ROMANIA: by car 3500km, by bike 100km. part I : THE MONASTERIES & MORE

Biking across the Mediterranean  I was constantly warned about the troubles of traveling in Albania.  At the end of my journey, I picked Albania as the best country to travel through.  The people, history and nature were all top notch.  I heard similar stories about Romania, the Romas, crime and corruption.  Of course all that did was spark my interest even more about visiting Romania.  I remember when Romania was accepted into the EU, the shouts from the UK were “they’re coming to steal all our metal.”  No need need to worry about that now with Brexit.
We watched  National Geographic’s 3 part series “WILD CARPATHIA”, about Romania  I wanted to know more, so I watched it twice.  At the end I told Natasa “I want to go tomorrow”, her response “Maybe?”  She wanted to go to Belgium, no Belgium for me.  I said I’ll go to Romania alone.  She went into her computer room and found a blog that raved about Romania, then she was on board (finally). Continue reading

MILAN with NEIL YOUNG AND TOURING WITH E-BIKE SHARE

There’s not a lot of music options in Slovenia, so going to Milan to see a concert is a must, if you want live music.  Neil Young is 70 and I’m 60, it’s probably our last time together.  Milan was the closest that Neil Young got to Slovenia, so I bought an online ticket (39 euro just for shipping ($45)).  I meet some people on my weekly Lubnick bike ride,  who were going to see Neil Young at Piazzol Sul Brenta, about 2 hours away?  They added the show after I already bought the Milan ticket.  I was driving by the day after the show, so I decided to leave a day earlier and catch the show.  Yep 2 Neil Young shows. Continue reading

DRAVA RIVER BICYCLE TRIP, THROUGH AUSTRIA/SLOVENIA

I spent this winter researching potential bike trips and discovered the Drava River Route.  It runs from Italy through Austria and ends in Slovenia. The train can be used to start or finish the trip. From Toblacher, Italy, for 400 km along the Drava  River, through East  Austria  to Ptuj in Slovenia. Continue reading

SKOFJA LOKA IS A HAPPENING PLACE, NOW WITH CREATIVE TOURISM

I’ve lived in Skofja Loka for 2 years now, still speaking basically no Slovenian.  The question I get frequently is “do you speak any Slovenian?”  The language (if you can call it that), is difficult, to say the least, I think that’s why they keep asking me.   It’s split about 50/50 the young people tell me, “don’t bother.”  The older folks say I should learn some, easier said than done.  80-90% of the people I come in contact speak English with me and are fine with it.  I need to speak when there is a group of people, they may speak English, but there not going to just for me, so maybe learn some huh?  Most of the shows on TV are in English, not like in Italy where maybe 1 or 2 channels are in English.
Skofja Loka’s is changing, it’s become bike friendlier, tourist are discovering our town and many coming for return visits. Continue reading

LJUBLJANA & OTHER TALES

I love Skofja Loka, but sometimes I get a case of small town fever. So I’ve been riding my bike weekly and sometimes twice weekly to Ljubljana, round trip about 52 km. The new spring  leaves were on most of the trees, then it  snowed  10 centimeters on April 27th.   Well the heavy snow broke tree branches on nearly every tree I saw.
When I meet the young local people in Ljubljana, they say it’s too small a city but it’s enough for me.   I discovered a new coffee shop called Ziferblat.  It’s based on a Russian business model that’s being tried here.  You basically pay 5 cents a minute to be inside & all the coffee/tea you can drink. You can  learn to make your own cappuccino’s or work on an Art project.   I’ve meet some interesting locals, travelers and expats from all around the world. Your group can rent a private space, for a meeting or even a wedding celebration.
An artist was sculpting a head with clay, I was going to come back and get a photo, he wrapped it up before I could.  Be sure to  visit Ziferblat for a true Ljubljana experience.


