Day 253 – SLOVENIA and ITALY: Pliskovica to near Cormons

A somewhat suitable end to Peter and I’s trek across the karst region of Slovenia, was a day of visiting cemeteries. We found many along our route, two of which were the resting places of more than 10,000 soldiers who died on the Socho (Isonzo) Front in Slovenia during the First World War from 1915 to 1917.

10,000 soldiers buried in Gorjansko cemetary, Slovenia

In the Brje pri Komnu cemetery, 2,400 soldiers who died in the Brje military hospital are buried. In the Gorjansko cemetary 10,000 soldiers of various nationalities are buried.

In Nova Gorica, we visited an old Jewish cemetery. Unlike the other two cemeteries, this one is not sign posted, and there is no obvious path to the entrance. It seems almost forgotten.

Jewish cemetary in Nova Gorica, Slovenia

On a lighter note, we had our hardest climb of these four days today. 150m pretty much straight up. The church at the top made for a good reward for the hard work.

Church tower near Miran, Slovenia

And how’s this for a big bridge? The biggest stone arch in the world in Nova Gorica. This arch has been destroyed twice, but has also been rebuilt twice. Jolly good.

Biggest stone arch in the world, Nova Gorica, Slovenia

Like all good things, our trek over the karst by recumbent bike had to come to an end. Peter escorted me to the border with Italy and we said our farewells.

I feel very privileged to have cycled with Peter for these four days. He is very well learned on the history and geography of the region, and a pleasure to be with. I had become accustomed to being able to forget about the cycling, and just enjoying the surroundings – something that is hard to do when you have no one to talk to on the road.

For Peter’s version of events, take a look here. In Slovenian, but he takes great photos.

So thank you Peter for taking the time to cycle with me in Slovenia. Thank you for arranging accommodation and connecting me with interesting people along the way. I hope we can cycle together again one day. Perhaps in New Zealand even?

Fern frond on the West Coast of New Zealand / シダ

Fern frond on the West Coast of New Zealand

Day 252 – SLOVENIA: Matavun to Pliskovica

The karst region of Slovenia on a misty morning has a mysterious mood to it.

Misty morning near Škocjanske Caves, Slovenia

It speaks of trolls and midgets with axes. Cold and calm and quiet. Little hamlets nestled in gorges, waiting for the heat of spring to come.

Village near Škocjanske caves, Slovenia

The unwary could stumble and fall to his death in the many sinkholes, only then for his body to be washed down into some unknown cave deep beneath the surface of the earth.

Massive sink hole, Škocjanske Caves, Slovenia

Perhaps that’s why they built bridges in the Škocjanske caves.

High bridge in Škocjanske caves, Slovenia

The Škocjanske caves, while they lack the sheer number of stalactites and stalagmites of the Postojna caves, are just magnificent. Massive deep gorges run the length of the caves, with high ceilings and deep floors.

Škocjanske caves, Slovenia

Tourists are a plenty here too, but the caves have a down to earth quality that makes them a class act.

Man smoking outside Škocjanske caves, Slovenia

From Matavun, we headed towards Pliskovica, where we had arranged to sleep the night in a new youth hostel. Peter again had searched out a fantastic route on quiet country roads, with plenty of excitement.

Naughty near Lipica, Slovenia

Sign translation: Crossing railway forbidden

We had hoped to see some horses running free at the Lipica horse stables, but they were all hidden behind fences bearing signs stating the required funds to be paid to enter.

We settled for a friendly and curious pony on a nearby farm.

A horse near Lipica, Slovenia

Just before we arrived at the youth hostel, we visited Staniel, a well preserved village atop a hill. Being Sunday, the village was alive with activity, the main event being a stone carving demonstration.

Rock carving and engraving in Štanjel, Slovenia

Staniel oozed age. Stone spouting, beautiful gardens…

Traditional karst house (with stone spouting) in Štanjel, Slovenia

Pond in gardens next to Štanjel, Slovenia

Day 251 – SLOVENIA: Postojna to Matavun

Marko and Urska’s apartment was warm, comfortable and happy. Outside was cold, grey, and dull.

But the show must go on. Peter and I said our farewells, and headed out into the grey.

Thank out Urska and Marko! You are the best!

Peter and I soon warmed up on the limestone hills, and made our way forward. First stop was an unexpected caving mish.

Planina Cave, Slovenia

We were looking at the cave near Planina above (can you help me with the name, Peter?), when a two-man maintenance crew mentioned that they were going down to fix some lighting in the cave. Peter asked if we could come, and they said yes.

Cave maintenance near Planina, Slovenia

We walked to where two rivers meet (Peter, what were they called again?), and watched as the cavers did their thing.

On the road near Planina, Slovenia

Once on the road again, the next stop was Predjamski Grad, a castle built into the side of a cliff, recessed into a cave. History tells of a time when the castle was under siege, but the attackers couldn’t get access to the castle due to it’s position in the cave. So they adopted the strategy of guarding the entrance to the castle, so that no one could get out to get food. They thought that they would be able to starve the people out.

Predjamski Grad, Slovenia

What the attackers didn’t count on however was the fact that the cave into which the castle was built was connected to another smaller cave that went all the way through the hill to the other side of the mountain range. The occupants of the castle were able to get food into the castle undetected. The attackers soon gave up when the occupants had a seemingly bottomless supply of food.

After lunch at a nearby cafe, we headed towards our accommodation in Matavun, near the Škocjanske caves. We passed old churches…

Old church near Škocjanske caves, Slovenia

And lamented at the pitiful attempt at marking cycling routes. Is a cyclist cycling past at anything more than 5km/h supposed to see that arrow?! I’d have trouble seeing it if I was walking, let alone pedaling.

