Of Castles and Caves

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Despite our near perfect riding day yesterday, neither of us were feeling all that great once we set up camp and decided that another day in our beautiful campground to check out a cave would be a well needed break.  It rained hard during the night and drizzled all morning, giving us exactly the excuse we needed to hang out in the tent and get some extra sleep.

Then the rain finally stopped, we headed over to the wifi point to check in with the world and Ben walked down to the entrance to the cave that is literally inside our campground, but unfortunately is only open on the weekends.  Determining that we were really going to have to take the bikes out if we were to properly see a cave, we weighed our options.  Within a few kilometers we could head down to the enormous and reportedly impressive, but very touristy Postonja cave where we would ride a Disneyland style train to be shuttled through the cave and prohibited from taking any pictures, or we could head up to the most famous castle in the country and hope to catch a smaller tour of the cave beneath it.  Having seen the enormous crowd of tour buses at the Postojna cave as we passed it yesterday and being always wary of anything that requires a ride on a tourist train, we decided that we’d probably enjoy the smaller cave more (plus it has a castle!), and headed out to the Predjamski Castle and cave.

The ride was 10 hilly kilometers each way, and we debated about whether to pedal that far on a day we were supposedly resting, but decided it was worth it to feel like we’d done the area justice.  Gratefully, without a load on the bikes, the ride went fairly quickly and wasn’t too taxing on our well worn legs.

Our route took us on quiet roads that wound us through classic Slovenian forests and wildflower covered meadows and through tiny villages with nothing more than a few houses.  We are pretty much head over heels for this stunning but quaint little country!

The castle, which is built into the opening of a cave half way up a cliff, turned out to be more impressive than I had envisioned and we hung around for a bit taking pictures and enjoying the lovely location.  We quickly discovered that the next cave tour began in 20 minutes so we bought our tickets.

As the tour group began to assemble, we knew we had made the right choice- it was just us and two other couples and the tour would be delivered in English.

We were given flashlights, since the cave has no electricity, and instructed that we would be walking up more than 200 stairs over the course of our visit, emerging in the woods above the castle.  We were welcome to move nice and slowly for taking pictures.  Feeling glad we’d decided against the big train cave, we enjoyed around an hour of  wandering tight spaces, steep, slippery stairs, and very dark passageways as our guide told us about the cave and the in very impressive English.

We managed to get a few pictures despite the heavy darkness and the fact that we were hand-holding everything we shot without a flash.  We even got to see a bat hanging on the cave wall from not more than a few feet away!

Ben: (As a disclaimer, this is dull historical information, so if you don’t care, feel free to skip ahead!)
One thing that the Postojna cave also did not have going for it was an awesome story to go along with it.  It turns out that in the 15th century, this guy named Erasmus got into a duel with the emperor’s kinsman over the emperor’s decision to behead Erasmus’ friend.  Erasmus won the duel, and as would be expected, killed the kinsman.  The emperor was furious and sent mercenaries to take Erasmus out, but Erasmus then retreated to his castle in the cliffs.  From the castle Erasmus would, as Rick Steves puts it, “[use the castle] as a home base for a series of Robin Hood style raids on the local nobility and merchants.  (Actually, Erasmus stole from the rich and kept for himself, but that was good enough to make him a hero to the peasants, who hated the nobles)”.

The Triestian soldiers were shortly after commissioned to capture Erasmus, but were unable to penetrate his stronghold in the cliffs, as the only entrance at the time was through the caves which we trekked.  The soldiers laid siege to the castle for over a year, while Erasmus and his men would sneak through other passages in the cave out into the country, where they gathered provisions.  In order to add insult to the suffering soldiers, they would occasionally send gifts of freshly picked cherries and meat to the freezing, starving soldiers.

Erasmus finally came to an end when one of his treacherous servants who had been paid off by the military devised a plan.  When Erasmus was to visit the latrine on one of the naturally thin walls, the servants would shine a light to signal to the soldiers where to launch a barrage of cannonballs.  The plan worked, and Erasmus was buried under the linden tree which now sits in the parking lot.

Bree : (End boring historical story)
We very much enjoyed our tour and as we chatted with the tour guide as we walked back toward the castle, we learned that to be a guide you must be fluent in two languages besides Slovenian.  In the states, almost no one would even qualify!
We took a few final pictures and then decided to get back on the road toward camp.  We were in absolutely no hurry and lingered for plenty of pictures and we coasted up and down the beautiful hills.  We also stopped through one tiny town for the market.  It was a bit hard to spot from the road and everything inside was kind of just stuffed on the shelves with a very loose organizational scheme.    I don’t think they get a lot of tourists in there!

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6 Responses

  1. Kim says:

    Keep the dull, historical stuff coming. It’s usually my favorite part. Now I have a cool story to give as an example for the word “siege”, which we talk about when we talk about Islam and the Middle Ages. I have never seen a castle built into the side of a mountain like that, just small Indian dwellings. Who would have thought that Slovenia would be so interesting?

    • Ben says:

      The castle actually started out as a medieval fortress inside the cave, with the only entrance through the cave’s passageways. As it was expanded and rebuilt, it slowly moved out of the cave. We certainly didn’t expect Slovenia to be this awesome!

  2. Megan says:

    I love the history stuff! And I love the bat!

    • Ben says:

      It’s not a very good picture of the bat, but he was a cute little guy. He actually swooped off of his perch shortly after I took that picture, nearly hitting Bree in the head!

  3. Miara says:

    My dream house is going to be a castle like that. And have a cool story to go along with it. Guess I’ll have to move into this castle!

  4. Leslie says:

    Ditto with Kim…Keep the boring historical stuff coming!!!!

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