Europe 2.0 – Day 24 20 June

Another early morning *yawns*

Today we woke up slightly later, at 730am but make that 7am because we stay right beside a church and it sounds its be every 15 minutes. At around 7:03am, it will ring every second until 7:05am. So that’s my alarm for today. 

Besides disliking the atmosphere of this hostel (I mentioned in the previous post that it’s too outgoing and rowdy for me), the room practically has nothing except 2 beds and one table. No cupboards, hangers, chairs… But it’s a twin private so I slept well hehe. 

Yesterday night we were super undecided on how we’d be going about our itinerary because I was afraid of cycling in Europe after my terrible experience in Marjan Hill in Split. I was afraid that we had to cycle along cars and passersby again, which would be less attention on the experience and sights, more on trying not to hurt myself and those around me. 

In the end the bicycles at the hostels were too big for us so we had to take a bus to Lake Bled. And from there, I happened to find out about a bus going to Vintgar Gorge at 930am. Perfect for us because we reached around 920am! The last return bus was at 1145am and that means we’d have convenient transportation to and from the gorge, and as well as adequate time to see it. 

The gorge itself was very beautiful and imo beats Taroko Gorge that I saw in Hualien, Taiwan. 

Firstly the weather was bright and cooling when I saw the former, but rainy and slippery when I saw the latter. 

Secondly Vintgar gorge was closely surrounded by beautiful whitish/grey mountainous terrains, adding a rugged feel. 

Moreover, the river that flows beneath the walking platforms is not very far from us, maybe only 1m. The waters have a transparent to translucent azure gradient from its circumference to centre. And like Plitvice, we saw fishes swimming in the river. Many coniferous trees surrounded us as we completed our 1.6km trail along the gorge. On the way there were many children, dogs, older people with their hiking sticks, school groups and even a group of special needs teenagers. Mother nature something we all have in common. 

Along the bank, I also saw stacks of rocks that different visitors have contributed to. They’re all really cute and added character to the gorge. Some parts the river flowed faster gushing down elevated terrain and then forming mini waterfalls, while in other parts the river flowed slowly, only carrying gentle waves with the blow of the breeze. Both were relaxing to watch. At the end there was a waterfall but we had no time to see because it would be time to go back to catch our return bus. We sped walked our way back to the bus and arrived again in bled by 12nn.

Slovenia was a great place to meet people. Somehow, we spoke to the highest number of travellers on this trip. We met the Lo family on the previous day (see my previous post). And while walking at Vintgar gorge, we met 2 groups of Israelis who helped take photos for us, to whom we returned the favour, of course. ๐Ÿ˜‰ On the bus back we met an English language teacher from US, who now works in Spain. And later we’ll be meeting more people… (stay tuned; alternatively if you’re already bored reading till here, skip to the end for the good part heh) 

Anyways we didn’t expect to eat a proper lunch today so we packed food with us. But I had hoped to try Bled Cream cake and that led us to Slasicarna Zima. As its name suggests, mostly cream – whipped and vanilla. Puff tasty on top and below the cream. We slacked there for a long time until 1pm+ rolled around and we started walking again

First we headed to the Bled Castle and that involved many steps. Seeing how underwhelming it is from below and seeing the student price (7โ‚ฌ), we decided not to go in. Then we took the painstaking hike back down. The main attraction of the castle isnt itself but the promised view of bled, which we’d already be seeing later from a panoramic view point on the hills. 

Then we started our walk around Lake Bled, a bit dampened by nothing else to do (because maybe we were too efficient in the morning haha). We stopped many times along our way to sit down, eat fruits/snacks and did nothing much. There were many people swimming (wished I brought my own piece along) or rowing in the lake haha. And the bells of the church in ‘the island’ kept ringing in the distance Hahaha. 

The original plan was to see Ojstrica signpost and then hike up to enjoy the bird’s eye view. We didn’t pass it until 4pm and that began a gruelling journey for me… ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

The entire way up was probably paved by a tractor or something – it was so steep and rocky… The middle of the trail had a lot of rocks and the 2 sides flanking it lesser. I alternated my steps between which I think may cause me to slip to death (I have a phobia of falling)… 

Occasionally some parts have fallen tree barks and leaves that were dampened – those were the best. The worst were long, steep segments that have small sandy rocks. I picked up a wooden stick along the way… And YS had to stop often to wait for me ><

Alas we completed missed Ojstrica and went instead to Mala Ostojna LOL! (The latter is a higher viewpoint than the former and probably unnecessary to go to). I felt a bit sad because the gruelling journey could have been shorter if we didn’t miss our original destination. Where was it?! I was pretty sure we followed the right track as there was only one path… 

Even finding Mala Ostojna was difficult. We first mistakenly went to somewhere we thought was the viewpoint, but actually turned out to be a bench overlooking the opposite side of the lake. We were awarded with views of green pastures and hills. It looked something like a children’s play set as cars were passing at an idyllic pace below us and appeared extremely tiny. The breeze was good too but I was stressed that we still have a long way to find our panoramic view!!! 

