Sunday, August 20, 2006

mid-August already!

Stari Grad.JPG
Originally uploaded by 2Americans.
Today it is the 20th of August. Wow, time flies! We moved into our new place and spent a few days doing some necessary shopping. These things take a bit longer because of crazy Things you don’t think about:

Thing #1: Sheets are sized in cms, not “full”, “queen”, etc. And they are not sold in sets. You can buy a fitted sheet, and separately you can buy a duvet cover, which comes with only one pillow cover (unless you are buying the largest size, 200 cm which equates to a king size bed, in which case you generally get two covers) . So you are left to find a coordinating pillow cover separately as well. And, for the life of me, I cannot find any top sheets (a.k.a. flat sheet in the US) and I think they just do not sell them here? It doesn’t seem worth it to try and translate into Slovene my explanation of a 'top sheet' so as to differentiate it from what they normally use, so I just buy a thin blanket and use that instead.

But I am getting ahead of myself: first off we measure the mattress, which is 140 cms. We know this when we go to the store, but we buy a fitted sheet that is too small anyway because we are completely overwhelmed after looking at ten thousand different sheets and we get all bleary-eyed and crabby in the process.

But we buy a duvet cover in the CORRECT size, 140 cms (with one pillowcase, AND we find another set that matches - this is quite a coup) and we go home cheerfully.

We open it to discover that they mean it measures EXACTLY 140 cms, which (use your imagination to picture this) means it covers only exactly the top of the mattress. For example, imagine if you bought a tablecloth and it covered only exactly the top of the table, with no overhang – you’d be a bit disappointed and confused, right? Right.

So we went back to the store but could not find the same pattern in a larger size, and could not find anything under 140 euros (gasp!) in the 200 cm size (which probably would have been too much overhang anyway…and there was no size in-between. We tried three stores and then gave up. We have already spent a ridiculous amount of time on this bedding matter and I am not going to spend any more time typing about it, don’t worry, you can stop skimming this blog entry.

Thing #2 is trying to find a cabinet/closet (“omara”) suitable for hanging long coats inside that will also match the décor (1970-something? Commie lite?) of this apartment so that perhaps we can leave it here and sell to the landlord when we move on, and not have this monolith to worry about finding a new home for. This has been fruitless so far and it’s not for lack of trying. We are also being very price conscious of everything, having learned the hard way that you will never recoup that money spent, and – oh yes, you’re right, thanks for mentioning that we haven’t had any income for the past month or so, but we ARE going back to work, we've said so and you have to believe us. ;-).

Aside: I am not exactly a model of stoicism when it comes to shopping but I don’t mind doing what has to be done – Joe has a bit less patience even than me, and I really have to commend him on his tolerance, gamely trudging from store to store to offer his opinion and carry various packages.

Thing #3 was that we thought we needed a futon for the place (because we know you will all visit eventually, right? RIGHT?) so we finally found one we liked (see above situation concerning décor) and bought it. We were two days from delivery when lo! and behold! It turns out that not just one but THREE of the existing sofas in the apartment all open up into beds! Only two out of the three are comfy, but that is beside the point. The point is we did not need this now-superfluous couch. We had to go back to the store and request a refund. Getting a refund is almost unheard of in Slovenia, so that took a lot of complaining on our part, but we eventually were successful. Kind of off-topic, but we have also heard this is the best way to get out of a traffic ticket here: just jabber incessantly in English and they eventually go away (apparently not many of the Police speak English here). We are not planning to try this, but we have heard it from various sources so it's good to have that idea handy in case we should need it someday…

We also went plant shopping, which was much more fun and rewarding than buying things like flatware and a colander and a mop and bath towels (blah blah blah). We went plant shopping because we now have an excellent terrace where we can lounge outside, and so can our new plants. And so can the cat and dog. We have exchanged our tree-house-like bedroom on Salem Ave for something even more arboreal: Surrounding two sides of the terrace and growing partially above our heads is an enormous pear tree. It grows in such a way that Izzy, should he choose to climb up, is still only above the terrace and so he cannot get away from the house. Should he choose to climb down – oh, wait…he CAN’T climb down – evidently his brain is not wired for that direction! This means he can relax outside, and watch the birds, etc, which is all he ever wanted to do anyway. And we can relax outside, knowing that he can't run off and get hit by a car or something. Did I mention that just a few days before we left our last apartment (third floor) he pushed out a screen and jumped out a window, landing on an awning two stories below? I don’t think I have told you this story yet, so I'll go on: He got stuck there on that awning, and was sitting up there when we got home that afternoon. I’m sure the initial jump was enough to scare the crap out of him and he would go no further. I had to climb on top of a chair to the top of a big recycling bin and reach up to drag him down. I can still hear his claws screeeeching across that metal awning –aaagh! Like fingernails on a chalkboard! But, we got him back inside safely, and of course the little bastard bit me today while I was brushing him, so that’s gratitude for ya.

