I was excited to wake up Sunday in another new country — Slovenia. After all, Slovenia was the reason we chose this itinerary. Let me explain…
We have a friend in Ljubljana. Jim visited many years ago (1993?) when he was working on his Master’s degree, but I had never been. Our thought was we should find a cruise that stopped in Slovenia so our friend Marjan could come to the port to see us, but that’s not quite how things worked out. After we booked the cruise and really started researching we discovered how close all the ports are, and learned Ljubljana was only about a 2 hour drive from our final cruise destination of Venice. The idea of Marjan visiting us in port was scrapped, and we decided to visit Ljubljana after the cruise. So much for needing a cruise to stop in Slovenia in order to see our friend! That’s OK, we loved our itinerary and think we got the best of both worlds…we got to see some sights while we were in port in Koper, then have a personalized tour with Marjan when we got to Ljubljana.
Since we knew we’d be seeing Ljubljana and Lake Bled later in the week, we opted for a Roundabout Travel tour to the Skocjan Caves and Lipica Stud Farm (home of the famous Lipizzaner stallions). As with the Urban Adventures tour in Split we paid our money and took our chances, and once again hit the jackpot with an outstanding driver/guide Sanjin Cernos. Guides can make or break a tour, and for the most part ours were excellent.
We started with a short drive to the Skocjan Caves and paid for the 10:00 tour.
As we had quite a bit of time, we walked up a nearby path and admired the scenery. Far below we could see a raging river and a little foot bridge. Sanjin told us those were near the cave exit and we all thought it looked innocent enough, but that was before our tour of the caves.
I was annoyed because there was no photography allowed in the caves, but I’d soon find out why. At any rate, I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me back up.
A very large group of us left the visitor’s center at 10:00 and walked down several steep paths to the cave entrance.
At the entrance we were split into four groups for the walk through the caves. I thought the groups had too many people, and our group was made up of people who only spoke one of two languages, so everything had to be said twice. In hindsight, maybe the dual language tour was for the best since it gave us a chance to rest and catch our breath!😳
The man made entrance tunnel into the caves was quite narrow with a low ceiling. I had a brief moment of panic before I calmed myself down by putting one foot in front of the other and looking at the back of the head of the person in front of me. As soon as we got into the actual caves I was fine.
I was absolutely awestruck by the caves…they are magnificent! They are also a little treacherous because the ground is very wet, and the walk is a series of steep climbs (and descents) on very narrow paths and stairs. Very steep climbs. Very narrow paths.
Pictures? Nah, I was holding on to any available railing for dear life…operating a camera, even one as simple as an iPhone, might have caused me to embarrass myself – or worse. I have to admit, more than once I wondered what would happen if someone got injured in there.
These pictures are from the official Skocjan Caves website:
Around every corner was more spectacular scenery, as well as the increasingly loud sound of rushing water. Remember the river from before we started the tour? Yup…it runs right through the caves and comes complete with an Indiana Jones-style bridge suspended about 150 feet above! It was an extremely narrow bridge and it seemed precarious although it was perfectly safe. Yes, it was a little freaky. Both of us were happy to get across, but Jim practically ran for terra firma when he neared the end!😆 Here’s another picture from the official website. Can you imagine if photographs were allowed inside the caves? Everyone would be stopping on that bridge for selfies!😂
We were nearing the end of our cave walk, but what goes down must climb back up, and up, and up. The tour is advertised as a walk over uneven terrain, but to these Houstonians it was like climbing several alps! Thankfully the last path was downhill and we had a chance to rest our legs a little for the hike back up to the visitor’s center! In the next picture you can see the last pathway leading down out of the caves. Almost all our walking had been on similarly steep paths:
We were happy to see daylight, and we stopped just inside the cave exit to regroup and let everyone catch up.We still had quite a climb to get up to the point where we caught a funicular that took us almost to the top.
The caves were a great experience, but I’m not sure I’d rush to do it again. It was fun but also a bit scary for both of us.
Here you can see the cave exit with a narrow path that hugs the cliff in the foreground. Even after we left the caves we had quite a bit of walking and climbing to do!
Back at the visitor center, I was disappointed to find gift shop closed for lunch. My intention had been to purchase some pictures since I couldn’t take my own, but I guess closing right at the time a huge group exits and missing the revenue doesn’t bother them. Oh well, that’s what the internet is for!
We made a short drive to the tiny town of Lokev.
Sunday’s lunch was at Gostilna Muha. The restaurant has been in the same family for generations, and serves what I would consider to be generous portions of comfort food. Of course, there was plenty of wine and bread too. I can’t imagine a restaurant surviving in that part of the world without copious amounts of both!
After a great lunch, a short drive from Lokev brought us to the Lipica Stud Farm. The grounds are beautiful…exactly what you would expect to see at a world-class facility.
We saw horses at pasture on our way in. My pictures were taken from a moving car, and unfortunately the ones with horses grazing are very blurry. I found these on the Internet and chose them because I thought they were the closest to what we saw:
Lipica was our introduction to very exclusive, precise horse breeding. NOTHING at the Stud Farm is left to chance. The horses breed, but there isn’t anything “natural” about the process!😮 The breeding program is controlled by law, and carefully implemented to make sure there isn’t any inbreeding. Machines and humans take care of gathering sperm and insemination. The Lipica website describes a more free and natural breeding process, but my impression from our visit was completely different. It’s even managed so that most of the foals are born at the same time of year. Here’s an explanation of the process:
There are separate buildings for studs, brood mares, etc. On each stall is a plaque detailing the horse’s bloodline.
From birth, young foals are evaluated and prepared for their future roles…breeding is only for the cream of the crop. Breeding stallions are proven performers with specific bloodlines, and broodmares are put through rigorous testing before selection.
One thing I thought was very interesting is the horses are actually black or bay at birth, and gradually turn shades of gray as they mature. Gray was the color preferred by the Austrian royal family, so over the years this became the dominant color in the breeding process.
Foals and their mothers are kept together in a yard for a period of time, and then are pastured together until the young horses are weaned. Once at pasture, the young horses are separated by gender.
The riding school show was awesome. Horses trained to perform start their schooling at three for the very precise moves required of the performing stallions. We saw horses and riders at every stage of training, from young horses just beginning to learn to those who are highly trained in intricate movements. There is a lot of trust between the horses and their trainers!
We arrived back in Koper around 5:00. We were tired, but it had been a fantastic day. We ate dinner in the Pinnacle Grill and again didn’t do much of anything after dinner. Jim had started sneezing at the stud farm and hadn’t stopped, even once we got back to the ship! We were hopeful that it was allergies caused by the dust and dander at the farm, but alas he had caught my cold.
I thought about starting to pack, and I did organize a few things, but I wasn’t really interested so I quit and went to bed around 11:00. I would live to regret that decision, but that’s a story for Monday night in Venice!