A Travellerspoint blog

Hungary

BY ABBY

sunny 20 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Our Budapest Apartment

Our Budapest Apartment

Today we left Slovenia for Hungary. Although we liked our apartment, we weren't too sad to leave because we were excited to wash our clothes properly as soon as possible. Leaving the apartment was easy and we were on the road in no time. The drive was scheduled to take a little over four hours so the only stops we planned were lunch and grocery shopping.

The drive was fairly uneventful, so I'll skip right to our first Hungarian experience, grocery shopping. When we went to get ourselves a cart we noticed that none of our coins fit into the slot. On further investigation inside the mall we realized that Hungary was not a country that used the Euro, but had its own currency entirely. One Canadian Dollar equals just over 215 Hungarian Forint (HUF). After locating an ATM and taking out the money we required, we were finally able to start our shopping trip. It took a little more effort that some other trips we've done as we had to figure out the language as well as divide all the prices by 200 for some rough price estimations. It was strange seeing items like meat and vegetables advertised with the number 1000.

We left the store having spent what seemed like thousands, but turned out to add up to only fifty dollars (CA). On our exit from the store our watermelon slipped out of its holder and onto the floor, which smashed it up a bit. But hopefully it will be okay if we eat it soon enough.

We made it to our meeting spot just on time and met with our friendly host. He is originally from Scotland, so he spoke English fluently (with an awesome accent too, which is a plus). He moved to Hungary with his wife when they got married, as she was born and raised there. Our apartment is very nice and clean, and we even have our own parking spot in an underground parking lot. When he was showing us where to park his foot hit the watermelon on the floor of the car, and as he left us he said, "I'm just glad that was a melon. I thought it was a head or something."

Posted by KZFamily 00:56 Archived in Hungary Tagged budapest travel shopping hungary currency Comments (2)

Laundry and Ljubljana Revisited

by Ben

semi-overcast 24 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Our Ljubljana Washing Machine

Our Ljubljana Washing Machine

Last night ended with some laundry trouble. We have access to an apartment style washing machine which has a drum that is oriented in the same position as a front loading washer except you load the machine through a little trap door in the drum which is accessed through a lid located on the top. The machine was quite noisy but seemed to operating well enough so we let it continue to do its thing. When the wash cycle was done, I opened the lid of the washer and all I could see was the perforated chrome drum and no sign of a trap door through which to retrieve clean clothes. Not a really good indication of a successful wash. Try as I might, I could not get the drum to rotate to a position that would expose the trap door. I tried running the machine through a spin cycle but found the drum in the same position when I opened the lid and began to suspect the drum had not turned at all. I downloaded a manual for the washing machine from the Internet but it offered no insight into our problem. It had a very detailed electrical schematic but nothing outlining the mechanics of the machine. Muriel sent an email off to our landlord to see if we were missing some crucial detail. We left our laundry for the night.

I suggested to Muriel that I take the washing machine apart in the morning, a proposal to which she doubtfully asked, "have you ever taken apart and fixed a washing machine before and do you have any tools?" I replied, "No I don't have tools but I do have a Swiss Army knife with a screw driver and can opener and no I have not fixed a washing machine but I have taken apart and fixed a couple of dishwashers along with other household appliances; it is not rocket science." She was not the least bit reassured by my answer. I also added, "does a person have to say they have experience on how to fix something before they go ahead and try?" I think it was at this stage that Muriel really wanted to hear a reply to her email by daylight so as not to have to explain washing machine parts strewn about the apartment and why the washing machine drum was ripped open with a can-opener.

Muriel's intercession on behalf of the washer did yield fruit in the morning. Our apartment contact said he would be by at 10:00 am to fix it himself. I was curious at this point to know how he was better qualified than I to fix the washer but kept silent until he arrived. He said he had the same model of washer at home and he came equipped with a tool kit. It looked like he would be tinkering for quite awhile so we made preparations to head back to the old town. Before I left I just casually asked what he did for a living, suggesting maybe he was a practicing mechanical engineer. He said he worked for a company that sold industrial cleaning products. I did not take this as an indicator of appliance repair prowess but I think Muriel was thinking cleaning supplies was a much closer match to washing machine repair than her husband's occupation as a teacher-librarian. Did I mention that this Slovene contact is quite handsome and charming? It seems that whenever he enters the apartment, my three girls start swooning a bit and look for reasons to engage him in conversation and hear his suave accent. He also felt the need to bring chocolates when he came this time. I think he should just stick to the item at hand, myself.

