Central Europe 2008: From The Czech Republic to Poland to Austria to Croatia to Slovenia to Italy
Day Twenty – Losing Our Heads (Almost), Cave Dwellers, Gee Your Skin Is Soft, Surely You Joust, Tea For Two, Sword Play And Lost In Translation
The forecast of rain turned out to be correct (yes, miracles occur even in meteorology). We met in the cozy breakfast room for cereal, croissants, hard rolls and yogurt. We saw a dog precariously perched in the window across from us, who looked longingly at my croissant.
Then it was time for our drive to Postojnska Jama, which was not something we put on our rolls. We were about to travel a little less than an hour southwest to the famed Postojna Caves.
There are two large cave systems to choose from in Slovenia, Postjna and Škocjan, which is a little further from Ljubljana. Tourists have visited these caves since the early 1800s. After parking, we crossed a little river in the rain and scurried to buy our tickets for the next time slot. Ticket for entrance to the caves is 19€.
To enter the cave, all the cattle (I mean passengers) are herded on to a little train that twists and turns its way into the cave system. I don’t know how fast it travels, but it’s got some zip. The train ride was really neat, although you felt like you could be decapitated at any instant, which makes any ride just a bit more thrilling.
In fact, passengers are warned to keep their heads down, all the while keeping your extremities inside the train at all times. Kim, at 6 foot 3”, also attempted to take photographs while the train weaved very close to overhanging rocks, and he came very close to making Mary an instant widow (I think for 19€ she would have finished the tour, however).
Once inside, the groups are split into groups by language. Our tour guide was a terrific (and bright) young man who also led tours in French and Slovenian. He guided us on the paths and bridges that weaved through the unworldly stalagmite and stalactite realm. He told us that Russian prisoners of war had built these walkways during World War II.
We went passed through many different galleries, each one pretty spectacular. The tour takes about 90 minutes and is not strenuous at all.
The caves were both very cool and…very cool. Temperatures hover around the 46-degree mark, so taking a sweater or jacket is a wise move. At one point Tracy felt my arms and said, “Your skin feels like it has been rejuvenated.” And she was right.
Between the salt mines in Kraków and these caves, something in the cool, moist air was making my skin softer and younger looking (Geez, that sounds like an Oil of Olay commercial). “If I spend a week in these caves,” I told Tracy, “you could be married to a 20-year-old.”
Our guide also told us that algae was infiltrating the caves, and if they are not very careful, at some point they might have to be closed to the public, which would be terrible for my now youthful skin. After one last look at a subterranean lake, we hopped back on the Guillotine Express. As you can see below, the woman behind us looks as if the next corner will do her in. Luckily, we all survived.
The rain was still pelting down when we emerged from our underground adventure, so we drove a little further on the small two lane road through the lush countryside (between the scenery and our foursome, lush was the key word on our trip) to our next destination, Predjamski grad (Predjama Castle).
Located about six miles (or about ten kilometers) from the caves, Predjama is an imposing looking castle built into the side of rocks.
Predjama Castle was the last known hideout for Erazem, who fancied himself as a Robin Hood-type character, although he actually was a thieving baron. Erazem killed the emperor’s cousin in a duel and used this place as a base to lead raids on nobility and merchants.
In the end, Erazem got it in the end. One day, while sitting on the can, soldiers sent a cannonball through the thin walls into the latrine, and Erazem was killed where he sat. That’s the straight poop or as much straight poop as any legend can have.
As you walk to Predjama from the parking lot you pass by bleachers where people attend jousting matches in the summer. Alas, there was no jousting today, but we were hungry anyway, so it was time to get back to Ljubljana.
Kim and Mary wanted to go see an art exhibit, so they stopped and had a quick Mexican cuisine lunch (Si, I don’t make ‘em up). Tracy and I strolled over to the river and onto a little side street where we found a little teahouse that had been recommended by the same girl who had turned us on to Gostilna AS.
The Cajna Hisa Pod Velbom at Stari trg 3 was a nice place to take refuge on a rainy day. We both had chicken curry salad and a nice glass of red wine. I guess we really didn’t have tea for two after all.
