Wifi, kinda.

I managed to snag a signal, if I angle my computer just so and perch near the window in the bedroom. It's weak and inconsistent, but I've been able to chat, email and do everything else that needs doing, mainly student loan stuff (don't ask, it's too enervating).

After all that snow and below zero weather, it was a surprise to walk out yesterday into mild, +4 weather. Almost all the snow is gone, and it's been sunny and gorgeous since Saturday. We've just been kicking it in Vič and nearby Trnovo for the last few days, reading, walking, drinking in our local cafe, plotting trips to Italy, Romania and Bosnia (and back to England for the match of the premiership, Chelsea v. ManU on the 14th of April, if at all possible). We've also been working through our Teach Yourself Slovene lessons.

Our landlords stopped by on Saturday with a mop, curtains and a contract for internet service. Apparently in 10 working days we will have reliable access through Siol (ADSL). We also found out that our rent includes heat, electricity and water, so all we have to pay in addition to our rent of 400 euros is the 22 euros for net (half that for the first two months) and 16 for phone. Add that to the fact that our dollar is relatively strong against the euro, and it works out to quite a reasonable cost of living, which makes a refreshing change from Vancouver.


Ugly, ugly city.

Especially when it snows.


"Canadian," you say?

International dinner tonight, free with "traditional national dish". Yeah, okay. Which nation? Whose tradition?

We were going to wuss out, just show up for the DJ and Slovenian dancers, but I've just gotten some weird kinda compunction to try to make something Québecois on our wee little two burner stove top. We've only got 3 hours until the damn thing starts and I've never made sucre à la crème before, but hell, we all need a challenge (and, in all probability, a small fire and the persistant smell of burnt sugar) in our lives.

Okay, scratch that...I just looked at the time and did some proper calculations.

Shopping zones in Ljubljana.

Sorry forgot to post this. I'll be quick.

Yesterday we went down to BTC, a massive mall-city on the outskirts of the city. We were looking for some kitchen items, like plates and a cooking pot, and also to check out the deals on new clothes. This place is remarkable, a culture studies dream come true. There is no one central shopping area, but rather a network of buildings connected by streets and sidewalks, like a small downtown! Some buildings go underground, others go above ground. Each building is separated into "zones," for the lack of a better word, called "A1" or "A2." I will definitely return to take pictures. You can really spend a whole day there.

And, yeah, we did find what we were looking for, plus a pair of shoes and a jacket for me.

And check out this out: someone recorded the changes in their neighbourhood in Ljubljana for a number of years while dog-walking. Click here.

Wildlife, ethnographies and snow.

Sorry about the delay, but our internet connection is far away from our flat, and that requires trekking out and buying a drink (oh, poor us) to check email and update blogs and read memes.

First of all, where the hell are all the squirrels in this city? Seriously, we've been here for more than a week and we haven't seen a squirrel or a chipmunk in the city? Did they all leave for a nuttier climate? I mean, in our old house, the attic was besieged by the little nut-chewing bastards, and now there are zip, zero, none!

Also, the cats and dogs are not as friendly as the ones back home. Granted, the cats roaming in the narrow streets in Ljubljana are wilder than the local house cats pooping in our neighbour's garden back home, but whenever we see one of our four-legged friends they either bolt the other way or growl.

So far, we checked out the Slovenian Ethnographic Museum, which is rather an understated establishment but well worth the 2 Euros (student price) to enter. They had a temporary exhibit on the influence of Chinese culture on Slovenian society. The exhibit focused on dignitaries, architects and missionaries who visited China and not only brought back amazing artifacts, but also ideas on urban planning, design and philosophy that was absorbed into Slovenian culture and ultimately the European continent. Who knew?

There are two permanent exhibits running - one on world cultures, including cultural artifacts from Africa and South and North America. The purpose of the exhibit is to encourage critical thinking around ethnocentrism and xenophobia, and even the museum is quite critical of its own practices, such as holding artifacts and how artifacts are presented. They have a spiffy website here.

