Thursday, June 10, 2010

Livin' on a Prayer in Ljubljana

On Friday we left our home away from home to start the 2 day journey to Dubrovnik, Croatia. Sometime a home sneaks up on you, and before you know it, you recognize every curve and bend of a place so well that you can navigate it in the dark (we would never have to do this in the Raab Heim because there are motion sensors that turn the lights on when ever you move- a neat idea until you stop moving long enough to get left in the dark).

I’ll miss the cold breakfast of cheese, bread, cold cuts and yoghurt. I’ll miss the bier vending machine. I’ll miss the city of Linz.

On the way to Croatia we had a one night stop over in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The bus ride there was kind of enchanting- maybe because I stayed up really late the night before and was delirious, or maybe because it really was enchanting. Fog silked down the valleys of the huge stony mountains and the snow capped apexes were just hidden under low lying clouds. The highway was on stilts and wound around the contours of the alps like a ribbon.

That’s about all I remember before I fell asleep and had a dream about being left at the Raab Heim and then being ok with if because there were free Kebabs in the lobby.

When I woke up we pulled into Slovenia. Our hotel was a first class, 4 star establishment (for some reason) and we spent some time just exploring our own rooms.

What Ljubljana lacks in vowels, it makes up in character. I don’t think that many people in the U.S. are aware of a country named Slovenia, and even if they are conscious of the possibility that it exists, they might confuse it with Slovakia. In fact I remember a story a few years back where our own military band played the Slovakian national anthem for some visiting Slovenian dignitaries.

In any case, making Ljubljana a stop on your next Euro trip would not be a bad idea. The city is very well kept and the downtown scene is lively and fresh. The restaurants, cafés, and bars are great and the people are very friendly. We spent most of the night hitting up different places and I smoked a Cuban cigar with the professor.

There was pre-world cup friendly soccer match up on a projector screen at a café. Slovenia is the smallest country to qualify for this world cup.

Some of us ended the night at a bar turned nightclub that played 80’s rock music from the US and Croatia. It was in an Irish pub that basically just dimmed the lights and stuffed a DJ into an awkward corner of the bar. It dawned on me that we had been in an Irish pub in every European city. What is it with the Irish pub phenomenon? Are Irish people constantly drunk? Do they get anything done in the day? What are their immigration laws like?

We cabbed it back home after having our fill of Bon Jovi and left for Dubrovnik the next day. 

I really do.

Guess which country doesn't have a trade embargo with Cuba.

A river runs through it. (Ljubljana)

Professor Lanier and I. 

Venice and the sinking feeling.

The next day in Venice was quiet for me because I stayed on the apartment most of the day to get some work done. I was hard to stay in one place. At least the working conditions were good because our apartment was along a busy street and I opened the window to enjoy the bustle outside as I worked.

I went out later that night to some of the same bars and cafés that we saw the day before and added a few new ones to the list.

The next day I woke up early, dropped my bags with the hotel reception and set out to make a sweep of the whole city. Getting around in Venice is so different from anything I’ve experienced before. Water taxis seemed like a joke to me, and it did seem that the only people I saw on them were tourists. The water-borne equivalent to a bus was the real deal.

Sailing down the Grand Canal was great. I got to see a different side of the city. If you’re ever in Venice, and you don’t take a trip down this main thoroughfare, you’re missing half of the experience. The buildings are of course beautiful, but the fact that you can jump out of a window and land in a boat is really amazing.

After getting to the other end of the canal, we got out and started walking back to the hotel to get out bags and make it back to the mainland in time. I began to realize only then that Venice was really a town of tourists. The streets were choked with us. I guess out apartment was in a less travelled area because I didn’t expect it at all. But, I think that the number of visitors only attests to the powerful call of the city.

I got to see most of the main bridges and squares and churches within two hours, even though it was rushed. I was glad to experience it, despite the brevity.

