28.06.2013 - 28.06.2013 24 °C
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.
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.
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.
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.