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Archive for the ‘Food and Drink’ Category

sad-sub-lj-06-jw.jpgToday I had my first Subway meal in nearly three years,…well almost.

Almost, because it failed to reach my expectations, no, the actual standards that I, and every Subway-munching fan hold dear and it is most unfortunate that it is happening in Ljubljana, Slovenia that is a new and emerging market for this product. This is the reason I’m bringing it up here on XYZone.

I know that you can never beat the way the ol’ black mama’s do it in America’s “deep south” like I had in New Orleans, man, you can’t beat that for the world. They put so much heart and enthusiasm and ‘Southern hospitality’ into your sandwich that you feel you are eating in their own kitchen. They jam so much filling in it you almost max-out the paper rapping it’s so full.

In the Chicago area they are nearly all run and owned by Continental Indians and the expression “Indian giver” seems appropriate. I found myself thinking twice before ordering there knowing I wouldn’t get much more then a ‘happy meal’ in my foot-long sub, but being a loyal Subway fan I did anyways, reluctantly.

The fundamentals however are the same, namely the trademark way they (should) put on the cheese triangles in a zig-zag formation on the bread (not to mention the standard 3 cheeses to choose from, Swiss, American and Cheddar) and heating up the “meal packs” of the typically hot meals, like “Steak & Cheese, “Meatball Marinana” and “Chicken Teriyaki” before putting them on the bread regardless if you want it toasted after or not.

This was far from how they did it here, they just had one kind of cheese (probably just local Gouda) and put it on haphazardly then just dumped cold steak packs on it. I ended up with a cold ‘adolterated’ crumbly sandwich that should have been a deliciously hot ‘Stake and Cheese” wonder-sub. It’s not that they did not care, the girls were very professional, but sadly ill trained.

Now I do not like being a whiner so I ate it and tried to enjoy it what I could. I do not believe in making a western-style scene complaining to the staff in front of others, but I do not like the fact that locals are paying good money and getting the complete wrong idea of a product. Would you like to buy Nike shoes with the insoles put in wrong? Or a Big Mac with a cold burger or with the cheese on the bottom? There should be certain rules, you’d think an International franchise would, (thankfully they did have imported jalapenos) that are applied even in developing countries.

They deserve just as much care and attention as demanding westerners, even if they do not know any better, it’s called service.

Next time I’ll just get a burek.

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Today I went out to try to shoot footage for a video-blog report on Ljubljana’s “Kolizej”.

Kolizej is an old building that is in Ljubljana that is more then two hundred years old, but might be knocked down for to put up a modern shopping and cinema complex.

I won’t elaborate on it now as that is what that report is for and I will post it once I edit the video and add the narration etc.

In going around town getting video footage for this I came across many neat things, as I seem to do every time I go out here, it is just amazing to me some times how I run into wonderful opportunities. There are many stories to tell but I’ll have to keep it to some of the main ones for this post.

Ljubljana vinska pot (Ljubljana wine event)lj-vinska-pot06-jw.jpg

While getting footage in the old town I noticed little booths set up along the rivera. Having had such a good time last week for St. Martin’s day I was game to try some from this events ‘new wine’ too. I finished my filming and research, which took me all the way to Plečnikova hiša (the famous late Sloven architect Joze Plečnik’s home, now architecture museum) but unfortunately it was just closing time so I didn’t go in.

I desided to make my way back to the center of town and find myself a glass.

It was interesting to see how different tables generated different crowds, from intellectuals to high-society types each gravitating to different booths. They might have known the winemaker, but generally I think it was just the bar they were in front of.

I am neither intellectual nor high-society so I found another stand that had a mix of people, from locals to visters, so I added a blogger to the mix.

These were superb new white wines apparently grown in the Northern part of this country in the Maribor region (Svečina, specifically). I learned all this while making conversation with the gracious Ana, who was the wine connoisseur at this booth.

It was just a lovely day today; I know I’ve been saying this for weeks now but it is amazing how the weather is and that it was still 17 degrees today in mid November. I’m sure the cold and snow will come but one more weekend with wine in my hand on the Ljubljanica, you just got to love this place.

I get to into seeing and doing everything there is here that I often need a few minuets to regroup and I’m glad I caught this event for that reason. I’m sure it did me a lot of good.

