Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Villages and Caves in the Karst

The next morning it was raining but we decided to head up to Stanjel anyway since it was Sunday and there was supposed to be a market there on Sundays. We got on the toll road and then the rain really started coming down. We thought about the fact we were in the Karst whose major attraction is a cave and it is clear that someone up there was saying to us, don't go to walk around a village, go to a cave where it doesn't matter if it is raining. We we turned around and went to the Škocjan Caves which all the guidebooks said were spectacular. It was not far and we got there in plenty of time for the 11 AM tour and even to have a coffee while we waited. It isalwayss about 50 F in the caves and Wynette thought she might be cold but it was Sunday and the gift shop was not open. They called the tour right on time, two guides, one speaking Slovenian, one English. We went as a group to the entrance, which turned about be about 1/3 mile walk, in the pouring rain, luckily we had our umbrellas but we still got wet. Theentrancee was an artificial one into the hill and we went down a long cement hallway to a small cave where we waited about 15 minutes for everyone in the group to straggle down. There were maybe 150 people. They divided us by language and we went first in the Silent Cave which is quite impressive. Then on to the Murmuring Cave, so-called because of the sounds of the river that runs through it. The sound was a more than a murmur because the river was not small and rushing quickly. Not as noisy as you might think though because it issomethingg like 200 feet below you. The river goes through this huge cavern that is 1000 feet long, 100 feet wide and 350 feet high. It was very impressive. The path goes high along the edge and then over a suspension bridge 150 feet above the water. It make me think of the bridge where Gandalf fought with the monster (whose name escapes me now, Balrog?) in the caves who name also escapes me now (Mines of Moria?) One of the books mentioned it felt like the Lord of the Rings or maybe that it would be a good place to film it.

The way out was through a large cave open to the outside and into a ravine that the river flows in. The river just suddenly goes underground. The region is called The Karst which either means limestone or has something to do with limestone. In any case, there s a lot of limestone, which makes great caves. It also means the river can dissolve the stone and flow underground, which it does for about 40 km I think they said. At the end you take a small funicular up to the place you started.Overalll a great tour.

The Karst is also rich in iron, maybe that has something to do with the limestone, in any case, it means that the red grapes that grow here are rich with iron and make a special, local wine called Teran wine. That is what we had the first night at the farm, and at lunch the next day. It is very good with an interesting taste that has two or three stages as you drink it. We liked it a lot. You can get it along any of the roads at these wine cellars and they say it is best to get it from a local producer and take it away in your own bottle. I am pretty sure the wine at the farm was local.

The farm breakfast, by the way, we like the dinner, no choices, and, they say, made only from things grown locally. We gave them a pass on the coffee and the tea, it seemed only fair. The coffee though was really good. The first coffee that I could drink black and still enjoy. This European coffee does not seem to have the bitterness I associate with coffee in the US. The breakfast had hard-boiled eggs, sausage, bread,cheesee, butter, some great yoghurt or maybe clotted cream, it was hard to tell, but I spread it on the spread with the jam which was also excellent.

Out of the cave, we found the rain had stopped and there was a little blue sky so we went off to Stanjel. This was billed as a quaint little village, an undiscovered gem. We went there and did like it a lot but there did not seem be any center to it. It was up on a hill and had maybe four rows of about 20 houses and some gardens around that. And some old fortifications. Very nice and we had a great time walking around but we did not find any trace of a market or even a place large enough to hold a market. There was essentially no one around, certainly no tourists and hardly any locals. It was Sunday. We walked all around the town and saw maybe 10 people in all. The town is on a hill and down below are some other buildings, a tourist center, parking, a train station, and a restaurant. Maybe the market was around there. The Rough Guide said is was there but we asked several people and no one knew about it.

We went into the restaurant near the tourist office thinking before we got there that it might be kind of touristy due to its location. Not so. We seemed to be the only non-local people in the place. They sat us at a small table in a room which had a large U-shaped collection of tables full of people who were apparently having a party of some kind. They were all getting the same kinds of food, banquet-style, there were some presents piled up on the side, and one little girl had what appeared to be a traditional costume on. The waiter came over and just asked us what we wanted in Slovenian and then tried German and then told us to wait while he got a young woman who spoke English. She went over what was available, just a few things. We had soup, salad, weinerschnitzel, and vegetarianlasagnee which we were informed, was made with cabbage. The banquet plates all had plenty of meat and we wondered that they had vegetarianlasagnee but it turned out to be very good, better than the schnitzel which was turkey and a bit dry. The soup was hearty and excellent though.

The party went on, there some toasts and the gifts were brought up but I did not see who opened them. There was another small party in the room with maybe 20 people and two other smaller groups. No one seemed to mind that we were there and we thought it was all very interesting and colorful.

After that we went back to the farm and just kicked back the rest of the day and evening, taking the walk I talked about before. In the morning, at breakfast, the cook came out and said we were the only ones eating at the farm that night and would be mind if they didn't have dinner and we get it elsewhere since she wanted to go visit her mother. That seemed fine with us. By the way, the room was 40 euro with breakfast and each dinner was 8 euro additional. We had such a big lunch that we didn't have dinner but we noticed another couple there eating dinner that night so I don't quite understand how that worked out.

The next morning was overcast but no rain. We had checked the forecast and it said a couple more days of overcast and rain but we could not get weather for the coastal areas. Anyway we went off to Piran on the Adriatic Coast.


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