I always try to learn something new about Ljubljana during my many visits.  I started staying at the Vrba Hostel , so I can do some evening events.  A friendly & clean hostel in a quiet neighborhood with good food and bars, a few steps away.  I was out all day and when I came back to my room I opened the door to 2  women (girls).  I went back out and checked my key and the door number, yep right room.  They were from Paris, I told the I went to Disneyland Paris 21 years ago, they said they weren’t born yet.  I went to the front desk, Merci Beaucoup, we laughed.
I took the food tour of Ljubljana, probably one of the worst tours I’ve ever done and I’ve done a few.  I ate enough  sausage & meat to last me a lifetime.  There’s so much more interesting food here, like the deer goulash, buckwheat polenta,  turkey (Ljubljana style!), ham & cheese stuffed calamari, Turkey medallions with pumpkin seed cream sauce.  There’s always a huge vegetarian page on every menu. The tour guide talked about olive oil, which is found in every country around us.  The real Slovenian treat is Pumpkin Oil which is a flavorful oil that can be added to salads. I make pesto using pumpkin oil and pumpkin seed.   I’ve also used it to make delicious popcorn too, the tour guide never even mentioned it.  We walked right past Ziferblat, I asked him why he didn’t talk about it?  He said they are not suppose to talk about business’s.  The tourism industry is so broken here.  We walked by the City Museum, I started telling everyone about Sebastiao Salgado’s photo exhibit called Genesis.  They replanted 17,000 acres in Brazil and remade the jungle, it’s a great story about how all the wildlife & streams returned.  The tour guide finally offered me a job to be a guide, I gracefully declined.
Every time I visit Ljubljana something is going on, like the Hemp Festival, Vegan Festival and of course I try to stop by the botanical garden to see what’s newly bloomed.  I wanted to talk to the women who was making the fiber, I went back 3 times the guy in the red shirt wouldn’t shut-up and leave, I finally gave up.

Yep I got a bike story, surprised?  As you know I bought several bikes for some Afghan refugee women.  I took a picture of by favorite bike when I first delivered the bikes.  Well no one wanted the bike, I was WTF?  So they had another event at Metelkova, I had to go to see if my bike went for a ride.  When I was showing someone my photos from the first event, they asked why I didn’t take video?  Well this time I took some video.

HERE’S THE COUPLE OF VIDEO’S I TOOK

I thought I could tell all with one post, no way.  I have a lot of photos, stories and adventures from Skofja Loka that I didn’t include, I’m going to work on that next.

Enjoy the post and be sure to ride your bike-it’s summer, there’s no excuse.
Jeff

If you go to America you must visit Portland Oregon.  Home of the worlds largest Naked Bike Ride.

U.S.A. & Portland vs EU & SLOVENIA? (vote Bernie Sanders)

I have lived & worked in America for 57 years.  I had a few jobs as a teenager, but mostly I’ve been self-employed running several different business’s.  I feel my experience in business and life in America, gives me some insights to the opportunities & struggles of living in America.   I’m asked all the time if I miss America.  So I thought it could make an interesting post, both for me & you.  3 years of living in Europe has given me a  first hand experience  of living a more social agenda.

usa-europeThe 
                                              EU                                                     USA
SIZE                          4,422,733 SQ. KM.                           9, 857,306 SQ. KM
POPULATION             508,191,116                                         320,000,000
GDP                                $19 trillion                                           $18 trillion
GDP per person            $32,000                                               $53,000

America  exports to the EU totaled $262 billion  & imports from EU totaled $387 billion
The imbalance is, America consuming more than it produces. (equals larger carbon-footprint & more)
Trade with Slovenia is similar: Slovenia imported $305 million in goods & exported $700 million worth of goods, to America.

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EU visa free Schengen region allows for the free and unrestricted movement of people, goods, services, and capital, between it’s 26 members. 

