(Photo courtesy Andrew Moore and Wikimedia)
Gumbo was visiting the unique Skocjan Cave system in southwestern Slovenia. Congratulations to George G and Professor Abe, who recognized where Gumbo was.
The cave complex is situated in a rural area, but it's not hard to find and there is abundant parking. You buy your tickets and are assigned a time and choice of language for your tour, so you'll have to wait for the time on your ticket to enter the cave. We used our wait time to do a little exploration.
There's a small museum near the ticket office which highlights some of the geologic and historic aspects of Skocjan caves. It's not that large and has some interesting exhibits, so be sure to give it a look.
George G found the following photo, on which our first puzzle clue was based. Excellent detective work on his part!
We also did a short walk for an overview of the region that's home to the cave. There's a nice viewpoint from which you can see paths leading from the cave exit, the river, and Škocjan village in the distance (which sits on top of the cave). If you have time you can visit this small village (we didn't get a chance to).
This cave is unlike any I've ever seen before. Most caves are visited so that you can view and admire their beautiful limestone decorations -- stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, and pools. You'll see some of that in this cave as well, but what makes Skocjan Cave unique is its quickly flowing underground river associated with the largest known underground cavern in Europe. The cave is millions of years old and tours of it have run for over 200 years. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1986.
If you've ever seen the movie, "Lord of the Rings", one of the famous scenes in the film is when Frodo and the gang are fleeing through a massive cave, escaping the flaming monster known as Balrog. Legend has it that Tolkien was inspired to create this scene after he'd visited the Skocjan cave.
You can only enter the cave by taking a guided tour, divided into groups of about 25 or so guests. Groups are sorted based on language of choice (eg. Slovenian, English) and time of ticket purchase (first come, first served). There's about a 10 minute walk from the ticket office to the cave entrance, a locked door.
Because of its immense size, the cave is not well lite and certainly does not make for great photos. For good reason, photos within the main cavern are not allowed, but I did find a few pertinent images online and am sharing these from Wikimedia (click on thumbnails below for photography credits). There's enough light for you get to see some of the cavern's features and certainly you will appreciate the vastness of the place. The path is quite well lite and there's hundreds of steps that take you up and down, so you need to be in reasonable shape to spend the two hours it takes to explore it. There's a hand rail along the entire path to help you keep your balance.
You'll enter through part of the cave which is quiet (known as the "Silent Cave"), where you'll see the expected cave rock formations. You continue to descend and soon you'll hear the sound of running water before you enter the large cavern with its flowing river and waterfalls (the "Murmuring Cave"). From here on you'll spend most of your time hugging the wall of the cavern as the trail winds you up and down as you make your way through its length. The cavern is up to 110 m high and is a very impressive and memorable site.
A highlight of your visit is to walk across a bridge from one side of the cave to the other. There is a 50 meter drop here, but the bridge is sturdy and very safe. Still, a little nerve-racking for folks with vertigo.
(This bridge is suspended 50 meters above the Reka River)
The cave is fairly cold (12oC) and most people wear jackets.
(Natural exit from the Skocjan Cave system)
You exit at the natural entrance to the cave, where you're finally allowed to take photos). The Reka River disappears here and emerges 34 km away, just before the Adriatic Sea in Monfalcone, Italy.
You get a chance to explore some of the "Karst" geology as you make your way back to the visitor's center. It requires a fair bit of walking, and there's a funicular to help you with those that last steep bit.
A beautiful landscape and a very memorable and interesting experience!