We headed back to the old town having learned that the day before the Earl and Countess of Wessex (Prince Edward and his wife Sophie) had visited Ljubljana and had been at Lake Bled nearly the same time we had been there. Their visit to Lake Bled coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost cars 1913 Alpine Trial race. We saw around 20 of these spectacular cars parked around town. Talk about obscure and arcane celebrations that the Royals get to attend.

Today it was possible we might bump into Prince and Princess Akishino of Japan who are also in town to take in the sights. Perhaps my kingly surname might qualify us for a personal tour around town with the President. Muriel was as doubtful about this as she was about my suggestion that I could have the makings of a Maytag repairman.

Making Smorn

Making Smorn

On Fridays, the open air market in the old town of Ljubljana adds an open-air Slovene Cuisine market where local restaurants and bakeries sell samples of their food. It is not all locally inspired cuisine that is on sale; there are dishes from Thailand, Russia, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, Japan and India along with more traditional Slovenian fare like tripe soup, strudel and a pancake dish called smorn (pronounced “shmorn”-sounds like the name of some piece of furniture in an Ikea catalogue). It was truly a fantastic way to eat lunch out. We ate food from several countries ending off with the aforementioned smorn covered in blueberry sauce.

Afterwards, we wandered past Saint Nicholas church with its incredible bronze doors, created in honor of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Slovenia, on our way up to Ljubljana castle via a funicular rail car. We took in the grounds around the castle and looked for a few aerial views of the city. We wandered back down using a stone staircase that took us back into the old town and through some narrow alleys. We could hear music drifting over the river and the sounds of many happy diners at the sidewalk cafes. We returned to the food market to try a few more morsels before retreating to our apartment for a little late afternoon down time. It was good timing as it looked a lot like the daily afternoon thunderstorm was approaching.
When we arrived home, I was delighted (oh—I think I meant to say disappointed) to see a note from our host that he was unable to fix the washer and had called a repairman who was coming shortly. After ¾ of an hour of taking the washer completely apart, the repairman was finally able to open the top of the washing drum. Our wet clothes were deposited in the bathtub and the machine parts left strewn around the apartment as the machine is likely not worth the cost of fixing. Personally, I think the repairman would have had an easier time of it if he would have brought a can opener but I didn’t say anything lest Muriel should think I was still sulking over her lack of confidence in my abilities to achieve an outcome similar to that of our Slovene technician. Needless to say, there will be no second laundry load.

Hannah with Plate of Pig's Knuckles

Hannah with Plate of Pig's Knuckles

This evening we went back into the centre of the city to experience a bit of its night life. We arrived around 7:00 pm and did not find things particularly busy for a Friday night but it was still early. The kids went into the tourist bureau to get some ideas of areas of town to look for restaurants with a bit of an international flavour. We headed off in the direction suggested and quickly found ourselves on a rather narrow street with many graffiti covered buildings. Sure enough there were a variety of small hole-in-the-wall eateries representing many different countries. We could not get over the contrast of this neighbourhood with the main town core and the old town. It seems there are two Ljubljanas, one clean cut and fairly sophisticated and the other, halfway between emerging from a hard transition to independence from the old order and experimenting with grunge and protest culture. Not all of what we saw was just the sign of economic hardship or despair; there was an alternative subculture with fairly deep dark roots. Perhaps it was Hannah’s purple hair that had led the tourist information officer to send us into this part of town.

We eventually wandered back into the historic quarter and settled on a restaurant that featured some Slovene food in addition to Italian and Austrian fare. Muriel and I both had a Slovene dish consisting of rump roast steak served with cheese dumplings. Muriel had hers with prunes while I had mine with mushrooms and red wine sauce. Hannah braved pig’s knuckle and potatoes while Abby played it safe with cheese gnocchi. We are happy to report all of our meals were quite tasty. Who would have thought that Hannah might develop an affinity for pig’s trotters? She did breathe a sigh of relief when her ham-like entrée arrived in a form that didn’t bare too strong resemblance to a foot.

After dinner we strolled the lamp lit streets which were now bustling with people. There was the occasional musician playing at various locations along the river but the main event was in the central square where a concert featuring the a duo called the 2 Cellos was in progress. The open air venue was in an attractive location with a fair bit of green space around it. Tickets for the concert started at 29 Euros; however people could stand on at least two sides and see the concert for free. We were able to put ourselves in a position to view the stage with little difficulty and were probably closer than the last row of paying concert goers.