We found Mala Ostojna in the end, 5 minutes hike from the bench. Another couple was already there and later we found out that they were from our hostel! They were super friendly and we took photos of one another with the lake. YS loved the view, as did I but I was internally freaking out about going the treacherous way down. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Anyways I feel that having seem the view from the top, there may be no need to see the lake anymore afterwards as it is the best view of the lake.

(And IMO it is the point of the whole lake/coming here.) 

I mean, it’s almost whimsical/magical that an island has sprouted outta nowhere in the lake, making it look outta a fairytale. It helped that the lake is a very, very true blue, something that is difficult to appreciate when you’re looking from ground level. I felt that people of Bled must be really lucky for this lake and its island as it sprung out so many opportunities for them, people of a small province in Slovenia. 

Going back down was as difficult as I thought. I was walking super duper ultra slowly, sweat dripping everywhere. Going down a steep slow had 2 ways of doing so – going quickly and dangerously (like a ninja with its flitting pace), or slowly and dangerously (the longer I stood on a spot to calculate where to place my foot next means more time for the stones below me to give way). Either way it was painstaking zzz.

Then we found the way to Ojstrica. 

IT IS THE WORSTTTTT!!!! 

THE TRAIL WAS SO SMALL AND NONEXISTENT. 

IT WAS FILLED WITH BIG, JAGGED AND UNEVEN ROCKS. 

OMG. 

I was freaking scared and asked YS to recce in front if it was the right way. And indeed it was, so I need to haul myself there somehow. 

And I did. On my all fours… Zzz (Other people did it on their 2 feet.) 

I was so zzzzz by the time I reached there (because of my ‘ordeal’) that I couldn’t appreciate it anymore. By the way, Ojstrica is nicer to some because the island appears larger and would be a good photo spot. Whereas from Ostojna you could see more, like the whole outline of Lake Bled and also its surrounding environment (the little towns and farms). 

On my way down, I have decided to completely give up and go down on my butt… :/ I was 2 seconds in this awkward stance when a couple wanted to go down came behind me and I yelled the f word (because I was stressed and embarrassed, and if i plonked my butt it meant there was no space on this narrow trail for them to pass)! 

Then the man very kindly asked me if I needed help and gave me his hand!!! I was so grateful :’) he was my knight in mountain boots, t shirt and bermudas ๐Ÿ™‚ 

All the way down he had to take the more treacherous path while letting me step on the safer rocks. I’m so thankful because he made everything less scary and quicker. Phew… 

He asked if I was from China, probably Half curious and half trying to distract me. When I revealed that I was from sg, he said he understood why I was so scared as Singapore is flat! I joked that we only has one hill and no mountains whatsoever. They were Slovenes and asked if we enjoyed their country and without a doubt the answer is yes!!! 

Europe 2.0 – Day 23 18 June

Today we visited the Skocjan caves. For the second day we woke up before 7am (so hardworking) and then we caught a train to Divaca, which is the closest train station to the caves. The journey there was awesome; Slovenia has endless green and mountainous landscapes. And many little towns were set up at the base of groups of mountains and were marked by a cathedral and their pointy squarish bell tower. Many trees, much sunshine and rocks as well. I really love how cottage-ish the whole country is (meaning everything is very quaint, natural and beautiful). 

We had 1h before the guided tour starts so we went to a panoramic spot only 10 minutes hike away to see a sinkhole, or a cave without a roof, caused by collapse of its rocky ceiling because water has seeped into fragile parts of it. 

The view was majestic to behold but the sun was extremely bright and washed out everything, making it difficult to appreciate tbh. Nonetheless I enjoyed the many pine trees growing around the trail. They were planted in the 1800s.

The tour group was extremely large (around 80-90 people) and had to be split up according to language of the tour. Once entering, it was super cooling and beforehand, we were briefed that it would be 12 degrees inside. Thankfully I didn’t feel super cold without a jacket, but my nose did go kinda numb halfway through the tour. 

The caves were amazing from start to end. Near the entrance, we were already taught about stalagmites and stalactites, something which I didn’t know. The caves have great real life examples of both and we were not allows to touch it as it will stop the growth of these natural structures. This was the silent chamber. 

Then we entered the murmuring chamber, named so because you could hear the river flowing, waterfalls gushing. We all knew that we were reaching the highlight of our tour. 

Alas, we reached the largest chamber of our tour and everything came into sight at once. 

