Saturday, May 20, 2006

Day 4 (Wed, 18th May): Bohinj – Austria – Bled - Bohinj

The morning dawned cloudy and dreary as predicted. Despite my heartfelt prayers the day before, the clouds did not go away. We were told specifically not to do any climbing that day as the path could get foggy and treacherous. I couldn’t believe my luck. We were rather at a lost since the only activities available in Bohinj were all outdoor activities. Talk about the best laid plans of mice and men … harrumph!

We decided to drive up to Bled and then take a pletna (a large gondola hand-propelled by a boatman) or hire a boat to row to Bled Island, which is situated right in the middle of Lake Bled. By the time we arrived in Bled, it started drizzling and I saw my plans going up in smoke.

Of all the bright ideas, we next decided to outrun the rain. Since we noted that the border of Austria was about an hour’s drive away, we took the opportunity to drive across yet another border. In true jet setting fashion, we hopped across to south of Austria for lunch and then back again to Slovenia thereafter! Except that we were nothing like the jet setting crowd, with our casual backpackers’ attires of t-shirt and jeans!

A quaint little town at the south of Austria
A quaint little town at the south of Austria

Austria would not be Austria without
the required picturesque mountains
Austria would not be Austria without the required picturesque mountains.

Modern day backpacking jet setters in
a typical Austrian restaurant
Modern day backpacking jet setters in a typical Austrian restaurant.

Thank god the sky cleared up when we returned to Bled. Woo hoo! We were all ready for the pletna to Bled Island. But alas! The boatman wanted to charge us an arm and a leg for that short distance to the island ~ “short” in our perspective prior to trying our hand at rowing the boat across the lake. Being “cheap” and “poor”, we refused to part with our Tolars and elected the alternative of hiring a rowing boat and rowing ourselves to the island.

Despite the rain letting up, the lake remained choppy. We watched a few gwei los attempting to row across to the island but after 10-15 minutes of rowing but not actually moving from the same spot, they gave up! Boat rental were charged by the hour but we negotiated with the boat owner to pay a flat fee of one hour rental; which he agreed because he thought we would not be able to make it there at all, just as the gwei los could not. Ahh … but he underestimated us as we have an ace in our pocket i.e. Cecile Deforge to the rescue!

Cecile to the rescue!
She is one hell of a boat rower!
Cecile to the rescue! She is one hell of a boat rower!

Bled Island ~ our destination!
Bled Island ~ our destination!

Only attraction on Bled Island
~ the church!
Only attraction on Bled Island ~ the church!

The surrounding alps
~ picture taken from Bled Island
The surrounding alps ~ picture taken from Bled Island.

It was evening by the time we left Bled Island. Once back to the mainland, we made our way to Bled Castle (which can be seen from the above picture) to get a bird’s eye view of Bled itself.

A bird’s eye view of Bled,
taken from Bled Castle
A bird’s eye view of Bled, taken from Bled Castle.

Fact sheet on Bled from
Bled's quintessentially medieval castle was the seat of South Tyrolian bishops for over 800 years and was later used as a summer residence by the Yugoslav royal family. Set atop a steep cliff above Lake Bled, the castle has great views. A small museum within peeks into the area's history through a manly collection of swords and armour. On Bled Island, at the western end of the lake, is a white 15th century belfry with a 'bell of wishes'. It's said that anyone who rings the bell will get what they wish for; naturally everyone and their Slavic grandmother rings it over and over again.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Day 3 (Tue, 17th May): Ljubljana – Bohinj via Bled

We were up and about rather early to catch more sights of Ljubljana before heading off to Bohinj. Not being museum enthusiasts, we spent a good part of the morning exploring the city streets and the flea market instead. The crowd picked up slightly in the morning but generally, Ljubljana is a quiet city. It’s almost like Ipoh, except that it’s much quieter. Amazing eh? Can a city be any less quieter than Ipoh and still be called a city? Obviously yes! However, it suddenly dawned on me that, I had not looked over my shoulder for suspicious characters, nor had I hugged my daypack closely to my body (in fear of being robbed) for days now. That was how safe I felt in Slovenia.

Meanwhile, both TooToo and I were desperately looking for souvenirs. We thought that we could get better quality and cheaper souvenirs in Slovenia compared to Italy since Slovenia is an Eastern European country. Sadly, we were so wrong! Not only were souvenirs more expensive in Slovenia (Dang! It’s beginning to sound like a tongue twister!), there was also not much of a selection. In the end, we gave up hunting and just bought whatever that was available and within an extremely stretched budget. We then made our way to the church. The most interesting feature of that church was the door.

