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What We Ate in Amman

Here it comes, another food post.  We often feel foolish reaching for our cameras before reaching for our forks, but we hope you enjoy the results.  This post is a little different than the rest; it’s organized by restaurant.

—–

Quarter Moon Shawarma

Tony and shawarma

Our first meal in Jordan was between Queen Alia Airport and our friends’ apartment.

Quarter Moon shawarma

Can’t beat shawarma for a great late night fast food option.

 

—–

Hashem Restaurant, a dive-y place downtown that is famous for serving delicious cheap Middle Eastern food.  Sit on their grungy plastic chairs and have a personal revelation.


Matabel

Matabel, some sort of creamy eggplant wonderfulness.

 

Fuul - tangy, spicy beans swimming in olive oil and herbs.

 

Hummus

Hummus.

 

Falafel

Falafel.

Falafel... stuffed with roasted onions and rolled in toasted sesame seeds.

More falafel… this time stuffed with roasted onions and rolled in toasted sesame seeds.

Hot tea with sugar and fresh mint

Hot tea with sugar and fresh mint.

—–

 

Al Quds was where our friends decided to take us for some mansaf, Jordan’s national dish.

 

Mansaf

Mansaf is staple at weddings, celebrations, and for honoring important guests.  If I had to draw a parallel between this and an American dish, it would be Grandma’s perfect Sunday pot roast.  Not at all similar in flavor, but in sentiment.

 

Mansaf sauce

Wikipedia describes mansaf: ”The lamb is cooked in a broth made with a fermented then dried yogurt-like product called jameed, and served on a large platter with a layer of flatbread (markook or shrak) topped with rice and then meat, garnished with almonds and pine nuts, and then sauce poured over all.”

 

More matabel

More matabel.

 

More hummus

More hummus.


—–

Mahashi takeout from Ali’s Mahashi-Al Mashi.

 

Mahashi al Mashi takeout

The little aluminum boxes aren’t the most photogenic, but there was no way we would skip over this.

 

Mahashi plated

Mahashi is eggplant, zucchini, cabbage… all stuffed with minced meat and rice and vegetables, stewed in spicy tomato and yogurt sauces. Sides: piles of rice and flatbread and an avalanche of pickled vegetables.  Ali is generous with his portions.

—–


Mawwal Restaurant
– a nice sit-down place with waiters who will be very concerned for the state of your mental health if you don’t order enough meat.

 

Fire roasted tomatoes and chiles

Fire roasted tomatoes and chiles. Super spicy.

Fattoush

Fattoush salad – greens and vegetables topped with fried flatbread and a vinaigrette dressing.

 

Kebbeh maklieh

 Kebbeh maklieh – deep fried cracked bulgur wheat stuffed with minced lamb and herbs.

 

Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh – loads of parsley with mint, tomato, lemon juice and bulgur.

 

Baba ghanoush

Baba ghanoush- roasted eggplant, vegetables and chilis, tahini and garlic, topped with vinaigrette.

 

Galayet Bandora

Galayet Bandora - stewed lamb, tomatoes and onions.

 

Kofta Bi Tahini 

Kofta Bi Tahini - ground lamb and herb patties in a velvety sesame sauce.

 

—–

Habibeh pastry shop.

kunefe cheese

Habibeh (literally, “beloved”) will provide for you na’ama kunefe.  This kunefe is finely chopped pastry dough, topped with soft white cheese, topped with more pastry, drenched in syrup and garnished with pistachios and orange food coloring.

 

kunefe alley

Best eaten hot, on a styrofoam plate in Habibeh’s alley.

—–

And finally, Bang Bang Bubble Tea House at a mall in West Amman near the Seventh Circle.

Bubble tea and complimentary peanut butter waffles.  Ok, maybe it’s not so traditional, but Amman is a modern city, and that’s what we all had that night.

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Exploring Amman

Homemade Jordanian flag

Our friends Cody and Vanessa moved to Amman in August this year to study Arabic. Back when we were all still in Iowa City, we had talked about maybe going through Jordan to see them on our year of wandering, but it didn’t seem like the timing was going to work out. And then those cheap Royal Jordanian flights started popping up and suddenly our path to Asia took a new direction.

Satellite dishes

Amman is a city of 1.5 million people. About one quarter of its residents are Iraqi, Palestinian, Sudanese, Somalian, and (more recently) Syrian refugees. The terrain is hilly, the climate is desert, and the official religion is Islam. After chilly Berlin, the blue skies, dry air and temperatures in the upper 70′s were so welcome.

Amman side street with blue truck

Rapid population growth means that the city is a constant swirl of dust and traffic with examples of prosperity and poverty elbow-to-elbow. You can buy fresh produce from a roadside stand or a souk or you can buy a value meal from McDonalds or KFC. You might see goats being grazed in an empty lot in the middle of the city accompanied by a shepherd wearing a polo shirt, or you might see a guy with a python around his neck at a street fair.

Python at street festival

urban goats

McDonalds

Everything is tan and square for as far as the eye can see, but that makes the flowers and palms and mosques and rare youthful artistic flourishes seem even more stunning.