Of course, the most compelling part of the museum, especially for two sociology students, is the floor committed to Slovenian culture. To be fair, because I was really enthralled by the entire exhibit (as some of you might know, I can spend an entire day in a museum and never get bored, and actually go back for days) my report will not be as impressive. But, there was an excellent collection of tools used for different subsistence strategies (trapping, hunting, fishing and agriculture) plus an extensive collection of tools used in different trades, such as a watchmaker (see below) and clothes and personal items found throughout history. I will be going back and taking more notes and photos.

Did you know that Halloween is celebrated differently here? (well, duh). It's called Kurentovanje, and it's celebrated in February, on the ten days leading up to Shrove Tuesday. People dress up in beautiful, colourful costumes and take over the streets. The Ethnographic Museum had some costumes on display:

Did Lisa mention we had a snow day today? Last night it started hailing, which turned into snow by early morning. I woke up to thick snowflakes slowly falling onto the ground. We hiked up Ljublanski grad, took some pictures, then headed back down to the vegetarian restaurant followed by a trip to Metropol, our current haunt. Some snow pics:

Most pics by Lisa, one by Jay


Jay's to-do list.

Here are some projects I have lined up while I'm living here:

1. There's an indoor football game every Monday night, presumably. They need five more players to get it going, and I hope the organizers will keep it going. I don't know if I can make it tonight.

2. We plan to travel to Austria, Italy and Romania, and Lisa has more to add to the travel wish-list, too.

3. I would like to do some enthographic work in our neighbourhood. If I take Sociology of Everyday Life at school, I want to apply my classwork to the area in some way.

4. Go see experiments based on Nicola Telsa's work at the Technical Museum of Slovenia.

I'm sure more will pop up and surprise me in the future months.

Call us!

Does anyone back home have Skype? Apparently it's free to connect with other Skype accounts but costs users to call telephones or cell phones. If you download Skype (or already have it) just email us your user name and we can chat!

We will be trying to get an internet connection in our flat soon.

Yes? Yes.


Sorry, I just had to post this.

Go Chelsea!

Vič, home away from home.

In case you didn't get the email, we now have an apartment in a neighbourhood just 20 minutes away from the Old Town, by foot. The bus (#6 Drogi Most) gets us to downtown within 5 minutes. Our street is really just a small alley off the main drag, Tržaška cesta. We are on the upper floor of a two storey house, in a small two room flat with a big balcony looking out over a vacant lot and some apartment buildings down the way.

I'm looking forward to going to the market tomorrow and buying primulas to decorate the balcony with. The market is on every day except Sunday (when it is replaced by a huge antiques market that stretches down the banks of the Ljubljanica), and has pretty much anything you would want to buy, from pumpkin seed oil, salads, sourkraut, fresh flowers, home pressed cider, baskets...you get the idea. There are lots of elderly ladies selling plants they have grown, and primulas are everywhere right now. There are also lots of wreaths and bunches of willow and catkin switches. It all seems very pagan. Now that we have a place to decorate and stock with food, I plan to be a regular at market...as if I don't get enough of it at home! We do well with our little farmer's market at Trout Lake, but I have to say, Ljubljana kicks our ass in a major way.
But back to the apartment for a moment. The place has been renovated in the last year, and is very bright and clean. Our appliances are basic: small, European fridge (think college dorm-style beer fridge), two burners and a boiler smaller than the fridge that we turn on with a light switch. There are lots of outlets and lights, and the apartment is furnished in Slovenian Ikea style. Three huge cupboards with matching beds and two desks. We moved everything around on our first night, putting two of the single beds together and converting the third into our guest space/couch.

The landlord has promised to return tomorrow with dishes, pots and pans, sheets and the like. They were highly apologetic about not having these things ready for us, but they hadn't expected that we would want to move in right away. They were very nice, just as the housing coordinator said, and we chatted and laughed together for awhile before going to get our massive bags from the hostel. I had been dreading moving everything our stuff over on the bus, but then realized that we could just call a cab. I take taxis so rarely in Vancouver, that I don't even think of taking them in other countries. I'm also paranoid about cost and getting taken for a ride, but it only worked out to 5 euros, including a fairly large tip. Interestingly, people generally do not tip here, unless they get really excellent service.