I read that Venice is slowly sinking and the ocean is slowly rising. We are able to build cities on water and bore our way through mountains, so hopefully we will figure out a way to keep Venice around. Just in case, though, go see Venice soon. Its one of the most beautiful things you will ever see.  

I'm on a boat. (again)

Its not a flood scene. It's the skreet. 

No sleeping under the bridge. 

Gelato to see you.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Venice: Canals of Gelato and Pizza.

Getting to Venice was an adventure in itself. The bus ride from Linz took us through the Alps. Mind you, not over the mountains, but through them. I didn’t expect it at all, but there are countless tunnels carved into the difficult landscape. Most tunnels were short; we would cross those within a few seconds. Some were much longer and covered many kilometers. (I still have no idea how long a kilometer is, but it’s the only thing I got over here.)

I have always been a fan of riding on trains, and scoffed a little when I realized that we would be taking a bus everywhere, but it has its own charm. On a bus you get to see the landscape at a slower pace and get rest stops every once in a while to take it all in.

We got to the other side of the mountains and drove through the flat lands of Italy. The landscape was very different and actually reminded me a little of Florida. We had our lecture on the Italian style of arbitration and then got dropped off at the train station to take a short ride to the Venetian Islands.

I figured Venice would be the opposite of everything I had heard about or seen in pictures. Pessimistically, I thought that there were maybe one or two canals that people used to get around. And it would be choked with tourists on gondolas. Luckily, I was wrong.

Venice is truly a city in the ocean. There are scores of canals everywhere. There are no cars allowed in the city, so everything is done by boat. I mean everything: transportation (duh), deliveries, and even construction. It’s really a sight. Believe the hype, visit Venice.

Our hotel was actually a tiny bed and breakfast... that was too small for us. They put us up in some apartments a few minutes away in a quiet part of the city. Apparently people have agreements with certain hotels so that guests stay in their open apartments when the regular hotel is full. It makes sense because Venice is not exactly experiencing a lot of development this century.

On the first night a couple of us went out to find some excitement. I found it 30 feet from our apartment: a pizza/ gelato counter. It was heaven in your choice of the best pizza in the world or the best ice cream in the world. Yeah, I know what you are thinking, “pizza and ice cream can’t be THAT different in Italy.” And I encourage you to stay in your bubble. Please continue talking about how the pizza that I’m eating is not that great. No go ahead.

More for me J

We soon realized that it’s extremely easy to get lost in Venice. There is no rhyme or reason to the layout of the streets. Plus most of the streets are only wide enough for two people to walk by each other and brush shoulders. For the rest of my time in Venice I took good mental notes of every corner I turned so I could find my way back.

We found a square not to far away that was lined with bars and cafés. The first place we went into was sporting some alt-looking kids and Bob Marley on the music box. We immediately ordered drinks. After talking to some folks in the bar, we learned about some other bar or club or something on the other side of town that had some live music. We got some sketchy directions and set off. After some supplementary tips along the way we came upon exactly what we were looking for... sort of.

The name of the bar was right, but it wasn’t a bar at all. It was a street party with hundreds of people and a decent stage with great music! We partied a lot harder than we thought we were going to and it was OK. We were in Venice, we were at a street party, and we were getting class credit to be there.

We found our way back to the apartment and I fell asleep with a smile on my face.

Part II comes tomorrow. 

How do you get through this?

With this.

Freaking castles. I looong for a bungalow. 


Ever parallel park a boat?

Gelato and pizza...

Get in mah belly!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Vienna: waaay more than sausage in a can.

The day after Salzburg, we packed into the bus again to make the drive to Vienna. We were there for only one day, which is laughably short compared to the amount of time needed to appreciate that grand city.

Just outside of Vienna we took a short break at the Hapsburg summer palace. Sounds quaint, right? Yeah, it’s about as big as the Atlanta airport. The next time you listen to a rapper sing about all the money he has and the big chrome wheels on the Chevy think about the fact that the Hapsburgs’ part time palace would take up an entire zip code.