East Amman homes

View of the Roman Theater from the Citadel

sand colored city

pink flowers

blue flowers

Amman mosque

Stairway graffiti

Since the city expanded so rapidly, it’s an urban planning nightmare. There are broken sidewalks, curbs two feet high at pedestrian crossings, few traffic signals, and each roundabout approach is prefaced with an official U-turn lane because the most roads are purposefully constructed to allow only right turns. Horns and exhaust fumes are constant. Many travelers spend only a day or two in Amman before heading off to more exotic locations, and you can mostly understand why.

Traffic, downtown Amman

Construction site, West Amman

Late afternoon

The major highlights of Amman can be “done” in less than a day, starting at the top of Jabal al-Qal’a (the Hill of the Citadel) to see the ruined Temple of Hercules and Umayyad Palace, then down to the Roman theater below, on to the souks and shopping streets downtown, then a stop at one of the dozens of Western-style cafes on Rainbow Street.

Squinty

Temple of Hercules

Tony at Temple of Hercules

Umayyad Palace

Column detail, Temple of Hercules

Alicia at Umayyad Palace

Roman Theater

Ammann souk

Pickled everything

Sugarcane juicer

Shopping downtown

Feather dusters

Downtown Amman

Rainbow Street sign

Juice shop on Rainbow St.

After nearly two weeks in Amman, we were feeling comfortable with the city. Dust, fumes, late night celebratory gunshots, crazy cab rides and all. The sounds seeped into us in a familiar rhythm. The constant jingle of what might be an ice cream truck constantly patrolling the neighborhoods. (It’s actually a truck filled with propane tanks for residential stoves.) The repetitive loudspeaker shouts of another truck slowly rolling through the neighborhoods. Let your imagination run wild and it might be mistaken for an angry tirade of someone inciting revolution. (They’re actually letting you know that they’re selling cabbages and onions and stuff.)

Propane truck

And of course, the most “other” sound of all: the five times daily call to prayer. In Turkey it would vary from city to city and from mosque to mosque. In Amman it had its own aura that, with our limited experience, we can only describe as “not Turkish” yet as beautiful as our favorite call from of The New Mosque in Istanbul. Its a sound that we will miss as we continue our journey eastward.

Mosque

We really loved our time in the Middle East. All the wonderful food, the sights, the sounds… most of the smells. We hope we can experience it all again someday.

(Watch our video of a rolling vegetable vendor, the souk, and the call to prayer in downtown Amman)

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Our Home Away from Home in Amman

Midnight, about to leave for the airport

Our time in Amman was so refreshing. (This photo was taken at midnight right before we got in the cab to go to the airport, so disregard how tired we all look.  And our matching outfits.) It was fun to be a completely different culture when we left Cody and Vanessa’s apartment, but being in their home was almost like coming back to America for a little bit. We didn’t cram too much busyness into the two weeks. The main activities were just hanging out with Cody and Vanessa and their girls while they went about their daily lives.

C + V's apartment building

Urban goats

Aubie cat

We ate peanut butter and jelly and Kraft mac and cheese and burgers and burritos and watched The Little Mermaid dubbed in Arabic. We did laundry and played with their kittens and slept in late. Alicia participated in many elaborate imagination sessions of Sparkle Princess Sisters.

Sparkle Princess Sisters

Ella's gumball

Ella goofing off on the roof

More Ella goofing off on the roof

Ella and Simone on the roof

Fearless Ella

Besides hosting us for nearly two weeks (with just as much advance notice!), Cody and Vanessa gave us their own bedroom, kept us well fed AND set us up with five hours of private Arabic lessons at their language school, the Latin American Cultural Center (not a typo – you can learn Español and English there, too).  What?  Too, too much, but that’s how they roll.

Arabic notebook

Arabic teacher Nancy

Latin American Cultural Center

We learned about 70 basic nouns and pronouns, including greetings and numbers. It was awesome to dabble in another language and the experience made us really interested in pursuing some sort of language learning when we get home next year. Inshallah!

Foreigners on Parade

Ella's photography

Shukran, Cody and Vanessa! Baaraka Allahu fik!

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Berlin to Bangkok… via Amman

Back when we were Prague, we were trying to figure out flights. Depending on how you interpret the Schengen Zone border control regulations for tourists, we either had to get out by October 29 or by November 30, but we were getting cold were feeling anxious to leave Europe for warmer (and much less expensive) lands.

Mecca on the seatback map

Our favorite airfare search engines, Skyscanner and ITA Matrix, were all pointing to Bangkok as the destination, with the cheapest flights leaving from either Prague or Berlin. Almost everyone we had met over the several months prior said that Berlin was their favorite city ever so that cemented our plans to head to Germany.

A thunderstorm over Turkey altered our flight path

And of all the flights from Berlin to Bangkok, Royal Jordanian had the best prices.  Their flights had layovers in their hub, Amman.

Hey, we have friends in Amman.

