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!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Gym Update

When you last heard from me I had given the old Yugoslavian "olympic" gym a try: http://ouryearinslovenia.blogspot.com/2014/09/pomilujem-sibka-americanski.html.  Some questioned my fortitude.  Would I stick it out in that harsh location?  The short answer is no.  If scary old equipment and harsh lighting makes one strong, I will have to settle for weakness!

The search for the right place resulted in a bit of a Goldilocks problem.  The NEXT nearest gym to our house is the 4P fitness club.  If the Olimpijia gym was too severe, the 4P was way too slick.  It's in this big, empty office building (sure sign of the burst Slovenian bubble: an almost empty, brand new office building) and has all new and shiny equipment.  The people who work there are aggressively ripped and good looking, as were most of the clients.  Here's the advertising on the side of the building:
Tragically, those two are actually emblematic of who comes to the club.  Weirdly, the second ad features a guy in a big wig with DJ headphones and a Borat swimsuit next to the same female model:
No idea at all why.  Here's a shot of the sad "for rent" sign. I'll do a post on the busted bubble some other day, but memo to banks: never loan money to build a "Mega-Center" office building 10 minutes from downtown and 10 minutes from anything else of use if your only tenant is the 4P fitness center:
The gym is nice, but plays deafening EDM on a loop and often has a long line of ripped and surly guys blocking the squat rack.  In short, not ok for me.

I finally found a gym that was "just right," the gym in the University of Ljubljana Faculty of Sport.  It has a 25 meter swimming pool and a small, but functional, weight room/fitness area that has a nice mix of professors and students and is never very crowded.  I mostly go in the morning and at that hour it actually reminds me a bunch of the gym at UT, which suits me fine.  And don't worry too much about me getting soft.  The gym has a bunch of inspirational photos on the walls to keep me strong:

 And yes, that is Arnold Schwarzenegger and Loni Anderson in evening wear.  If there is anything more inspiring than these three photos, you will have to show it to me!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A 10 year lag on the internet economy?

One thing that is super noticeable here in Slovenia is that the internet economy is running on a significant lag.  Examples?  Ljubljana is packed with bookstores.  Here are a bunch of pictures of bookstores, all within a 10 minute walk of the law faculty.  There are Barnes and Nobles style new bookstores and Antikvariat stores (antique books) and everything between.  Some are super likable, like the "House of Dreaming Books:"
Some are lovely at night:
 Some are filled with the coolest old books:

Some are small Barnes and Nobles type places selling new books:

They even have cd shops and video stores!

To an American this seems crazy.  ALL of these businesses were crushed by Amazon, iTunes, or EBay years ago in the USA.  And yet here they are, all in close proximity to each other in downtown Ljubljana.  

I have no photo of one more piece of evidence.  In more than one gas station I have seen porn magazines stacked along with newspapers and Slovenian gossip magazines.  Physical pornography!  At one of the places I actually got out my phone to take a picture and was shooed out by a scandalized clerk.  I tried to explain that it was "for my blog," but unsurprisingly that did not help much.  But seriously, an actual real live magazine!  Another business model that the internet killed 5-10 years ago.

There are at least two possible explanations for this.  On the one hand maybe Slovenia is just on a short lag.  It is a small country with a hard language, so maybe internet entrepreneurs are taking their time getting here.  But time waits for no one, not even Slovenians.  

I gave a presentation to Slovenian lawyers, judges, and students about the internet and legal services and a Slovene student noted that Slovenian was a weird language and that Slovenia was a "different" country, and that people would never pay for a computer lawyer when they could have a real one.  I noted that right there in downtown Ljubljana at some point in the nineteenth century a group of tailors were sure that factory made clothes would never catch on in Slovenia.  Slovenian styles were different than German or French, and that Slovenian people were different and would always want tailored clothes.  This was a particularly American response I thought.

But maybe, just maybe, people here value things differently.  Take a look at this photo of fresh apples from the Market:
And here's the old man who sells them:
This guy has been selling apples in the market in Ljubljana for fifty years at least.  And his Dad did so before him.  I know there are Farmer's Markets in the US, but the market in Ljubljana is where regular people shop, not just fancy farm to table people.  It is a part of an uninterrupted history of small farmers selling directly to people, a history which ended in the USA in the 1960s and was only revived on a boutique basis recently.  Maybe this little piece of Europe is just more interested in hanging on to some things like fresh fruit and books and CDs and video stores.  

Or maybe the internet will swallow a bunch of this stuff eventually regardless.  I can tell you that a book from Amazon reads the same as a book from B. Dalton, while this guys apples crush American supermarket apples, so maybe only the best will survive.