30 August, 2012

it's a sad day.

Goodbye sweet Frieda.  We loved you very much.

18 August, 2012

We finally got our groove back! (and just in time!)

It turned out that the bug we caught was a stomach virus that quickly swept through the rest of the campsite.  We heard that it also spread through campgrounds in nearby Croatia, a viral souvenir carried along, no doubt, by travelers passing.  Even after we recovered physically, however, we just couldn’t reclaim our normal vacation Mojo.  We showed up for concerts that were cancelled at the last minute, took hikes that turned out to be dead ends, got a ticket for accidentally driving an a bus lane and arrived at museums right at closing time.  And the boys were bickering nonstop.  Usually they get along very well, but the past few weeks they’ve been constantly on each other’s nerves.  (And on ours.)  A couple of days ago it came to a head and I was ready to pack up and go home.  Or maybe just ready for the boys to pack up and go home.  ;-)  But I’m so glad we didn’t, because suddenly our luck turned around, and funnily enough it was a huge thunderstorm that caused it!
M has been wanting to travel higher into the mountains for a couple of weeks now.  We finally got our act together and drove out to Velika Planina and took a gondola up 1500m for a spectacular view of the valley below.  Except for that the very second we stepped out of the gondola a huge cloud front swept over the mountains and blotted out the view.  ...and then it started thundering and lightning.  And the boys started bickering again. 
So M and I did what any well-thinking person would do:  we started hiking straight up the steep slope towards the next ridge.  And the kids were moaning and groaning, but they were getting slower and you couldn’t hear them very well anyway above the sounds of the thunder.  

*NOT* amused.
We hiked for a half hour, straight up, eschewing the easier paths along the way, which turned out to be a good thing because right as we happened to reach a ski hut it started POURING.  We shared a long wooden table with other Slovenian hikers and drank coffee and then later beer and watched the rain come down in sheets outside.  And it was so bizarre and unfortunate that we all looked at each other and started to laugh—we ended up having a really nice time! 
The storm continued and was so bad that the ground station send taxis up to rescue us all and we piled into rickety, leaking old Yugoslavian SUV’s for a hair raising ride down the mountain with a driver who admitted he couldn’t see anything through the windshield, but that it was no problem because he was driving on autopilot anyway.  

The storm continued to rage and everyone else was able to squeeze in the gondola to go down and we stayed behind and the man who worked the gondolas and ski lifts gave us a tour of the engine room and showed us how everything works.  After that we rode down in the gondola together and drove home happy and back in our vacation groove. 
Yesterday we spent a lovely afternoon in Ljubljana—it’s really one of my favorite cities.  We spent a couple of hours in the “Bodies Revealed” exhibit, had a nice supper right on the river and then spent a couple of hours wandering around and enjoying the street performers and the people watching.  Ljubljana is a student town and so vibrant and friendly—it was still teeming with people when we left at 10pm.
This morning M and I got up early and took one of our traditional hikes.  Last week we’d tried to follow  a route to a lookout point and a wrong turn foiled our plans.  Today we figured it out and hiked a couple of hours through the forest up a steep trail- it was so peaceful and quiet and it felt great to be physically active!  Suddenly we came out into a clearing and saw the most spectacular view of the valley, surrounding villages, mountain backdrop and Lake Bled in all its glory!  We had brunch at a small mountain hut and enjoyed the breeze and the view—it was one of those memorable moments and a fantastic way to close out this vacation and end on a good note. 
We’re now back at the campsite packing things up.  The boys are at the lake swimming with friends and I guess it’s time to close this and help fold up the tent.  I love Slovenia—plan to write a complete ode to the country later in a separate post.  This is a wonderful place to spend a vacation and we will definitely be back…