Save for one artificial light that brought the reka river to sight, we could only see the silhouette of the rocky structures framing the centre attraction in layers. 

Looking backwards, small lamps light up the walking trails and illuminated visitors walking in rows, resembling an ant trail inside an underground nest. Besides that, everything is dark and we were all fixated on the star of the show. 

Along the way, our guide showed us the trails which the first explorers took and they were all polished, one foot’s width ledges pouching out from the steep faces of the rock surfaces. Save for some flimsy strings, there was no other protective features for these explorers to safely carry out their jobs. 

Some other off beaten trails were also made by the staff of the park itself for their own fun and research. They were also very dangerous; many steps were steep and small. At some parts there was no ground to walk on so the staff have to make a leap to continue on their journey. These trails led to either the river flowing below or more Chambers above. For visitors, our trail was extremely ‘user friendly’ – the cement had wavy lines to prevent slippages and almost all parts had stable railings. Our group was made of 80% senior citizens and the oldest of them, a lady probably 80 something years old, walked the slowest but with the help of 2 professional hiking sticks, always managed to catch up. What an inspiration ๐Ÿ™‚ 

The guide started talking softer and softer, only feeding information to those walking in front and later (I felt that) there was a competition between our group members and us to be at the front of the pack. YS and I gave up after trying a few times, cutting other people in front of us and then pissing them off in the meantime. 

Near the big collapse, we saw bats and felt a change in temperature, which also signalled the end of our tour. 

YS and I continued to the 2nd part of our journey, which is self guided. Unlike the first half, we could take photos haha. It was was thrilling as the 1st part too, although not as scenic, because we crossed more bridges, many of which we could see what lied below us. 

We initially planned to do another trail but the sun was scorching hot and decided against it. We managed to catch a shuttle bus and later a train back to ljubljana. 

The train back was different as the one that we came by. It is the olden type because it was arranged in cabins of 6 seats. Initially only YS and I shared one cabin to ourselves but a Chinese couple (who was on the same skocjan tour as us by the way, and also the same shuttle bus, and oh also the same train from ljubljana) were looking for empty places so I offered them ours. 

They were really friendly and started convo with us. We revealed that we were medical students when they asked us about our faculty… Then the man said he was our alumni! HAHAHA! YS thought they he meant he’s from the same faculty while I thought he meant he’d from the same uni… Turned out, we were both right! He’s a doctor who pursued his masters in NUS! OMG AHAHAHA big shot sitting next to us the whole time lol! 

Immediately I was super aware that we were in the presence of our senior. But anyway both of them were super nice to us and we talked about many things. They migrated a long time ago to NZ after the guy (Dr Lo) finished his higher studies in SG and clinical work in the UK. He must have been really good to earn himself these wonderful opportunities. I asked him more questions about how he migrated etc. Both of them loved their new lives in NZ. 

I was then curious about their travels and this time they’ll be visiting Europe for 2 months!!! Even longer than us and everything was pre planned with a lot of research. I was so in awe of their spirit and courage. True travellers and adventurers indeed. ๐Ÿ™‚ They are extremely well travelled people and so we obtained more info from them about places they love. It’s the first time I’ve met someone who have been to the artic circle and even seen a real life polar bear in its natural environment (I’ve seen a few in the zoo, so, well…) 

We talked for the whole trip and both YS and I were super excited to hear more from them. They also obtained some info from us about Croatia. Basically there was so much to talk about but the old train was so noisy, making us pause awkwardly or shout sometimes but oh Wells. 

Upon reaching ljubljana, we took a photo to remember one another by. It’s such a fateful encounter and hearty conversation… It will definitely be one of the highlights of our trip. 

Then we only had about 1.5h before we catch a train to bled. Everything was very rushed after we spent too much time in the supermarket finding food for the subsequent days… Oops. We basically had a 30mins dinner, which proved to be too short cuz we had to take away and got a HUGE pizza box to do so, even though we weren’t left with much to finish. We speed walked back to our hostel to get our bags and then out again to the train station. Hahahahha luckily we made it, phew ๐Ÿ™‚ 

Soon we were in Bled and our hostel wasn’t far away, thankfully. We were so exhausted by the time we reached and bathed before heading out to check out our surroundings. We’ll be staying in proper hostel rooms after Bled, because now we have a private twin bedroom to share. Unfortunately I don’t quite like the vibe of this hostel. The bosses, all male, are always sitting outside the house, drinking. They seem to be friendly but tbh I’m kinda intimidated by their presence. Music is always playing downstairs cuz this hostel has an outdoor seating for guests. Everyone seem to be chilling and enjoying themselves but imo I prefer if I could privately walk in and out of the hostel without so much people around… Oh Wells ๐Ÿ™‚