We also found a decent vinska klet (wine cellar) which was quite near our old apartment, but may be worth traveling back to that neighborhood for (it’s also next to the library). They have seven different varietals, and the malvazia and merlot are a good quaff. They cost something like 1.20 euros per liter. Yes, per liter. Wine here is cheaper than absolutely everything else, including bottled water. You go to the vinska klet and bring your plastic bottles, and they fill them there out of these enormous stainless steel vats – they measure about eighteen feet tall and three feet wide and who-knows-how-deep. If you have a place to keep it at home, many people buy a cylindrical stainless steel canister (usually about 30-50 liters) with a lidded top and a spigot on the bottom. You first pour in the wine (via the lidded top) and then you pour liquid paraffin on top of that. The paraffin floats on top of the wine and keeps the air out, so it stays good indefinitely*(*Who knows? Who ever has wine hang around that long? ) It’s a good system, especially when you consider that there are many such wine cellars/sellers around the city and country where you can buy in bulk, and the wines are good.

Other than these things we have not been doing anything very exciting. Our move was timed perfectly in that our boxes from the US arrived last week with all of our stuff we decided made 'the cut", so we delivered them right to the new place. It was like Christmas to see some of our things again! We did not take a lot with us when we left, and there are some things we would do differently if we had known what prices were like and that some things are a lot easier to find than we thought, but overall I think we chose well.

It has been raining a LOT so that is why we haven't been doing anything much. We also don't have auto insurance to drive our friends' car out of the country so we are staying in Slovenia on our ramblings for the moment. We did manage to spend one day at the beach at Lake Bled, and also did some various hiking trips around the arboretum and some other places in that same area (“Kamnika Bistrica”) on other days. I have posted some photos with the tags “Kamnika Bistraica area” and also “Arboretum”. We have also been doing some car shopping.

Last night we went to a good performance: it was a woman doing Edith Piaf songs while accompanied by her friend on the piano – there was also a back-story to it but, our Slovene not being what it should be, we’re not quite sure what that was…but it was a lovely night under the starts and it was held at the foot of Mali Grad (“Little Castle”) in Kamnik.

Today we tried to go to a bread-making performance/demonstration-thing at this small town in the mountains but we couldn’t quite find it (the little village was not on the map?!? Anyway, we encountered a problem finding it, even though we brought our trusty bread-sniffing dog with us) and we also tried to go to this partisan hospital hidden in the mountains, but it was so well-hidden we could not find it.

Ha ha, kidding. Actually, we DID find the hospital museum, but due to a serious rockslide a few months back, it was closed for major repairs to the footpaths and bridges by which visitors access it. In the recent pictures (that one labeled ‘zanimivo’, which means “interesting”) you will see a photo of a sign meant to discourage people like us from visiting during this time of “technical difficulties”. Not easily dissuaded – after all, we’re seasoned walking professionals after our recent treks through the retail world of Slovenia - we tried to hike up to it anyway so that we could at least see the exterior. Unfortunately, once you got to a certain point on the trail, there was a tall iron gate across the path and trespassers like us could go no further. So, we had some disappointment in that we didn’t actually do anything today that we set out to (sounds familiar – a bit like the home furnishings shopping experience) but at least it was a very pretty drive up through the mountains, and overall a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon. We also had some yummy pizza and home-made beer at the castle in Idrija on the way up.

And now I’m going to sleep. We’ve got to turn in a bit earlier at the new place since we are on the border of the city (we are now about 5 km from the center) and there are farms in this area. And by farms I mean they have farm animals. Farm animals that make farm-y sounds, like roosters and dogs and goats and chickens. Those roosters start pretty darn early, lemme tell ya. But I think it’s better somehow to be woken at 5:00 with a rooster as opposed to motorbikes and people dropping their recycling underneath our bedroom window. I’m not sure why, but it is preferable.

Hugs, ~S

Monday, August 07, 2006

Natural air conditioning!

Natural air conditioning

“Up!” – yes, we surely did go “up” on this day (about a week or so ago..). We drove up high enough into the hills that it already was a good 15 degrees cooler, at least, plus there had been a recent thunderstorm and some intermittent showers so everything was wet and cool and lovely. The forest smelled like cedar and fresh rain. We’d packed a lunch and started walking up to another waterfall. We’d never seen any pictures of this one, we only knew about it from a signpost on the trail. To look at pictures, these are all tagged “Jezersko” on Flickr. I have also posted many comments under each picture.

