Radio silence.

I haven't been on here much, even though I have a backlog of things I wanted to talk about and pictures I wanted to share. I managed to get a major flu, that pretended to be a hang-over when it started, and I'm still dealing with the side effects. Wednesday evening I managed to stay conscious while the landlord worked on installing an internet connection in our apartment. The minute he left, I turned to Jay, announced "I'm sick" and proceeded to shake with a raging high fever for 12 hours. I've been off since then. I got a bit optimistic on Saturday and labelled myself "better," only to find myself unable to eat anything all weekend. Let's just say that the hot chocolate with whipped cream I had at the airport, while waiting for my family to arrive from London, was a mistake.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow.


This is how I roll . . . on the ground.

We signed up for language classes that run two times a week for something like eight weeks. Tonight is our first class. I'm not very good a language classes - as soon as I could stop taking French in high school I gracefully walked away. My university language class was much, much better, so I'm hoping this experience will be just as pleasant.

More on our language class experiences in the future!

I picked up Lisa's cold, though. She shared a bottle of homemade liquor at the last day of carnival last Tuesday, held at the dorms near our neighbourhood. The crowd was huge, mostly under a massive tent with kiosks selling cheap plonk and bands playing on stage. To be honest, the music wasn't to my liking, mostly pop tunes and cover songs of other pop music classics, but the vibe was genuinely electric. We spent the last half of our time there hanging out in the parking lot with another Canadian we met, and several groups of drunken young men came by and introduced themselves to us. We had a ton of fun, and I reached the right level of intoxication: not too ashamed to urinate in public, but also not too drunk to vomit in public.

One embarrassing moment: as we approached the tent, I was looking elsewhere and tripped on this elevated cement block, scraping my shin as I fell on my hands. There was a hushed silence, and as I stood up I tried to act nonchalantly but my poor Slovene made doing so impossible. Everyone blankly stared at me as I slinked off.

Lisa's family arrived last night and will probably do some touring today. I think they're here for a week, and I've heard plans to travel to Dubrovnik. Hopefully I can make the time to go. I often take school too seriously.

Take care, and watch where you walk.


Muezzins Calling for Prayer in Sarajevo.

A quick note from Lisa about the video: The quality of this isn't the best, as I was only playing with the camera recording function at the time, while we discussed religious terminology with our Czech companions. You can hear us come to the conclusion that the word someone was thinking of is "monastery" and then start walking off towards the market. Anyways, it gives a nice impression of early afternoon in Sarajevo. You can hear the adhan from any point in the city.

The first two weeks of school abroad and doing my laundry in Ljubljana.

My first foray into Slovenian academics has been part stressful, part surprising but mostly rewarding. The two classes I wanted to register for were a bust: Protection of Minorities is only half-taught in English. The part taught in Slovene, which looks at minorities in Slovenia, was the reason I wanted to attend. The class goes on a field trip to minority communities and write on topics relating to the treatment of minorities in this country. The section taught in English has an international scope, and that's not really my focus. The second class, Sociology of the Arts, isn't available at all.

However, my current classes are equally exciting. I'm taking Sociology of Everyday Life, which is pretty self-explanatory; Sociology of Sexuality, again, the course name says it all; Theory of Ideology, a political theory course that incorporates cultural and social theory; and Literary Journalism, a class taught by a working journalist on the techniques used in this particular genre. If I'm going to continue in journalism, in some fashion, this is what I'm interested in.

The classes are structured much like home, although I only have one exam. Classes are once a week, from one to three and a half hours, and essentially the classes use lectures, group discussion and projects as pedagogical methods. The profs teach in English, although some are a little embarrassed because they feel as though their language skills are inadequate. I have never had a problem understanding them, though. Some of them ask me for reference while they lecture and despite my own embarrassment of being singled out as the "outsider" (never mind there's other international students in the class) it is nice being the class expert.

There are some differences. The schedule lists the times and days for classes, but that's just for the first meeting. Some profs move the time and day around after the first week, which makes it confusing for students who missed the first day. Also, you need to get a membership for the library. Each faculty, located in a different building scattered across the city (unlike UBC, where all the buildings are clustered together), has its own library. International students used to buy memberships, but that policy changed last year and now it's free.

