Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Final Days in Ljubljana

First and Last Day of School - 

Can you spot the differences?

Our time in Ljubljana has come to an end.  Hvala lepa to the many people, in Ljubljana and back home, whose love, friendship and support made this a great year for all four of us - and Bobo too.

A few thoughts on teaching for the first time in almost 20 years:
Teaching is a really hard, but incredibly rewarding job.  It was a rough first semester, but my skills and ability to handle the stress got better with time and practice.  I especially enjoyed teaching History and Writing.  With our tiny class sizes I got to know each student well and was able to give lots of individual attention.  New policy idea: lighter loads for first-year teachers!

Things I will miss about Ljubljana and Slovenia: 
The friends we've made; the church bells ringing; the Alps; the greenness; Tivoli Park; biking everywhere; Ljubljana's delightful Center; being so close to all of Europe; excellent low-cost wine; high quality affordable food for all; our small but very international school; a sense of anonymity; thermal spas and saunas; the outdoorsy culture -  everyone gardens, walks, hikes, bikes, skis.  And excellent cakes - I will miss those!

Things I won't miss about Ljubljana:
Living really close to the train tracks; feeling foreign, disoriented, incompetent and disconnected; being far from family and friends; all the smokers.

Things I will be appreciate more than ever when we get back to the USA -  Family and Friends!  Plus good Mexican food; Old City Java; the Smokies; knowing how things work; exchanging smiles and greetings with random people (a superficial practice according to Slovenes, but I still like it).

One big lesson learned is to be patient, with myself and with transitions generally.  Things that frustrated me initially don't bother me much at all anymore, and in some cases I think the Slovene way is better.  Examples: lots of waiting in lines; lots of bureaucracy; store hours based on worker, not consumer, convenience; no smiling at strangers; no paying at the pump; most business conducted by phone or in-person not the internet; communal interests trump individual interests; cars stop at cross walks, bikes get priority, people are incredibly patient and mostly kind and helpful.

I think Ben will share some thoughts soon.

Poslovite Slovenije do naslednjega časa!


Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Springtime in the foothills of the Julian Alps has been an absolute revelation.  Beautiful bright blue skies, warm sunshine, and views of the spectacular mountains that ring lovely Ljubljana.  I know I've posted it before, but this is the view from my office window today:
Here's the view from my bike ride in this morning:
When it is clear the Alps just pop up down streets, around corners, and on the highway.  At the very end of this street a snowy peak is poking out:

With the weather nicer Bobo and I have returned to the koseški bajer so he can swim after a tennis ball and I can lay in the sun.  Here he is way off in the distance, swimming his heart out, and just about to reach the ball:

And here's a bonus picture of baby ducks swimming right next to us:

(Bobo left them alone, just in case you were worried!) 

So yes, springtime has been glorious, and especially so because the Fall was so incredibly gray and gloomy.  Seriously, I looked back at the archives and my first post complaining about the weather was in September! 

It's actually been one of the nice things about being here for a year.  If I had come in the Fall and Winter I would have thought Ljubljana was a lovely city with incredibly horrible weather.  From September to December I gritted my teeth and biked to work every day, frequently in a gray, driving rain or fog, and almost never in sun. 

If I had come only in Spring I would have wondered why anyone ever complains.  Ljubljana appears lush, warm, green, and sunny these days. 

It's also nice to close strong.  My classes are done and we're heading home in mid-July.  The nice weather and a bunch of impending visitors have put us all in a festive mood.  I think we're going to hit the sweet spot. We will certainly be very happy to be home (the girls and I have promised to "kiss the tarmac" when we land in the great U.S. of A.).  But we will also be forever changed by the experience, having learned a lot AND enjoyed it along the way.  That result would have been hard to believe at times this Fall.  

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Slovenian weekend

What is a typical weekend in Ljubljana?  I have no idea, but this weekend, for us, it included:

1. Thursday night we saw Hamo and Tribute 2 Love, a band that reminded me of Joe Cocker crossed with Steppenwolf.  Rock and Roll is alive and well in Slovenia!


2. Friday night we visited the temporary exhibit of the European Space Expo.  Their program is small, but they did serve wine, so public support is high.  Maybe NASA should try this?

Then a little dessert at Zvezda, one of our favorite sweet shops:

3. Saturday: Sleepovers for the girls!  They have not had as much time with friends this year as normal, so these social events are more appreciated than ever.

And a little spring cleaning - our yard is blooming!

4. Sunday: A short ski trip for me (nobody else wanted to go!)  and I wanted to ski at least once in Slovenia before the snow is gone.   I left the house at 7:30, hit the slopes of Vogel above Lake Bohinj by 9:30am, skied for 3 hours, had a snack and got home by 2pm.  Lift tickets 29 Euros, equipment rental 14 Euros.  Not bad!

Slovenians ski really well.

The gondola up was the scariest part.

5. And now Sunday afternoon and evening: grading papers and planning classes for the coming week.    And laundry.  Whoohoo!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Coming down the Mountain

In late January we decided to take a short day hike on Nanos Plateau, just 45 minutes from Ljubljana.  Our Slovene friends said it was their go-to hike in the winter as the Alps are too snowy.  "It's great for kids!" they said.