From our place to downtown by taxi should only be about 3 euros (the hostel was on the other side of the centre), which is handy since the buses stop running somewhere between 1030pm and midnight. I'm not quite sure how to tell exactly when the #6 stops running, since the bus schedule is near impossible to figure out. Service is definitely over by midnight though. This is sort of bizarre since Slovenians only start partying after 10 (at the absolute earliest). Things don't really get started until after midnight, and are likely to carry on till early morning. We went to bed on Friday night with a party raging outside in the squatted army barracks (Metelkova) next door to the hostel, and it was still kicking off at 930 the next morning.

Off to the pub next door (we are at the Xplorer Net Cafe on the bank of the river) to watch the Arsenal vs Man U match and drink borovničevec (blueberry brandy for me) and Laško (local beer for Jay). For once, I hope Arsenal wins considering our loss to Liverpool yesterday.


How to eat in Ljubljana.

Dober dan everybody! I hope all those on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean are happy and healthy. From what I've heard, the weather back in Vancouver has been miserable. Well, to be fair, the weather in Ljubljana has been bitter and gray, but then that's my favourite kind of weather! To hell with the sun! The sun's only purpose is to wipe out our species with radiation and fire!


Anyway, we wake up to very foggy mornings and end our days in the fog. If you wander in the Old Town, surrounded by murky mist as you walk over the cobblestones and through the narrow medieval streets, you swear you see eldritch, shapeless forms gliding through the haze, mumbling an alien language that could drive any hardy soul insane, their slippery tentacles slowly coiling around your ankles if you stop too long to get your bearings.

Of course, I love that sort of thing. And that is why I love this town.

I suppose one challenge we've faced is the food. We are both vegetarians, and Slovenia seems like the type of place where the very idea of vegetarianism seems as strange as the ghostly shapes in the fog. However, since we've been here, the feast hasn't really ended.

First, there's burek, a filo pastry filled with cheese or apple or spinach, and costs only 2 Euros at many of the stands in the city. The perfect late-night food after downing a few pints. Oh, and the drinks! There are two major brands here: Union and Lasko, and there's been a rivalry between the two for quite some time. There's a better explanation here, although you have to scroll down the page. I found Union to have a too bitter of an aftertaste, but Lasko has a much smoother body and cleaner finish, so I generally order the green-labelled Lasko. Lisa has been enjoying a fruit brandy, but she has a much better description of it than I do (I just steal sips from her glass when she leaves the table).

In the large markets we have found beans, bottled(?) tofu that costs something like 5 Euros (which is like $10 CDN) and sandwiches made from fake meat, which are actually really good - they don't have that rubbery texture like the stuff back home. The fruits and vegetables in this country are outstanding, and I should briefly mention that we found the local outdoor market. For those of you living in Vancouver, imagine the size of Trout Lake Farmer's Market and then multiply it by at least three times. Honey, homemade sauerkraut, flowers, farm-pressed apple cider and the freshest produce were all available. Then throw in booths selling purses, slippers, jackets and children's clothes and a hundred shoppers and their dogs and you have a typical Saturday morning in Ljubljana.

When we got our student meal vouchers, we had to choose the restaurants, and we found a few vegetarian restaurants in town. On Friday we checked out one of our selections, a little place called Ajdovo Zrno, which serves soups, salads, tortillas (I know, not exactly a local dish) and samosas in a cafeteria-style setting. We had jota, a bean and sauerkraut soup that was like hot and sour soup, but without the chicken. The rest of the food was fresh and in decent portions, although Lisa thought her tortilla had too much cheese, which I think is impossible.

We are definitely going to explore all the culinary possibilities in this fine country . . . well, the possibilities that are not made with meat. Expect more foodie reports soon!

Later on we're going to watch the Arsenal and Manchester match. Yes, I did hear about the Chelsea and Liverpool match. Crap.


The smell of cooked cabbage and despair.

As Jay mentions below, the first apartment we went to see was a major bust. Sure, it was picturesque, what with the massive thermoelectric plant next door, painted in the style of a cheap restaurant's bathroom. Also adding quaint charm to the picture would be the slag heap and the mountain of coal waiting to be burned. Follow a small stretch of deserted highway wasteland, continue past the blighted community garden in the shadow of the plant's smokestack, to the blocks of unrelieved cookie cutter apartment blocks. Throw in some broken children's playground equipment and lots of orange snow fencing, and you'd have home. Well, home if they had actually let us into the apartment and we had somehow agreed to live there for the next 6 months.