If a class has less than ten students, the prof doesn't cancel the class. Instead, the students meet with the prof for a one-on-one consultation. That is cool, and Canadian universities should consider that approach. However, I do feel as though I'm taking grad level courses here. Most of the work is done out of class, and topics for projects are completely freestyle. I know some profs teaching undergrad courses have the same technique, but generally that's not the case. There are no textbooks, by the way. All the readings must either come out of the library (my copy of The Social Construction of Reality is one) or the prof leaves a master copy at the copy center for students to pick up, for a nominal fee. Sometimes profs upload texts online for yout to download, like a piece by Wallerstein.

My faculty (Faulteta za druzbene vede, or Faculty of Social Sciences) is not the only one with a sociology department. There's also the Filozokska faulteta (Faculty of Arts) which offers courses like Sociology of Drama. I take it that department focuses on cultural studies, whereas my faculty tends to lean towards . . . I really don't know, since my faculty also teaches Sociology of the Arts and Cultural Anthropology. The structure is confusing, because my home department is in one building and under one faculty. It's not like the situation is blowing my mind or anything, but I'm curious about the philosophy the structures the university in such a way.

As time goes on I'll be writing my classroom experiences in further detail.

Most households in the city have their own washing machines, so laundromats are a rare sight, and expensive. Before we moved into our flat, there was a woman who also considered renting it, but didn’t because there wasn’t a washing machine installed. This makes me wonder why – in Vancouver, there’s no short supply. In fact, most apartments and even rented houses don’t have private laundry machines, either they’re shared or are not there at all.

Is this a chicken-and-egg argument? No one wants to manage a laundromat (or there is no infrastructure to support them, or people customarily did their own wash and never required commercial laundry services) so the public purchases their own, or everyone has already bought a washing machine (and / or a dryer) so laundromats would be redundant.

There are a few laundries, mostly in the student dorms. I visited the dorms in Rožan Dolina, which look somewhat like the ones back at UBC, and found the laundromat; but instead of a self-serve laundry, you had to give up your clothes to someone behind a glass barrier. The total cost was 10 Euros, but I had to wait twenty-four hours. I can’t go commando for that long. So, I’m still looking for a coin-operated laundromat. I miss sitting inside one, with the flowery smell of detergent permeating the air, and the constant hum as clothes are tumbled around and around in dryers.

Wish me luck.


Driving in Europe, castles along the sea and the street cats of Sarajevo.

Although we’ve been back for a couple of days, we’ve been so embroiled in the first week of school I can barely find the time to even check my email. However, I know how dull it is to read a blogger’s excuses as to why the updates are few and far between, so consider this the last excuse. I always feel obligated to report every minute detail of my life abroad, but that’s impossible and gets boring fast.

Okay, the travelogue:

We agreed to meet the driver at 4 AM in front of the Faculty of Economics (Ekonomska fakulteta). This was a dodgy preposition. First, we kept ourselves awake all night, to avoid sleeping in and missing our ride. Last week we slept in quite a bit – the habit is hard to break. We walked into town, against the river of clubbers coming home from their respective parties. The main drag, Slovenska cesta, was clogged with lads yelling at each other, smashing bottles and kicking the already dented dumpsters. We were a bit spooked, so we caught a cab to the campus. Cab fares in this city are really cheap, mostly because the city is much smaller than other urban centers. When we arrived we waited outside in the dark and fog, the light from street lamps piercing the thin misty veil around us. We were cold, tired and hungry, but we were excited.

Our driver, a Czech student studying in Ljubljana, showed up and shuttled us off to pick up our other two fellow travelers: two Czech women also studying here (I will keep our travel companions names out of the public record. I’m not sure if they want their names smeared all over the internet). After some quick introductions we were off.

I like traveling. Really, I do. What I don’t like is the process. Spending eight to nine hours in a car just doesn’t agree with me anymore. Most people who grew up in Canada, if their parents owned a car, have experienced the epic road trips across the country to visit the World’s Largest Q-Tip in the summer. I am no stranger to this phenomenon. But my tolerance for discomfort has proportionally declined as I age, so my neck, shoulders, legs and feet were yelling at me near the end of each lag towards our destinations. Oh, well. The views were beautiful, the company was pleasant and I got to eat more pizza and half-liters of beer a man my age should consume in one weekend.