There defiantly are good wines here and it is really a pity if they are not getting more international attention. The wine tourism board should never let a bottle out of the country, only samples. That way you’d have everyone in the world wanting to come and visit Slovenia and get more.

I’ve never been one for wine, but I’m getting converted. One glass or fair at a time.

To learn more of this particular wine and wine maker visit here. I don’t know them, but I know their product so I recommend it as tried and proven by XYZone.

national-gallery-slovenia-j.jpgNarodna galerija (National Gallery of Slovenia)

I happened upon the National Gallery by accident, I ended up taking the wrong street and found myself staring at this most amazing structure.

What caught my eye was the vast metal and glass structure lodged in-between two old stately buildings that would otherwise be typical of this part of town.

I could not help my curiosity so I went in and asked the bookshop clerk what on earth landed in Ljubljana.

Well, not quite like that but with all the glass and two story space and orange pumpkin shaped security desk in the lobby it felt a bit like a study of how it would be to be in a giant empty fish tank.

Ilj-art-gal-jw.jpg quickly learned what this building was and that it happened to be free admittance today, my lucky day! I found my way “back to earth” in the form of the two houses on the sides that were full of amazing and old art collections.

Most were oil paintings from 1600 – 1700 a.d, from such renowned artists as Peter von Kessel and many other europian and Sloven artists I’m am not very fermiliar with yet. There were also sculptures and wood carvings.

I found this neat room filled with wood and cement sculptures dating to the 1400 – 1500 a.d. The detail and craftsmanship put into them was great but I noticed that they all had on their nameplate “anonymous”, I guess they did not expect for them to be around so long or didn’t listen to there teacher tell them to put their name on their work.

Come to think of it woodcarvers then probably never learned to write at all.

That did not keep them from doing something, and we celebrate them for it now. How many great things are lost or not contributed to society by those who feel they have nothing to give, inadequate education or whatever. Look at Edison, look at middle ages wood carvers.

You can do your part. You can make a difference to someone.

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After descending the mountain and a celebrity drink back at the bottom we were back on the road for a drive to Šempetar to stay the night with a friend of A.J.’s. Being that November 12th is here a Catholic appointed day of St. Martin and it also falling on a Sunday this year we thought it best to not travel all the way back to Ljubljana for two reasons. First there were a lot of police checks testing people’s alcohol levels (it is 0.5 in this country) and sure to be many people on the road that might do harm to themselves or us due to over-drinking. Secondly we wanted to experience this event relaxed and be able to get some rest after before traveling back. This turned out to be a great plan and prompted the most amazing evening.

Our drive took us through the lower Soča valley and we had a quick driving tour of the town of Kobarid. Like much of the trip we learned that many if not all the hills and locations were used for wars and defensive fronts during the World Wars.

Unfortunately it was already dark so we could not see much out the car window but it was fascinating to hear as we went by. And the Italian and Austrian built roads that we drove on were a modern-day reminder of the influence and scale such wars have on a landscape. What were once tactical supply lines and military transport routes that today is still the fastest road for us to take on this trip.

Once we got to our hosts place we decided to stay in uniform and do a little drill for them and their evening guests. Officer Klement instructed us “new recruits” in some German words like “Hault” (stop) “Links” (left) and some others, some of which we used up on the lake but being late, us all being tired, and explaining things in three languages we just simplified it and our host performed an “inspection of the troops” in his courtyard and a short display of us to his guests.

It was not long before we all found ourselves as guests as well and a table spread before us of all the warmest Slovenian hospitality and most delicious home-made cuisine one had to offer.

We were officially welcomed to his house with a shot glass of the traditional drink Rakija at the door, some of which our host had made himself, we soon learned that his hobby and passion is winemaking and he had the most amazingly delicious blend I’ve ever tasted. He is now recently retired so will have even more time to devote to this.

We were then served urdervs and their last year’s blend of both red and white wine. Being St. Martin’s day and the company of IR-17 visiting they had their local perish priest come to ceremonially bless the new “young wine”. This took some time but it was an interesting experience being in this amazing wine cellar they had and doing our “drills” again before the priest blessed the new white wine, some written prayers were read by other visitors and then the keg was declared “open” and everyone verified that it was indeed wine.

