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Archive for January, 2007

Magical Maribor

Today I ventured into ‘Carniola country’ the Northern Slovenian city of Maribor. I’ve been here before but this was the first time with this blog in mind and I think the last time I visited was 2003 so it was nice to see improvements and changes since then as well as the wonderful old town and riverfront/ bridges again.

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The old town with lovely old red roofs.

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The old train bridge and the rolling hills surrounding the city and the picturesque Drava river pictured.

astoria-mb07-slo-jw.jpg A just few hours is clearly not enough time to asses anything around here but it was sort of a re-acquaintance visit and a refreshing look at another large city in Slovenia and enjoy the friendship of those we encountered. We had a wonderful breaded pork steak (Wiener schnitzel) and fries (pomis) meal at the beautiful old Baroque themed “La Storia” restaurant and tatoria (cake shop) before exploring town and walking the old streets with this wonderful weather (+9 C degrees) for January, I really can’t complain.

I later had a delightful cup of coffee at the “Picasso” and talk with a friendly waitress that ended up being a Serb who fled Croatia with her parents during the war and now lives in Slovenia, we had a lot to talk about and great interchange of views on this area and times.

I stood in the town square and remembered reading in a history book once that in 1941 Hitler stood in this very town and declared “Make me this land German again”. Thank God he failed, this city is a very beautiful representation of Slovenia, it has its visible German and Baroque influences in art and organization but in a truly Slovenian way and got to be one of my favorite cites in Slovenia to visit.

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This is the new Kolosej entertainment complex complete with cinema and bowling alley. It is kind of out of place with the rest of the riverfront but a modern example of the changing face of Slovenia’s urban areas, thankfully it is a little removed from the old walls and medieval watch towers where this city holds wonderful outdoor summer concerts and took this old unused spot to place this new symbol of the city’s progress here and what I think is a good balance for the city as a whole, while it is not the most charismatic of designs it does cut a nice reflection and a unique presence, it is directly across from the super-mall Europark too so there is a little commercial theme in that part of the river ‘down-stream’ from the old historical part of town.

 

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Well it finally happened. It was inevitable yet it seemed that it might not happen. Christmas came and went, New Years, first 10, then 20 days of the year, it seemed the whole month would pass with Autumn-like weather. I even entertained the thought that perhaps I might not get to experience snow in Slovenia as I only have about two weeks left of my visit here. Well I went to bed last night watching the rain turn to snow and rain again, I wondered what it would be like tomorrow.

By morning it was official, the snow was everywhere and not stopping. Just yesterday I was walking in down town Ljubljana taking pictures after a lunch apointment and it was lightly sprinkling off and on and I had such a peasant time I walked for a few bus stops till Tivoli park just enjoying the weather. Now less then 24 hours later it had gone from Autumn to Winter, quite literally over night.

Some friends and I thought we’d save the snow till the weekend and so we jumped in a car and made off for what we thought would be one last dash for warmth and peace. The beautiful Slovenian coast immediately came to mind and was hardly an hour away, we could not wait and made a hasty retreat from the snow. Dreaming of an ice cream or cold drink and walk on the shoreline thinking of all these unfortunate souls in the rest of the country sliding around the roads or chained to a desk who were not fortunate enough to not have to go to work this day, we were on our way.

portoroz-snow07-jw.jpgWe made as far as Koper and still snow, warmer temperatures but snow on the hills, we thought cool this does not happen every day, someone might have even thought out loud that it would be cool if it was snowing on the coast, sure enough it did, and with gusto.

Everything seemed to be against us today, we had a blizzard in Portorož!

The locals seemed to take it in stride but for us unlucky “tourists” it got boring real fast and all our hopes of cheating the winter evaporated. It was interesting and somewhat historical, as this is the Mediterranean not the North Sea! Locals said that last time was maybe 5 years ago and not usually even that often or as hard as today. For awhile we were being blanketed by cornflake sized powder and wind.

While it was not our best day and we did not have a unique experience living life in the XYZone catching this interesting occasion, we were kicking ourselves a bit when we got back to Ljubljana and it was all clean roads and calm, but heck, you can’t have it all right?

I took this little film starting from a view of the Metropol Casino and around to the sea, snow covered cars and everything.

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Turbo-Fed?

Ok, it has been kind of a slow week and I do not have anything profound to post right now as I was a few days visiting in Austria (that is not a Zone nation) so I will not write about that trip here.

I did find this trivia clip of Kevin Federline (ex Mr. Britney Spears) doing DJ for an M-TV station and he puts on what he thinks is a good “Brazilian ass shaker” but is in-actuality a “turbo-folk” song by the legendary Bosnian singer Halid Bešlić. It is funny to see and that he has this song in an M-TV studio but sad that he does not know where it comes from and shows that XYZone and others writing about this area have a long way to go still in informing the world public on this area.

Not everybody’s kind of music but neather is his, maybe he should try a carieer in Turbo-folk since Rap is not working out so well.

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slo-tolar-slo07-jw.jpgWell, it has officially happened and the Slovenian Tolar (or SIT as it is often referred too) is officially retired from every shopping till and wallet in this country as of today.