One Skype call later to confirm that it was ok to invite ourselves over, and we had our Berlin to Bangkok tickets booked… with a 13 day layover in Jordan.

Almost to Amman

After spending two months of our summer in Turkey, which is a predominantly Muslim country, we thought Jordan would be pretty similar. In some ways it was. In other ways, it was a whole new world.

Amman McDonald's

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What we ate in Budapest, Prague and Berlin

We decided to combine the food from our final three European cities into one post. While the cuisines were different, you may notice some similarities.

BUDAPEST

Goulash and pickled cabbage.

Goulash and pickled cabbage

Roasted mushrooms.

Roasted mushrooms

Sausage, mustard, bread, beer. Truly enhanced by the cardboard plate. Lemony túrós táska pastries for dessert.

Sausage, mustard, bread, beer.  Truly enhanced by the cardboard plate.

Stuffed cabbage.

Stuffed cabbage

A typical food vendor’s stall at the Great Market Hall.

A typical food vendor's stall at the Great Market Hall

Bacon wrapped cheese.

Bacon wrapped cheese

Purely medicinal. (Think of a more herbal, concentrated version of Jaegermeister.)

Unicum

We did spend six weeks with some Aussies. It was inevitable.

Vegemite

PRAGUE

Roast pork with stewed spinach and dumplings.

Roast pork with stewed spinach and dumplings

Chicken-bacon-veg skewer on a baguette.

Chicken-bacon-veg skewer on a baguette

Potatoes, cabbage, sausage, stewed in dark beer.

Potatoes, cabbage, sausage, stewed in dark beer

Goulash in bread bowl.

Goulash in bread bowl

Pork neck, parsley potatoes, homemade pickles.

Pork neck, parsley potatoes, homemade pickles

Goulash (mostly liver, some beef) and dumplings.

Goulash (mostly liver, some beef) and dumplings

Dumplings with carmelized onions.

Dumplings with carmelized onions

Skvarková pomázanka pečivo – an oniony spread made with “scratchings” (fat).

Massive banana and Nutella palačinky.

Massive banana and Nutella palačinky

Some sort of rotisserie doughnuts sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.

Some sort of rotisserie doughnuts sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon

Yeast pivo.

Yeast beer

Grizzly pivo from Pivovar Berounský Medved.

Grizzly - Pivovar Berounský Medved

BERLIN

Currywurst.

Currywurst round 1

Currywurst with fries.

Currywurst round 2

…after that cholesterol endurance marathon, we were done with the “authentic” food and moved on to Berlin’s multicultural cuisine. We’re sure Germany has much more to offer than a weiner swimming in some spicy ketchup, but it was time for other things.

Fresh breakfasts at Cafe V.

The

Cafe V breakfast

Cafe V scrambled eggs

Roasted eggplant and falafel.

Roasted eggplant and falafel

Schwarma, hummus, salad, falafel.

Schwarma, hummus, salad, falafel

Tofu and veg.

Tofu and veg

Pho.

Pho

Pad Thai.

Pad Thai

Rocket, feta and tomato gozleme wraps from the Turkish market.

Rocket, feta and tomato gozleme wraps

Dessert? Candy coated grapes, also from the Turkish market.

Candy coated grapes

Carrot cake and cappuccino.

Carrot cake and cappuccino

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Let’s All Go to Berlin

READY, SET, GO

Berlin transit map

Train pulling in at Turmstrasse

Red man = stop!

Green man = go!

Kotbusser Tor station

Kirfurstenstrasse

Sky and Alicia on the U-Bahn

Tony and Leah on the U-Bahn

Mirror shot

GOLDEN DAYS OF FALL

Victory column

Tony and Leah at a cafe

Dortmunderstrasse

Alicia and Leah at a cafe

Purple turban lady

boat cleaners on the Spree

Empty bottles

Yellow flowers

Cafe V's sidewalk

Cafe V's yellow tree

Cafe V's breakfast

Green and red ivy street

Red vines

ART IS INEVITABLE AND UNAVOIDABLE

Fist

Mural

cannibalism?

I <3 Berlin

Llamas

Hungry mural

Peace stencil

Lounging sculpture

Apple tree

Apple tree - closer inspection

Orange leaves over the Wall

Buy your happiness

Plague mask graffiti

They all love you

Love art mural

Tony at Berlin MOMA

Ok! stencil

THEN IT GOT COLD

Socks purchased

Sky's wardrobe

Guy with bikes

Friedrichstrasse

Flowers and coffee

MAKING WARM THINGS

Yarn store

Yarn for sale

Leah crocheting

JUST LOOKING: TURKISH MARKET – FLEA MARKET – SECOND HAND

Tony did not buy this hat

1981 plaque

funky interior

Canal behind the Turkish market

Turkish market

Flowers for sale

Flea market food court

REMNANTS AND REMEMBRANCES OF THE PAST

Jewish History Museum

Thumbs up

Small people - small things
Terrier on the Wall

Drinking coffee at the Wall
Checkpoint Charlie

You are leaving the American Sector

More walls to tear down

Wireframe church

Public art

Holocaust Memorial - vertical

Holocaust Memorial - sky

Holocaust Memorial - stairs

DIAMOND ROAD SHOW

Diamond Road Show

Diamond Road Show - projector setup

Diamond Road Show - red

FAREWELL, SISTERS

The Four

AUF WIEDERSEHEN, BERLIN

Brandenburg Gate - Festival of Lights

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Pivovar Berounský Medved

In Prague, we met up with Anna, whom we met in Sarajevo.  Anna is from the States and is teaching English in Prague. She was very kind to let us hang with her and her friends, plus she took us on a short train ride for an afternoon at the brewery in Beroun.