We then went on to our main meal and more drinks and conversation at our table. It was amazing how well some of our group’s English seemed to come back to them once we all had a few drinks and we really had some good laughs and fun conversations over the course of the night.

Well, duty called once again and now it was time to make the “juice into wine” again in the form of the red wine vat. This followed a similar procedure and it was just a matter of time before the red one too was declared “open” and “tasted” before we were again ushered into the dining area again for yet another warm dish.

It was not till around 1:00 am that we had a round of coffee and the other guests and part of our company (that had a designated driver) headed back home, this prompted a long set of goodbyes and warm greetings.

We may have all come there strangers (and in the case of Rob and I, foreigners with a language barrier) but left as friends from this unique event and chance evening that brought us all together for warmth, friendship and wine on this, St. Martin’s night.

Note: I later looked this up on the Internet and did find this page explaining more about St. Martin, however I did not find anything about this having to do with blessing the wine on this day. The real day is November 11, and corresponds with the day he died. He was a Bishop who lived a life of poverty and solitude around 300 a.d. Officially referred to as St. Martin of Tours and is the patron saint of soldiers.

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Since writing my article history in the park I’ve been communicating with Mr. A. J. Potočnik by email and he told me his was going to be involved with the annual Mrzli vrh hike and sent me a link. I got some volunteer friends to come along and this is how it went.

mrzli-vra-jw.jpg

Today I had the amazing privilege to participate on the annual hiking trail Mrzli vrh, an incredible hike visiting many of the old markers that were put in place during the time when Italy had control of nearly 1/3 of Slovenia and held a boarder from 1920 – 1942.
I like to walk a lot but I tend to be more of an urban trekker walking across the towns and cities that I visit but I was still a little unprepared for magnitude of this hike that brought us through more then 3 hours of free hiking across meadows, paths and forested slops. I have seen that Slovenians are every much outdoors and exercises driven people, nearly more so then I’ve seen anywhere in the world. In urban places it is mostly cycling and in-line skating (old and young alike) but hiking (or mountain biking) the countryside is the recreational sport of choice in rural places as there really is no lack of hills and forest trails to take nearly anywhere in this country.
The hike began in the town center weaving our way through part of what I learned was new Žiri with the town square and landmark church to the old Žiri where they had a short history lesson lead by the historian and Žiri native Vlasta Pecelin on a historic spot where an old water system was located. The town is built on three water springs that used to erupt and flood parts of the town till they worked out this water system that releases small amounts gradually into the streams. Legend has it that it was a great dragon that spewed the water out making for a fascinating read but has largely been reduced to a children’s fairytale but an interesting local myth from this town.
We were then guided a ways from town along a lovely stream to the foot of our first ascent. medica-slo-06-jw.jpg

We were first treated to a snack of fresh apples and a shot of Medica (local honey liquor) and then it all began. I was fortunate to have been introduced to Ms. Vlasta Pecelin and her boyfriend on the onset of the hike and accompanied them on many portions of the trail and they were the most spectacular of guides filling me in on the history, the town’s economics and even discussing local and world politics, after all we had three hours of walking and it was a great way to pass the time and exchange viewpoints and they were more then up to the task and answering my mired of questions with their good command of English language.

Once we accomplished the first stage of the hike we were all on the ridge where one of the most preserved markers stands we then sampled some Rakija (plum brandy) there was also bread and what looked like young wine or cider served before a reenactment sketch was performed by Mr. Aleksander Jankovic Potočnik, already an accomplished architect and history author turned actor for the day along with some others I recognized from the “bunker project” complete with Royal Yugoslavian Army uniforms and an authentic Mercedes-Benz from 1937. They enacted typical events that might have taken place like an exchange between a peasant/smuggler being intercepted by an Italian tax officer and the inspection and decoration of the troops where the “troops” displayed different accents like Macedonian that are very funny for Slovenes to hear. I did not understand much but it was clear from the response of the crowd that it was a comical runaway success with the audience.

mrzli-vra-walk-jw.jpgWhat really stood out to me besides the beautiful nature and historical aspects were the dedication, appreciation and conservation of nature that I saw from everyone I met on this walk. People came from all walks of life and backgrounds, from city life to farming communities, business people, academics, students, and retirees, they all came together enjoying the common bond of love for the outdoors and celebrating this occasion to climb on this special day. The warmth and friendship camaraderie my foreign friends and I felt on this climb from everyone we were fortunate to encounter and engage in conversation with on this long walk made us feel very much at home and a part of the event. People took the time to fill us in on the history and facts (in good English no less) as we went along making us feel a part of this little hiking family for a day.