By now, it had stopped raining so we walked around Ljubljana past the Hauptmann House again. Then we walked over to the Riverside Market and made our way back to our next appointed destination.
He recommended we taste both a Carolina (not from North or South Carolina, but western Slovenia) white and red wine, and they both were quite good. We had told him that our next stop was Lake Bled, where we were going to learn Sabrage (how to open champagne and wine with a sword ) from a monk at the castle (well Tracy was going to learn that art, as I would surely kill an innocent tourist in the process).
Sasha said that he was sure the monk would charge some money for that demonstration, while he said he could perform Sabrage for free right here in the cellar. I stood a safe distance away as Zorro (I mean Sasha) whipped out his blade, slid his trusty saber toward the front of the bottle and cleanly separated the cork and collar from the neck of the bottle of wine.
“Now you can try that at your next dinner party,” Sasha said. Impaling guests is not my forte, and I said I would just be happy with the memories of Sasha’s sword expertise. Sasha recommended we dine at Cubo restaurant, located a couple of kilometers from the center of town. I wish we had followed his advice.
Instead we opted for something closer to our B&B, and it turned out to be a mistake. Fortunately for Kim and Mary, they were dining at another place on this evening.
Tracy and I were told Gostilna Sestica was a “traditional Slovenian restaurant.” At first, everything seemed normal. A cute hostess seated us in a lovely courtyard. There were quite a number of locals dining here. That was as normal as dinner would get on this evening (photo is from a Visit Ljubljana website).
The restaurant has supposedly been open since 1776, which coincidentally was the year our waiter was born. He appeared to speak perfect English, pointing out specials and answering all of our questions. It was then that something was literally “Lost In Translation.”
The waiter, who might have been the slowest moving human in Slovenia, would bring out one dish at a time to the various tables at a pace so slow that would even irritate a snail. Our wine, which we had ordered about 20 minutes before still had not appeared, so we asked if Igor (not his real name, but we had lots of time to come up with fictional names) could please bring it over, which he eventually did.
Another twenty minutes passed. Then it was half an hour. Igor would appear periodically to serve other tables, but we were inexplicably passed by. “Do I still have the breath that could kill an ox?” I asked Tracy. She assured me I was not the cause.
Finally, after an hour, Igor started to bring out our dinner; only the dinner he brought out was not the dinner we ordered. Tracy’s Arugula salad turned out to be watercress and radicchio salad. My beef noodle soup turned out to be, well it turned out to be nothing because he never brought me my beef noodle soup.
We asked Igor about Tracy’s salad, and he said that it was Arugula. Trust me, even an ignorant Obama detractor from Iowa would know that it was not Arugula. I was going to ask about my soup, but the main course came soon after Tracy’s fake Arugula salad arrived.
Tracy had ordered risotto with chicken and mushrooms. She was served rice with chicken and tomatoes. My “Steak Ljubljana Style” was supposed to be (according to that wacky menu) beef with roasted potatoes. Instead, I had a veal cordon bleu with polenta. When I asked Igor about this dish, he insisted that this was the “Steak Ljubljana Style.” I decided not to argue, and we decided not to have dessert here for fear we would be served pickled herring in a chocolate-raspberry purée.
As soon as the bill was paid (unfortunately for Igor, his tip was rather paltry) we rushed back past buildings and sculptures to Gostilna AS where I had another delicious pana cotta, while Tracy ordered an incredible chocolate soufflé with crème anglaise and strawberries (a “Wow” dish to be sure). A couple of Irish coffees later and our “Lost In Translation” dinner was a faded memory (well, I guess not too faded).
We strolled the streets of Ljubljana again until about 11 and headed back to the b&b. The following day would be the short drive to Lake Bled, a drive that would be made just a tad bit longer by the surprising cameo appearance by a suave and sophisticated Slovenian police officer.
Next: Day Twenty One – Copping A Plea, A Cake Walk, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head And The Old Fake Fireplace Trick Backfires Big Time