Seven days, a train strike, a carload of cranky Barcelonans, a hellish security lineup at CDG airport, and some turbulence later, we are back in Vancouver. And just in time for Canada Day. How does one celebrate Canada's 140 years of being a country? Glad you asked. Put on an outfit like this:And then drink until you can't stand, eh? I'm not one for festive headgear (maple leaf tuque? so not fierce), so I spent my Canada Day on a ferry headed for Vancouver Island to see Jay's family in Victoria. The day was pretty quiet, with the occasional "happy Canada Day, eh?" bellowed across the street. Our national celebration ended as it usually does: with the police hammering on our door at 2:30 in the morning. Seems someone else in the building had a little too much Canada Day cheer and they wanted a key to the apartment to "check whether the guy is dead or something". Turns out he wasn't dead, he had just gotten drunk, cranked his music and then left the apartment in the middle of the night, to the eternal gratitude of his neighbours.

I'll let you in on a little secret that no one outside of Canada knows. We have a reputation globally as a nation of boy scouts and cuddly do-gooders. The Ned Flanders of the international community, if you will. We've got that charming accent, we tend to look pretty peaceful compared to our neighbours to the south, our national animal is the beaver, and an elderly lady with a predilection for Corgies is our figurehead. And generally, we are a pretty peaceful, easy-going bunch. Until we've had a two-four of Kokanee (or our hockey team loses the play-offs), that is. Our most frequently occuring crime is common assault, and Canada Day is a pretty good illustration of the Jekyll and Hyde aspect of Canadian temperament. Put a drink in us and we turn into brawlers. In Victoria, a quiet place that has been called the city of the "newlywed and nearly dead", thirty three transit buses pulled in to police road checkpoints for help with drunken, fighting Canadians on board. And yet, only 30 people were arrested in BC's capital on Sunday. Maybe our reputation lives on because we manage to escape arrest most of the time? In any case, all is back to normal, and everyone is mild-mannered, relaxed and tending to their igloos again. In some ways it is indeed good to be home again.


Just a quick update.

We made it to Venice in time to catch our train, and we're now in Paris, staying with friends in Plessy-Robinson (the last stop on the RER line). We'll put a proper post up tomorrow, but for now I wanted to wish my fellow Québecois a "bonne Saint-Jean"! For non-Québecois readers: "la fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste" is the national holiday of Canada's francophone province, originally celebrated in honour of Quebec's patron saint.


The big reveal.

It's not that big of a reveal, but I wanted to tell my family before I told the rest of the world.

We are indeed coming back for another year. I'll be returning to Slovenia in September.


Who's the patron saint of Italian strikes?

The universe has a spectacular sense of humour. Remember those train tickets that I lost, tore the house apart over and then found? *chokes* They are for a train that looks like it won't be running due to an Italy wide TRAIN STRIKE that starts at 9pm on Thursday and runs at least 24hours. I still have to double check with the Slovenian rail company, but it looks unlikely that we'll be taking a train to Venice. Anyone have alternate suggestions? Renting a car with some school mates is probably what will end up happening.

On the up side, the really important train from San Lucia to Paris Bercy seems to be guaranteed to run even during a strike. After spending half an hour freaking out, I managed to find a page that lists trains that are running. I don't imagine that many of you have plans to take an Italian train on Friday, but I thought I'd throw out a link to any wild-eyed tourists who are searching for a way to get around and happen to stumble on the blog.

It's funny (and I'm probably jinxing myself as I say this), but I was concerned about French rail strikes (especially if Sarkozy won the election) and didn't much think about the Italian situation. I'm just lucky that an Erasmus student send a notice to the listserv, otherwise I'd probably not found out until the strike started. The week of train ticket blogging will soon come to an end, I promise.


Okay, all those Sundays throughout my childhood paid off! Score one for Saint A. I searched through everything, unfolding every piece of paper I own, searching the bottom of purses, looking under the bed. Nothing! I looked up the non-discount price for one way train tickets, and to my dismay they are 25 euros per person, making my loss of the tickets a sweet 75 euro mistake. Then my friend called and I went into the bedroom to answer the phone. As I was talking to him, my eyes went to the window and what should I see on the windowsill but a Slovenske železnice envelope. Gremo z vlakom indeed!
All is in line for our departure Friday. School paperwork is done, packing is under way, recycling has gone out, train tickets are on my desk. Train tickets from Venice to Paris. And train tickets from Ljubljana to Venice are here somewhere. Somewhere...

