Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sept 16 2012 - Slovenia charms, and we dip a toe into Italy

Unsuspecting folks about to have the ride of their lives!
Another example of how understandable but funny Slovenian sound to Russians, Otstojnaja Jama is the word for the "pit" part of a pit toilet, and Postojnska Jama is the name for an enormous cave in Slovenia. You can see how they came from the same root and, yet it's very silly to the Russian ear. On the road from Ljubljana to Trieste, we passed the "pit" and couldn't resist going in. Boasting the longest publicly accessible depth of any cave system in the world (5.3 km), Postojnska Jama has THE MOST amazing cave tour.

Levels above levels above levels of cavern
You are deposited into a train the takes off like a rocket and whizzes you several miles through room after room after room of amazing formations (and one or two chandeliers). At the end of the ride, there is an essentially self-guided tour (there is a guide but he has 100 or so photo-snapping tourists under his charge) through multiple levels of well-lit million-year-old formations, capped off with a view of the underground river that carved out the whole place.

Olga on the so-called Russian Bridge
As amazing as the train ride and cave formations were, I'm really enamored with human fish, the unique salamander-like species found exclusively in the caves of Slovenia, that is neither human nor fish. Maybe it's the bizarre name, or the beer named after it, or perhaps the fact they live to be a century old yet can survive for a decade without eating (the cave scientists discovered this by accident as they apparently misplaced one in a storage tank for 12 years, only to find it a little hungry but spectacularly alive.

Someone shone a blue light on the human fish as I was taking this photo
Lipica is a town in Slovenia, formerly of the Austro-Hungarian empire, where they breed a special kind of horse that is  born black and turns white as they grow older. Austrians love these horses and train them to dance at the famous Spanish School in Vienna. Here's a video showing some of the Lipizzans' tricks in Dressage.

Along the Italian Adriatic coast near Duino
The thing I found interesting is these horses are so revered that the Austrians have funded a pension for each one. In addition to all their worldly needs, the pension also funds two cats (and their own associated pensions) to catch the mice that eat the hay belonging to these retired horses. What's next, a pensioned dog to keep the cats in line?

Probably translates to "don't be an idiot"
On the drive from Slovenia to Italy, although you can drive across the border without stopping, you can't help noticing the change immediately. The stone fences are more evenly constructed. Vineyards are more robust. Roads are a few inches wider. The population becomes increasingly dense until finally you reach the hustle and bustle of Trieste.

"Soaking up" the local scene in Trieste
Traveling to a new city every day limits what we can experience. Tonight we arrived in Trieste in time for a long dinner, brief late night walk, and right to bed. I hope we can see some of this Venetian-style town before put next journey to Croatia in the morning. Determined to experience some of the local scene, after everyone else went to bed, I went out to the loudest most lively bars I could find. Ordered Furia Rossa which is a pale ale from Venezia. It's a bit less pale than the Human Fish we tried yesterday, with faint essence of acorn and prune.

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