Friday, January 30, 2015

Snow Day!

Today was our first big snow storm!  There was already an inch or two on the ground when we woke up this morning, and with steady snowfall until noon we probably got 4 inches or so.  Here's our backyard at 730 am:

Here's the little field where I toss the ball for Bobo most mornings.  Needless to say fetching a tennis ball is harder in 2-3 inches of snow:
Because we're in central Europe, no school closings, no work cancellations, nothing.  When I greeted my colleagues at the law school with "you made it in," they scoffed at me.

Of course, they probably drove or took the bus and I rode my bike!  The students had warned me not to try to ride in after a snow, but I thought it was worth a try regardless.  When we got here I bought the cheapest bike I could.  A fifty euro, one speed clunker the girls nicknamed "the junker."  It is probably not the world's greatest snow vehicle.  Here it is in fairer weather:
Those thin tires and old fashioned brakes were just MADE for the snow.  And yet, the junker and I made it in to work in one piece, exhilarated and laughing pretty hard.  The good news is that thanks to my brother's Christmas gift I finally have nice warm gloves and a crazy facemask.  Because the gloves have only two fingers and the facemask is pretty aggressive the girls call this my "lobster boy" look:

Pity poor lobster boy!  He must cover his heinous face and claws!  Actually lobster boy stays quite warm, which helps when biking on unplowed bike paths on a one gear road bike named the junker.  Here's a selfie I took by Tivoli park, about halfway to the Faculty of Law:
Look at the collection of people walking behind me!  There were almost no bikes at all on the road (I wonder why?), so there was a concomitant rise in walking and bus riding.  I asked one of them to take a picture of me and the junker (and more bikers and bussers):
Because biking was moderately unsafe I attracted some consternation, despite not actually falling or hitting anyone.  Check out this hilarious photobomb by a stern and sturdy Slovenian old lady wondering a) why I was biking and b) why I was so stupid as to stop and take a photo of it.  Fair points, actually:
Of course I actually stopped to try to capture the spectacular views.  Seriously, like Vienna, Ljubljana shines in the snow.  It was just built for it I think.  Here's the three bridges with the castle hill (with the castle covered in fog) in the background:
Here I am in Preseren Square, almost to the law school:

Here are a couple of favorite statues near the law school in the snow.  The dragon clearly needs to work on her fire breathing:

If we had this much snow in Knoxville on a Friday, schools would be closed through next Tuesday.  Here, Indya, Dahlia, and Georgia trudged off to school.  Hopefully snowy recess with their pals helped:

This will all be less fun when I bike in to work on Monday on the snowy, dirty remains.  But for now, fun city!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Family Christmas in Ljubljana

It is not an exaggeration to say that we were looking forward to Christmas from the day we landed in Ljubljana.  My Mom, Dad, brother Jake, sister-in-law Jenny and their super cute kids Dexter and Pippa all came over for two weeks to celebrate with us.  The four cousins have always gotten along really well and of course we have missed home and family a lot, so anticipation for the visit was very high.  We spent the first week (through the day after Christmas) in Ljubljana and then traveled to Vienna, Budapest, and Prague all together.  We faced the usual challenges of traveling and organizing ten different opinionated humans ranging in age from 4 to 72, but overall it was a triumph.

Why?  Well, we had lots and lots of cousin bonding time, as a group:

And in various pairs and trios:

We had our first official cousin photobomb in the snow in Vienna:

We had some good times shopping!  Here's Dahlia dancing while shopping with Aunt Jenny and Grandma entertaining the children while we wandered:

Christmas gifts included official gear from the Slovenian National Football Team.  We're all big fans now!
Dahlia also made Jake a DIY "My Name is BOSS" coffee mug, which is most fitting (and hilarious) if you know Jake:

We played some super fun games.  Here is our "make a hat from a napkin contest" (Georgia is great at origami, so she won with her upside down origami cup hat):

We played a few VERY serious games of Slovenian Monopoly (at this point Dahlia was winning and Georgia, Grandma, and Grandpa were losing, in case the facial expressions aren't clear enough):

What makes it Slovenian?  Well, check out a hotel on what we call Baltic Avenue:
We even used Google translate to figure out Chance and Community Chest.