Or are they? They're not in the piles of paperwork, not in the packed items, not on the desk. I'm just going to invoke Saint Anthony now, because I think I may have overzealously recycled. I really don't want to believe that our tickets are now in the back of the recycling truck that just came by.

There's a nice breeze blowing through the window but I've got a bit of a cold sweat going. Yeah, they're just 25 euros worth of tickets, which is not much on the face of things. Then again, it's not exactly the point in the semester when you feel like treating your recycling crew to tickets to La Serenissima. Nor is it the time to be throwing away reserved tickets on a train to Italy during peak tourist season.

Okay, *deep breaths*. I'm going to rummage around one last time, and then I'm breaking out the candles for some supplications to our Paduan patron saint of (stupidly) lost items. So much for lapsed Catholicism...


Can North Americans please remove their heads from their asses?

Have you seen the trailer for Michael Moore's latest film, Sicko? In one scene, he informs the audience that the United States "slipped to 37th in health care around the world, just slightly ahead of Slovenia."

What the hell, Mike?

I don't understand why North Americans view Slovenia as some backwater third world country where the locals resort to cannibalism or never heard of a toilet or ride goats to work or whatever. Slovenia is a first world country. Even then, actual third world countries (or, if you prefer, low income countries) don't deserve the image bestowed to them by North Americans. These countries have issues, but they are not the frontiers of civilization - they are a civilization. I've been seriously asked if the drinking water in this country is safe. My fury is rising.

Besides this tidbit of searing hot rage, I have nothing to add to this discussion. Other Slovenian bloggers have taken up the issue with patented fervour. Let me know what you think. I'm going into the bathroom so I can scream in peace.

The beginning of the end of the . . .

Time is not our ally. Already we are fast approaching our departure date. Although it is truly a tired cliche to say so, we feel as though we had only arrived yesterday, struggling to understand the public transit system, figuring out how to order coffee and navigating the bureaucracy of a European university. Soon we will be heading to Venice for a train to Paris, then after five days in the City of Lights we will be on a plane home.

The story, however, is far from over. We have good news, but you will have to wait for the big reveal. That will be coming soon.

Consider this my last post until I reach Canada. From there I'll posting on topics relevant to Slovenia or any memories that bubble to the surface. Lisa will be doing the same, I reckon.


A big hvala to our friends, who have helped us with the usual struggles foreigners experience and giving us history lessons, booze and sushi. You all made our time here wonderful and memorable.


Quick trip update, with pics.

How is everyone? I'm feeling much better. After taking it easy for a couple of days, my stomach finally settled down.

As some of you might know, we returned from a trip across Bulgaria and Romania. Now, I'm no stranger to long rides, and in this case we clocked in over 3000 kilometres in this one trip, but I'm thankful we have over a week before we go on another epic trek.

Rather than boring you with all the details, I'd much rather write my impressions.

Bulgaria was fantastic. We stayed in Sofia and explored the city. Very busy at times, with people and cars clogging the streets and always moving, and sometimes not paying attention to each other. But, really, it's a quiet city at night. As I've said, the city has some strong Western influences. Fast-food restaurants, chic shopping malls and cineplexes abound. But mix that with Orthodox churches and communist-era architecture and the result is surreal as it is fascinating.

The Rila Monastary, nestled in the Rila mountains.

We did stay in Bucharest but we spent most of our time in northern and central Romania. Whereas Sofia was subdued, Bucharest was the polar opposite. A huge city (compared to Ljubljana) that was bustling and crowded, the air filled with diesel fumes. Like Sofia, stray dogs roamed freely in packs. We stayed in the Maramures region (as told by Lisa), which practices one of the last peasant cultures in Europe. We also visited Cluj-Napoca, a college town, which was surprisingly vibrant with expensive cafés and boutiques. After spending some time in such a rural community, being in a metropolis like Cluj was a jolt to the system.

