Sunday, May 29, 2016

Cool show caves, the biggest in Europe...Postojna Cave Park...

I could write about what Bill and I did after our walk from Hell to Heaven, but I think I'll save that story for when I review Hotel Vila Bled.  Instead, I think I'll write about what we did on Friday.  You see, I happen to love caves.  When I was in high school, my advanced biology class took a trip to the Shenandoah Valley to go spelunking in wild caves.  Since my family is from the Shenandoah Valley, that was quite a treat for me.  We visited a new wet cave in Harrisonburg and an old dry cave near Lexington.  Neither caving expedition involved admission tickets, tour guides, or trains.  I had a great time in my lighted hard hat, even though I ended up with a minor injury.

Aside from that, I think the only other cave I visited was at the Natural Bridge Caverns in Virginia.  It was pretty cool, especially since we got to go for free ;) (two of my uncles used to run Natural Bridge).  Let me just say, the Natural Bridge Caverns (in VA, not TX) couldn't hold a candle to the incredible Postojna Cave.  I had seen some ads for the caves when I was researching our trip and on the way to and from Trieste, we saw plenty of billboards.  It looked a bit touristy, but hell, we had nothing better to do.  So on Friday, I suggested to Bill that we drive about 80 kilometers from Bled to Postojna to see the famous show caves.

We arrived at the impressive park after noon.  There was a lot of parking... so much that I was reminded of the four summers I spent working at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.  You can tell the place gets huge crowds, probably especially in the summer.  They weren't terribly busy the day we visited.  We saw lots of Asian groups and a few school groups, but otherwise it wasn't bad at all.

We were there in time for the 1:00pm cave tour.  When you get to the park, someone explains how the park works.  There are four attractions and you can do any combination of the four or all four.  If you choose to do all four, it helps to have a car or access to a tour bus.  Attraction #4 is located 9 kilometers from the main cave park.  Bill was leaning toward only doing a couple of the attractions, but I reminded him that we had nothing else to do.  For the two of us, it cost about 79 euros.  That included parking and 10% off lunch.

Park employees assign you a time to visit the cave.  You have to go at that time.  If you miss your time, I imagine you have to get another ticket. We were in time for the 1:00pm tour, so that's the one we took.  We had just enough time for a quick pizza in the food court at the Cave Park.  I was actually kind of impressed by the food.  You can get a sandwich, a schnitzel, fish, or a sandwich without spending a whole lot of money.  They also have sweets, which we did try after we toured the three exhibits at the park.

We got to the cave at about ten minutes before 1:00pm.  We were separated into different groups.  When we bought our tickets, we were asked where we were from and a code was put on our ticket directing which group we should be in.  I saw groups for German, Italian, Slovenian, and English speakers.  I think the English group might have been the largest of all of them.

Once you're separated into the appropriate language group, you get on a train.  It goes about 2 km into the cave,  I saw people taking flash photography, which is prohibited because the lights cause photosynthesis which harms the ecosystem within the cave.   Despite being asked not to several times, there were a few stubborn folks in my group who kept using their flash.  You're also asked to stay with the group so you don't end up in the Slovenian group.

We had a guide named Anna who spoke into a microphone in excellent English as she explained the cave.  Since there was a large group, she was only able to address the group at stations where there were microphones.  I actually didn't mind that too much, since it gave us the chance to walk through the cave at our own pace and check things out.  There were a few people who got on my nerves.  You know how it is when you're in a big group and people have to be in front of you as they engage in public displays of affection?  That's how it was on Friday.  There was a couple in front of me who didn't seem to want me to pass them, yet kept grabbing each other, taking selfies, impeding everyone behind them and otherwise being obnoxious.  I just kept reminding myself that I was once young and horny...

After we checked out the very impressive cave, we got back on the train and headed back to the entrance.  The front of the cave is black because back during World War II, there was an explosion there.  The cave burned for a week as munitions stored there were destroyed by Slovenian Partisans.  If you get the chance to see the Postojna Cave, you'll get the chance to see the blackened area, which is pretty extensive.

We visited the Proteus Cave, which was not very extensive and took less than twenty minutes.  In there, you can see some typical cave creatures.  Then we went to the Expo Center, which was very educational.  The other exhibits all had English translations and covered the history of the museum as well as natural history.

When it came time to leave, Bill had some trouble with the parking machine.  He paid for parking with our ticket, but the ticket wasn't recognizing that he paid.  Some Bulgarian guy was very impatient and drove up to Bill's side, yelling at him that he needed to pay.  But Bill had already paid and the Bulgarian guy didn't know what he was yelling about.  He was also an asshole who had to wait just as long as he would have otherwise waited had he just kept his trap shut.  Sorry... people like that guy piss me off.

I was in a fine mood when we got to the fourth exhibit, a castle in a cave in in Predjama...  Indeed, the castle is called Predjama Castle and it's probably the most interesting castle I've seen yet.  I've seen Neuschwanstein and Linderhof, as well as Hohenzollern and other castles around Europe.  Predjama Castle strikes me as the coolest.  We took a self guided tour with a handheld phone.  The tour is very well done and I actually enjoyed listening to the explanations about each room.

Bill and I were pretty tired after our day in Postojna.  I would recommend anyone tempted to visit the Cave Park wear comfortable shoes.  I would not recommend the Cave Park for people who have mobility issues.  The cave tour is pretty strenuous, even though you take a train into the depths of the cave.  Predjama Castle is definitely not a good tour for those who can't climb up and down stairs.  For those who can climb, though, the castle is well worth seeing.

There is free WiFi at the Cave Park and some decent shopping, as well as good food.  I finally tried Slovenia's famous cream cake there, even though it was served at breakfast at our hotel.


Big map as you enter the park.


And painted geckos (er, proteus) to show you the way...  The guide will tell you about the proteus, but to be honest, I found it hard to hear her over the noise and echoes in the cave.  Apparently, one or more of the proteus (cave salamanders) is expecting and may or may not make new salamanders in June.   


Pizza for lunch.  This one had asparagus and tomatoes.


Note the groups.  


The train.


Mr. Bill settles in.










Russian Bridge.  This was built by Russians.








Slovenian cream cake at the top and a very yummy chocolate cream cake at the bottom.  The cream cake could be addictive.


Castle in a cave...


Predjama Castle...  I was a bit over it by the time we got here, but I must admit I enjoyed our tour.


The view of the countryside from the castle.






At the very top of the cave...


Some of the furniture in the castle.

These next shots are photos in the cave I took with my camera as opposed to my phone.









There is a gift shop and WC at the end of the tour before you get on the train.


Better look at the signs for the language groups.

Having once worked at a true tourist trap, I'd say Postojna Cave Park isn't really a tourist trap.  For what you pay, you get a good deal of entertainment.  It's also a very educational place to visit.  I recommend seeing the castle.  It's very cool and the drive there is pretty.  In fact, I think I might have even liked the castle more than the cave.

All in all, I recommend Postojna Cave Park if you're in the area... or even if you just visit Slovenia.  It's a really neat place to spend a few hours.  In the summer, I would bet the caves are very refreshing, though probably very crowded!

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