Croatia trip (contd.)

After Shabbat in Zagreb, eating at the Jewish Community Center, we drove north on Sunday across the Slovenian border. We had to show our passports since Slovenia is a member of the EU and uses the euro, while Croatia is not and uses its own currency, the kuna.

We visited the Postojna caverns, one of the largest underground cave systems in the world. We took the small electric train that shuttles visitors into the center of the cave system, and then walked for several kilometers through narrow tunnels and huge caverns, full of stalactites and stalagmites. It was cold and moist down there and reminded me of the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree, where Alph the sacred River ran, in caverns measureless to man.”

From there we drove to the small town of Bohinj through terrain that was distinctly alpine, with much higher mountains than we saw in Croatia. In fact Slovenia contains the foothills of the Swiss Alps. In Bohinj is the largest lake in Slovenia and we took a boat ride across it in quite overcast weather. On the other side of the lake we went to the cable car up to the Vogel mountain, and rode up 1,000 m. It was quite a dizzying ride, and from the top you could see the whole of the lake spread out below. After a nice drink we descended and drove to Bled, also with a picturesque lake with an island and a church on it. Dominating the scene next to the lake is Bled Castle, perched on a seemingly vertical craggy outcrop. We drove around the back and climbed the stairs and slopes to visit the Castle, not for those with walking or climbing difficulties. We drove from there to nearby Kranjska Goro and stayed overnight in the Hotel Lek, the staff of which were very friendly and helpful, as they were throughout our trip.

From there in the morning we drove to the Vintgar Canyon where the fast-running Radovna River has gouged a deep gorge out of the rock. We walked along the narrow paths and across narrow wooden bridges for an hour past many water-falls, and returned by the same route. Along the way we were surprised to find a large contingent of Israelis and we had a conversation with them as they tried to understand that we were Israeli but English-speaking. After a rest we continued to Trakoscan Castle, another large castle perched on a hill, requiring many steps and slopes to reach the top. This was a much more lavishly furnished castle, having been in the Draskovic family for ten generations. It is now owned by the Slovenian state and has been extensively renovated and refurbished (it also has good toilets).

We then drove south again and crossed back into Croatia and visited the city of Varazdin, where a group visited the building that once housed the only synagogue in the region, now abandoned. We returned to Zagreb to the same Hotel as before and ate our last supper in the Jewish Center. There we had a small party to celebrate our trip together and amid some hilarity thanked our two leaders, Michael and Miriam, and our excellent driver, for their wonderful demenour and guidance. We flew home after only a week that seemed like a lifetime. At the present time both Slovenia and Croatia seem stable and quite prosperous. No one can predict for how long this situation will last. Ironically these countries are friendly to Israel, while they are not fertile ground for Jewish life.


About the Author
Jack Cohen was born in London and has a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University. He moved to the US and worked at the National Cancer Inst. and then Georgetown Medical School. In 1996, he Moved to Israel and became Chief Scientist of the Sheba Medical Center. He retired in 2001 and worked as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University Medical School for 5 years.