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Clare
Clare

Day 14: Postojna

Bled might be the most picturesque tourist destination in Slovenia, but it's not the most visited; that honour goes to the Postojna caves, which were our destination for today. The town of Postojna is located about 40 miles southwest of Ljubljana and it ought to be easy to get to, because it's on a direct train line from the capital, but we were slightly out of luck today because the train we were trying to travel on had been replaced by a rail replacement bus :(

The journey, which should take just under an hour on the train, ended up taking more like an hour and a half. It was a scenic trip, taking us on steep mountain roads through tiny villages. In one place I saw a sign warning about bears :o I was a bit worried that it was going to take us so long to get to Postojna that we would miss our entry slot for the caves, but the bus eventually pulled up outside the railway station there at about 11.10.

Because the caves are so popular there can be huge queues of coach parties etc, so the advice had been to book tickets online in advance. This tied us in to visiting at 12.00 today and the booking confirmation had said that we needed to be at the caves by 11.30 in order to change our booking voucher into proper tickets. The caves are located about 2km from the railway station, so we had a bit of a brisk walk through Postojna and made it to the caves for not long after 11.30. Phew!

It turns out that I needn't have worried because there weren't enormous queues and it didn't take long to exchange our voucher for tickets. We then walked up the steps towards the entrance of the cave.

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We could see the way in, and it looked rather dark!

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We joined the queue for the English language tour and were soon able to pass through the barriers, towards the train.

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Yes, that's right, the train! The Postojna Cave is a bit more sophisticated than the Lake Cave we visited in Tapolca last week and there's no rowing here xD Part of the tour takes place on this (admittedly fairly basic!) train, and the remainder is by foot.

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Soon we were off!

I had read some complaints in reviews online that the train goes too fast and that it was like being on a rollercoaster at the fairground. It went at a reasonable speed, but it was slow enough to be able to enjoy our first views of the cave and start to form an impression of just how huge it is.

The train ride covers about 2.5km of distance inside the cave. The website warns that it's really cold in the cave (around 8 degrees) and they're not lying; I felt absolutely freezing as we whizzed around the different parts of the cave.

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Soon it was time to get off an start exploring by foot.

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The walking tour covers about 1.5km, with various stops for commentary about the caves from the guide.

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The path is initially quite steep as you climb up towards the highest point of the cave.

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There are some incredible views from here.

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Some of the stalactites and stalagmites are enormous.

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The stalagmite in the centre of this picture is referred to as the leaning tower of Pisa, and we could see why :)

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From the highest point you gradually descend to the lowest point of the cave, passing over a chasm on a bridge which was built by Russian prisoners of war during the First World War.

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You have to be more careful walking downhill, as the path can be a bit slippery in places with all the water dripping from the roof.

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Based on the discovery of graffiti within the caves, the first visit here is believed to have been in 1213.

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The caves officially became a tourist destination in 1819, when they were visited by Archduke Ferdinand.

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Electric lights were installed in the caves in 1884, which was before electric lighting had made its way to Ljubljana.

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Today the lighting is great throughout and illuminates the really interesting bits of the cave.

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A train track was first installed in the cave in 1872, although initially the carriages had to be pushed along by the guides.

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A gas locomotive was eventually installed, with the trains switching to electric in 1945.

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It is definitely much more civilised travelling through a cave on a train compared to a rowing boat :D And the walking part of the tour was really good fun. I had seen some complaints online about the speed of the walking part as well - and it was true that you couldn't dawdle if you didn't want to lose your group - but we still had plenty of time to take photos.

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It's hard to convey in the photos just how huge the cave is inside, but it never felt claustrophobic because the ceiling was always so high above us. The guide said something about this being because one shaft of the cave had collapsed into a second shaft of the cave at some point, but I tried to ignore that bit :D

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At one point we did find a bit of the cave with some water, though this wasn't enough to row a boat through :)

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By the end of the tour I felt like this had been such a spectacular cave that any future caves we may visit can only be an anticlimax.

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One final "attraction" at the end of the tour is an aquarium, home to some creatures known as olm.  In the old days they used to be called baby dragons, because people believed that dragons lived in the cave. They are also referred to as human fish, for reasons I didn't quite understand. Anyway, they live in these sorts of caves and personally I think they look horrible!!

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After we'd admired(?) the olm, we were left to wait for a while in this enormous cave room, where they sometimes hold concerts.

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Then it was back in the train again, to be driven back up to the surface.

We'd been underground for about 90 minutes at this point so once we came outside it felt very, very bright!

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All that now remained was to walk back into Postojna, get some lunch and catch the train back to Ljubljana. Tickets for Postojna are hideously expensive (it cost €27.90 each, which definitely makes it the most expensive activity we've done on this holiday, if not the most expensive activity we've ever done on any holiday!) but it was definitely a unique experience :) 

Edited by Clare

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More images of the olm/human dragons:

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They're blind and without skin pigmentation. They will never naturally come into contact with light and so haven't developed eyes.

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Although they're primitive, they have some features which would be useful to us. For example, they breathe through gills but have some basic lungs which allow them to breathe air out of water for a while. Most impressively, though, is that once they've eaten, they can go ten years without food!

Proteus+anguinus.jpg

 

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