Europe | Slovenia | Skcojan – Going Underground
As of course you all know Slovenia is famous for it’s limestone caves. Sure wasn’t it the Slovenes who invented karst. There are two main caves you can visit. Postojna gets more visitors, but Skocjan has made it onto UNESCO’s World Heritage List. And I didn’t want to argue with the UN and end up in court in The Hague, so Skocjan it was.
It’s a hard to place to reach without your own wheels. I got the train from Ljubljana. It’s nearly 2 hours to Divaca. Then I started walking. The guy behind the window gives out a map. It’s an A4 photocopied hand drawn scrap of paper. There’s also colourful signposts.
I put the map in my pocket and followed the signs into the forest. The first one said 3/4 hour. A nice stroll. The path was clearly marked and easy to follow. Dappled sunlight fell on the leaves. Birds sang in the trees. Insects scratched themselves. I reflected that I didn’t spend enough time with mother nature.
There were informative boards every now and again. They taught me about the karst forest and said to look out for deer, boars, and maybe even bears. I could only see butterflys and frogs, but I got out my penknife anyway, just to be on the safe side.
After about an hour of up and down trek I was starting to pant and wondering whether the 3/4 hour sign meant 3 to 4 hours. After another half an hour I was hoping to meet some bears for a bit of excitment. I was expecting to see the caves round every corner and over every hill. But no. Then the trail came out of the wood and I was slap bang in front of the railway station. Again. Bollix.
I sat down for a while, had a good cry, and started out again, this time keeping a closer eye on the map. This trail wasn’t as scenic, there was no chance of meeting bears on the motorway overpass. I strolled through a rustic village and then spied a ginormous sheer rock face with a church on top and a waterfall near the bottom. Frogs and butterflies are nice enough but this was more like it. The caves were just around the corner.
After a quick lunch I went underground. I thought after Leaving Cert geography at school and years watching Fraggle Rock on TV, I knew all about stalagmites and stalactites and calcium bicarbonate of soda. But I was surprised and very impressed.
It’s very very big down there. It was cold and nearly dark. Skilfully placed occasional lights gleamed like Dickensian gaslamps at dusk, spreading just enough brightness to get by. The walls shone like wet marble. There were browns, blues and reds. One of the stalagmites looked like a dog. But there was no sign of Boober or Uncle Matt.
We passed from Silent Cave, through Paradise into Water Cave. We walked along a narrow ledge, half up the wall of a 150m deep canyon with the river Reka raging below. The Reka falls through a polje near the cave, and doesn’t see daylight again until Italy. It was so far down the noise wasn’t so loud, but the muffled swoosh seemed to come from all around. There’s a 45m high bridge over the river. It shook a little but I wasn’t scared.
There were about 40 of us in the tour with a pretty guide who spoke in Slovenian, Italian and English, so it was fairly noisy. I’d love to be down there on my own, in complete silence except for the river. Then I’d scream. I thought of lagging back and ducking behind a stalagtite, but I didn’t.
It’s hard to describe how big the caverns are. It seemed you could fit a football stadium down there. It would be a great place for a concert. Wagner would sound pretty cool.
Then you round a big rock and suddenly there’s sunlight coming at you through a gaping hole in the side of a mountain you could fly a jumbo jet through. Then there’s a funiculaire down to the pub. I had a leisurely beer, strolled back to the station, and caught my train back to Ljubljana. I’d rather have got lost in the caves than in the forest, and I didn’t see any bears or fraggles, but I can’t really complain. Twas a good day.