12 August, 2012

Into the looking glass

Photo thanks to Radol'ca
This morning S, M and I walked into Radovljica and had coffee in the old town square.  S and M ducked into a shop and I was waiting outside with D when I heard someone say:  “Hey!  Do you speak English?”  Not wanting / needing contact with any strangers I shook my head.  “What?!  No English?! Where are you from?”  “Holland” “Holland!?  And you don’t speak English?”  He looked at me with a smile.  “Nevermind. Why don’t you go have a look in my gallery while you’re waiting?  It’s over there” and he gestured to a doorway in an ancient building.  I have to admit that my curiosity was piqued.  There were chicken noises being played very loudly over small speakers set up near the door.  A poster in the doorway said “CHICKENS” in Slovenian in all caps and I saw a long row of tiny ceramic chickens glued to a shelf on the wall in the hall leading into the house.
I pointed to the dog and looked at the owner quizzically.  He just shrugged his shoulders and said:  “Of course!  Go on inside!”
The house was *amazing* .  The hall opened up into a courtyard with old terrazzo tiles and 3 stories of balconies with vines growing on them and hanging plants that hung from almost every surface.  Here and there were random ceramic sculptures:  a bust of a woman, a tiny yellow horse, a square tile covered in at least 100 miniature green frogs.  It was so strange and magical, I was instantly charmed.  Suddenly I felt someone staring at me and I looked up to see a tortoiseshell cat perched on a railing and peering down disdainfully.
I climbed up a flight of ancient wooden steps.  Came upon a sofa, a small table with a book on it, and a beautiful view down into the courtyard.  It was also obvious that someone lived on this floor, so I beat a hasty retreat. 
M and S arrived and we heard someone come noisily down the steps and suddenly a large woman burst into the courtyard.  “Oh, you’re here for the gallery?”  We nodded, gave up all pretenses about not speaking English and asked about the house which it turns out,  is more than 500 years old and has been in her husband’s family since his grandfather bought it in 1910.  She led us into the cellar— still not sure if this is what they were calling a “gallery”?  There were a couple of shelves with various plates and bowls, none of them having anything remotely to do with chickens.
I kept waiting for a hard sell or some kind of trick, but it never came.  This woman was just genuinely friendly—she gave us a handful of postcards with pictures of the house in various eras and then said that if we didn’t mind that she’d like to close up and go join her husband outside in the café for coffee...

10 August, 2012


We were all a bit grumpy today and needed a distraction, and what could be better than MONKEYS?! We took a quick trip over the border to Austria where we visited an old fort, saw a show with some predatory birds and then the MONKEYS!  The monkey park was 40,000 hectares with 140 or so Japanese Macaques who roamed wild and came down from the trees to inspect the strange groups of humans who wandered through their territory.  :-)

"Black" to the drawing board...

We’re not yet back to 100% but hopefully moving in the right direction.  This morning  M and I walked to the next village over to have coffee on the patio of a funny bar we’ve stumbled across.  We sat under parasols and enjoyed the warm breeze and laughed about the free glass of Tang-like liquid that came with every cup of coffee.  J
Afterwards we stopped by a bakery to buy bread.  Most of the bread here is white, and I’ve been puzzling for a week as to how to find something whole wheat.  Although many people speak good English no one seems to respond to the term “whole wheat”, probably because it doesn’t seem like anyone eats it. 
I was all excited because I thought I’d finally figured it out by comparing the lists of ingredients in 5 different former-Yugoslavian languages on the back of a package of bread that seemed like it might actually be whole wheat.  Polno-Zrnati”!  In Russian the word “Pol’no” means “whole” and the Bosnian word is apparently “Integrali” like it is in Italian.  I was pretty confident that I’d finally found the right word!  We walked into the bakery and I said:  Hi!  Do you have “Polno-Zrnati Kruh?”
The girl behind the counter smiled and said:  Yes!”, obviously pleased with my attempts to use her language.  She pointed to a very big, very white loaf of bread.
I was crestfallen.  Oh.  No.  Sorry.  I was looking for “Vollkorn”.  (using the German, which everyone seems to understand for some reason.)
No, no, you were right!  Polno-Zrnati!”  And she smiled at me again happily.
Hmm.  Really?  Because that looks very white to me.
Well yes!  That’s because it’s half white, half black!”
OK.  Do you have something that’s maybe only black?”
Oh yes!”  And she pointed to another similar white loaf next to it.  This one is black, it just doesn’t have seeds.
I went ahead and bought it just because she’d been so friendly but it’s just about as white as my babies’ butts.  It tastes great, but the mystery continues…

09 August, 2012

Back in the land of the living.