Take note of the church door on the right with numerous pope heads jutting out. The gold piece is the handle.
Take note of the church door on the right with numerous pope heads jutting out. The gold piece is the handle.
Peik Lean Y.
We spotted a castle on a hill and set out for a short climb. To Su’s and Cecile’s chagrin, they later realised that we could have simply driven up to the castle instead of going on foot, which took us about 15-20 minutes. Whilst there, we were all captivated by the a cappella singing choir. We also took a moment to climb up the spiral staircase to the top of the castle tower, which provided a bird’s eye view of the city.

Su's attempt at artistic photography. The subject is the spiral staircase up the castle tower.
Su's attempt at artistic photography. The subject is the spiral staircase up the castle tower.
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Ljubljana taken from above the tower. Note the deserted streets in the city centre.
Ljubljana taken from above the tower. Note the deserted streets in the city centre.
Peik Lean Y.

By noon, it was time to head out to Bohinj. We decided to check out Bled, and then go straight to Bohinj to stay the night as we (or rather I) wanted to do a climb on one of the mountains on the Julian Alps the next day. Alas! It took much longer than expected to reach Bohinj as the roads got narrower and a lot more winding the moment we exited the highway. When we finally reached Bled, we decided to continue onwards to Bohinj as once again, we were without accommodations.

Contrary to my expectations, Bohinj is not a town but a valley that stretches from Soteska to Ukanc and is occupied by twenty-four villages. Surrounding the valley are the Lower Bohinj Mountains and the Triglav mountain range with Mount Triglav, Slovenia’s highest mountain at 2864m. These are part of the Julian Alps, which is an extension of the Italian Alps. I was told that hoards of skiers descend on Julian Alps during the winter because it is less pricey but offers the same beauty as the Italian Alps. In the summer, it is ideal for climbing and mountaineering. At the centre of the valley lays Lake Bohinj. This is yet another spectacular place. (Yup! I seem to be repeating my adjectives because I am breathless with awe and running out of words!)

We ended up in one of the villages closest to the lake. I believe it is called Bohinjska Bistrica. I think. In any case, the distance from one village to another could be as short as a five minute drive or less!!! We finally found a wonderful place to stay at a steal. As this was neither the climbing season, nor the skiing season, we managed to rent two one-bedroom apartments with attached living room and kitchenette, for approximately Euros 18 per apartment; which rounded up to about RM50 per person!
Awesome views from our apartment window.
Awesome views from our apartment window.
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Same spot but a panoramic view instead.

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Fact sheet on Bonhinj and the Julian Alps from
Adrenaline seekers in Slovenia head for three-headed Mt Triglav (2864m/9394ft), the country's highest peak. It presides over the Julian Alps, which cut across Slovenia's northwestern corner into Italy. The Alps are visited by hundreds of weekend warriors, not all of whom are on ambitious treks. Early Slavs believed the mountain to be the home of a three-headed deity who ruled the sky, the earth and the underworld. Since the days of the Habsburgs, the 'pilgrimage' to Triglav has been a confirmation of Slovenian identity. Today Triglav figures prominently on the national flag.The land around Lake Bohinj, 30km (19mi) southwest of Bled, is undeveloped and exceedingly beautiful, with high mountains rising directly from a basin-shaped valley. The best routes up to Mt Triglav start from nearby Savica Waterfall and Stara Fuzina.

Day 2 continuation: Scouring for rooms at Ljubljana

And we thought our Day 2 adventure ended there! I admit the next problem we had was all because of me, me and me! I did not book any rooms, firstly because as a lone traveler, I am used to changing plans at my whims and fancy. I would delay doing the thing that would tie down my itinerary. And therefore, at 6+ pm when we finally arrived at Ljubljana, I was totally unprepared for the fact that the rooms at Celica Hostel were fully booked and that there was nothing left for us. I found Celica Hostel through a recommendation from a fellow backpacker from the Thorn Tree forum ~ an online forum that caters to travelers and provides a platform for them to share experiences. Celica Hostel is famous due to the fact that the previous occupants of the hostel were inmates! Yup! It is a really cool hostel, which was formerly a prison but has since been converted into a hostel. I so wanted to stay there for the night!

The very interesting Celica Hostel, a former prison, in Ljubljana.

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As it was late and we were all tired, and the map of Ljubljana seemed more complicated than we expected or perhaps Su was just a terrible map navigator, we took the next best thing. The lady at Celica helped us contact BIT Center Hostel which was part of the IYHA, and lo and behold, there were bunks available for us! Although it was situated slightly out of the city centre, we took it anyway as we were too tired to look for anything else. Su was sent to the back of the car due to her poor navigation skills and I took over the job, found the road promptly and very soon, we arrived at our destination. Like any other IYHA, the place was clean but a bit “sterile”. There was no character to the place, unlike Celica Hostel. In any case, we just needed a place to rest our weary heads and bodies for the night.