We’re not always very good of remembering to take pictures of the people we’re with, so here’s Anna petting a puppy in Sarajevo:

Anna

Anyway, back to the brewery. Apparently if you end up in a scrap yard and think you’ve taken a wrong turn, then you’re almost there. Maybe that’s a metaphor for life.

brew bear

Walking to the brewery

restaurant sign on truck

Pivovar Berounský Medved

the beverages

Pivovar Berounský Medved - hops decor

After enjoying a refreshing pint of birthday pivo (it was Tony’s birthday) and some meaty Czech food, we went back outside to explore the scrap yard a bit.

scrap yard

Here’s an old Trabant, an East German car made out of plastic.

Trabant - East German car made of plastic.

Just a tank. No biggie.

tank

And an old Skoda truck.

Old Skoda truck

We picked apples from a tree down the street. They were crisp and perfect.

apple tree

On the way back to Prague, we hopped off the train at Karlstejn to check out the castle.

Karlstejn train station

hot air balloon

Berounka River

Karlstejn Castle

Karlstejn grounds

trees changing colors

hillside

It was a wonderful fall day.   Crisp air with wood smoke in the breeze, changing leaves, a castle, a train ride, a cozy brewery, and time with friends.

Thanks Anna!  (Go read Anna’s blog, Two Wheels Good, about her cycling adventures in Prague.)

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Autumn Arrives in Prague

After almost two terrific weeks in Budapest, Leah and Sky came with us to Prague and we spent our time doing our usual travel habits of wandering the city, having coffee in cafes, eating too many pastries, and taking a million photos.  We also visited a lot of second hand stores because fall was solidly upon us and most of our clothes were for summer weather.

Our Lady of Tyn

Wenceslas Square

St. James Basilica

beehive

Astronomical Clock

old vines

Basilica of St. Peter and Paul

Basilica of St. Peter and Paul - interior

Vyšehrad Cemetery

feeding swans

Leah and Sky

Swans from above

waterfront afternoon

Wallenstein Garden from afar

Wallenstein Garden

Tony at the Lennon Wall

Lennon Wall

Charles Bridge

Dancing House

Beautiful, right?  Prague had plenty of the unconventional, too.

Street performers advertising for a brand of paint.

little green men

The best one man band we’ve ever seen.

One man band

Bizarre art.

science plaque

guns

Shark - Saddam

ballerina on the wall

Giant babies

Familiar looking license plates at the flea market.

license plates

Snowboarding at the flea market.

snowboard hill

And the Infant of Prague – a baby Jesus statue with a whole wardrobe of elaborately embroidered gowns.

Infant of Prague

Buy your own replica for home!

Infant of Prague gift shop

We also found an Indian cafeteria style restaurant that had wonderful food and sold whatever they had left at a 50% discount if you arrived an hour before closing.  We ate there… a lot.

Leah and Sky

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Ode to Mandala

Budapest stood on its own as an endless fount of discovery and gritty beauty, but what made it really special was that we stayed at Mandala Hostel. Our friend Leah found the place, and we ended up there with her after being unimpressed with our first I-know-you’re-checking-in-at-11p.m.-but-we’re-not-sure-which-beds-are-free-and-also-we-forgot-to-hang-the-clean-bedsheets-out-to-dry hostel.

Mandala entrance

Mandala courtyard

Living at Mandala is basically like living at your friend’s apartment.  If your friend put a bunch of beds and a loft in their living room.  Another key component was that the group of people who happened to be there at the time, were all lovely and interesting and conscientious and it felt like we had our own little family group.

Zen room

plants in the window

games in the window

hostel kitties

Furi and Petr

kitchen

Some days we would just sit around and make tea and talk on the courtyard balcony, or on the sofa.  Some nights we would all go out to the neighborhood ruin-pub for some traditional (and not-so-traditional) Hungarian folk music.

Gondozo - dancers

Polish Coffee

Casey, Kat and Matilda

impromptu portraiture

So we ended up staying a lot longer in Budapest than we originally intended.  It was a good thing.

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Nov 2012
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Budapessssht?

That’s right, Budapest. (The s makes a “sh” sound in Hungarian.)  We were considering the cost of train tickets from Maribor to Prague or to Budapest, and Budapest won. It turned out that return ticket was actually cheaper than one-way, so we reasoned we would probably run across someone who was on their way to Slovenia and we could sell them our return segment. The beauty of not planning ahead and having more time than money is that you can look at each other, say “why not Budapest?”