Two days.  I’ve lost two whole days!  Last night I kept thinking:  yesterday when we had dinner.  Oh no—that was two days ago.  Last night when I took a shower...  Oh—wait:  that was two days ago.  Yesterday when I brushed my teeth…
B’s malady was apparently contagious and felled S and me in one blow.  I haven’t been that sick in a loooooong time!  M was a rock and spent the entire night bailing vomit out of our s(t)inking ship.  S threw up every half hour from 10pm to 8am.  I didn’t keep pace with him but was completely miserable as well.  …and then the fever set in.
We’d had a bbq with friends the evening before and M said that in the morning our campsite looked like the morning after a big frat party.  Leftovers and dishes everywhere, half-full cups of assorted beverates and articles of clothing strewn all over the place.  And then of course the telltale signs of vomit.  ;-)  After a night with literally no sleep he cleaned everything up, washed the dishes, washed S’s clothing and sleeping bag in the glacial river, hauled water and made a run to the supermarket for supplies.  Forget Superman, M is the real superhero in this story.
S and I spent yesterday in a stupor- too wiped out to do anything other than lay flat and stare at the ceiling and occasionally doze off.  Today we’re feeling much better, relatively fit, happy to be healthy again and looking forward to actually leaving the campground and seeing something other than the inside of a bucket.  J  Thank God for coffee, Ibuprofen and a good man who knew exactly what to do at exactly the right moments!

06 August, 2012

The "kindness" of strangers...

Today the kids wanted to hang out on the campground.  B is on the mend but not quite yet 100% so he hung out in the shade with a book and some movies on the laptop.  S spent the day building dams in the river with some friends.  M and I took a long leisurely hike through the countryside.  We walked along an idyllic river—crystal clear water, smooth stones and schools of trout that swam lazily in the sunshine close to shore.  Every now and then we passed through small villages with ancient farm cottages with boxes of geraniums in the upper story windows. 
Eventually we came to a small town and spent some time meandering through old town, admiring beautiful old buildings dating all the way back to the 1600’s.  I was really enjoying the hike but was also sweltering in the heat, especially since I was wearing a long-sleeved sunguard.  On the way out of town we passed a small grocery store and I peered in the windows to see if they sold bottled water.  Suddenly a smiling face appeared at the window, so rather than just lurk I stepped inside.  A friendly, somewhat wall-eyed man smiled at me from his perch behind the cash register. 
“Dober Dan.  Can I help you?” 
“Oh yes—do you have water?”
“You want a glass of water?”
“What?  Um, yes, I’m looking for water.”
He nodded, smiled and said:  “Follow me!”  Fully confused, I followed him to the back of the store and through a door to the restroom.  ???  He took the sole small glass down off of a shelf above the sink, swished it out under the faucet and rubbed it helpfully between his fingers.  Then he filled it up, handed it to me, smiled beatifically and said:  “Here you are.”
What could I do?  He was so nice that I didn’t feel like I could refuse his gift.  So I accepted it, drank it (with HUGE reservations), thanked him for his kindness and left.  At least we know how to get to the clinic if I end up following B’s lead and barfing my guts out as well….  ;-)

05 August, 2012

Note to self 2:

Never make jokes about Giardia because you will probably be the one on bucket duty when the inevitable happens.  Poor B is sick, sick, sick.  We took him to a local clinic this morning and the doctor said there’s unfortunately nothing we can do but let it take its course and wait it out.
Remember this?  Well, thankfully our trip to the medical clinic here was pretty much the opposite of that experience.  The neighboring town is small but the medical facilities are bright and clean.  The staff was friendly and very kind to B.  They didn’t load him up with strange, unnecessary medicines and the local supermarket was even open so that we could stock up on crackers and Gatorade!  We have Glück im Unglück as the Germans say.  I love this country!  (** note:  B is finally sleeping and I hope that we’ve turned the corner...)