But driving in Europe is, obviously, a far different experience than driving in Canada. Back home, drivers go as fast as 100 KPH, pushing it at 120. Here, cars were going 180 KPH, only slowing down at turns. Most of our trip was on the coastal roads, so usually there were just two lanes, bordered by a cliff on one side and a sheer drop to the Adriatic Sea on the other, with cars and trucks speeding along with us. On our way home, I was relieved when we reached the massive four-lane highway recently built in Croatia.

I hope you folks don’t mind descriptions of the trip in point form. We visited quite a few cities in only four days and my time at the internet café is limited.

Day One, Sarajevo: A remarkable city, although still showing signs of devastation after the war. This was my first time in a city with such a large Muslim population, and hearing the muezzins who climb their minarets and call out for prayer as we stumble down cobbled streets was invigorating. I was surprised and pleased at seeing the three major Abrahamic religions being in such close approximity together: mosques, churches and temples are built next door to each other.

We stayed in a guesthouse on a hill overlooking the city, up a narrow street that passes a Muslim cemetery, tiny shops belonging to tinsmiths tapping on thin sheets of metal and groups of men standing on corners smoking and laughing among themselves. There is a strong Turkish influence in this city, like the street food offering stuffed peppers and kebabs.

The number of strays in this part of the world far outnumbers the amount in Canada. Interestingly, while in Sarajevo I noticed how many cats lived within the confines of the local mosques. I suppose the relationship is beneficial: the cats keep the rodent population in check and in return, the cats get a safe place to sleep. Most strays kept to themselves and avoided us, and others just stared as we approached them. Some even wanted a rub behind the ears! Cat-loving vegetarian on holiday = some chump who tries to befriend all the local strays.

Day Two,
Mostar: Ah, Mostar. Where else can you go that has a town that looks as though Lord of the Rings was filmed there? We stayed in the center of town for 10 Euros each, in close walking distance to the restaurants, bars and cafés built along the river that cuts through the city.

We stayed there long enough to see their famous Old Bridge (Stari Most, the pic on the left), which was destroyed during the war, and sit in a café overlooking the river and mediaeval bridges to drink beautiful Turkish coffee and chat. I visited a mosque for the first time, too.

Day Three, Dubrovnik: Next to Sarajevo, this was one of my favourite places although the food was expensive and lacked any real variety. You mostly find pizza and pasta, but since the town is on the coast and if you eat meat, the local seafood is supposedly really good.

I like castles. You like castles? Everyone does. How about a mediaeval city completely enclosed by a massive stone wall? With waves crashing against the rocks on the side facing the sea? We climbed up that wall and walked along it as the rain pelted us; but really, despite my occasional complaints and soaked jacket, I wished my more geek-minded friends were there with me to enjoy the city. Later, we watched the annual carnival celebrating Lent, with folks dressed as witches, flamenco dancers, sumo wrestlers and yaks crowding Stradun, the main street, accompanied by a marching band that went through the narrow streets in the walled city.

Day Four,
Kotor: It was late as we approached Kotor. Our driver suggested we find a place to crash for the night, and we drove through small boroughs along the highway looking for a suitable location. Finally, we decided to go into a local pub and ask for directions. We walked into a crowded, smoky bar completely populated by men. We sheepishly sauntered up to the bar and one of the Czech women asked the bartender if there are any cheap rooms available.

The bar went quiet. The bartender looked at the floor. Gradually, the bar patrons began to talk again, mostly to the bartender. They started yelling, arguing. At this point, I was confused. Suddenly, the bartender spoke up.

“Yes, yes. He has room,” pointing to a young man in paint-splattered work clothes.

The young man smiled and explained that the apartment was a few metres away and we were to follow his car. Although we thought the whole scene was pretty dodgy, we had no choice and followed him. We ended up in a spacious flat with two large bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room with a mini pool table and cable television! Our room was cold and the blankets had a stale smell to them, but we were happy to find a place so late at night.

