Postojna, Slovenia: Postojna Cave

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I’ve been to a lot of caves over the years.  I’m not entirely sure why, as I’ve no particular interest in geology – I just like caves.  I think it may have something to do with the fact that they’re dark and quiet; as you can probably tell from my complexion, I’m no fan of the sun.  I’ve no doubt there’s a disturbing Freudian interpretation behind my fondness for them (actually, I can pretty much guess what it would be; Freud wasn’t exactly subtle in his use of metaphor), but they’re neat looking, so let’s leave it at that.  All of this is a somewhat awkward lead-up to my visit to Postojna Cave.

All aboard the cave train.

All aboard the cave train.

Slovenia seems to have an unusually large number of caves for such a small country.  I’m sure there is some geological reason for this, which I should have consulted my boyfriend about before posting (what with him being a geologist and all), but to be fair, he probably already explained it to me when we were at the caves and I wasn’t paying attention.  Of these many caves, Postojna is the most famous.  In fact, when we drove up to Graz, and then back down to Ljubljana, we started seeing billboards for it as soon as we crossed over the Slovenian border.  (Well, that and signs for paczki, or whatever the Slovenian equivalent was (I’m from Cleveland, I know paczki when I see them), but I never managed to track down one of the elusive paczki huts, more’s the pity).  I think the main reason Postojna is so famous, aside from the quality of the caves, is the cave train, of which more later.

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I should apologise for the rather crap photos. You were only allowed to take pictures in one small area of the cave, and I neglected to bring a camera, so these were taken with a phone, which was obviously not ideal.

Firstly, you should know that the caves are not cheap.  They cost nearly 23 euros per person, for a 90 minute “experience.” They’ve actually managed to turn the entire cave complex into quite a little tourist destination, complete with overpriced shops selling the most awful tat, restaurants, and even a hotel.  I’m not knocking it, as I rather enjoy tourist traps under the right circumstances, and it helped us kill some time before our flight that afternoon, but it can add up to a pricy outing, especially if you rent one of their capes for warmth (honestly, I wished that I had, as they looked lovely and toasty).  That being said, you do get to ride the freaking cave train, so I don’t think I can justify complaining too much about the price.

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So after we parted with a substantial chunk of cash, we made our way into the caves, to catch the next tour (I believe they’re hourly).  We piled onto the cave train, which bears more resemblance to something you’d ride in Disneyworld than an actual train, and embarked on a 2 km journey into the heart of the cave.  I think the ride is only about ten minutes long, but it felt longer because I was freezing my ass off.  To be sure, you get to see some incredible stuff from the train, including a gorgeous chandelier suspended from the cave ceiling, and all manner of stalagmites and stalactites, but it’s small consolation when you’re shivering uncontrollably.  Therefore, I highly recommend that you wear something warmer than just a hoodie over a cardigan, because it was not enough.

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Upon reaching a platform, we were all herded off the train, and directed to go assemble ourselves by language (with the help of signs, obviously).  They offer tours in English, Slovenian, French, German, and Italian, but they have audio headsets available for most languages, and I think they do tours in a few other languages by advance request.  We were met by our guide, and conducted through the caves, which included the “Spaghetti Cave” (so named for the thousands of skinny stalactites hanging down), and the “Concert Hall” (where I think they’ve actually had concerts).  We mainly walked through in silence, with our guide stopping us at various points throughout the cave to provide commentary, which was nicer than him just rambling on all the time.  The first part was pretty steep, but the paths were level and not terribly slippery, so it wasn’t like some caves where you worry about tripping over something the entire time.  This seems to be in large part due to the labour of prisoners during WWI, who we were told constructed the bridge.  Our guide actually had a few fascinating wartime anecdotes like this, the other being a story about the Yugoslav army blowing up German fuel tanks hidden in the caves, which created so much smoke that it permanently blackened the outer caves.

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Aside from the train and the vast size, the main difference between Postojna and other caves is the olm.  Otherwise known as the human fish, or Proteus, the olm is the largest cave amphibian in the world (which isn’t really saying much, as it’s still less than a foot long), and gets the name “human fish” from its skin colour, and life expectancy, which is usually between 60-70 years.  To ensure that you see one, they have a tank holding five of them at the end of the tour; naturally everybody crowds around, so it’s hard to get a good look, but I pushed and shoved my way in there.  I have no shame.  The other major attraction is a stalagmite named “Brilliant” on account of its white colour, which is cool and all, but it’s just a stalagmite.

Pivka River

Pivka River

At the conclusion of the tour, we were led into a cave that conveniently contained a gift shop (with working post office, so you could mail a post card from underground), and given some time to look around (and buy stuff) whilst waiting for the train back.  The return trip was just as cold, but still pretty fun.  I mean, that train is surprisingly speedy.  I went on a cave train in some salt mines in Germany, and it was some weird tiny train that you had to straddle and it kind of putzed along.  The Postojna train can move!

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Once back outside, we wandered into the aquarium, but it turned out you had to pay extra for that (like 23 euros wasn’t enough), so we gave it a miss and just wandered around outside for a while (which felt pleasantly warm after the caves).  There was some sort of mill, but it wasn’t running, so we went to look at some stagnant pool of fly-infested water instead.  No one else was down there, for some reason.  They only had crappy Carte D’or ice cream in the restaurant, so I got a pink Magnum bar instead, because I’d never seen a pink Magnum.  It turned out to be champagne flavour, which was tastier than a normal Magnum.  (Because I know you all care about the ice cream I eat).  The gift shops really did have the most horrible crap inside, so after using one of those souvenir coin machines (I have a collection), we headed for the airport.

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Yep, upon closer inspection, that water is as scummy as it initially appeared.

Tourist trap it may be, but Postojna Cave is still undeniably rad.  I don’t think a couple tacky shops really detract from the beauty of the caves, or the delight of the cave train.  4/5 for Postojna, though I’d love to visit some other caves in Slovenia the next time I’m there to see how they compare.

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4 comments

  1. For a traveller with not much love for the sheep-herd-attractions and activities I would have thought you’d choose Škocjan caves instead in the first place. Those are also on the UNESCO list, but not so popular (I guess that train might be the reason for this).

    1. Offbeat museums are one thing, but the problem with caves is that they all basically look the same, so personally, I prefer ones that offer a bonus cheesy attraction to draw me in. For example, my favourite caves in the UK are Hellfire Caves (which are man-made, but have awesomely terrible wax figures and sound effects), Cheddar Gorge, and Wookey Hole, which is about as cheesy as you can get. I mean, they have an actual taxidermied Yeti, composed of mystery parts. Slovenia was so extraordinarily pretty that I couldn’t help but remark on it, but typically, natural beauty is kind of lost on me. That’s why I usually stick to talking about museums.

  2. I haven’t been to a cave before – and reading your description of the tram ride makes me think I’d probably wind up in a claustrophobic panic attack. Although maybe I should give it a try just to check.

    1. Well, the ceilings in Postojna were lovely and high, so you’d probably be ok, but when I went in the old mine at the Black Country Museum, we had to duck almost the entire way through, and the guide said to let him know if anyone was having a panic attack, so it obviously does happen. I think Cheddar is really quite a good place to ease yourself into the cave experience, as it’s self guided and most of the caves are fairly shallow, so you can beat a hasty retreat without people laughing at you. Plus they have cheese!

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