One great thing that happened back in Maribor is that we picked up a stray Australian named Leah. We met her briefly at our last guesthouse, then we were pleasantly surprised to find her sitting on the platform waiting for the train to Budapest. She was traveling Europe solo in between high school and college and had all the spunky free spirit you’d expect from an 18 year old, blended with mature and nurturing qualities that always made us forget that we’re closer to twice her age. Leah’s friend Sky, an equally sweet person whom she met the month prior in Turkey, flew from Rome to join us a few days later.  The four of us soon became a traveling family and we had heaps of fun with our newly adopted sisters.

The Four

 

Reading on the train

The ride from Maribor to Budapest was our favorite train trip so far.  We had the entire compartment to ourselves, and we reclined all the seats and chatted and read our books and ate our snacks for the next eight hours.  Hungary looks a lot like Iowa, and it was easy to pretend that we were not in Europe at all and instead traveling on the hopefully-someday-soon-to-be-reality Iowa passenger rail route.

Hungary? Or Iowa?

Budapest!  The glorious merger of the cities Buda and Pest on either side of the Danube.  We were always looking up at the architecture and finding it looking back down at us.

Chain Bridge

Margaret bridge

Chain bridge

Parliament

Terror Museum - outside

Terror Museum - inside

Terror Museum - wall of faces

Building on Andrassy

Magyar Museum - detail

Heroes Square

faun light

We are being watched

Metro

Szent István

street to St. Stephens

Magyar University

Budapest skyline

Budapest Skyline

Matthias Church

Mathias Church and Fishermens Bastion

King Istvan

Matthias Church roof

Tony and the Cop

St. Stephens Square

Courtyard - Vajdahunyad Castle

Metro rail

Kerepesi Cemetery

Corner building

B&W mural

typical street

typical entryway

Orange building

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A Little Ljubljana

You might have noticed by now that we don’t do loads of research about a place before we arrive.  Sometimes we don’t even know how to pronounce its name. (Lyoob-lyee-AH-na, for the record.) Sometimes this ends up biting us, and sometimes it just means our lives are full of good surprises.

We spent one day in Ljubljana in between graffiti hunting in Zagreb and renovating a house in the Julian Alps, and we instantly knew that we wanted to come back before we left Slovenia.  Firstly, there was a Georgian restaurant in town (remember that Georgian food from Tbilisi?), but it was closed the day we were there.

Secondly, wow!

dragon

Dragon Bridge

Dragon tail

Ljubljana is a small city filled with a mix of Baroque and Viennese architecture, interesting sculptures and tons of cafes, all cut down the center by a small river and joined by all sorts of bridges.  Add to that the fact that it’s highly walkable and bikeable, and you have all the great components of a laid back European city in one easy-to-embrace package.

main square

bridge fish sculptures

Triple Bridge

Hidden place to watch the river

boat on the river

Shoes hanging from power lines

River walk

Colorful building

Pony loves you

horse fountain

downtown Ljubljana

One day, we saw a young guy with marker on his face and assumed he passed out at a party with people he thought were his friends. Then we saw another person with even more scribbles. Then we saw others carrying around markers. Later, we found out that it was a freshman hazing tradition for the first day of school.

kids by the river

kids marking each other

a popular target

Our favorite day was when we rented bikes and pedaled through Tivoli park and across the bridges and even through the tunnel that goes under the castle hill. The city is full of bike lanes and bike traffic signals and the motorists are aware of and considerate to cyclists, so the usual fear of getting run over just wasn’t there. It seemed like everyone biked, even middle-aged ladies with perfect hair, nice jewelry and designer clothes. The type that would probably be driving a new Escalade if they were in the States.

(Watch a little video of us biking in Ljubljana!) 

stoplight

our bikes

We had seen many places by this point, and the quality of life in Ljubljana made us think that it was one of the few places we could actually imagine living in. Also, not gonna lie. There might have been some ice cream.

ice cream from Cacao

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Last Stop in Slovenia: Maribor

Maribor, Slovenia – 2012 European Capital of Culture! Multiple daily events year round! Art shows, street performers, public art installations, music, concerts, all mostly free.  Sounds great!

So we took the train to Maribor. Our arrival was ill-timed because we arrived on the weekend, and in a lot of places in Slovenia, everything shuts down on Saturday and Sunday.  Everything.  Unless you’re looking for booze or cigarettes, you’re out of luck.  We made more than a few Maribore jokes.

copper steeple

circular window

Church bells

kissing

Ancora Pizzeria

dog relief carving

Beware of the artist!