Kotor is much like Dubrovik, but smaller. The town is located in Europe’s largest fjord (which is not actually a real fjord) and with the sun shining on the narrow streets clogged with ivy it was the prefect way to end our trip. We hiked up the hill behind the city to explore the ancient walls and fortifications built on it and get a spectacular view of the area. Later, we sat in a café in the town square for coffee and traditional desserts, like a custard cake swimming in a caramel sauce.

Most memorable moment: besides climbing the fortified hill, watching a puppy devour the skinned head of a lamb in front of a café. It was disgusting and cute.

It’s much easier to cross borders if there’s a man and woman in the front seat rather than two men. We were stopped and searched once in Montenegro (apparently many immigrants, legal or otherwise, favour that country) and I think it’s because I sat with the driver. When Lisa sat up front, we were waved across borders like we were escorting the Pope.

We left Kotor, and eight hours later we drove across two countries and made it home at around 1:30 AM.

We had an excellent time. I considered this trip an extended introduction to the Balkans, and now I know where I will return. I undoubtedly missed some events in this post, but my lovely companion will add her own perspectives.

Some sad news (for me): The Tesla experiments won’t be starting until March at the Technical Museum. Phooey.


And, we're back.

1900+km driven in a little Czech Skoda with tinted windows through 3 countries. 900+ of which were driven today, in one fairly continuous swoop from Montenegro to Ljubljana, leaving Kotor at 2:00pm, stopping for dinner somewhere in Dalmacija for an hour and a half. Home at 1:30am. More tomorrow.


Bosna i Herzegovina, Crna Gora, Hrvatska.

It looks as though our travel plans are arranged: tomorrow, 4am, we meet 3 Czech students and set off in their car for Sarajevo. Yes, that's 4am. It's not going to be pretty, so I'm hooking Jay up to an overnight coffee IV.

Two days will be spent in Sarajevo, then on to Mostar for an overnight. We'll drive to Dubrovnik next, down to Kotor in Montenegro*, not KoToR, which is disapointing for Jay. Then back via Split and Trogir, onwards through Sunday night until we reach Ljubljana. Classes start at noon on Monday, so we should be sufficiently exhausted for our first 4 hour class session on the Protection of Minorities in the Republic of Slovenia & the EU. We won't have our computers with us, obviously, so any updates will be quite brief.

Today we had our course and library orientation at the FDV (Fakulteta za družbene vede, or faculty of social sciences). Most classes officially start next week, and actually, contrary to what I'd been told about expecting most classes to start late in the month, it looks like all the ones we want to take are ready to begin on time.

Wish us "sretan put" (or, a pleasant journey, as they say in Croatia).

Love, L & J

*Yes, Montenegro, the setting for Casino Royale, even though the film was actually shot in Italy and Czech Republic.


I swear, the public transit in this town is trying to make me into a eunuch.

It's true! There's these paddles near the driver that swing open to let riders on, and they keep smacking me in the jibblies!

I forgot to mention in the last post that last Wednesday we went out to see The Battle of Algiers, an Italian film about, um, the battle of Algiers. The film inspired anti-colonial and civil rights activists for years, and is still referenced today. The film was a free showing at Social Center Tovarna Rog, nestled in an abandoned military compound. To enter, we had to pry open these giant sliding steel doors and follow some locals going into a crowded room where everyone was smoking and drinking, immersed in their own conversations. Anti-racist and anti-capitalist posters adorned the walls, and I felt comfortable being in somewhat familiar surroundings. The film was great, but problematic. More on that later, yes?

We checked out Bachus Center on the weekend; a noisy, busy club with three floors. The bottom floor, with tables under brick arches supporting the old building over our heads, had quite a small crowd at first but ended up completely filled. Although I'm not a big house music fan, especially when it's mixed with Top 40, the atmosphere was genuinely lively and friendly. We ordered Smile, a light beer made by Union and tastes like Corona, served with a lemon slice. It was cheap, so we ordered plenty, but the sickly sweet drink didn't agree with me later. We danced, made fun of other clubbers and drank - we ended up coming home at around three in the morning.