04 August, 2012

Lovely Ljubljana

We visited one of my favorite cities today. At first we were worried we’d picked the wrong day—it was sweltering and many of the shops are apparently closed on Saturday afternoon. The whole place was a ghost town so we ducked into an outdoor jazz bar to escape the 35 degree heat. Enjoyed cool drinks in the shade of large trees to the strains of Billie Holiday and and chatted with a local guy who was cradling his infant son whom he’d named after a Formula 1 driver.

We asked the waiter where we could get some good local food and he directed us to Sarajevo, a Serbian restaurant down the street. It was one of the most bizarre meals we’ve had in a long time. The restaurant was in a somewhat sinister dungeon-like basement with strange, random memorabilia on the walls: the top of a trunk from an old Zastava, a jacket from the 1984 Olympics, signed photos of Yugoslavian celebrities, twinkling fairy lights and a large video screen that flashed bizarre, subversive Yugoslavian (and post Communist era) propaganda between music videos and Zastava advertisements. The food was solid Balkan fare—M and S got their fill of meat and B and I ate roasted peppers, beans, flatbread and shopska salad until we thought we might burst.

After that we wandered along the river and enjoyed the street musicians and performance artists. Ljubliana is lively and friendly and we probably enjoyed people-watching as much as the live music and acrobatics.

At one point S shouted: MOM! LOOK! And pointed down at the grass next to the bridge where we were standing. There was a HUGE rat-like creature serenely munching away at leftover flatbread and other debris. This thing was at least a half meter long, (without his tail!) (and for those of you who know how bad I am at guesstimating size / weight / volume / etc, I can tell you that it was M with his accurate carpenter’s eye who sized him up.) This thing was so big that you could see every individual whisker moving as he nonchalantly finished a pizza crust and then slipped into the river and swam away!!! ??? I am wondering if this thing could have been a Nutria? I know the Russians make fur coats out of them but am not sure if they hang out in cities eating flatbread? In any case, I got a bunch of pictures of him and am now sorry I wasn’t taking pictures of S and M’s faces instead because their expressions of shock and awe were PRICELESS!

02 August, 2012

The tempest

Still damp from a quick dip in a mountain stream.
Today we took a 17 km hike through beautiful agrarian landscape, past small farms where the farmers and their families were out en masse gathering hay with pitchforks and hanging it up to dry on large racks specially built for that purpose. The glacial streams here are so clean and clear that the locals swear you can drink from them. A fact which B actually tested personally, much to my chagrin when I found out about it later. (Note to self: remember to tell the doctor this small tidbit in case he comes down with Giardia later...)

This was the part of the hike where they were still smiling. ;-)
We had a really nice lunch at a small Gasthaus and hiked further. The whole trip was pleasant and dreamy, absolutely fantastic… ...until around km 13 when one of our children was suddenly hit full force by puberty. He was enraged at the heat, angry at the gravel on the path, pissed off about the sudden steep grade and livid about the fact that we had no idea how much further / steeper / gravelly the rest of the hike would be. To his credit he stayed reasonably civil, but it was like being trapped with a very angry toddler but then without the stroller to strap him into or the pacifier to break the mood and calm him down so that we could keep moving towards the car.
Eventually M was able to talk him down from the ledge and we eventually made it back to the campsite in one piece, but I’m a little hesitant to tell him that we’ve got any more big, unpredictable hikes planned in the near future…