Human Fish Brewery

wallpaper

But Maribor was definitely picturesque, especially the view from the church tower. If you ever happen to be there, it’s worth the climb and the small donation.

sunset

red roofs

street and river

roof tile

plague column

red bridge

And we got to see a 400 year old grape vine, just before its heavy clusters were harvested for the season.  It’s the oldest known grape vine in the world.

the vine

ready for harvest

river sunset

We saw some art, then attempted a concert, but there wasn’t a lot of seating and it seemed to be more or a local open mic night.  On Sunday, not even the grocery stores were open and so we had lunch at the “Mexican” restaurant in the mall.  And then the mall closed at 2 p.m. and we decided we were taking the first train out of town in the morning.

mall Mexican food

As we walked to the train station early Monday morning, it was amazing how the town that had seemed totally deserted for the previous two days came to life. It made us wonder if we would have felt differently about Maribor had we arrived on a weekday. But the tickets were bought, and we were ready to move on to our next destination.

bus station

 

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A Few Hours in Venice

Our host Marie and her friend Rudi were planning a trip to pick up another friend near Venice, which is only a few hours from Kobarid, and they invited us along. We were not planning on seeing Italy at all this year, and so we jumped at the chance. Rudi drove us to Cividale de Friuli first for an espresso and a look at its big stone bridge. It was raining, so after we finished our coffees, we got right back on the road.

Our one and only Italian espresso

Venice is surrounded by some pretty depressing urban sprawl and industrial areas, at least the parts we could see from the four lane highway, the area that Marie and Rudy dropped us off in, and the parts the bus drove us through before we got to actual Venice Venice.

Waterworld Venice.

When you first cross over the from the large bus parking lot, it’s almost a theatrical entrance as you can hardly see anything until you reach the apex of the main bridge, and there before you is a big canal full of boats and rows of very old, damp, and not so vertical buildings.  And hordes and hordes of people.

First view of Venice

us

It was about 2 p.m. when we arrived and we needed to catch a train to meet Rudi and Marie at 6 p.m., so time was short. We decided we just wanted to wander the streets and enjoy the unexpected treat of visiting one of the world’s most famous cities, have a nice meal, and maybe treat ourselves to an espresso and gelato.

We quickly discovered that while most of the main thoroughfares were elbow-to-elbow with souvenir shoppers and the wheelie bag draggers, most of the time we had the streets and alleys to ourselves if we just deviated a block or two.

Goldola parking

man and dog on a boat

General Lee

We were glad that it was a grey and gloomy. It matched he preconceptions we had in our minds about the place, which doesn’t happen often. The whole city was fantastical and we were happy just observing and admiring everything…  from the canals and multicolored buildings, right down to the door buzzers and shutter locks.

doorbells

water alley

alley

wooden boat

church courtyard

water alley - yellow wall

all the harmonicas

Gondola guys

dragon with umbrellas

Tony

Lunch was another story. We didn’t do any restaurant research beforehand, so we were completely at the mercy of fate and our own good judgement. Both failed us and we managed to spend about $60 on a pizza that had sliced hotdogs on it and some gnocchi that made us certain the chef’s name was Boyardee.

Chef Boyardee?

hotdog pizza

wine

At least the wine was good. And we got this sweet photo of the waiter who gave the restaurant an aura of undeserved legitimacy.

stern waiter

By the time we finally got the bill, raindrops began to fall and we realized we had to leave for the station soon if we were going to catch our train. We opted to take a water bus back, reasoning that even if we missed out on expresso and gelato, we’d at least have an enjoyable boat ride and see some more of Venice. The wind and rain was really starting to pick up now and the boat plunged up and down as we boarded.

wind picking up

building

from the boat taxi

tugboats

Tony on the boat taxi

We managed to pick the boat that took us past large shipping docks and the backside of large industrial buildings, and eventually the weather was so bad that we had to retreat into the enclosed area.

When the boat finally churned sideways into the dock, there was little time to spare and we began to make a run for the train station.  The instant a raindrop falls in a tourist destination, magical umbrella fairies appear and try to make a quick buck. They mistook our rush for trying to stay dry and kept stepping right in our paths to make sure we knew that they had the solution to our problem. The stone promenades were slick and I imagined myself tripping and sliding on my face. We made it to the train soaked, intact, and with three minutes to spare.

train home

Venice didn’t turn out anywhere near perfect, but we’ll remember it just as fondly, maybe even more so, than if it had.

us

02
Nov 2012
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Italy

DISCUSSION 2 Comments
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How to Meet Men in Slovenia

None of us were in the market for a male companion, but we all agreed that it would be a good strategy.
Step 1: Get your car stuck in a way that blocks a single lane road.
Step 2: Wait a minute or two.

How to meet men in Slovenia

02
Nov 2012
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Slovenia

DISCUSSION No Comments
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Lake Bled (Trains, Hitchhiking, and Rowboats)

While we were staying with Marie in Kobarid, we also spent some time with her friend Rudi. Rudi is an engineer who drives a car train through the mountain tunnels. We had never heard of a car train before, so in case that’s also unfamiliar to you, it’s basically the same concept as a ferry. Except instead of a boat taking your car across the water, the train is taking your car through the mountains, which saves you almost an hour of driving and lots of petrol burnt on steep switchbacks.