We had fancy hot cocoa, a latte, and a game of Uno:
We had a snowball fight in Vienna:

We were blown away by Vienna's museums and beauty.  I'd never been to any of the cities we visited, and one quick lesson was that the Hapsburg Empire was huge and super extra rich for five hundered years or so before World War I.  Seriously, the 16th to 19th century Viennese buildings compare favorably with Paris's or London's, just spectacular.  for just one example, here's the interior to the Austrian National Library:

We got a little burned out on Museums:

We took A LOT of photos (when we could find our cameras).  Anyone who knows my Mom will recognize this shot:

We even snuck in some grown up fun.  Here's the middle aged grownups at 12:01 a.m., January 1, 2015 on the streets of Budapest:

The smartest thing we did was let my Mom choose all the hotels.  She became the Picasso of More importantly (from the girls' point of view) was that my parents travel in STYLE.  Five star hotels in every town.  Here's Indya and my Dad in front of the Beaux Arts masterpiece the Hotel Pariz in Prague:

Here we are at the extra yummy breakfast:

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday because of the food and the gratitude, but this year there was no contest: Christmas was the winner by a mile.  Family visits will do that for you. I hadn't traveled with my parents in Europe since 1990(!), and I can't say for sure when we'll have a chance to do it again.  Here are Dahlia and Georgia hugging my parents after giving them their homemade gifts:

When we parted ways my Mom cried super hard and noted just how happy she is that she lived to see this trip.  Her kids happy and healthy and travelling together one more time, but with our own extended families all mashed together.  It is a funny thing that sometimes it takes a move/disruption to highlight what we have at home, and this Christmas brought that lesson in spades.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Brighter Days!

Shortest Day of the Year
On the Solstice I took advantage of the rare sunny day to run up Smarna Gora (676m).  I had to stop and walk from time to time, but still made it from the trailhead to the bell in 25 minutes - not lightning speed, but my new personal best.   The views at the top were amazing!

Change is good... eventually
We've been in Slovenia a little over 4 months now.  It's been a positive, but very challenging, experience.  I've been overwhelmed by all the new stuff - new language, new job, new city, new culture.  I miss blue skies and really miss our friends and family.   But there have been moments when the sense of adventure eclipsed the stress, and those precious moments are getting more and more frequent.

This week two great things happened.  First, school is out for 3 weeks!  We had a good semester, but everyone was ready for a break.  Second, we have family in town to spend Christmas with us.  Yay!

We showed the cousins how we get milk from the Meklomat.  Yum!

Of course we brought everyone to one of our favorite sweet shops, Zvezda.

Later we visited the impressive Postojna Caves.  You take a train into the caves, then there's a 45-minute walk once inside.  They are truly the biggest caves I've ever seen.  But this time of year, they're even more special because every time you turn a corner, there's a live nativity scene, with music, dozens of actors, elaborate costumes, lights, sound effects, burning incense, Angels floating through the air and even an aerial silk performer.  Bizarre and amazing all at once.


Minor Frustrations
These happy things help me deal with the trivial frustrations of living abroad.  Like not being able to read any signs or understand the radio.  Like no postage stamp machines. Like trying to get a mattress delivered by Rutar.  

"Why do you keep postponing delivery?  

"We are so busy."

"Why don't you hire more people this busy time of year?" 

"This isn't America."   

Luckily, with help from some very nice Slovene customers, we stuffed both mattresses into the back of our small car.  Problem solved!

Efficient Ljubljana
Tonight we had a lovely leisurely dinner at one of our favorite Slovene restaurants, Spajza.  After dinner, the car nowhere to be found.  Turns out I had parked in a resident-permit only spot, ambiguously marked by yellow, not white, stripes.  Very hard to discern in the dark!
One taxi ride later, and 100 Euros poorer, I've learned another lesson.  

Exhilarated and Exhausted
So it's been 4 months of a steep learning curve, but I'm started to get the hang of things, starting to feel more comfortable, more competent - at work, at home, running errands.  

Georgia and Dahlia are great role models for living in the moment.  For 2015 I resolve to be more like them!