After stumbling around in the dark for awhile (street lighting not being a priority in Nove Fužine suburb), we found a five story building with an address corresponding to our printed directions. We never actually got to see the apartment, since the person who seemed to be the landlord refused to understand me. "Zdravo, I said, "ichem gospa bratun, sem iz lisa, kanadski studient." Ok, some of that is mangled Russian, but I think one can get the drift, unless one is being ridiculously obtuse. Gospa Bratun listened, said "prosim" which might have meant "yes," "okay," "please" or "I don't know what the fuck you are talking about, but I'm going to humour you by saying something polite," and then hung up without buzzing us into the wretched building. This would have been clue #1, but we had made the trek and were going to see an apartment by gum. We managed to get in anyways, but with five stories of apartments and only suspicious glares to go on, we didn't have much luck.

A guy arguing with a lady in the lobby yelled at us "what are you doing here?" so I tried to explain, pointing to my print-out of the name of the landlord, which unleashed torrents of aggressive words from both of them. When I explained that I didn't understand, the old lady screamed (in Slovene) "you don't understand? what do you mean you 'don't understand', how can you not understand?!" I stepped back a few feet, since she had rapidly closed the distance between the two of us, and addressed myself to the man (who seemed to be the building manager, self-appointed or otherwise). I showed the name on my paper, asking "where?" and feeling again like a small and slow-witted child. This unleashed another torrent of words from both of them, of which I understood "stiri," or 4. I made the sign for 4 and he said yes, blahblahblah. We made our hasty escape up the stairs.

Having a (maybe) correct floor number makes very little difference overall, when you are in a large apartment building. No one was around. Luckily we knew about the fact that in Central Europe you have to turn timer lights on in each hallway and stair well. It was already sketchy, and didn't need to be compounded by inexplicably darkened halls, 'cause it would have been really scary to walk into this weird tenament apartment building in the dark. Everything smelled like cabbage.

We went back downstairs and I tried to talk to the guy again, but he was laughing and yelling and wagging his finger. Can I just say that Eastern Europeans are capable of delivering a devastating finger waggle? It really conveys aggression and mockery like nothing else. One good finger waggle and you'll be drinking yourself to sleep at night, trying to recover the shreds of your shattered self-esteem.

I sped away on the verge of tears, harsh laughter and shouts following us out into the night, Jay trailing along in my wake. Needless to say, Nove Fužine is not for us. Tomorrow we go to Vič, another working class neighbourhood much closer to the Centre. Apparently the landlord is really nice, and the flat is spacious (for a garsonjera, or studio).


Welcome to Ljubljana

So. We arrived in the lovely city of Ljubljana three days ago, around 2:00 PM. We stumbled to our hostel (where we are still residing) called Celica, a former prison, and spent the rest of the day exploring our new home.

First impressions? The city is fairly laid back, with pockets of intense pedestrian activity coupled with incredibly fast cars speeding past you at the intersections. Unlike London, where it is always active, Ljubljana does have the occasional oasis.

The photo on your left is good example. Yesterday we hiked up to the Ljublanski grad, a castle situated on a hill overlooking the entire city. The walk up is beautiful, with little painted cottages mixed with sizable estates crammed together on either side of the road leading up the hill. The view is awesome; you can see the entire city.

This is our faculty. The building is only a few months old, with decent-sized classrooms and designed to look like a research facility from the future. Which is great. Also, there's dorms on the top floors. Living in the same building where you study? That's nuts! We checked in on our first day, then found the International Office (in an another part of town in the student service building) and got our student cards and bus passes. Also, students are entitled to meal vouchers at certain restaurants and shops. For a few Euros (I don't remember the amount) you get as many tickets to cover all the working days of the month. Okay, so far so good, right?