A map on the wall of the Most na Soči train station

Rudi - profile

Rudi invited us to ride with him from Most na Soči to Bohinjska Bistrica in the engine of his train. Marie drove us down from Kobarid to meet the train, and after the requisite coffee at the station cafe, we climbed aboard.

engine - front

Most na Soči train station

engineer Tony

Rudi told us that the engine was American made.  The sections of track that didn’t go through the 100 year old tunnels wound along rippling rivers and valleys and small towns.

tiny town

looking forward

Tony and Rudi

controls

dead man's switch

controls

unloading cars

arriving in Bohinj

Time passed all too quickly and soon we were at the end of the line at Bohinjska Bistrica.  We parted ways with Rudi and walked through the edge of town until we came to a pizzeria where we ordered a soup and a spicy venison sausage pizza for lunch.

pizzeria for lunch

After lunch, we walked back to the north of town on the road to Bled and stuck our thumbs out. We were told that it was very easy and safe to hitchhike in Slovenia, and we positioned ourselves in an area with a nice place for a driver to pull off the road, across from a petrol station. Nearly forty minutes passed with hardly any drivers giving us a second look and we were beginning to doubt the advice we had been given. But soon, an elderly Slovenian couple in a white sedan pulled over. As we climbed into the slipcovered back seat with thankful smiles and several hvala lepa!s, the woman turned and indicated that we should buckle up. “Policija!” After they asked where we were from, the rest of the ride was spent in contented silence, and when we arrived in Bled, there was another round of smiles and hvala lepas and adijos.

It was a warm afternoon, and we wished we had brought our swimming suits. Since we kept our transportation costs at an all-time low for the day, we decided to splurge on renting a boat. Tony rowed us out to the island. We climbed the 99 steps to the church at the top and rang the bell.

our boat

rowing to the island

99 steps to the top

tower

Bled Castle - from a distance

Church of the Assumption - ringing the bell

the island

church and mountain

rowing back

model of island

island - late afternoon

We took another train back to Most na Soči as the sun disappeared behind the mountains.

(Watch a short video of our train ride and rowboating)

02
Nov 2012
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POSTED IN

Slovenia

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Hiking in the Soča Valley

The Soča Valley in Slovenia has mountains and dark green forests, waterfalls and perfectly blue water and massive marble trout, wooden suspension bridges and World War I trenches, meadows full of horses and wildflowers, and pretty little church steeples would ring in town every 15 minutes.

Kobarid hiking map

Kobarid - from Memorial

hiking trail

dark woods

The Soča Valley.  You can see the WWI memorial on the hill in the foreground.

steep stairs

looking back up the stairs

Soča River - vertical

blue water

us

bridge

bridge

testing the water

river bend

marble trout

bee boxes

shed in a clover field

shady spot

colorful forest floor

wooden ledge

rock formation

Slap Kosjak

Slap Kosjak pool

rocky stream

Alicia

Tony

little waterfall

Tolmin gorges

Tolmin Gorges

long bridge

sunlight in the gorge

Mossy tree

view of Tolmin

berries

colt

horses

pony!

The Soča Valley.  Kobarid is the village on the upper left.

The Soča Valley.  Tolmin is the main villageon the left.

WWI trenches - open field

trenches - wire tunnel

flower in the trenches

more trenches

trenches - valley view

flower and spider

02
Nov 2012
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Slovenia

DISCUSSION 2 Comments
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Working for Our Dinner in Slovenia

While we were on the gorgeous (and hot and crowded and expensive) Croatian coast, we decided that we wanted our time in Slovenia to be something different.  We thought we wanted to be in a more rural setting, preferably in the mountains, and turned to HelpX.  Help X connects travelers with people like farmers, homesteaders and B&B owners who are willing to offer free room and board in exchange for half a day’s work.

Tony came across Marie’s profile while we were in Split.  Marie owns a guesthouse in Kobarid, in the Soča Valley in northwestern Slovenia near the Italian border.  The area was the site of one of the major WWI front lines, and is the setting of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.  Nearly 100 years later, it’s hard to imagine a more peaceful place.

Kobarid in the valley

Napoleon bridge

Kobarid main square

Kobarid main street

Kobarid main street

 

Hemingway B&B room

Hemingway B&B terrace

spider

Hemingway B&B back garden

Marie is also renovating a stone house in the outskirts of Livek, a village up a neighboring mountain.  Renovating is not quite the correct word.  The house itself was not salvageable, and only three walls of the former attached barn are being incorporated into the new structure.  Marie is doing a lot of the work herself, but also enlists a few friends, colorful contractors, and HelpXers along the way.

Marie

Marie and Andrej

Livek - front

Livek - front scaffolding

Livek - back door

Livek - top floor before apno-ing

The neighbors up at Livek had a flock of goats, which were a nice diversion. (Watch a little video of them.)

Goats

goat portrait

This particular goat reminded us of our dog, Ivan.  It was a girl, but we still decided to refer to her as Ivan.

Ivan the goat

Ivan was extra friendly.  Here she is, licking the camera.

Goat licking the camera

And the views from Livek were unbeatable.

