Slovenian and Croatian 9/13/2007-10/7/2007

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Journal Part VII:

9/25/2007: Opatija, Croatia: Left Izola and our seas side hotel this AM and drove northeast to the central Karst region. We were on our way south to Croatia, but had a couple of stops to attend to on the way. The first stop was the Skocjan Cave. Slovenians cave systems and underground rivers are unique in the world. The Skocjan cave system was the first UNESCO world biome subterranean wetland. We walked the grounds above the cave waiting for the tour to start. At one lookout you gazed in to the 400 ft deep pit were the Reka River dropped in the cave for its 34km underground trip to the Adriatic Sea.

Once the tour gathered we walked from the tourist center down a path and then began a steep decent in to the opening of the cave. From there it continued to drop as we carefully stepped down wet paths and stairs until we were 400 ft below the earths surface. The cave was filled with both natural and archeological wonders. At the low point we crossed a bridge 100 ft above the Reka River. The guide explained how a heavy rain about 40 years ago caused the water level to rise 140 ft in matter of minutes. Given the recent record rains we were a little wide eyed, but she explained that they had added safety features and drains since that time. There was clearly a critical shortage of personal injury lawyers in Slovenia. Maybe the US could export a few thousand.

We were not allowed to take pictures in the cave so all I have are some post card images and an old etching.


After the caves we headed 15 km west to Lipica, the original home and breading ground of the world famous Lipizzaner Stallions. The site was first established in 1503, but due to wars and invasions the horses were scattered around Europe. After WWI a successful effort was made to bring back some of the top blood line stallions and the new Lipica Farm was established on its original site.

Not being a horse person, watching the stallions perform dressage and dance was like me watching the Bolshoi Ballet, an opera or drinking a $200 bottle of wine. I can enjoy the good taste and quality, but the fine points and the detail are lost on me. Still it was a beautiful show and walking the farm and seeing the horses and the history of this breed was fascinating and impressive.

Mo having her arm eaten by a world famous Lipizzaner stallion



In the performance arena

Gasparo Nicoletti 1703, One of the original studs


After Lipica we headed for the northeast coast of Croatian coast at Opatija. Opatija was originally built for the royalty of the Austro-Hungarian Empire between 1844 and 1895. The villas were built along the coast line with a 12 km promenade separating the homes from the sea.

A very small taste of the 12 km sea side promenade


Kings, queens, movie stars and the elite of the world were entertained by the royalty of the then powerful empire. This all came to an abrupt end with WWI. The Austro-Hungarian Empire came to an abrupt end and castles and villas were abandoned. Over time the villas have become primarily hotels, although some remained abandoned and decaying. A few were maintained in their original form for the public, such as Villa Angiolina. It was built in 1844 and was the original nugget that drew the European royalty to the northern shores of Croatia.

Mo at the Villa Angiolina, Opatija, Croatia


When we arrived in town we went straight to the tourist office to enquire about lodging. As usual the worker there immediately got on the phone and called a prospective host. We ended up just a few blocks up from the beach in a very nice apartment tended to by an old, but very lively German woman who had created a beautiful garden on the premises. The deck overlooked the bay and offered a fantastic moon rise our first night in Opatija.









Night one in Opatija, enjoying some Croatian wine and our deck over the bay











Moon rise on the bay


The next night we moved to one of the old villa hotels right on the promenade, the Marianna. Much of the original beauty was evident, but it was also clear that much had been neglected over the years. I suspect with the rapid increase in Croatian tourism the next few years will see a lot of improvements.

Our humble hotel for 60 Euros/night (off season of course)


That night we walked the promenade looking for a dinner spot. After a short time the rain began and increased by the minute. As the rain built to an official down pour our desperation for a shelter and dinner, in that order, increased rapidly. We were beyond the restaurant shopping mode, so the first place we say we ducked in to. The fact that it was elegant establishment was evident right away. We looked like a couple of drowning rats, but the group of greeters at the door treated our entry like the arrival of royalty.

It ended up being one of the finest dining experiences of our life, with a seven course meal almost all fresh from the sea. When we got ready to leave they graciously brought us the bill which we paid with a credit card. All was fine except in our haste leaving the hotel we brought no cash and in Croatia tips can not be left on credit cards. We apologized profusely, but the waiting staff shook it all off and insisted it was their pleasure to serve us and dont worry about a tip.

After a couple of days of the good life and some nice hikes in to the hill we headed for inland Croatia.


Go to Croatia Slovenia Journal VIII

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