I don’t claim to be an expert economist or a social scientist, or any expert for that matter.  But I do know  what I need to feel safe & secure. I’m going to share a little of what I’ve seen and experienced in both countries.
                                                                EDUCATION

      I feel education offers the best opportunity to empower people to seek their destiny in life.  America use to be #1 as a percentage of the population that graduates from college,  due to college cost they’ve fallen to #12. There are many forms of financial aid, grants or loans available for students. The average college student in America graduates with $33,000 worth of debt. It’s hard to get started with that size of debt ball & chain..  Some students have resorted to the “Sugar Daddy” method of paying for college,  read HERE.
Slovenian college is free, yes there’s high taxes, but an educated society is good for everyone.  The government sponsors a program with local restaurants offering students “discounted” meals, they’re nearly 1/2 price off the regular menu.  Most kids attending college live at home, so no room & board cost.
USA has a graduation rate at 42%  of the population and  for Slovenia it’s 37%.  I’m surprised more people in Slovenia don’t go on to higher education.  A Slovenian friend thinks because it’s free people don’t value or appreciate it.

Michael Moore’s movie “Where to Invade Next” documents the Slovenian education system.

 

                                                                     ENVIRONMENT

     My home state of Oregon is covered in forest land and when logging companies come in they clear cut the entire hillside and replant trees like corn rows. As the new trees grow, helicopters are used to spray herbicides to prevent anything else from growing & competing with the trees. This method invariably  sprays people and poison streams. This is an example of capitalism  for short term profits without consideration of the long-term environmental costs, poisoned land, water and people.
I’ve been to all parts of Slovenia and have never once seen a clear cut forest  They selective harvest.  I see lots of logging trucks, logs on  trains, but have never noticed where they were cut from.  I’m not a logging expert, but in the big picture it seems that wildlife, people and streams are protected with this approach.
Recycling is big in Oregon, it had the first deposit on soda & beer bottles. Oregon is the leader compared to most U.S. states.  Portland instituted weekly food waste recycling and switched to every other week garbage service. From my view, that was Mayor Sam Adams biggest accomplishment  while in office.  It may not seem like such a big deal but, it is.  Portland’s garbage is driven 150 miles to eastern Oregon.  In the first 6 months.it reduced garbage volume by 44% and eliminated 1800 truck loads being driven 150 miles.
They recycle here in Slovenia too, even more than Oregon.  I mean everything, food waste, paper, glass, metal, ALL plastic even plastic bottle caps are separated and recycled.  In a country as small as Slovenia, there’s really is no place to “hide” a garbage dump.  I remember being in Austria 20 years ago and after a painting project I was able to walk to a supervised waste drop-off point. One of the requirements for becoming part of the EU is that you must provide garbage service to every household.  A small village in Hungary solved the “We can’t afford to do that” by using a horse & wagon, check it out HERE Portland does have a state of the art paint recycling facility.
What is more typical is what’s going on in other parts of America. Citizens claim it’s to “inconvenient” to recycle, till you run out of places to put the garbage, now they must recycle.
Not everything in America is done better, check out this video HERE
One thing that’s not talked about in Slovenia is the burning of wood for heat. Nearly everyone has a huge pile off firewood outside their house.    The wood  smoke can be  too much in the winter. When I wash my windows in the spring, the cloth turns brown.  In Oregon when they sell a house,  a non-certified wood stove must be removed.  Certified stoves capture the fine particulate air borne matter.

                                                                  HEALTH CARE

                                             
      In America, a study done at Harvard University indicates medical expenses are the biggest cause of bankruptcy, representing 62% of all personal bankruptcies. One of the interesting caveats of this study shows that 78% of filers had some form of health insurance, thus bucking the myth that medical bills affect only the uninsured.  The Republicans want to end Obama care, but have no alternative plan.  This is where Bernie Sanders single payer health care system becomes the best option.  In America, I had a $600 per month health insurance plan.   I still had to pay $130 just to visit the doctor.  I had to pay nearly all of the first $3000 of medical expenses before I could then get the insurance company to pay 80% over the $3000.  I still had to pay the 20% balance.  I needed some surgery, the hospital was trying to get me to pay $5000 up front-before the surgery.  My insurance company said I overpaid, so I called the hospital to ask for my money back, a year later the claim still isn’t settled with the insurance company, it wasn’t worth fighting over.  In America, the hospital emergency room has become the physician visit of first choice for many.
The Slovenian Health care system has it’s problems too.  I married Natasa and was able to join her health care plan.  An affordable  25 euro a month, no cost for doctor visits, no cost for prescriptions. The downside,  MRI’s can take months to get, you can pay 50 euro and get one sooner.  The Slovenian system isn’t perfect, but everyone has access to health.