2 Cello's Outdoor Concert in Ljubljana

2 Cello's Outdoor Concert in Ljubljana

The 2 Cellos consists of one Croat and one Slovene virtuoso cellist whose careers were not progressing well financially so in 2011 they took a risk and created a pop music video featuring them playing a cello only cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” They uploaded it to YouTube and within a couple weeks the video had three million views. Within the year they had been featured on a couple of American TV shows, were touring with Elton John and had been signed by Sony records. Their concert was a bit like two Ashley Macisaacs playing AC/DC and Nirvana tunes on the Cello. It was a sight and sound to behold. Even though it was essentially a rock concert, the fairly tame behaviour of even the young people drinking on the fringes of the free viewing area still made it feel like a crowd who had spent more time behaving at classical music festivals than partying it up at night clubs favouring Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses tunes.

I think all four of us paused for just a moment during the concert to take stock of our situation. We were in a tiny new country on the edge of Eastern Europe experiencing a modern cultural event that parallels nothing we have ever seen before. Even after nearly eight months of travel there are still new experiences and surprises to enjoy. We are one lucky and happy family.

Posted by KZFamily 00:44 Archived in Slovenia Tagged slovenia ljubljana laundry Comments (4)

Lake Bled

By Hannah

overcast 14 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Lake Bled with island church

Lake Bled with island church

We delved into Slovenia's natural landscape today. After exploring the urban Ljubljana (I'm still struggling to wrap my tongue around that name) yesterday, it was nice to get a feel for the Slovenian outdoors.

Lake Bled is gorgeous, and has a perfect little island in the middle of it. An idyllic church and bell tower reside there, tolling every half hour. The lake is home to numerous ducks and swans, none of which were very shy. The last of this year's cygnets and ducklings were paddling about behind their mothers. The baby swans are nearly as big as the fully grown ducks, and they know it, too. We took a stroll around the lake's perimeter, and enjoyed the cool temperature, thinking back to our sweltering week in Italy and appreciating the overcast skies even more. Everything looked green and lush and alive. We drew out the walk significantly with all the time we spent taking pictures. Afterwards, we had a picnic lunch at the lakeside, and watched some fishermen cast their lines into the fish-laden waters.

We made a brief stop at Lake Bohinj, another beautiful mountainside lake just twenty minutes from Lake Bled. We popped our heads into a small chapel named for the patron saint of travellers, St. Christopher. People believed that if you saw an image of St. Christopher, you will not die on that day. I feel like they missed a chance to try for immortality. The paintings inside were unusually grotesque and creepy, but aside from that the church was quaint and traditional.

It look us less than an hour to go from forests and lakes to the centre of town. I'm still getting used to how small Slovenia is.

Posted by KZFamily 13:57 Archived in Slovenia Tagged lake slovenia bled Comments (4)

Vibrant Ljubljana

by Ben

semi-overcast 24 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Ljubljana: Triple Bridge

Ljubljana: Triple Bridge

As you gathered from the last blog post by Abby, we are now in Slovenia. I am not sure if it is some sort of coping mechanism that caused Abby to skip over the details of our entrance into this tiny country or an attempt to spare her parents from any ridicule by our reading public.

We were only in Slovenia for three minutes and a police officer flagged us down. As I rolled down my car window, I was told in clipped tones by the female officer to produce my car registration, driver’s license and passport. I had no idea why our car had been selected from many others to be pulled over. Maybe it was an insurance check as occurs with amazing regularity throughout Turkey; or maybe as with our entrance into Ireland we still needed to have our passport stamped even though we were entering the country via another European Union country; or maybe my law abiding driving style just did not match the French license plates on the outside of my car. In the end I was quite happy how a Canadian passport seemed to measurably soften the demeanour of the law enforcement officer. My being an ignorant Canadian seemed to explain everything. My new-found Slovene friend explained that to drive on any of the highways in her country, one needed to purchase a decal for 15 Euros and display it on their car windshield. All the highways work on electronic tolls. We just needed to pull off at the next petrol station 2 kilometers down the road and purchase a decal and all would be forgiven.