After freshening up, we hit the roads again, this time scouring for food. Another recommendation from the forum was to try out Sokol, a restaurant for fine dining. By then, we wanted desperately to pamper ourselves and dine like a King! While we went a-hunting for Sokol, we managed to catch the city sights at dusk and night. The Lonely Planet writer likened Ljubljana to Prague ~ quote, “Ljubljana is a smaller Prague without the hordes of tourists.”

Ljubljana was really charming but rather deserted for a city. Being Asian and being used to hoards of people in shopping malls and encountering major jams around the city, Ljubljana was a refreshing change. While strolling along the banks of the Ljubljana River, we came upon a little Slovenian band playing in the open air. Ahh … it was music to feed the soul.

A charming Slovenian band.
A charming Slovenian band.

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Sights along the banks of Ljubljana River
Sights along the banks of Ljubljana River
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Food to delight the senses and the taste buds.
Su showing her glee after a long day!
Food to delight the senses and the taste buds.
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Fact sheet on Ljubljana from
Ljubljana began as the Roman town of Emona, and legacies of the Roman presence remain throughout the city. The Habsburgs took control in the 14th century and later built many of the pale-coloured churches and mansions that earned the city the nickname 'White Ljubljana'. From 1809 to 1814, Ljubljana was the capital of the Illyrian Provinces, Napoleon's short-lived springboard to the eastern Adriatic. Despite the patina of imperial Austria, contemporary Ljubljana has a vibrant Slavic air all its own. The 35,000-something students who attend Ljubljana University keep the city young.

Most of the city's sights are along the banks of the Ljubljana River. On the southwest side is the Municipal Museum, stocked with a collection of Roman artefacts, plus a scale model of Roman Emona and some terrific period furniture. Further northwest from it is the National Museum, which has the requisite prehistory, natural history and ethnography collections. The highlight is a Celtic situla, a kind of pail or urn, from the 6th century BC. Diagonally opposite is the Museum of Modern Art, where the International Biennial of Graphic Arts is held every other summer. More museums occupy the Old Town, which also features cafes, baroque churches and quaint bridges hidden in its maze of narrow streets. If looking at all this art incites the need for some R&R, head for peaceful Tivoli Park, in the northwestern quadrant of the city. A recreation centre within the park contains bowling alleys, tennis courts, swimming pools and a rollerskating rink.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Day 2 continuation: A drama queen was born at Skocjan Caves

Along the highway from Koper to Ljubljana, there is an exit that leads to Skocjan Caves, one of the largest underground caves in Europe. One of the most interesting features of this cave is a “natural bridge” made of limestone that is located 50 metres above the Reka River that flows underground. It is an astounding sight the first time we had a glimpse of it. However, due to preservation of the caves, we were not allowed to take any photos inside the caves.

We arrived about 15 minutes before the 3pm tour. We were all hungry, having only had chips for lunch, but eager to get on with the guided tour into the caves. That tour would take 1.5 hours. Looking at the time, I knew I had to sacrifice Postojna Caves. In any case, my travel companions were not too keen on exploring so many caves. At times like this, I wish I was travelling on my own … but that’s life when you have travel companions. You have to take the bad with the good.

We almost swoon when we saw our tour guide. Good lord! What a perfect specimen of a man ~ a lanky six footer (or more) with a face to drool and swoon over! And no, I am not exaggerating ~ see for yourself. Both TooToo and I were so excited over the guide but one had to act cool la!

Our Slovenian guide at the Skocjan Caves. A perfect specimen of a man!

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We were led to the mouth of the caves by two guides. As luck would have it, the English speaking folks would be led by our perfect specimen of a man. Both TooToo and I trudged forward eagerly, followed by Cecile and Su. Soon, the wonders of nature took over my earlier preoccupation with the guide. It was indeed spectacular … the caves I mean! And when we reached the natural bridge that ascends 50 metres above the Reka River, I was in absolute awe.

We moved on to a narrow ledge after crossing the bridge. A slip on the ledge would mean a 50-metre drop to the cold, underground river below. Just at that point, Su suddenly collapsed. We were all shocked and worried. Fortunately she was still conscious but was breaking out in cold sweat. She was able to assure us that she was not in much pain but that she had absolutely no strength to sit up and walk. We laid her down on the wet ledge and one of us went to call our guide.

At first, we thought of dragging or carrying her all the way back to the entrance. Little did we know that we have walked quite far along in the network of caves and we were right at the mid point. It would take us equally long to return as it would take for us to move forward. Thank god for that! For a petite lady, Su sure weighed a lot! (Yikes! She’ll kill me when she reads this. Luckily she is still thousands and thousands of miles away. :D) A few in the group were quite concerned but a few others stared at Su and us, probably thinking “what weak Asians”! :p

Our guide was quite efficient in organizing the rest of his group to follow the second guide. And luckily for us, they had communication devices in the underground caves which he used to call for a stretcher. We waited and waited and waited. Meanwhile, Su seemed very comfortable lying down there with TooToo using her jacket to prevent droplets from the stalactites above from dripping onto Su’s face, and with our handsome guide rubbing her temples, hands and back to keep the circulation going and the cold at bay. Both Cecile and I were hovering beside her, trying to make her more comfortable. We kept asking her to eat something as we suspected that it was her gastric playing up. But our contrary friend refused.

