew or had any reason to know that I am a blogger. I do not work for the Tourist Boards of any country, nor am I employed in the travel industry in any way.

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