On Wednesday we have to attend an orientation for international students. Apparently, to register for classes, you just show up on the first day, decide if you like the class then mark yourself down for it. Thursday is Prešeren Day (a national holiday celebrating a poet? This country is awesome!) so there is no school until next Monday. So, we were thinking of joining some Czech students driving down to Bosnia and possibly the coast this weekend.

I have to cut this short. We need to run some errands. Ciao!

Addendum: The church on the hill is called Rožnik, in Veliki Rakovnik.


We will take the mountains, and the bars.

The last few days have kept us away from a reliable internet connection (well, me anyway) but we've seen quite a lot since. The theme this week? Hiking.

And just so you know, I have been teaching myself Slovene. The language is not entirely difficult once I learned the basic phonetic alphabet. The problem for me is where to put the emphasis. In English, it's at the end of the word. In French, it's at the beginning. I have no idea how it works in Slovene. More practice, I guess. Although, I can order coffee and say "thank you" and basically not look like a total jackass in pubs or cafés.

On Wednesday we hiked up a hill in our neighbourhood (I don't remember the name, I'll get back to y'all on that) to visit this church situated at the top. We roamed around the church and had drinks at a pub just a few meters away. That's what I love about Europe: you can't go anywhere without a bar nearby to reward yourself after hiking.

As usual, the view was quite good, and the beer afterwards was the proverbial cherry on top. We are lucky in this town: in any direction, we can walk for only twenty minutes and be able to hike up hills and mountains, hang out in parks or just take a quick bus ride to towns offering even better opportunities. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

For example, we took a bus to Bled yesterday, which is an hour and half from Ljubljana. This town is featured in most of the postcards and tourist guides, and with good reason. First, I should contextualize this bit by noting that I've been rereading A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, given to me by my friend Chris. Now, after reading about castles nestled in snow and towering mountains, visiting Bled just made the book come to life.

We arrived in the afternoon, and immediately grabbed a coffee and figured out what we wanted to see. We started by walking the circuit around Lake Bled, a relatively small body of water with some amazing houses dotted along the shore - huge houses, some made with brick or wood, including a stone mansion jutting out of the rocky cliff facing the lake, supported by (what seemed like) 100 foot-tall columns. Apparently, this was once Tito's summer home, now made into a hotel. We walked for about an hour, taking pictures and imagining which houses we would purchase if we had the funds to do so. I mean, who wouldn't? A gorgeous alpine town, massive (and climbable) mountains and above all, one of the most impressive churches I've ever seen. I've looked inside massive cathedrals in Prague, Budapest and France, but how many of them are built on an island surrounded by frosty mountains looming overhead?

We are returning to Bled in the spring, and I will take the gondola to the island and ring the bell in the tower, yelling out my victory cheer. I'm still working on the cheer, though. All I have is time.

Later, we found a trail leading up to Velika Osojnica, an eight hundred meter hill overlooking the town. There was still plenty of snow on the ground, at least half a foot, which made trekking difficult for yours truly, outfitted in jeans meant for city hiking. We did make it to the summit. The entire area was eerily quiet, with the groans and screeches of civilization far behind us. Sunlight pierced the thick grove of trees around us, and occasionaly a tiny birdsong could be heard in the distance. When we reached the top, we stopped for water and snacks and quickly made our way down.
The view from the top of Velika Osojnica.

We finished the rest of the circuit and watched the ducks and swans go about their business. Did you know that the Mute Swan, found in Lake Bled, is protected by the law? There were signs posted, warning the public to not "interfere" with the swans, or else!

We did make it to Castle Bled (amazing name) by running up the hill in ten minutes, but our progress was halted by the 6 Euro fee to enter the grounds. Like I said, we will check out all the architectural sights when the snow melts.

We went to a restaurant called "The Mountaineer" for a dinner of garlic soup, mushroom pasta and a massive pint of Union. Lisa had fried cheese with tartar sauce and a mixed salad. The portions were generous and the meal perfectly finished a day of hiking and touring. We caught a late bus back into town, and I immediately passed out once I dragged my tired carcass into bed.

Tonight: we continue our language lessons and then do some clubbing. On Sunday, an early breakfast at Le Petit Café and trip to the Technical Museum.

Take care, we miss you Vancouver.