Without a whole group of people, the caves became more eerie. The rush of water underground became more distinctive and I was beginning to feel the cold seeping under my skin. As I was hovering above Su, I suddenly noticed her peeking at us and smiling at our worried faces. What a fake! She was already getting better but was keeping quiet and enjoying the attention and the comfort! Hah! She realised she could not keep that from me (after all we are old friends). She whispered in Cantonese to me, “I am sure you must be dying to be in my position now.” Her reference to the guide doing such “lovely things” to her was clear. Hah! That faker!

Finally, help came with a stretcher and Su was lifted on to that stretcher. She demurred but we insisted as we did not want her to collapse on us again. Also, it was our little revenge for making us so worried. Hehehe … The stretcher was quite unique in the sense that the head portion could be lifted by a person and the feet portion had two rollers. Therefore, a person could be strapped on to the stretcher and be dragged along. Ahh … such indignity! The passage out was also at an ascent and thus, at some point, the stretcher would be heaved upwards by the two strong Slovenian men. It was a long way down to the river, more so when one was being heaved upwards by two six footers or more! Barely a few minutes on the stretcher, our friend insisted she could walk to the end of the passageway. We almost made her lie on the stretcher, considering all the inconvenience everyone had to go through to “rescue” her. Hahaha

We finally reached the caves exit without much incident and were welcomed by the beautiful sight of waterfalls. What an afternoon! And a drama queen was born!

Skocjan Caves

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At the end of the Skocjan Caves passageway.

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Eddy from the falls at the end of the caves.

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Fact sheet on Škocjan Caves from
The large underground Skocjan Caves lie below the desolate land of the Karst region. Millions of years ago this area was covered by a deep sea which left a thick layer of limestone deposits. Visitors can pass through these spectacular deposits thanks to an artificial tunnel built in 1933. The tunnel passes through the Silent Cave, a dry branch of an underground canyon that stretches for half a kilometre. The first section, called Paradise, is filled with stalactites, stalagmites and flow stones; the second part, called Calvary, was once the river bed. Silent Cave ends at the cavern known as the Great Hall - a high jungle of dripstones and deposits. The caves are home to 250 varieties of plants and five types of bats.

Fact sheet Škocjan Caves from Travel Agent's Manual, 2004
Škocjan Cave is situated at the heart of the Rakov Škocjan Regional Park. In 1986 they were included in UNESCO's list of World Natural and Cultural Heritage sites because of their immense importance to the world’s natural heritage. Škocjan Caves possess an extremely widespread system of cave passages which are 5.8 kilometers long and were created by the Reka River. “Cerkvenikov most” (a natural Bridge), is the most famous part of the cave. The bridge ascents 50 metres above the Reka in one of the largest underground caves in Europe. There are also fascinating flora and fauna in the caves.

Day 2 (Mon, 16th May): Piran - Skocjan Caves – Ljubljana

We had to go to the bank again as we splurged a fair bit more on dinner than we expected the previous night. Feeling much richer with more Tolars in hand, we walked around Piran, doing nothing much except drinking in the sights and absorbing the atmosphere. All of us were reluctant to leave this beautiful haven. But we could not afford the time to linger overmuch. We had things to do, places to go.

Piran in the morning light.

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Bright coloured buildings is a normal sight in Piran

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Croatia, so near yet so far. Across the Piran peninsula is a tourist town under Croatia. We reckon that a strong swimmer can swim across to Croatia from Piran. It is certainly easy enough to take a boat across for the locals.

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Finally we left Piran for Portorož, a neighbouring tourist town, which is an internationally known holiday centre and climatic health seaside resort. Portorož has a casino, a sport airport and marina. After Piran, Portorož paled in comparison. It just smacked too much of a holiday resort for the rich and famous.

We continued our journey and finally reached Koper at lunch time to explore the Old Town. Koper is a much larger town than Piran and was once the capital of Istria under the Venetian Republic in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Old Town's medieval flavour still lingers but is spoiled by the surrounding industry and container ports. Once again, comparisons with Piran were made and were found wanting.
The narrow streets of Koper with the Medieval influence

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We had no time to eat as we had to reach Škocjan Caves in time for the guided tour into the caves. There were only 4-5 guided tours a day and we did not want to miss the second last one as we needed to reach Ljubljana before dusk. We had yet to book lodgings for the night at Ljubljana. Ahhh … the best laid plans of mice and men! Su, who has a history of gastric problems, insisted she was fine and that we should head out immediately so as not to miss the guided tour into the caves.