Microscopic bicycle route sign in Matavun, Slovenia

Logistics aside, we did make it to our warm accommodation, in time to eat a meal at the caves restaurant.

Day 250 – SLOVENIA: Out and about near Postojna

I slept so well last night. Urska and Marko have a nice big sofa that converts to a big bed. Peter and I slept in luxury.

The plan for today was to cycle around Cerknica Lake, visiting Postoyna caves on the way. Plans however are not to be taken seriously, and things ended up better than planned.

Peter and I left our gear at Marko and Urska’s, and cycled to the Postoyna caves. Here we were met by a reporter and cameramen from a popular national Slovene TV station, 24 hour. Peter had arranged this meeting, and here is the result:

Link to online broadcast

My spot is near the end, at 11 minutes and 15 seconds. Thanks Peter for the link.

Just after the interview, the Marketing Director for Postojna caves introduced himself, and being suitably impressed by my travels, gave Peter and I free tickets for the cave. A big thanks to Postojna Caves!

The caves are impressive. A very well thought out tour gives you a good idea of the cave’s interior. The caves in total are some 20km in length, and the standard 1.5 hour tour takes in about 3km of this.

The first 1km or so is by train. Speeding through narrow caves and past massive stalactites and stalagmites, it’s almost as if you are riding on a train in Disneyland. Only the surroundings are real!

Postojna Cave, Postojna, Slovenia

Photos are not allowed, but I snuck just one for the memories.

The cave tour took longer than expected, so we arranged to sleep again at Urska and Marko’s place that night. We met Urska after lunch, and the three of us headed towards Cerknica Lake. Two recumbents and a mountain bike.

Bicycle route sign near Cerknica Lake, Slovenia

Cerknica Lake is an intermittent lake, drying up in summer, and appearing again over the later months of the year. There are no rivers running into or out of the lake. The lake is fed by springs, and the water leaves via springs.

Causeway on Cerknica Lake, Slovenia

The causeway we are on here is at times completely submerged, and at other times is surrounded by grassy fields. Today we were lucky enough to see the lake close to half full.

In Dolenje Jezero, a small village on the shores of the lake, locals have constructed an intricate model of how the lake works, with pumps and channels that mimmick the lake’s changes. We got an in depth run down.

Model of Cerknica Lake in Dolenje Jezero, Slovenia

On the way to Cerknica Lake are springs that gush water out of the ground at an amazing rate. The photo below shows such a spring. There is no river at the left of the photo. Just rocks.

Rakov Skocjan, Slovenia

Such springs created rivers that flowed through caves and massive natural arches.

Natural arch in Rakov Skocjan, Slovenia

It was a fairly cold day. Grey and misty, requiring gloves to keep the hands warm. Urska and Marko’s apartment was a welcome place after an afternoon of chilly riding, as was Luka (at far right in the photo), another experienced cycle tourer, and a friend of Urska and Marko. He cycled for about three months in New Zealand, and even went to Invercargill (my hometown).

Urska and Marko's classy apartment in Postojna, Slovenia

Dinner that night was prepared by Marko. A traditional Slovenian dish called Jota. It uses sour crout. Very good indeed.

Jota prepared by cheif chef Marko in Postojna, Slovenia

Day 249 – CROATIA and SLOVENIA: Rijeka to Postojna

Thank you again to Aleksander for the bed last night and for showing me the way out of Rijeka towards the Slovenia border.

This is the day that I was to meet Peter, another recumbent rider, at the Slovenian side of the Croatia/Slovenia border. I left Riejka just after 9am, and hoped to be there by 10:30am. Peter had told me that he would be waiting from 9am, so I didn’t want to keep him waiting.

I hadn’t counted however on the fact that I would have to climb about 500m in altitude up to the border. I hurried up the hills and didn’t get to the border until noon. Sorry to have kept you waiting Peter, but it was great to meet you at last.

Peter and Rob at the Slovenia/Croatia border

You may notice that Peter’s recumbent is slightly different from mine. His has two 26 inch wheels – just like a mountain bike. It is an AZUB Max recumbent, made by Czech company AZUB. They are a small new company, but make very nice looking bikes. If you look closely, the rear fork is offset.

I met Peter through my website, after he made contact (Peter’s website). We arranged to cycle together in Slovenia, his homeland. The part of Slovenia that we will cycle through however is new to him, and many of the roads we will cover he has never been on.

Peter works in his parent’s company, designing moulds using CAD. He also has a small business selling recumbent bikes in Slovenia. Recumbents are not well known in Slovenia, so any extra publicity about these great bikes is a bonus.

We left the border after chatting and comparing bikes, and headed for Ilirska Bistrica.

Peter and Rob on the road in Ilirska Bistrica, Slovenia

Here we asked for directions to Susec waterfall. This waterfall only has water when it rains, and at certain times of the year. We found it in all it’s glory. Pity I got in the way :-)

Susec waterfall in Ilirska Bistrica, Slovenia

Susec waterfall in Ilirska Bistrica, Slovenia

Through many interesting connections, we ended up staying at Urska and Marko’s apartment in Postojna. This fun and energetic couple recently arrived back to Slovenia from a three month cycle journey to South America. Take a look at their website for some amazing photos. Check out the massive salt plateu!

They introduced me to polenta. This is made from corn, cooks fast (2 minutes), is really light, last long, and best of all, is rediculously cheap. 1kg costs about 0.50 Euros.

Instant polenta, prepared by Urska and Marko in Postojna, Slovenia