The next step is finding a home. The International Office offers a home-finding service: someone looks up the flats available in the classifieds that match your preferences and calls them up to arrange a meeting with the potential tenant. Fair enough. We were sent to a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city near a "thermoelectric" power plant, in the industrial area. Although the apartment buildings were decent enough, the one we looked at had writing scrawled all over the walls, angry people yelling at us in the foyer (Lisa tells the the story better) and the best part: when we entered a darkened hallway, which is traditional here - no one keeps the hall lights on in apartment buildings, someone on the other side of the wall started an incredibly loud power drill, sending a horrible, metallic grinding sound reverberating all through the hallway. We nearly jumped out of our pants. We dashed out and caught a bus back to the city.

We were pretty demoralized. Today we're hanging out in my current favourite café beside the student services building, waiting for the housing coordinator to show up at the office. Last night, we had a few drinks with someone I met through the exchange program who lives in the city. She's taking off for a month, but left us in the care of her friends. We were told finding an apartment in this city is difficult, but not impossible. An Australian offered us an apartment in the old town for sixty Euros a day. Yeah, nice part of town but a little out of our price range. But we do have some locals keeping an eye out for us now, plus the student housing folks are working for us too. It is only a matter of time.

Nonetheless, we are happy.


A note from the editor.

I think I may have fixed it so that I can actually post under my own name. That was me, by the way, writing about the Chelsea match.


London Photo Dump

Chelsea vs. Wigan Athletic, part two.

In a word: amazing. If you watched the game, we were in the first row right behind the goal in Shed End, so when Lampard scored on Kirkland, you might have seen us in the replays. We're pretty hoarse, and we're running out to take advantage of the sunshine on our last day here, so more later, yeah?


Chelsea vs. Wigan Athletic

Today we're going to a Chelsea match (Blues vs. Wigan Athletic), which I was really excited about until we ran into a Wigan supporter on the tube last night. My first real football hooligan! He was easy to pick out of the crowd: drunk, ruddy faced, with a physique sculpted by beer, pasties and chips. Bald head, built like a small tank, edgy, looking for trouble, bellowing "Chelsea fucking sucks" to nobody in particular as we all walked to the exit, spraying everyone within arms length with saliva and bits of crisps. He followed this with something straight out of Among the Thugs: "We're going to make a lot of money tonight, just you watch!" (bellowed at an even higher decibel, again to no one in particular as he was on his own in the crowd). Not only my first hooligan sighting, but my first exposure to an Intercity Jibber. The point of being on the jib is to follow one's team wherever they play, taking as little money as possible from home to support the endeavor. Once in the city, one attempts to scam and steal one's way into hotels, restaurants, bars and the match itself. The goal is to come back with more money than one left with. The person with the most money at the end wins.

We're sitting in Shed End, with all the rabid fans*. Apparently that means that we are supposed to sing and keep up the chatter. Everyone says that I shouldn't have a problem with the lads, but that Jay should keep a watch out. He has promised me that he won't respond to any drunken challenges with "You want a piece of this?" We might pick up a scarf with the colours today, but the jersey's are out of reach price-wise. There is nothing more depressing than doing the conversion between pounds and dollars, so I try to avoid thinking about it as much as possible. We're staying with my friend Tala in North Greenwich, so asides from taking her out to C & T Malaysian restaurant (in Chinatown, look for the little alleyway with a long queu), buying a few drinks at the White Hare in Covent Garden and picking up some groceries (at the 24 hour Stainsbury's in the industrial park near our place, the supermarket of choice for the zombie apocalypse, judging from our experience last night), we're getting off pretty lightly in terms of costs. The cheapest hostel beds here cost about 20 pounds, per person per night. For five nights, that's a pretty significant sum of money. I try to remember this fact when I think about how much the tickets to the match cost. There weren't many seats left, so we had to choose between view restricted for 22.50 ("If nobody stands up during the match at all, you'll be able to see something," said the ticket girl hopefully) and 45 for Shed End. There were better seats at 60, but that's just insane. The only part that gave me pause was that Terry, Cech and the Coles are out. I'm mainly sad about not seeing Terry play, but it's not looking too good for him after his surgery, so it didn't make sense to hold off seeing a match in the hopes that he'll be on the pitch anytime soon.

It's fun to pick up the discarded papers on the tube and get all the dirt on the various footballers. Becks and Posh are all over the tabloids, which is not unusual, but the news is saying that he's signed a deal with an LA team worth hundreds of millions. Yeah, he's a hottie and commands a lot of star power, but what's the point of buying someone for a decade at the end of their career? He'll be good for years yet, but will be declining all the same. The likelyhood that he'll get some kind of career-ending injury in the next few years is pretty strong, but I guess people in LA have more money than sense.