After we ‘d walked for maybe 45 minutes (all uphill but not too steep of a grade, and winding through beautiful sunny meadows along a brook, and then up into the woods..) we found a big rock and sat down and had a picnic lunch. We’d gotten our energy boost none too soon, because the trail soon became much steeper, and in time became increasingly narrow. We then emerged from the woods into an area where a lot of trees were down – it wasn’t clear if they’d blown down and someone from the park had cut them to clear the trail, or if someone was in the middle of cutting them and then suddenly had something better to do. (A lot of them are pine trees. It turns out that rocks from minor rock slides fall from the hillside and mountain above, and gather in their boughs – this weight begins to eventually pull down the tree. I guess they were cutting some of the ones that did not look so well as a result, and maybe also to clear a trail? The trail was non-existent at this point – we just knew to go ‘up’!)

We climbed up it for some distance, but it became increasingly difficult. When you looked up we were still about a 1/2 mile to one mile from the mountain face (presumably where the waterfall was) but we couldn’t go any further. Between bad footwear (Joe: sneakers, Me: sandals) and also we were dragging the poor dog along (footwear: none! She’s a dog, not a mountain goat!) we decided we should turn back. After all, we’d already gone about two hours and we still needed to get back down. The views from where we were perchedwere astonishing, and I think that was enough. We’d already seen one disappointing waterfall, and I don’t need to try out my new health insurance just yet, thanks very much. Getting back down, since there was not visible trail, was also a bit of a challenge, but we came across a large ice field at the edge of the rocky area, and that was a great surprise to find ice and snow somewhere at the end of July in the middle of such a scorchingly hot couple of weeks.

Eventually we picked our way back down the rocks and found the trail. We didn’t see anyone else hiking during the entire time we were up there.

On our way back we stopped at the river to check it out and to feed Lucy her dinner. It was clear and ice-cold; I don’t even think Joe would be crazy enough to try swimming in there, no mater how hot the day was! Next to the water the air temperature was probably ten degrees cooler, if not more, than up above by the road – a great place to have a picnic and cool off!

The next day we went “down” instead of “up” but this was in search of guaranteed cooler temps –- the caves of Postojna. We arrived there at about 2:00 and killed a little time in the obligatory café/bar while we waited for the 3:00 tour. Since it’s cooler outside the city anyway, this was nice, but the added treat was the cool breeze that blows out of the mouth of the cave, giving you an occasional “aaaahhh” while you are sitting there.

In this cave it is always about 45 degrees F. Other than preparedness for the temperature, we had no idea what else to expect. When you enter the cave you feel like you are going on a Disney ride – you line up and get into open tram cars. Then you enter the mouth of the cave and travel in the train at a fairly good clip for about one km, all the time with your mouth hanging open because it is absolutely fantastic inside. I have been to a fair amount of caves and caverns, and this one is the most astonishing I think I will ever see. The formations are beautiful, and so incredibly large, and then these passageways open up into these cavernous rooms (they called them “halls”), and a lot of the colors are white (from the limestone) and reddish (from the iron oxide). It’s amazing what nature can put together if you give it enough time, undisturbed except for the presence of water...some of the largest formations are 50 million years old!

After the 1 km ride you exit the train and get into groups according to language preference. You then are on a guided walking tour for about one hour, going up and down through the cave and through different rooms. In the next to last room you can see the Proteus, which is an amphibious creature that lives only in these caves. This little critter looks very much like about a 10-inch-long salamander. It is completely white, with no pigment whatsoever, and breathes through external gills and lungs (so it can live both in and out of the water); it has a very slow metabolism and can go for years without eating, which is handy since there really is not a lot to eat at the bottom of a cave with almost no other life forms.

The last room you come to is a concert hall – the echo in this chamber lasts for six seconds! To give you some idea of the size, they have chamber concerts in there with up to ten thousand people (this must absorb some of the sound I am sure) but the acoustics for such a performance must be amazing. Then you get back on the train for another 1km ride up and out.

It really is fantastic, and you can visit the website here:, but I don’t think it does the cave justice – this is one place you really, really must see for yourself. many spelunking terms and scientific names for cave formations are Slovene words -- it really is THE place for this sort of thing. We talked about how it would be fun to get a small group together to go on a private tour of some of the places not on the general public tour – you put on a helmet and a lamp and some overalls and go climb around for a while – I think it would be great fun!

I have lots more to tell you, but I'll end here. The next fun place we went to was Radovlice (I have to re-check the spelling before I post..) and then it rained for the next week(!) so we went apartment hunting (this one we're in now is a bit too loud and busy to suit us very well)

I'll try to enter some more tomorrow or Wednesday (when it's supposed to rain again).