My underground journey began with an open-air train ride. I felt like I was in an Indian Jones movie as I flew through narrow subterranean passages, and past wide open spaces with stalactites hanging like crooked teeth.
The train took me 2 kilometers into the Postojna Caves. Although it was summer, the caves were chilly. They maintain a temperature of 8-10 degrees Celsius year round. The air was crisp and fresh as I disembarked the train.
Next came a 1.5 kilometer walk, an opportunity to see the bizarre rock formations up close. The trail wound its way between spiky limestone pillars that grew up from the floors and stretched toward the high ceilings. The structures were huge, with most of them at least three times my height.
There was just enough lighting to silhouette the natural formations as the path descended down to a small gorge. Here, a bridge took me to the entrance of the ‘Beautiful Caves’.
The name beautiful was appropriate. The caves sparkled here. The structures, embedded with calcite deposits over millions of years, were white, cream, and sandy colored, and they shined and twinkled under the lights. They had strange tendril-like shapes – like candles with streams of melted wax dribbling down the sides.
There were also crystal-clear pools of water. This is where the mysterious creature known as the olm lives. An olm, or Proteus, is an amphibian similar its above-ground salamander cousin. By comparison, it is pale white, nearly translucent. It has a long and slinky appearance, like a snake with small legs. Legend has it that in medieval times, locals thought that the olms were baby dragons, and that the caves were a nursery for them.
Olms aren’t seen on the walk, as they stay away from the lighted path, but a few olms can be seen in a large aquarium at the end of the tour. Due to their cave-dwelling nature, the exhibit is kept dark. This made them difficult to see, but after a few minutes of allowing my eyes to adjust, I was able to observe these magical creatures as they slowly drifted in the darkness.
At the end of the walk, the train was waiting to take me back up to the surface. Another fun ride through the tunnels, and it was back out into the sunshine.
Following the time below ground, it’s nice to warm up at one of the many cafes and restaurants near the cave entrance. They all look out onto a beautiful scene of rolling green hills, making the city itself a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.
Planning Your Visit:
Postojna, Slovenia is about an hour’s journey from the capital city of Ljubljana. It is easy to reach, with buses and trains running daily between the two cities.
Postojna is the most visited cave in Europe, accommodating nearly 1,500 people per day. Guided tours are available year round, in many languages including English. Tickets can be purchased on site, or in several locations around Ljubljana, including the tourist center and the main bus terminal. Tickets are approximately $30 US, and can be purchased by themselves or combined with other tours of the region.
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring warm clothing. Also, check the weather forecast for rain and consider bringing an umbrella or poncho, as the waiting area for the tour is outside.
Tammy Powell is a veterinarian and freelance writer based in Abu Dhabi. She is enthusiastic about traveling, reading, meditating, and ballroom dancing.
She maintains a blog of her travels and life lessons at Maps and Meditations.
All photos by Tammy Powell
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