At 8am on the dot, today’s driver, Janus, collects us from our hotel in Bled. Like his colleague two days earlier, he is impeccably dressed and his vehicle, a 7 seater Benz van, is immaculate. Within two hours he has delivered us to the Postojna Caves complex in the south-west corner of Slovenia. This is apparently one of the most significant set of limestone caves in this part of Europe, and despite some minor qualms about claustrophobia, we’re looking forward to the stop.
We swap our vouchers for tickets, slurp a quick coffee and join the queue behind the Union Jack for the 10am start. Around us, other nationalities are queuing behind their language sign. Within minutes we are being led into the underground transport hub of this huge complex. Maggie hires a coat – the caves are a constant 9 degrees, and we board a long, narrow gauge electric train, sitting in pairs on basic metal-framed seats. The train is sixty seats long and contains 120 passengers. Mary points out the sign that says, “No Selfies” and we accelerate away from the platform, disappearing into a tunnel so tiny, that we pull our heads low into our jackets. For 2 kms we rocket along passing a limestone wonderworld. Strobes flash, taking multiple images of us for purchase on our return.
After 10 minutes our little train pulls to a halt and our guides lead us on a 1 km walk through some of the most amazing caves and galleries we have ever seen. The system is so much bigger than the Jenolan Caves west of Sydney, and the infrastructure; paved paths, bridges AND the railway, is mind-boggling. Our walk takes an hour, including ten minutes for shopping at the underground gift shop, and then we’re whisked back to the surface where we bypass the photo opportunity and find Janus waiting.
We stop twice. Once to leave Slovenia and then to re-join Croatia, getting a passport stamp each time and we muse that if we lived in this part of the world, we’d soon fill up our passports with stamps.
As the afternoon unfolds, we drive through an area still showing signs of the civil war. Buildings are pock-marked with bullet holes and there’s a railway station with a collapsed roof. This was the front-line in 1991 and even driving past the area has a heavy, depressing feeling.
Late afternoon we arrive at Plitvice Lakes. We drop our bags and hustle down to the ticket office at the entrance to Plitvice National Park. The park is in a dolomite valley and the series of lakes, surrounded by verdant native bush, offer walking tracks and boating pleasures.
We thake two short boat trips and walk for two hours, following the lakes as they step down a series of short waterfalls. On a clear, sunny day the lakes sparkle with turquoise waters, but although the afternoon is grey and overcast, it’s still a special place.
Next morning, we meet a new driver, Andre, in another nice Benz van, for our easy run down to Split. It should take us just 2½ hours, plus a stop at Trogir for a bit of self-guided sightseeing. But Mother Nature has her own plan for us today. Andre warns us there are high winds forecast and this may lead to a detour, but although it’s raining he’s not too concerned. We regain the main motorway and Andre pushes us along at 130kph. We pass through a tunnel, Croatia’s second longest, at 5.6kms, without the need to pay a toll (although of course the motorway is distance tolled). Once through the tunnel the wind picks up remarkably and the motorway signs flash with a speed warning of 80kph. Andre responds by bringing his speed down to 120kph and tells us that the bridge ahead is closed and “we will see….” An hour and a half after leaving Plitvice we run into the back of a tailback of stationary traffic and we pull into a conveniently placed service station and we drink coffee and eat strudel while we await developments.
We wait for an hour as the traffic on the motorway inches forward. The wind is so fierce that we struggle to stay upright as we leave the café. It is a seriously windy day. With a “nothing to lose” shrug we “van up” and it takes us 30 minutes to clear the jam in the carpark and eventually join the traffic. At 2.30pm, with the closed bridge visible just ahead of us, we limp down the hill and leave the motorway. The wind is so strong that the van is rocking dangerously. It’s like flying into Wellington on a really rough day, and yet we’re still on the ground. It’s 2.20pm and Andre remarks that by now he should be on his way home from Split but we’re not yet halfway. Another hour on a single-lane road and we rejoin the motorway and again, Andre winds the van up to 140kph. We have now given up any thought of visiting Trogir and look forward to arriving at Split.
Which we finally do, nearly nine hours after leaving Plitvice.
It’s raining slightly in Split and getting dark as we drag our bags though the slippery marble streets of the old town. From what we can see Spilt old town is charming, but again we’re tired and hungry and we grab a early dinner as thunder rolls overhead.
But now we’re on the catamaran leaving Split for Dubrovnik. We’ll be back in Split in 10 days and will have time to explore properly then. On the way to Dubrovnik today the ferry stop at a number of the islands on the way that we’ll visit on our return island-hop next week. And if Mother Nature plays the game today, we’ll be in Dubrovnik for a late lunch.