Dahlia and Georgia do not love hiking, but are willing to indulge me every once in awhile.  It was warm and relatively sunny in Ljubljana, so we dressed accordingly.  I advised layers, but nobody listened.   I filled the water pack, grabbed a few hats and gloves and we were off.

We could see the plateau from the highway as we got closer.  The top was veiled in fog, but it didn't look that high.  A quick 3-hour circuit and then we planned to try a new restaurant on the way home.

The famous Bora wind hit us the moment we got out of the car.  The girls were even willing to don hats and gloves, but it was plenty warm once we started up hill.

So far, not so different from a hike in the Smokies.

Soon the trees thinned out and the mud turned to snow and slush.  I was wearing waterproof hiking boots, but everyone else's shoes were slippery and not waterproof.  We were still smiling though.

Then it got steeper.  Ben had to lift Bobo up some sections.  It was no longer a hike, but a rock climb.

I made the mistake of asking a few hikers we passed how much farther to the top and they all said an hour or more.  One woman said it was really icy on top, looked at our shoes and recommended that we turn back.  This scared me, but made Ben more determined to keep going.

Then the snow turned to ice, the 'trail' was barely discernible and the drop-offs were super scary.  Believe it or not, Georgia went from whining about another hike to being a super chipper rock-climber. She likes a challenge.  Here's a photo of Georgia navigating one of the narrow ledges.   She loved it.

At this point I had a full adrenalin rush, but could still pause to enjoy the spectacular views.  You could even see the Adriatic Sea from some angles.

I kept thinking we'd climb one more stretch and be at the top, but there was always more.    

Some passing hikers said this icy slippery steep trail was also the only way down, which was frightening.  They told us the wind really picked up around the next corner and that now was the time to put on our extra layers.  What extra layers??  

Ben had a map and had read about the plateau ahead of time.  He assured us that there was another, much easier, way down.  Still, I was quite anxious.  

We turned a corner and indeed it felt 20 degrees colder.  With thick fog and blowing snow we could barely see.  The girls were cold.  Ben and I maintained a calm and cheerful exterior, but I was scared and feeling really stupid for being so unprepared, putting my kids in harms way.  I felt like we were about to become cautionary tales.

Hard to smile when you're facing the Bora Winds.

I was so proud of the girls.  They really came through when they had to.  In this photo visibility was still pretty good.  In other spots you could no more than 20 feet ahead.

This is what the Bora Wind does to snow.  It's beautiful!  I'm glad Ben took some photos of it, because at this point I was keeping my head down, slowly moving forward, not stopping for photos. 

The trail finally flattened out and we found shelter among some huge fir trees.  The scenery reminded me of Lara's palace from Dr. Zhivago.  Ben was thinking the ice planet Hoth, from Empire Strikes Back....


We stopped at the hut at the top to warm up and use the toilet.  We did not take time for a cup of tea or food because we didn't want to waste daylight.  Some hearty Slovene hikers were having a leisurely meal, a few beers and they still beat us down!

The hike down the mountain wasn't easy, but it was never scary either, and we were out of the worst wind. 

 All in all, a memorable hike.  We were woefully unprepared and imprudent, but we felt intrepid - like we'd overcome a real challenge.

The whole experience was an apt metaphor for Our Year in Slovenia.  As we got ready to leave Knoxville, we focused only on the potential for fun and excitement, not the potential difficulties.  Just like the hike, the girls were reluctant to leave home and didn't want to live abroad.  

We were not prepared for how homesick we've felt at times.  I was not prepared for how hard teaching would be, how uncomfortable I felt being a rookie at everything instead of a seasoned veteran.  Adjusting to a new school, new people, and new country has been hard on the girls too.

Slovenia is great, but just like the Nanos hikers we encountered, there seems to be a prevailing glass-half-empty sense about the culture at times - guarded, defensive, closed.  This has been very hard to get used to.

Autumn was the steepest part of our visit.  I felt overwhelmed at work and it was gray and rainy for months.  We had a nice respite over the holidays with Ben's family visiting and traveling around together.  They were our fir trees, sheltering us from the wind.

As many had warned us, January and February, were sort of bleak.  Post-holiday let-down and back to the daily grind.  Luckily I have a much lighter teaching load this semester, which has made a huge difference.  I am so grateful to our Director for his flexibility.  I've also gotten more used to the rhythms of teaching and the routines of our small international school.

And now we are coming down the Mountain.  February is over, we've enjoyed a week off from school, spending time in Sunny Italy and France.  I feel more competent at teaching.  The girls have made some friends.  We know our way around Ljubljana and a few words of Slovene.

The trail ahead won't always be easy, but the path is clear.  I can worry less and enjoy the experience more.  I look forward to Spring!


P.S. One way we tried to keep things cheerful in February is the Flashmob my Drama students created.  It was really fun to surprise the whole school.  Dahlia, Georgia and I are all in there dancing.  Ben helped film it. 

P.P.S.  Here's a photo I took of Nanos Plateau today, February 28th, on our drive home.

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 Booking.com. 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.