More soon.

*Don't worry mom, true hooliganism at the matches is almost a thing of the past these days.


The British Museum and Chelsea FC

So, to start, a photo set of discarded Christmas trees in central London. Very appropriate.

We had a quick tour of the British Museum today, which was really incredible. The Egyptian wing was my favourite, since I've always been interested in Egyptian history. The highlight was definitely the Rosetta Stone, which was not exactly what I imagined, even though I saw it in pictures. The text is very uniform (and tiny), yet the script is still legible from a distance. But I wonder: since the top left hand corner of the stone is gone, how would the Greek in the bottom provide clues to the hieroglyphic and demotic text at the top if there is no reference from the missing text? Now I'm thinking about textual theory. Great.

The museum is great, though. It's free to go inside, the architecture is impressive and the collection would have kept me there for the rest of the day if we didn't have plans. If I come back to London, then I will make a return trip to the museum.

I love visiting museums (especially when they're free) whenever I come to a new city. Museums, like libraries, can give you sense of the local public consciousness, like how groups view themselves and their world, and how they fit into the world. By displaying certain artifacts, and how the accompanying explanation contextualizes the artifact in history, the narratives that make up history are semi-permanently cemented into the public.

Oh, and because Norse (read: Viking) aesthetics and history is interesting, I took some shots of weapons and jewellery I came across during my visit:

We got the tickets to see our first football match. We are very excited and very nervous at the same time. I really don't want to be beaten by a 300 pound Wigan fan in an over sized team jersey caked with gravy and spittle.

Welcome to London

I'm not the world's greatest airline passenger, no, because the very thought of flying makes me ill. I hate the take-offs and the landings - even the slightest change in altitude has this intense physiological effect on my tender body, as though I'm going to fall through the floor of the plane and plummet to a messy and untimely demise. Luckily, I has Lisa's hand to clutch at the key moments. I'm never comfortable in a plane, either. My legs get cramped, the recycled air dries out my sinuses and the food has the exact opposite effect food is supposed to have on the human body. And how do people sleep in a plane? How? The only consolation is the tiny screen on the back of every seat, with multiple channels. I watched Flyboys and The Rock three times.

I hate flying. Really.

But, as you might have guessed, we arrived in London at around 6 PM local time. As I'm writing this, the birds are happily chirping in our host's backyard in Greenwich, and I can hear the dim of traffic nearby. I can only really give you general impressions at the moment, since we just woke up from a ten-hour nap. I can't consider England to be a foreign country. Everyone speaks English, the infrastructure resembles the Canadian variety. The public transit, the airport, shops and restaurants are oddly familiar. I feel unnaturally comfortable, as though I've been here before, but not for years.

The one element that reminds us we're not home is the architecture. We were struck by the row houses here, although we've seen them in a variety of contexts before. The older buildings that survived the bombing during World War Two are contrasted with the skyscrapers and box stores.

When looking at a map of London, the city seems confusing. I use the Thames and the major arterial roads as guides (obviously) or else I'll be lost.

Expect more to come!


An empty house and two full hearts.

As I'm writing this my right arm aches from the vaccination I received this morning. I was really surprised by how efficient the staff at the travel clinic were: we were in and out of there in ten minutes. Although I'm not exactly thrilled to be punctured so early in the morning, Lisa convinced me to get vaccinated in case we run into trouble.

Well, the house is packed up and put into storage, our accounts at Telus and our internet provider are cleared away, and now we're just running around getting the last few details sorted, like sending out our forwarding address and returning borrowed books. We also want to see as many friends and family as possible before we're gone.

When you're leaving for such a long time, doesn't it seem like it takes forever to tidy up all the loose ends? Whenever we think we're finished and ready to go, a dozen more chores pop up, begging to get finished. Funny how a life accumulates debris and treasures the longer you live somewhere, but you never know what that means until you try to corral it all into boxes.

We better get used to living out of backpacks again. I feel like I'm eighteen again.

Photo by Lisa