Today a friend and I were down town Ljubljana and had some SIT left that we thought would be good to get rid of by buying some prepaid Mobile phone credit and bus tokens at a kiosk. No such luck. We might as well have been in another country, all they want here is “Uros”.

There was little use trying to persuade her otherwise so we were off to the Post bank where they took it gladly in exchange for some “shrunken money” Euro bills that look so out of place in our wallets now. I guess those dreams of one day being a millionaire (in Tolars it only took 239,640 Euros) now are just got a little bit harder to reach, 239.64 times harder to be exact.

I kind of miss “looking like I had money” once in a while, as ten Euros was 2,396 SIT and big folds of paper that hanged out of my wallet, now when I have ten Euros, all I got is ten Euros. I must say Euro money is kind of boring and generic looking without and famous person on or any Sloven history or national identity attached to them, but such is globalisation.

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Well, I’ve been reading and keeping up on different Croatian blogs and just came upon a great news story that the old Hotel Lav (Lion) has been renovated (at $150 million no less) by the Le Meridien group.

When I was staying with friends in the Split suburb of Podstrana in 1999 I lived slightly up the hill from this place (my bus stop was in fact called ‘hotel Lav’) that at the time was a mega hotel graveyard. It had been a massive seafront hotel and casino complex during the Yugoslavia glory days that had since been turned into a refugee center during the height of the Croatia/Serbia conflict although by the time I was living there it did not have any more tenets, it was just a looted and plundered shell of a hotel, smashed windows, stripped of all fittings, wires and anything slightly useful.

It had a beautiful dock and seafront that locals and this blogger and the other foreign volunteer friends of mine loved to spend time there and in the trails and bushes around there just relaxing. People would even drive there from Split (20 km north) on weekends as it was more peaceful and quite then other beaches and the Split Rivera of down town, it was a quick little popular get-away spot.

I had just came to the region and remember it had real intrigue to me that something obviously a previously great place had fallen to such lows, I’m glad it was able to be used to shelter others during these terrible war years but I’m also really glad that others too saw it’s potential and gave it a second chance.

I will go though some of my old film photos from that time and see if I can not find an old picture of this place then and compare it to the one shown on this post of it all new again.

It is a sure sign of Croatia’s reemergence as a premium tourist destination and resort hub, that these big companies pay such big money for a piece of this sunny pie. The hotel industry there really does give many locals and Bosnians workers work and an income that they might not be able to make otherwise.

hotel-lav.jpgWhat I love most from this is that they used the same structural layout and buildings and did not level it and make a new one. I’m sure some things have changed but the layout of the complex in this new picture looks very much the way I remember the “graveyard” to be, there is now a yacht harbour that was not there before but we used to dive off the end bit that had a little beacon on it as did many sun lovers enjoying a summer afternoon rest and amateur fishermen to cast their lines on. The outdoor pool was just crumbling tiles and were the trees are up front used to be mainly a clearing with weeds and other wild plants that people would picnic on, there used to be one ‘regular’ who was like a big bald boxer guy who’d often be there practicing martial arts with Ninja sticks.

I really realize I’ve been around here a long time when I’m able to look back at things like this and remember the “good old days”, and what a joy it has been nearly every day I’ve been here since, things are changing, there is hope to be had here. I used to say things like that back then during some pretty tough years and would almost get laughed at, (this same year NATO bombed Kosovo, an action that kept many tourists away due in part to the proximity of just a few hundred kilometers away to parts of the Croatian coastline which really hurt this new nation’s fledgling economy) now the signs of progress are everywhere, and this is just the beginning.

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veggie-tech-lj-07-jw.jpgToday I was walking down the street on the outskirts of Ljubljana this unusual sight caught my eye. At first glance it looks like your average urban garden plot complete with high voltage lines and all but what caught my interest was the dangling CD-ROM’s off the trees.

I know the all to common sight of colored plastic or empty soft-drink bottles used to reflect and keep the birds away but I’d never seen CD’s used before, I guess there is always a first time for everything. I must agree they do reflect the sunlight nicely and never liked them hanging from people’s car rear mirrors, maybe this is the good alternative for our old scratched CD’s – just send them to “veg” – and quite literally in this case.

In this ever increasing high-tech world we live in it is changing every aspect of our lives, even our garden patches.

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This is a clip I took today driving in the very rural parts of Slovenia, we got way off the beaten path and were driving through these little villages so I caught one on my camera video as I was not driving today. We did eventually make it back to the highway and civilisation.

I thought Citizen King’s “I’ve seen better days” was fitting for this little village and (and our day today in general) much of this changing demographics in this area is leaving the country villages to just be “ghost towns”. I’ll write more about that at another time.

This one took only 23 seconds to drive through from beging to end.

For those not familiar with this part of Europe, yes, these are the road conditions at times. Sharp blind turns, no front lawns, curbs, sidewalks or even painted lines on the road. Not many other commuters (or people in the town it seems) though, so you got the road to yourself, that is unless a logging truck comes roaring through in the other direction!

I’ve been driving around here for years now that I do not even notice much till I see it played back like this and then I realise how undeveloped some parts of these countries are. The village was also very topical with the square “shoebox” houses that are very common here.

This is really rural and not at all accurate of the whole country by any means, I just thought it would be a neat little experience to add to XYZone Video. Your comments are always welcome.

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