Next: A drama queen was born!

Day 1 continuation: From Milan to Trieste to Piran

The rest of the train journey continued quite uneventfully although we had some anxious moments trying to understand the “stops” that was announced in Italian. The accent was so difficult to decipher. We were to change trains at one of the stations along the way and almost got down at the wrong station. Another tip: check your train schedule. The timing for the change of trains is pretty accurate. If you can’t understand what is said in Italian, it’s always best to refer to the time written on the ticket. That’s one of the things I admire about the Italian train system. Alternatively, you could ask around for directions but chances are that 1) you’ll meet another tourist as clueless as you or 2) you’ll meet an Italian who can’t understand what you say or if he/she does, he/she can’t reply your question in English!

Su and Cecile were waiting for us at the train station in Trieste when we arrived. They flew in a day earlier to take in the sights of Trieste and to get the car rental organised. Whoopie! We ended up with a spiffy looking Smart Forfour! According to Cecile, the car drives like a dream and is even steadier than her Fiat Uno!
Have Smart Forfour will Travel! Yeah!

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Next, getting out of Trieste to Slovenia was a nightmare! The road signs in Italy can give Malaysia a run for her money. Talk about idiotic placement of road signs … Trieste had it all. At one point, we thought we’d never leave Trieste and would probably have to spend the rest of the vacation looking for a tunnel. Bleh! Su and Cecile actually bought a map of Italy for motorists for all the good it did us. After going round and round in circles, trying to locate the road that would lead us to the tunnel crossing, we finally made it by the grace of some divine intervention!

Slovenia here we come! Our initial plan was to drive to Piran first, climb the town walls and enjoy the fabulous views of the Adriatic Coast and then head on to Koper to stay the night. But first things first ~ food! It was way past lunch time after all the missed turns in Trieste. We drove towards Piran, found a decent looking-restaurant on the way and stopped for food. Oops! None of us had Slovenian Tolars! We ended up paying in Euros at a more expensive exchange rate. What the heck! We needed sustenance and that was that.

The journey continued and we finally reached our destination ~ Piran ~ and promptly fell in love with it. Words can’t describe how quaint and beautiful Piran is. I’ll leave the pictures for you to judge. Piran is simply a small fishing village that has been turned into a weekend getaway for the locals! It is located at the tip of a small peninsula and it embodies what I would expect of an off-beat Mediterranean town … and more! Interestingly enough, no cars or buses were allowed into the town of Piran except for the small town buses (which was about the size of our previous pink mini buses) and cars that have been approved by the authorities. There was a huge parking lot just outside the town and we parked our spiffy Smart Forfour there. The cost of parking was not cheap although for the life of me now, I can’t remember how much we paid. There was only a single road in and out of the town.

We walked into town to check out the place but were so awed by it that we immediately looked for the YHA to stay a night. Hunting for the YHA was like looking for a needle in a haystack. The buildings were built haphazardly and crowded around the tip of the peninsula. Rows of buildings were separated by narrow streets; some of which led to nowhere. Finally, found the YHA, we did. Lucky for us, there were ample rooms available and we chose one with two double-decker beds.

Next on the agenda was to change more Tolars. We went into town and managed to find a bank that was still open. After counting our Tolars, we headed straight to the church and town walls as planned! It was a long climb up but the spectacular sights at the end of the climb made it all worth while.
At the docking bay

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The famous town walls of Piran

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Sights of Piran and the Adriatic Coast from the town walls high above. The YHA is located somewhere among the sea of buildings at the tip of the peninsula.

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The Piran peninsula from a different angle

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By the time we got down from the town walls, dusk was fast approaching. We quickly headed towards the car to haul our belongings back to the YHA. It was a long walk out and along the way; we caught the most spectacular sunset. Cecile managed to catch a shot of a boat chugging across the sunset with tree leaves as frame. She insisted her shot was better than mine. Bah! My shot had no leaves to act as a frame! In any case, I had other interesting sunset shots too. :p

We ended a beautiful day (barred getting lost and almost getting robbed) at a wonderful seafood restaurant by the sea; having the most delicious and yummy seafood with red wine to follow. Ahhh … that’s life!

Fact sheet on Piran from
Pretty Piran is a gem of Venetian Gothic architecture with narrow streets, which tend to be a mob scene at the height of summer. Its name derives from pyr - the Greek word for fire - referring to fires lit at Punta, the very tip of the peninsula, to guide ships to the port at Koper. Piran's long history dates back to the ancient Greeks and well-preserved remnants of the medieval town walls still protect it to the east. The Maritime Museum, in a 17th century harbourside palace, has compelling exhibits on seafaring and salt-making, which have been important to Piran's development over the centuries.
Cecile's effort which she claimed to be the best shot!