What Mr. Potočnik pointed out and was really true was that the real beauty of this event was the sincerity and organisation of the event itself. It was not a tourist event, people and families did come from other counties and cities within the country but personally. There were no organized tour buses of camera welding tourist soaking up souvenirs and memorabilia. This was local people coming together to remember and enjoy a good walk, a history lesson and warm bowl of soup together in a charming village square on a beautiful Sunday afternoon like one big extended family. We might have been some of the first foreigners to have partaken in this event and we feel privileged to have experienced not only the hiking event, but the people that make it truly special. I have mixed feelings if I should even raise awareness for this event by posting an article (as I’d hate to see it commercialized) but that would be so unlike everything I have learned from its people today and it is so true the saying that says “the best things in life are shared” and I am thankful to the people of Ziri and organizers of this event to have shared this walk with you today.

For more information on this trip visit

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trojane-view-2-jw.jpgOn my trip up to Čakovec by car my friend knew just the right place to make a pit-stop. The village of Trojane, that has since 1913 been a popular inn and bakery renowned for its doughnut like Kraf (see also Krafna) they are just a short drive off the main A1 highway linking Ljubljana (Slovenia) to Graz (Austria) and get busloads of tourists and locals alike seeking a good meal or maybe just a kraf or two. We got ten, just for the sake of research of course, and to bring to friends in Croatia. I’ve had an affair with this sweet snack for as long as I’ve been in the XYzone and I’d have to say eating a nice warm kraf filled with jam has got to be one of the simplest pleasures one can enjoy, and if you happen to have one in Trojane that makes it even more pleasurable. It didn’t matter that the krafs were about $1.20 a pop, (local bakeries sell for as little as $0.30 in some places) this is Trojane, and buying a bite of history and tradition is well worth the price tag and the view and location of this village is just amazing too.

trojane-treats-jw.jpg
For more information visit the official site.

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Čevapi

cevapc1.JPGThis is a rolled strip of ground beef (and/or mixed with ground pork), deliciously spiced. Much of the local food here is rather bland, but sinking into a čevapi is simply rich and flavorful with paprika, pepper and other spices. Usually served as fast-food in local snack shops, though you can find it on the menu in mid -range restaurants and grill houses, as well usually served with either a large bun toasted in the meat’s juice on the grill or with pomes (French fry like deep fried potato wedges) and dices of fresh onion and ajvar (a red paprika dip). You can find the spice mixture in just about any store or supermarket that caries packaged spices and you can trick out your own packet of minced meat for a grill with friends, or get ready-to-cook ones with the spice already mixed in and cut into strips. It really doesn’t matter how much you make you will never seem to have enough of this finger-licking good stuff, it really is that good.
I once was making it for some friends coming over for dinner and two of them came a bit early and started snitching and before long had eaten the whole kilo of meat that I’d just made between them and I had to rustle up something else for the rest of the guests – argh! But that’s just how good it is. It makes a great meal meat or just a good beer snack with other meats and salamis; it can be cooked on open flame or frying pan, though it is really the best for grills or barbeques during the summer months served hot and with a cold beer.

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Rakija

rakija1.JPGThis is a fruit brandy much like the German Schnapps, often a homemade drink (moonshine) that is often offered while visiting older people’s houses as it is often made by them or a relative and no one really can give you an exact alcohol percentage on it but it generally starts at 40% proof and up. Many people say it has healing properties and have it around for “medicinal” reasons, though it is also a popular drink among older men and there are even some small distillers that actually market it, some even creatively adding a preserved fruit in it. Most commonly made with pears, plums or occasionally apples I’ve tried a few different ones from different regions, but it really is just like drinking turpentine or polyurethane, it burns the whole way down your throat and can’t be good for your internal organs either. It does make you relaxed and sometimes a bit light in the head and I can see how people think it is soothing and healthy though it is not really my kind of drink. It is a good cultural experience and way to show your host you are willing to try their brew and survive it if even with tearing eyes after saying “čivali“ (cheers) and giving the shot glass a bottoms up.

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