Ljubljana square

Ljubljana square

As I pulled away from the police road block, Muriel cleared her throat and said, “By the way, I just remembered what Stella told me a couple of days ago, you need to purchase a decal right at the Slovenian border for driving on the highway.” Thanks for that timely bit of information, Muriel!
As with most countries we have encountered, their national borders although political do reflect changes or differences in geography. Slovenia is heavily forested and the landscape quickly becomes much more mountainous, and towns more scattered as a result. As if to emphasis the fact that we had passed from one independent nation to another, the weather quickly changed from the simmering 33 degrees and sunny skies of Trieste, Italy to the epic rainfall and cool 14 degrees of central Slovenia.

Chicken-shaped Slovenia is about two-thirds the size of Vancouver Island and has a population of 2 million people. It was part of the former Yugoslavia and has only existed as an independent state since 1991. We have decided to stay in the state and cultural capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana, which has a population of just under 275,000.

Our accommodation is another testimonial regarding the benefits of booking private accommodation through a website such as Airbnb. I say this not only because we have a clean, well-equipped and stylish apartment but because we are once again staying in environs which help us better understand how the locals live. Our apartment building is in a neighbourhood quite near the outskirts of the city. Our drab, grey, cement five-story walk-up is one of a half dozen such buildings which stand in the midst a sea of several dozen even more austere eleven story apartment buildings which seem to house at least 200 apartments each. It is hard to believe that our building was constructed in 1988; its style and that of all those around it looks more like the utilitarian Soviet style construction of the 1960s. Fortunately, our apartment on the inside has been modernized right down to the exterior windows.

There is a large recreation centre in the midst of these buildings, and numerous green spaces, play areas and a river with wide footpath nearby. The grounds are not particularly well groomed (no garbage just a little bit of graffiti) and the area smacks of large scale bureaucratic social planning right down to identical supermarkets located just a few hundred meters from each other. Despite this, the neighbourhood feels vibrant and friendly with young families everywhere and every balcony teeming with a multitude of plants and a good amount of drying laundry.

Ljubljana: alternative art area of Metelkova

Ljubljana: alternative art area of Metelkova

Today we drove into the downtown of Ljubljana to explore. We discovered a beautiful European style old town situated along a tamed river. We have heard some call this city a mini Prague or Budapest without the crowds. Since we have yet to see these two other cities we can only say it has some architecture reminiscent of Paris, and other structures that seem vaguely Austrian with a touch of Italian and Spanish influence thrown in from the 1800s. It is a university town where supposedly one in seven residents is either a student or shares some association with the university. The entire old town section is in wonderful repair and is entirely geared to welcome tourists without the usual tackiness. Ljubljana is all about the arts and food. There are countless museums and galleries, market stalls, and talented street musicians and artists. Almost every night of the week there are open air concerts in the downtown and it has a festival schedule that may exceed what Vancouver and Victoria offer combined. The river in the middle of the old town is forded with nearly a dozen bridges of a variety of styles. There is a cobbler’s bridge complete with shoes dangling overhead, a butcher’s bridge with metal statuary that looks vaguely like they may have first been used as props in some sort of chainsaw massacre horror movie, and the aptly named Dragon’s bridge, and then the highlight, a stone triple which consists of one wide bridge and two smaller parallel pedestrian bridges.

Restaurants are legion in this area of the city, each seemingly brand new and most of them having tables that overlook the river. Despite the historic architecture, Ljubljana exudes a very youthful energy. You really feel it’s the center of a new country that is reveling in its heritage and inviting the world in, but on Slovene terms.

After a few hours of strolling old town, Muriel suggested we walk fifteen minutes to a different neighbourhood called Metelkova City which features alternative art, most made from recycled materials. This “artistic” locale came into being when squatters took up residence in the old former Yugoslavian military barracks in 1993. Our walk to this area of the city took us through non-descript neighbourhoods with featureless apartment buildings. The closer we got to our destination the more graffiti appeared on the buildings and the more derelict the streets. The atmosphere was not helped by the quickly blackening skies that were announcing the arrival of another thunder storm. What greeted us on our arrival were graffiti ridden alley ways almost devoid of people but populated with an assortment of sculptures made from scrap metal. Even by squatter’s standards, the area seemed in decline. Needless to say we did not linger and hightailed it back to the old town but not quite fast enough to outrun the incredible rainstorm carried by the black clouds above. Within minutes the entire city was a ghost town, with people ducking into buildings for refuge. We, however, ran as fast as we could back to our car lest we stumble into another urban wasteland. All in all, it was a very pleasant first full day in this new country.

Posted by KZFamily 13:37 Archived in Slovenia Tagged slovenia ljubljana Comments (3)

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