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My effort which I thought was equally good. :D

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Day 1 (Sun., 15th May): Misadventure at Milan train station

I could not believe what happened to me at Milan train station. After all, I pride myself to be a seasoned backpacker. It’s an old lesson reinforced in Milan.

I booked two train tickets for Trenitalia online and was supposed to collect the physical tickets at one of the automated machines at the train station. Whilst I was attempting to do that with TooToo at my side, a lady dressed in uniform approached me to teach me how to use the machine. I assumed that she was an employee of the train station. Due to the heavy backpack, plus navigating the info and buttons at the machine, I had my hands full, trying to balance everything. Thus, I lowered my daypack to the ground between my legs.

I made the first error by packing all my cash, passport and my beloved 10X optical zoom digital camera in that daypack. I never do that previously but … call it stupidity! The second error I made was in lowering down my guard and leaving my daypack unattended, even though it was set between my legs! Never, never ever do that! Italy is a dangerous place especially in the big cities where tourists are often the targets. A colleague of mine lost his handphone inside St Peter’s Basilica just a couple of days before. It was all the more shocking because that is a holy place! (OK. I’ll concede that technically St Peter’s Basilica is not in Italy but is a part of Vatican City.)

In any case, while the lady was instructing me on the use of the machine, I suddenly felt something brushed my legs. I looked down and my daypack was gone! Sudden panic came over me as my entire life i.e. cash and important documents were all in that pack. I looked around and saw this man casually walking away with my daypack in tow! He was walking, mind you … not running. I shouted at him. He stopped, stared at me and reluctantly handed my daypack back to me, and then went on his merry way without a care in the world. The casualness of the whole incident left me speechless. I looked around expecting someone to help me arrest him but no one did anything! They watched the incident and then went back to doing their own thing, as if this was an every day occurrence. That’s apathy for you! I turned back wanting to ask the station employee to arrest or hold the man for questioning or something. But she just looked at me, shrugged and walked away.

At that moment, another colleague who was on his way to Siena and was taking a train at the same station came to the automated machines to check on us and to find out what was holding us up. By then, the other guy and the “lady employee” had disappeared. I collected our tickets from the machine but was still shaken. Thank god for great colleagues who dragged me to a coffee place to get a hot cup of cappuccino to lift my spirits! There, we met up with another three colleagues for breakfast before departing for our separate destinations ~ they to Siena, TooToo and me to Trieste.

What a morning! And what a way to start our backpacking holiday.

The Original Itinerary

After much research, I was ready to provide my travel companions with the following itinerary and expected spend. By my calculation, we should not spend more than RM1,800, providing we stay in youth hostels and backpackers.

Map of Slovenia from

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Below was the original itinerary (and estimated cost) that was sent to my travel companions. They were pretty impressed. Truly, so was I. Ha ha ha …

Day 1 : 15th May (Sun): Milan – Trieste – Koper or Piran
o Depart Milan on the 8.55am train
o ETA Trieste at 2.30pm. Meet up with Su and Cecile
o Drive across the border to Koper (21 km away)
o Check into private rooms/ hostels at:
 Koper:
• Capris Time (tel 631 1555), ; s/d 4290SIT/ 7150 SIT (Mon. – Fri. 8am – 4pm)
• The tourist office/ Kompass (tel 627 1581/ 2346) at Pristaniska ul 17 (Koper) opposite the vegetable market. (Mon.- Fri. 8am – 7pm)
 Piran:
• Val Hostel (tel 673 2555), ; Gregorciceva ul 38A; dm IYHA member Euro 18-20, non IYHA member Euro 23-24 per person
o Take an evening drive down the Adriatic coast. Check out the tall tower of Church of St George which dominates Piran. Climb up the 15th century town walls (east of the church) for superb views of Piran and the Adriatic.
o Option:
 Dinner at Piran @ the Delfin for some local dishes or
 Dinner at Istrska Kle at Koper. Try out Teran, the local red wine (which looks purplish.
o O/N at Koper/ Piran (select from above choices)

