Airborne Stunts and Stunning Sights
I am on the road again heading towards Slovenia. Drajan is going to be my driver and guide for the next three days. The drive from Salzburg to Bled, my first stop, is approximately three hours on the A10. The picturesque scenery along the way is of snowcapped mountains and tumbling waterfalls, green valleys and fields of beautiful yellow rapeseed, and quaint town houses with spires of smoke rising from chimneys.
Lake Bled is a fairy tale city and is Slovenia’s Alpine summer resort. It’s April, so the weather is not that summery with a slight chill and a light drizzle. I am staying at the Bled Apartments, just 500m from the Lake.
The Lake is just breathtakingly beautiful. The water is calm and clear and the silhouette of the Bled Castle precariously balancing on the cliff 130 meters above is almost unspoiled. A couple of rowers race each other, slicing the waters perfectly with their oars. Apart from that, and a couple of ducks in the water, the Lake remains untouched.
The Bled Castle is the oldest castle in Slovenia. In 1004, German King Henry II conferred the estate of Bled on Bishop Albuin of Brixen and his church and thereafter it served as the administrative seat of the Brixen Estate in the Gorenjsko region. The Castle is now a museum that tells the story of its past. Standing at the edge of the large courtyard is the perfect spot for spectacular views of the lake, the island and even the mountain ranges of the Karavanke and Julian Alps.
Before I leave, I have a slice of the Original Bled Cream Cake at the Park Hotel restaurant situated by the Lake. Since 1953, when this recipe was passed down, this restaurant makes 500,000 pieces every year, which is 13 million pieces so far! I have to admit, this is possibly one of the finest cakes I’ve eaten so far.
From here, I travel down to Slovenia’s capital city Ljubliana. We drive through the picturesque Julian Alps and make a stop at Kranjska Gora, Slovenia’s skiing and cosmopolitan alpine center. There is a massive ski drop in Planica where the world cup ski jumping is held. I just missed the event by a couple of weeks! Today, there is not much snow left.
Ljubliana is wet and cold as I check in at the City Hotel. But despite the rain, the city square shows character. Standing at the Dragon’s Bridge, I have access to multiple streets teeming with people out to dinner. According to local legend, the dragons will wag their tails when a virgin crosses the bridge. Others refer to this as the ‘mother-in-law’ because it looks fearsome!
Day 2: A real dragon and a cliffhanger
This is my second day in Slovenia and I am off to visit the Postojna Cave, one of Europe’s most visited sites. I climb aboard an electric train, the only one of its kind, that takes me through 21 kms of galleries and tunnels to the core of the cave. All around me is an amazing underground landscape of crystalline fantasy made of millions and millions of water droplets that have, over hundreds of years created peleothems: calcite formations, stalactites and stalagmites abounding in a variety of shapes, colours and age. At the center is a massive cave with a very high ceiling much like an underground auditorium and much to my surprise a group of musicology students pull out their music sheets and give us a beautiful operatic performance. So surreal.
This cave is home to over 100 species of animals living in complete darkness, one of which is the Olm. These salamander-like white slimy creatures are blind and can live up to 100 years, and are believed to be the offspring of the dragon.
About nine kms away is the magnificent and mysterious Predjama Castle, literally hanging from the edge of a high rocky cliff. This cave castle, built in the gaping mouth of a cave, is ranked among the ten most fascinating castles in the world and the only one of its kind.
The castle is famously known for its 15th century occupant Erazem Lueger, Slovenia’s Robin Hood. He used the castle’s hidden tunnels to go out for food and to execute his daring deeds. In 1484, the Austrian army besieged the castle, but it proved impregnable. Erazem mocked his attackers, even showering them with fresh cherries to prove his comfortable situation. But the Austrians had the last laugh when one of his servants was bribed into signaling his location and finally hitting him with a cannonball as he sat on the toilet. What a sad end to this interesting character!
Day 3: The day I took the plunge
This is my last day in Slovenia and I am off to Bovec, Slovenia’s outdoor destination. Let me confess… I am a very ‘grounded’ person and do not like the idea of jumping, swinging, balancing, or any activity that requires me to take my feet off the ground. Maybe I was a daredevil in my younger days…but I’ve changed my mind lately!
So when Drajan suggested zip lining, my heart lurched before my feet left the ground. But I am willing to put my fear to rest and join the team at ZipLineSlovenia and off we go to Krnica Valley, the point of no return for me! I am fitted with hooks and harness and it is time to take my feet off the ground. Gulp!
I hurtle across the Bovec valley, between Kanin and Rombon, from the edge of one mountain to the other, hanging on to dear life, attached to a single cable. Of course the sight below is stunning: the Julian Alps, the emerald blue Isonzo River and even the Koritnica River snaking its way down below.
I do this five times down steel wires that are collectively 3 kms long at a velocity of 60kms and 500 m about ground. This is definitely the adrenaline rush for me.
Before I can catch my breath, Drajan surprises me by driving up to the xtreme skydiving airfield. I see an airplane. And people suiting up. And then jumping off the plane from way up high. What the heck!!
Before I can protest, I too am suited up and soon sitting inside a plane attached to my tandem pilot. My heart is hammering and my lips are dry. But it’s too late now. I’m soon flying above the clouds, and at 4000 meters, the door opens and I’m out of the door!!
Weeeeeee! I free-fall through the clouds for about 60 secs at 220km/h. My heart is racing and it is louder than the wind in my ears. Then suddenly, with a slight jerk my canopy opens. Oh boy! What a sight below, beyond and before me…the stunningly beautiful Bovec valley with waterfalls, snow capped mountains, rivers and green valley. We soar through the air for the next ten minutes before we hit the ground with the gentlest bump.
I did it! I have a certificate to prove it!
Back on the road again, I head to Venice, Italy. But before that, I spend a few moments at Tarvisio. OMG. This is one occasion that photographs do not do justice. It is absolutely stunning! I wish I could stay…but….
Venice. Finally. I’ve waited too long for this. Drajan drops me off at the Piazzale Rome and from this point onwards, I just walk…and walk… and walk. Many times I get lost. But that’s supposed to be the right way to see Venice. “If you don’t get lost, you’re not doing it right” is the motto of the locals. For the next seven hours I walk over bridges, across piazzas, by the banks of the Grand Canal, through archways, into some amazing buildings, past shops and souvenir stands. My fitbit clocks almost 10 kms!
Venice is known the world over for its celebrated art and architecture and regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
I visit the Basilica de San Marco, where a service is being conducted. Dating back to the 9th century this 8500 sq meter basilica made of luminous mosaics, Byzantine domes, frothy stonework arches, portals and stained glass windows is humbling. Many of the mosaics are made with 24-carat gold leaf, the oldest being the Apostles with the Madonna, standing at the entrance for more than 950 years. The gold altarpiece is studded with 2000 emeralds, amethysts, sapphires, rubies, pearls and other gemstones.
I walk over to the Rialto Bridge built during the 1500s by Antonio da Ponte. I am just in time to catch a picture perfect moment as the sun is beginning to set.
Finally, I catch a ‘vaporetto’ or water bus back to the Piazzale Rome, tuck into a delicious pizza and return to Ljubliana.
What a day. What a beautiful, exhilarating, refreshing and stunningly beautiful country this is. I feel SLOVEnia.