Oh, and I did fulfill my dream and visited Sighisoara, Transylvania - the birthplace of Dracula! We did indeed see the house he was born (now a touristy restaurant) but avoid the supposed Torture Museum, which was just a room no larger than our bathroom with photocopied pages from a history book tacked on the wall. However, the town is genuinely lovely, with the old town enclosed in a citadel on a hill, connected by cobbled streets and old houses painted in bright colours.

The National Library in Bucharest.

The birthplace of Vlad Tepes.


Sick day.

I was going to write a post on our recent trip, but I suddenly came down with terrible stomach pain while we were enjoying ourselves on the patio of our favourite café. Man, I just came home.

I suppose I need some rest. No posting for awhile, I guess.

Apologies to Pengovsky for cutting our meeting short. I'm a little embarrassed.


Tito's children.

I just noticed that our national media outlet, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC for short) is playing a radio documentary on Yugoslavia. It looks as though it'll mostly be focused on the more easterly section (surprise!), but I imagine that Slovenia will also be discussed (we'll just leave aside the question of whether SLO is in the Balkans or not, eh?). You can listen live from Slovenia at 6am on Saturday, and it will probably be archived as a free podcast on the CBC section of Itunes. The show is called Ideas, which is almost always excellent. Here's the description of the show:

Friday, June 8, 2007, 9:00 p.m. (if you're in Canada)

"Tito’s Children. The Balkans, they say, sit on a great fault-line of history, between Europe and Asia, between Christian and Muslim worlds. From far back in time, battles have raged there, leaving a legacy of tribalism and distrust. Out of the ruins of the Second World War, however, through a combination of brute force, charisma and innovative social policy, Josip Broz, better known as Marshall Tito, forged a unique state that almost worked – Yugoslavia. But after his death in 1980, the country rapidly fell apart amid war and bloodshed. Today, the separate elements of Yugoslavia are rebuilding themselves. Philip Coulter looks at the ethnic and political fissures in the Balkans to see what forces are in play in the building of civil society."

The description is a bit over the top, and this whole "fault line of history" thing is becoming a tiresome cliche (which part of the world isn't a crossroads between East and West, Christian and Muslim, at this point in the discourse?). It's lazy and obvious, kinda like a travel writer talking about X location as "a land of contrasts". Nevertheless, I expect the show itself to be quite good, or at the very least interesting.

If you are in the mood to discover more of our media (and why wouldn't you), I'd suggest also downloading Dispatches from Itunes, a weekly world affairs radio documentary show. It's the one thing I listen to religiously, no matter where I am. It's the best of our public broadcast system.

As for us, we're just killing some time in Sighisoara (birthplace of a certain infamous Transylvanian gentleman) before our night train to Budapest. We'll be in Hungary for the morning (thermal baths and then cake and coffee at Gerbeau in Pest, sigh) and then will jump on a Slovenia-bound train around noon. Should be home, all things being equal, by 9:30 Saturday night. Can't wait!



Got off the late night train from Sighet to Cluj-Napoca, dropped our bags on the floor of our hostel room, told someone where we live and were told that Slovenia had just lost 2-0 to Romania. Felt bitter and went to bed.

Don't go yet.

We're home in a day or two. Internet is unreliable and time is short. Expect a succinct synopsis of our Bulgarian and Romanian excursion when I'm safely back in Ljubljana.


Lost in Romania.

If I go down the street, turn right and walk for ten minutes I will reach the river. If I swim across, I will come out of the water in the Ukraine. Depending on the street I walk down, my phone switches from Romanian to Ukrainian mobile companies.

Jay and I are in the northernmost town in Romania, Sighetu Marmatei. After the noise, tension and excitement of Sofia and Bucharest, it's nice to wake up to the sound of horse carts going by outside the window or the shouts of a sturdy woman driving her oxen to market. The pace is slow and the air is clean. It would seem that the only tourists that come here just roll through in airconditioned coaches (pausing briefly to get out, run into the museum, snap photos and leave), because no matter where we go in town, people stare at us with open curiosity.

The internet is a bit wonky, so I'll keep this brief. Back on Saturday, will try to update more soon.