• Day 2 : 16th May (Mon): Koper – Skocjan Caves – Postojna Caves – Ljubljana
o Early drive down to Skocjan Caves (Unesco World Heritage) in time to catch the 10am tour of the caves. Tour is about 1.5 hours. These caves are in more natural surroundings. Entrance fee is 2000 SIT/ USD10.70) 2 tour sessions a day i.e. 10am & 1pm ( )
o Drive down to Postojna Caves (33km northeast of Skocjan) to catch the 2pm tour. Tour duration is about 1.5 hours. Explore 5.7km of the cave (4km by electric train and 1.7km on foot). Tour ends with a viewing of a tank full of Proteus anguinus, the unique salamander-like beasties in the karst caves. Dress warm as cave temperature is a constant 8 deg C. Entrance fee 3290 SIT/ USD17.50. 2 tour sessions a day i.e. 10am & 2pm ( ) (tel 700 0100)
o Visit Predjama Castle, an awesome 16th century fortress perched in the gaping mouth cavern 9km north-west of Postojna. Entrance fee 700 SIT/ USD3.80.
o Drive onwards to Ljubljana
o O/N at Ljubljana
 Ljubljana Youth Hostel (IYHA) – BIT Center Hotel (tel 548 0055), ; Litijska 57; dm/s/tr 2990/6790/9590 SIT
 Celicia Hostel (former prison) (tel 430 1890), ; Metelkova 8; dm/d 3500/9500 SIT. (Add 1000 SIT if 35 and above and 30% surcharge if less than 3 nights) Advance booking held till 5pm. Check in at 3pm.
 Check out Metelkova night life.

• Day 3 : 17th May (Tues): Ljubljana – Bled – Bohinj
o Explore Ljubljana for the day (to each her own DIY) – start from Ljubljana Castle. Lunch at Sokol.
o In the evening, drive to Bled (51km from Ljubljana). Drive round the town for a town orientation. Options to stay a night at Bled are as follows:
 Kompas ( ), Globtour ( ) – private rooms at approx 4322 SIT per person
 Bledec Hostel (tel 574 5250); Grajska cesta 17; dm/d Euro 17/ 42 – low season, Euro 19/46 high season. IYHA member – discount Euro 2.
o Then onward to Bohinj area.
o O/N at Bohinj
 Private rooms – s/d Euro 13-19/ 22-32
 Autokamp Zlatorog (tel 572 3482) 1500-2200 SIT per person (camping)
 Penzion Rozic (tel 572 3393) ( ) 3954 -4654 SIT per person (no breakfast); Chalet style guesthouse 100m east of tourist office (behind bike rental kiosk)
 Ribcev Laz village (south eastern corner of the lake) - private rooms going for 3200 SIT for 2 persons or USD8.60 per person.
 Stara Fuzina (1km north of Ribcev) – private rooms re above price.
 Ukanc Village (western end of the lake) – Zlatorog Camping Ground at 1600 SIT/ USD8.60 per person. This is near the cable car up Mt Vogel and also the beginning of hiking trails.

• Day 4 : 18th May (Wed): Bohinj
o Option 1:
 Climb up to Mt Ticarica (2091m)
 1 hour hike west of Zlatorog Hotel to SavicaWaterfall (300 SIT)
 Path zigzags up the steep Komarca Crag. Excellent view of Lake Bohinj at the top of this cliff (1340m)
 Farther north, around 3-4 hours from the falls is the Koca pri Triglavskih Jezerih (hp 0609 615 235), 104-bed hut at the fantastic Triglav Lakes Valley (1685m).
 Sub-option: For a good overview of the valley and its 7 permanent lakes, climb up to Mt Ticarica to the north-east in one hour. Back trek to Koca and O/N on the mountain.
o Option 2:
 Explore the villages in Bohinj.
 Guided mountain tours (3400 SIT/ USD18.00) and kayaking trips (3200 SIT/ USD17.00) on the Sava.
 Canyoning through the rapids of the Mostnica Gorge (10400 SIT/ USD17.00)
 Take the Vogel cable car to the upper station (1540m) and scale Mt Vogel in a few hours for a sweeping view of the region. Fee: 1000 SIT/ USD5.40 per person for the cable car ride.
 O/N at one of the villages in Bohinj

• Day 5 : 19th May (Thur): Bohinj –Bled - Bovec/ Kobarid via
* Kranjjska Gora & Vrsic Pass or
* through Ljubljana (51km from Bohinj), Kobarid (150km from Ljubljana and Bovec (21km from Kobarid)

o If Option 1:
 Retrace return trek on the mountain (est. 5 hours)
 Leave Bohinj for Bovec/ Kobarid after lunch. Skip Bled.
o If Option 2:
 Leave Bohinj after breakfast.
 Stop at Bled and explore Bled Island.
• Take a pletna (a large gondola hand-propelled by a boatman) to the island and include a half hour visit of the island, church or belfry (1500 SIT/ USD8 per person), OR
• Hire a rowing boat (cheaper if there are 4 persons). (1000 SIT/ USD5.30 per hour) from the Castle Baths on the shore below the castle, in Mlino or in front of the Grand Hotel Toplice.
• Leave Bohinj for Bovec/ Kobarid
o O/N in Kobarid (if coming via Vrsic Pass) or Bovec (if coming via Ljubljana)
 Kobarid
• Apartma-sobe Ivan cic (tel 389 1007);; Gregorci 6C; s Euro 18-30, d Euro 30-50); popular central homestay
• Lazar kamp (above Soca River) (tel 388 5333) ; euro 6.50 – 9.00 per person; 1.7 km southeast of Kobarid.
 Bovec
• Tourist ofiice (tel 384 1919); ; private rooms
• - accommodation