We pulled ourselves away from the beautiful dynastic summer hangout, and rolled into the city. We were on our way to visit the Austrian Supreme court. It’s one of those buildings that leaves your jaw on the ground when you walk into it. There is a central atrium with a grand staircase and an enormous statue of Justitia the Roman goddess of justice assuring fairness with her giant sword.

After our presentation by a Supreme Court justice, we went over to the International Arbitration center for a lecture by the Secretary General. We are well connected over here.

We took a small tour of the big city afterwards courtesy of Professor Lanier. We walked up to the Hofburg Palace- yes, another palace- and admired the view. Do you know the true meaning of the word “awesome?”

I do.

Later when it started raining pretty hard I retreated to a café to work on some LR stuff. The rest of the group went off to sightsee and take in Vienna. I was a little sad that I could not do the same, but I had been to Vienna before, and sipping coffee in a Viennese café still beats sipping folgers at home. 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Hills are Alive: I know, I fought one.

Salzburg is the birthplace of Mozart. Remember that.

Because if you are there, and taking a tour, and the tour guide asks if you know why Salzburg is world famous, blurting out “Sound of Music!!!” may solicit a bit of a sideways eye from any passing Salzburgers.


The city was a pleasant surprise. At this point in a European vacation, everyone tends to become susceptible to omg-theres-another-old-building-who-cares-syndrome. Salzburg successfully staved off any such affliction and we had a great time exploring the little city.

We had class in the morning at a university that was once a palace. Yes, a palace. Before the university took it over, part of it was also used a police station. It just goes to show that with all of the sentiment that we attach to buildings when they are extremely old, we also don’t care much for buildings when they are just kind of old. In the U.S. I laugh a little bit on the inside when people fall allover themselves for some art deco buildings from the middle of the 20th century. Now I realize that they are just trying to protect those structures so they have the chance to someday be really old.

After class we got a tour of the university. We went to a top floor where the tour guide excitedly pointed out the timbers used to construct the roof. Those old pieces of wood had been there for over 400 years. That’s 370 years before the Orkin man was born. Being able to touch a 400 year old wooden roof beam connected me to the history of the place much more than sliding my fingers over any stone wall. Everyone expects rocks to be around.

He also took us to the “map room,” which had ancient maps of the most up to date layout of the known world at the time. The room was rediscovered in the 90’s when the place was being renovated. The beautiful murals were painted over in white and renovators took years to reveal what was hidden underneath.

This happens a lot in Europe. When a city gets to be thousands of years old, life goes on for the citizenry. A “historic site” is a new concept. Once a building, bridge, moat, or city wall became obsolete, it was built over to make way for something more useful. Nowadays worker crews spend half their time looking out for and digging up the very things their predecessors buried.

Later in the day we visited a cathedral, walked through some city squares, ate some ice cream and generally took the city in. In the afternoon we headed up to the castle on the hill. Now, I’m used to travelling on a budget, so taking the cheap way out is nothing new to me. So when we saw the cable car ticket to the top of the mountain cost 10€, we immediately declared it a rip off and started the mere stroll up the hill to the castle.

The only problem was, it was no stroll. I’m no mathematician, but I figure we were walking up a 91 degree angle to get to this forsaken fortress. Invading armies really did have their work cut out for them. And just like an invading army, when we finally reached the castle walls, we were met with our own version of hot tar... admission into the castle was 7€.... the tram ticket would have covered the ride up the hill and admission.

In any case, getting to the castle was worth it. The views were breathtaking (or maybe I was still huffing from the climb?). We took a tour that put us on the highest point of the keep and kept lookout of the city below.

I ended my day in Salzburg the best way I knew how, sipping coffee at a riverside café and watching the water and Salzburgers stream by. I like to imagine that Mozart would be proud.

(pictures from salburg will come soon!)