                           STARTING IN A BUSINESS IN AMERICA vs SLOVENIA  
My first business at 14 was selling Christmas cards door to door.  I did landscaping work for my neighbors, I started selling oranges at lunch at my High School (till they stopped me),  at 18 I started a crafts business.  Back to college, with my business degree I started Yard Tamers Landscaping which I had for 25 years. I had a few failures too, which aren’t really failures, but learning experience to grow from. It has never been that complicated for me to be self-employed and independent.
        One way to get Slovenian residency is to open a business.  I had to hire a “consultant” to navigate me through the government bureaucracy  After spending lots of money, filling out endless forms, I gave up.  Entrepreneurship seems almost non-existent here, it’s like the government discourages you from being somewhat independent.  They seem more concerned about getting their tax money than you being  successful.
                              

                              AMERICAN CAPITALISM OR SOCIALISM via CAPITALISM

         Capitalism could be a great system if everyone has an equal opportunity.  Maybe it works in the textbooks, but on the streets of America  just the homeless problem says it doesn’t work.  When I traveled across Europe, by bike for 7 months, I could count the homeless I saw on one hand.
America’s continually borrowing  trillions of dollars trying to make it’s form of capitalism work. I knew wish I knew what the perfect economic system was, I could be president.
The US economy is huge for sure, the EU with nearly twice the population has a slightly larger economy overall.  But with that said, what is done with the money is what really matters.
But wealth is merely a tool. The question at hand is how that wealth is used. When one looks under the surface of this question, and examines how this wealth is transformed into well being, then Europe’s economic success begins to take form and shape. A study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group on economic well being around the world assesses how wealth is translated across three elements and 10 dimensions: economics (income, economic stability, employment); investments (health, education, infrastructure); and sustainability (income equality, civil society, governance and environment).
From 2006 to 2013 Germany and the U.S. both recorded an average GDP per capita growth rate of 1.1%. Germany’s ability to convert growth into economic well being was equivalent to an economy growing at an average rate of 6.2%, while the U.S. managed a measly average rate of just 0.5%. Improvements in health services, affordable education and good public transportation have immediate benefits for citizens’ lives.  The price of guarding U.S. interest around the world has a huge price. U.S. military spending is only 3.3% of GDP but it’s $597 billion (Slovenia $550 million), money that could be used for education, health care , housing and environmental protection.  To me it seems the money could be directed at international aid which could help reduce some of the conflicts. Humanitarian aid not military aid.  Slovenia spend 1% of GDP on the military, Nato countries are requested to spend 2%.

military

Top five countries by military expenditure in 2016. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Slovenia has some  public & private debt.  Slovenia’s public debt to GDP is 81%, in America it’s 71% for the EU it’s 92%.  GDP is a measure of goods produced, not happiness or quality of life for ALL of it’s citizens.   Americas debt per person is $62,500 (56, 056 euro). Slovenia’s debt per person is $17,289 (15,500 euro).  When I look around Slovenia I can see some benefits of the debt: free education, infrastructure, affordable healthcare, great public transportation.  When I think of America’s debt I think: un-affordable education,  crumbling infrastructure, un-affordable healthcare, shit public transportation (except for Portland!).   America has some kickass weapons, but there still not winning any of the many conflicts, were just making messes around the world.

So for what it’s worth, these are some of the differences I see between America & Portland the EU and Slovenia.