• Day 6 : 20th May (Fri): Bovec/ Kobarid
o White water rafting/ canoeing/ kayaking on Soca Valley. Start point from Bovec.
• guided canyoning – 7900 – 8700 SIT for 2 hours at Susec
• Hydrospeed – riding down a river on a boogie board – 6700 -7400 SIT for 8km
• White-water rafting – 4700 SIT (8km), 7600 SIT (20km)
• Kayaking – guided 10km paddle – 6500 SIT
• Caving – Euro 25 per person with guide
o Explore Kobarid.
o O/N in Kobarid or Bovec

• Day 7 : 21st May (Sat): Bovec/ Kobarid – Nova Gorica – Trieste – Milan
o Take a long slow drive back to Trieste
o Take a train ride to Milan ETD 9.00pm

• Day 8 : 22nd May (Sun): Milan – KL
o ETA Milan 6.25am
o Flight out to KL at noon

Costs indication:
• Bottle of cheap Teran wine: 900-1200 SIT
• 1 litre of wine from the winemaker’s barrel: 330-380 SIT
• 1 day bicycle rental: 3000 SIT
• 1 litre of petrol: 193-196 SIT
• Souvenir t-shirt: 2700-3200 SIT
• Half litre of Lasko beer: 165 SIT (shop), 330-450 SIT (bar)
• Street snack (burek): 350-450 SIT
• 1.5 litre bottle of water: 95-130 SIT

Exchange rate (estimated at May 2005):
• 1 Malaysian Ringgit = 50.645 Slovenian Tolar
• 1 Slovenian Tolar (SIT) = 0.021 Malaysian Ringgit (MYR)

Things to bring along:
• Sweaters if you intend to climb mountains
• Sleeping bags if you need to stay overnight at the mountains
• Bath towels if you are staying at backpackers or YHAs
• Bed sheets ~ YHAs do provide bed sheets but if you are finicky about cleanliness, BYO (bring your own)!
• Torchlights for the cave exploration
• Swimsuits for the water sports
• Swiss army knives and first aid kit for emergencies
• Good walking/ trekking shoes
• Sunblock
• Daypacks
• Beanie for the climb in case the wind gets chilly
• Raincoat
• Etc.

Disclaimer: Prices have changed since my research. These prices should only be used as a guide, not the Gospel truth.

Fact sheet on Slovenia from
Rich in resources, naturally good looking and persistently peaceful, Slovenia has been doing just fine since its break from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. No longer the undiscovered, bargain gem that it was, Slovenia still remains a wonderful antidote to much of Europe's crowds and high prices. Many of its cities and towns bear the imprint of the Habsburg Empire and the Venetian Republic, while up in the Julian Alps you'd almost think you were in Bavaria. The relative affluence of this country on the 'sunny side of the Alps' is immediately apparent.

The Opportunity and The Choice

When the company incentive trip landed me in Italy for a week last year, I took the opportunity to extend my stay. Being an avid backpacker, travelling with a tour was not my cup of tea. By the end of that week, I was itching to break out on my own!

But where to go from there? And with only an extra week to spare? That was a tough choice. I was itching to soak in the atmosphere of a place and explore at leisure off-the-beaten tracks. From experience, after a full week of churches, cathedrals and centuries-old historical buildings, I would be dying to get myself back to nature. Looking around the neighbouring countries and considering the Euro exchange rate, I decided to have a sneak peek at Eastern Europe instead. And so Slovenia was the logical choice.

Situated on the north east of Italy, Slovenia may be a small country but she offers a plethora of beautiful scenery that is influenced by the changing climate and topography within a small space of land i.e. from the quaint Mediterranean coastal towns of Piran and Koper to the UNESCO declared World Heritage Skocjan Caves, to the spectacular Julian Alps and the beautiful crystal clear waters of Soca Valley. Dang! This is beginning to sound like a travel catalogue! :p

Thus began the fun of planning for the trip. In fact, half the fun is IN planning the trip and bringing together likeminded travel companions. I managed to rope in an old school friend, Su, who is now based in London. She and her friend Cecile were to fly to Trieste, Italy (an Italian border town) from London, while TooToo (a colleague) and I would take a train from Milan (our final tour destination in Italy) to Trieste. From there, we would rent a car and drive across the border to Slovenia. Cecile, being the only French lady in the group and the only person most familiar with right hand driving was most qualified to bear the burden of having our lives solely in her hands. She was tasked with driving us around.

Map of Italy from

Peik Lean Y.