Livek - master bedroom view

Livek neighbors

wildflowers and Mt. Krn

Mt. Krn at sunset

Mt. Krn saw its first snow of the season while we were there. Its peak is distinctively jagged due to wartime dynamiting.

Mt. Krn - first snow

Marie was more than fair about the amount of work expected in exchange for our cozy accommodation.  Some of it could be a little frustrating due to the unavailability of a wide range of tools or materials, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome by a little determination and extra sweat.

rubble removal

make way for conduit

Livek - 2nd floor

Livek - south wall

speckled Tony

Part of the deal was that Alicia would cook the evening meal for the three of us.  She enjoyed walking to the Mercato every day, picking out our food and cooking real full meals for the first time in months.

spaghetti and meatballs

ham and cabbage soup

We had pork chops with stewed apples and cabbage, chicken risotto, ham and cabbage soup, spaghetti and meatballs… lots of filling dishes that were perfect after a cold day up at Livek.  Or a day spent hiking all over the valley instead.  Marie treated us like friends and was good to make sure we saw everything the Soča Valley had to offer.

02
Nov 2012
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Slovenia

DISCUSSION 4 Comments
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Zagreb, Capital of Croatia

We didn’t have any particular reason for visiting Croatia’s capital, other than for the fact that it had good transportation connections to Slovenia. We arrived with no expectations, and did our regular first-day-in-a-new-place hike around to see what was going on in Zagreb.

Ban Jelačić Square

Ban Jelačić statue

Alicia ate corn.

King Tomislav Square

nun waiting for tram

nun at train station

 

train car

tree-lined streets

Tony on the street

Sheep

Owl

wall - b&w bird heads

wall - ear

Alicia - wall

dogs - wall

Stripes

twisty neck

characters sitting on the wall

Rooster

cloud

horn player

Polar bear

black sheep

small wheatpastes

wheatpaste portraits

Graffiti van

After hiking around most of the day, Alicia felt like crashing early. I ended up making some new friends for the night – A few Kiwis, an Austrian brother and sister biking through Croatia, two guys named Mike from London and Jersey, and a couple of Turks who were busking their way around Europe. We all hung out in the lobby until the receptionist’s shift ended and she took us out to a couple of her favorite haunts. The first being a pretty great beer garden where we sat for a while and sipped on Velebitsko dark lager.

The second stop took us down a couple alleys and into a fully painted courtyard, packed with people, and music blasting out of small door painted up like the entrance to a circus side show. Medika – named after the huge former medical factory that once occupied its abandoned buildings - is a venue, culture center, artist collective, and Zagreb’s first legalized squat. A couple of locals explained that usually if the place is that busy it is because a live band is playing, but that night a DJ was spinning a new take on traditional Croatian folk music that everyone is really into.

Medika entrada

So we decided to stay an extra night. Maybe because we still needed to figure out how to get to Ljubljana, maybe because I got home at 5 am.

So our second day we went for another walk, got some train tickets for the next morning, and back to an empty Medika for a few photos in the daytime.

giant dog

buffalo man

Poirot

“All the servants of love are welcome!”

bug building

flying mushroom

strong man

comic

blue bear

eyepatch kitties

-T

01
Nov 2012
POSTED BY admin
POSTED IN

Croatia

DISCUSSION 1 Comment
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Croatia’s Plitviče Lakes National Park

Plitviče had been on our mental list for a long time.  If you spend any time on photo websites or have an uncle that sends you email forwards (Hi Uncle Ron!), you’ve probably seen Plitviče on one of those “most beautiful places on the planet” lists.  So after we were done with Croatia’s coast, we headed inland for the lakes.  Water back home in Iowa is… mostly brown. So when we come to places like Lake Egirdir and the eastern Mediterranean and the Adriatic Sea, that crystal clear water has been straight up magical.

park logo

forest

We hiked for six hours over raised wooden pathways, between travertines buried under lush foliage, and up the rock-strewn valley walls.

Wooden pathway

waterfall across the lake

The water levels were low and the waterfalls were subdued due to a major regional drought, but it was still shockingly gorgeous.

waterfall - slow shutter

Frog

This picture right here?  The one that looks like ferns on the forest floor?  That’s a big ol’ log submerged in at least six feet of water.  Those plants are all under water, too.

ducks

little falls, blue water

It rained a little.

starting to rain

Blue hole

Just a couple hundred fish, hanging out.  Doing fish stuff.

School of fish

This is a real color.

super blue

two waterfalls

Not an aquarium.  Real life.  What??

duck and fish

In the Serbo-Croatian and Slovene languages, the word for waterfall is slap.  That is a fact you will now remember forever.  You’re welcome.

Slap sign

Alicia

valley from above

 

Fog

We went to bed exhausted that night, and woke up to thick fog that was followed by torrential rain.  So glad we visited Plitviče the day before!  We used the waterproof covers on our backpacks for only the second time ever and trudged down to the main road to catch a bus to the capital.  Next up: Zagreb!

Watch our short little video of fish and waterfalls at Plitvice.

01
Nov 2012
POSTED BY admin
POSTED IN

Croatia

DISCUSSION 1 Comment