The best thing we did while planning this trip was to rent a car. We booked online and picked it up from the Ljubljana airport, and it allowed us the freedom to play it by ear when it came to where we’d go next.
After Bled, we drove to Piran, loosely intending to stop in one of Slovenia’s famous caves and have lunch in Italy on the way.
Yes. A casual lunch in Italy. This is why I love Europe so much.
The roads were good and easy to navigate, and our final destination was only 2 hours away. We’d have plenty of time, we thought.
Then we came across Predjama Castle and got distracted.
Okay, we didn’t exactly stumble upon it – we followed the signs about 9km off the main road and there it was, as promised. Its name tells you everything you need to know:
Pred = before
Jama = cave
The castle before the cave, which as you can see is exactly what it is. Entrance was about 11 euro and came with an audio guide. Usually I forgo those things, but Jared and I each wandered from point to point with the guide glued to our ears. It told of the castle’s most famous inhabitant, the knight Erazem, who (allegedly) once convinced his enemies he was magic because he attacked them with cherries when the fruit was decidedly out of season.
His secret was in the castle; a hidden passageway through the cave allowed him to emerge on the other side of a hill kilometers away, to a village where the climate was conducive to cherries.
Legend says that Erazem was betrayed by one of the castle staff, who passed on a tip that led to Erazem being blown to smithereens by a cannonball while he was on the toilet. Bet he wished he never pulled that trick with the cherries.
In the parking lot we saw a small shop selling blueberry liqueur and $5 Erazem wine, which we bought immediately. RIP Erazem.
After that neither of us was that bothered about the cave, despite its claims that it is the ‘best known cave in the world.’ Plus, we were getting hungry and Italy beckoned.
Trieste is a random pocket of Italy that’s tucked into Slovenia. It’s a massive medieval port city in what resembles a punchbowl; you can see it for miles before you arrive. We knew nothing about it, and came with two goals: pizza and gelato.
We parked at the train station, which was not content with being a multistory car park and also had to be a historical ruin.
Without any real direction, we followed a stack of brown signs towards what we hoped was the interesting part of Trieste. In my experience, brown signs usually indicate locations of significance; it had been a brown sign that led us to Predjama Castle. In Trieste, there were about a million brown signs but what really would have helped was an audio guide.
Hunger got the better of us and we still had about half an hour’s drive to Piran, so we ducked into the first restaurant we passed. It happened to be a chain I had never heard of called Fratelli La Bufala. Disappointing when you are hoping for a family run, hole in the wall, best-pizza-of-my-life kind of experience, but we were really hungry.
Fun fact: Jared got super sick later that night and that whole pizza repeated on him. It wasn’t the food; he came down with what I’d had a few days prior.
I ordered pacherri, which according to the menu is a ‘wide tube-shaped pasta’ with a bounty of vegetables but this is what I got:
At this point we were so full I had to waddle out of the restaurant but I still wanted gelato because when I get an idea in my head it is very hard to convince me otherwise. I chose my go-to combination of stracciatella and amarena – chocolate chip and cherry.
Being so gluttonous made me feel more American than Italian, but what’s done was done. We climbed back into the car and returned to Slovenia in a matter of minutes, pretty much bursting with culture. Still had no idea what we’d do the next day, but not knowing where we’d go was becoming part of the plan.