A quick trip to 3 countries

Trip Start Jul 01, 2007
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Trip End Nov 25, 2007


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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

We set out ealy one morning with a tight schedule - Postojna Caves, Predjama Castle, and Skocjan Caves in Slovenia by early afternoon, drinks in Trieste in Italy in the afternoon, then through Slovenia again to Rovinj on the Istrian coast of Croatia for the night.
There were tours through the caves at specific times and we just made it to both by seconds. The Postojna caves are the largest cave complex in Europe, I believe - 21kms has been explored, but only about 8kms is available to look at for tourists. An open underground train travels 4 kms into the caves - it's fantastic, like a giant spooky train ride at Luna Park. You are then taken on a guided walk for 3 kms, then the train takes you out again. There are massive stalactite and stalagmite formations in there (I still remember my teacher in around grade 5 or 6 telling me that the way to remember which is which is that tites go down and mites go up - ha, ha, ha, he chortled. They grow around 1 cm per hundred years and we saw a number of stalactites that were massive and several hundred thousand years old.
We rushed out og Postojna and drove quickly to Predjama casly a few kilometres away, where there is this fantastic castle built into a huge cave mouth. It was initially built in the 12th or 13th century and was gradually enlarged and further fortified. It was considered virtually impregnable and could survive sieges over a year long, as there is a river flowing into the caves below, and there was a a secret entrance on the plateau above to get more supplies. Apparently it was captures when a trusted adviser betrayed the whereabouts of the ruling lord and a well-aimed missile hit him while 'doing what even the emperor has to do alone'.
Another fast dash down the freeway (Alice closed her eyes) and we just made the 1pm tour for Skocjan caves. I will again use the word awesome - a river disappears into this gorge, and has carved it's way through 11 interconnected caves, and finally reappears around 30kms away in Italy. It's impossible to be prepared for the fantastic sight of a 300 metre long, 170 metre high underground cavern, with a river rushing furiously below, with waterfalls, rapids, etc. You're not allowed to take pictures in there, and the guide was always around, but I managed to get a few fuzzy shots for your edification.
What is it with all these rules about not taking photos in museums, galleries, caves, etc. What can you do with them, what harm is there? - it's absurd and I don't agree with it, and as a good Italian I will make my own judgements about it. End of rant.
It's mid-afternoon now, so after all this rushing around to meet specific schedules, we can relax so we decide to go to Trieste in Otaly for afyernoon drinks, It's only about 30kms away and it's a very pleasant interlude indeed. We get there a bit after 4pm and after some initial shopping frenzy (Alice excuses herself by saying 'you can't expect to take a girl to Italy and not go shopping' - I know she will get me back for saying this when I get back to Australia so I'll have to stay away longer) I calm her down enough to go and have a spritz (Prosecco, Aperol and a little soda) at a little bar, then we wander the streets and come across a great market, then have another spritz (not as good as the first one) and a snack. I have been to Trieste many years ago but I have forgotten how beautiful it is.
It's dark by now, so we push on and drive through Slovenia, which is only a few kilometres away and is only about 30kms wide here, then drive down through the Istrian peninsula of Croatia to the beautiful little town of Rovinj (pronounced Rovin), where we find a great B&B late at night.
The next morning is brilliantly sunny and it's wonderful to walk around the old city - it's bustling with people enjoying themselves and we stop for an iced coffee by the water and have a chat with the very smartly-dressed local guy at the next table, who recommends we have lunch at the Puntulena restaurant 300 metres away.
The Istrian peninsula is the part of northern Croatia which abuts Slovenia and is surrounded by the Adriatic. It was part of Italy until after WW2 and many Italians still live there and many locals speak Italian. It has a reputation for the best food in Croatia, and as this is the truffle (white) season I am salivating.
We find La Puntulena and make a booking for lunch, then retire to a little cove about 50 metres away and put a lot of effort into lying about and sunbaking, and dips in the clear blue sea when we get too hot. We never expected to be near the water again or to have such fine weather and make the most of it. We have neighbours near us on the rocks, a couple, who are trying to make sure they don't have white spots on their bodies and the man lies down and pulls his bathers down and bares his bum, then later stands up, puts a newspaper on a rock, and reads it standing up, still with his bathers pulled down. Alice had a picture of this gentleman in this very unattractive state, but shortly after this answered 'yes' when the camera said 'do you want to format the memory card' and so wiped all her pictures.
So after this very relaxing interlude we drag ourselves the 50 metres to a terrace overlooking the sea and have a fantastic lunch. We share a plate of mixed raw seafood - a shellfish called 'tartufi di mare' (truffles of the sea), finely chopped scampi, and finely chopped white fish. The raw shrimp was unbelievably delicious.
Alice then had a plate of mixed grilled seafood (a whole fish, 2 scampi, and calamari, and I had truffled fish fillets (what joy and ecstasy - I'm sorry if I go on a bit but it's the first time I've had fresh white truffle, and I love it), washed down with a great local Pinot Grigio.
We have an interesting neighbour at the next table and have a chat with her. She lives in Edinburgh and runs her own business advising celebrities on what causes and charities to support (poor things mustn't be able to decide for themselves), and has bought a house in Rovinj which she visits a few times a year - it's only 2 hours flying time away and much cheaoper than anything she can afford in other places.
After an almost perfect day, we set out to drive back to Ljubljana that night through central Istria. I still have truffles on my mind (even though I'm still full from lunch and am not hungry) and I've read about a highly recommended restaurant and we eventually find it in the dark, but it's closed and I'm greatly disappointed. However, as we're driving along we see a modest little restaurant with a sign saying 'fresh truffles' so we go inside, are shown to the formal dining room, where we are the only guests, and have truffle crostini, and a truffle frittata - 3 truffle dishes in one day (and can you believe we also share a tartufo (Italian chocolate icecream in the shape of a truffle) for dessert. I am now a very happy man and the trip back passes quickly.
I forgot to mention anything about the car - it makes all sorts of alarming graunching noises as we drive along (when you go fast you can't hear them so much because of wind and road noise - good reason to go fast), but they don't seem to affect its driveability. We can only hope for the best and it doesn't let us down.
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