I hope I’m not boring you?  I know it’s called Jeff’s bike tour.  So here’s a bike story.  I got involved with some local activist.  An email circulated & several people sent it to me again.  They were collecting bikes for Afghan refugee women.  I went to the local flea market and bought 2 bikes. I got 2 more super nice used bikes from a shop that I saw when were visiting a Coffee festival.  I feel so lucky to be able to help those who are in need, especially if they want to start biking.  I asked if I could get a photo of the women with their new bikes.  She said their husbands don’t want their wives photos on Facebook or anywhere else.  I told her, they can turn their backs to the camera.  She informed me that 3 of the 4 women had never ridden a bicycle.  I showed up Friday to see how it was going.

     The women came over after and thanked me for the bikes.  I reached out to shake her hand, she backed off and said she was Muslim.  The teenage girl did give me a fist bump, that was all worth it.

Thanks for reading, we’ve got some great things going on here in Skofja Loka.  Planning several bike tours, Romania and following the Drava river across Slovenia.

Next, I’ve been going to Ljubljana almost weekly.

Jeff

MISC. FUN STUFF IN SLOVENIA-PHOTOS

It’s so weird having so much free time, called retirement.  I’m able to pick things that interest me, whether it’s visiting museums, biking, or proposing new ideas for active tourism here in Skofja Loka.  When I was working, I was lucky to go to one movie during Film Festivals in Portland.  Ljubljana had a documentary film festival,   I picked 10 movies, 2 alternates  to see, Natasa could only find 2 (different ones).  Some things are frustrating.
The many Islamic groups like Boko Haram, ISIS, ISIL, Al-Shabaab, Taliban, al-Qaeda  & Saudi Arabia all treat women like 2nd class citizens.  Banning education, no driving, arranged marriages, the male power structure is morally wrong.  I’ve used my tax refund to buy school supply kits for girls in Afghanistan.  Whenever I have extra money I support groups that offer education opportunities for oppressed people.  So when I read about the movie Sonita, I knew I had to see it.  It was GREAT,  I happily cried all the way through it.  It actually puts America in a positive light.  Anyway go see it.

Some other movies I liked:
1.  How to Save the World is the story about the formation of Greenpeace, contains original film footage from the 70’s and interviews with the original members today, inspirational.
2.  NOAM CHOMSKY in “Requiem for an American Dream.”talks politics, what’s interesting it was the only “sold out” movie.
3.  Chuck Norris vs Communism  How American movies are thought to have influenced the over throw of the government  Romania.  Who’s leaders were eventually executed.
4.  Among the Believers, exposes the Red Mosques in Afghanistan and the reprisals.
5.  Fog of Srebrenica  Inside look at the war in Bosnia.

I’m trying to bring Sonita to Skofja Loka’s movie theater, KinoSora.  I offered to pay to bring it to town, I hope they take me up on the offer.

I attended the “Home Show” in Ljubljana, I’m was looking for a patio awning.  I found 2 things I like, tiny houses and electric bikes. The electric bike by Spring. was awesome.   The tiny solar house had everything you need, quiet the bomb.

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WOODEN ELECTRIC BIKE

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SOLAR WINE BARREL TINY HOUSE

During the film festival, I went to Ljubljana nearly everyday. Some days I had hours in between movies.   I had never really visited the Castle in Ljubljana, so I took 3 hours & the audio guide and went corner to corner in the castle.  There was a historical exhibition about the transportation history in Ljubljana. Bikes were and are still;popular options for getting around town.   I love the bike share except when there’s no bikes left.  I ran up as the last bike was being checked out, I walked.

The tourist office in Ljubljana suggested I visit the Botanical Garden.  I rode a bike share bike there and walked to the garden.  It was still kinda winter, so there wasn’t a lot to see.  I went inside the greenhouse, that was great.  There were bananas, flowers, I felt like I took a 20 minute vacation in SE Asia.  The only think missing were jungle sounds, I suggested they put in some speakers and turn it up.  I  waited a month and revisited the botanical garden, it’s in bloom now.

Even during the winter,  Skofja Loka has a lot going on.   There was a eating healthy local foods festival.  I bought the pear brandy that has a pear inside.  They tie a bottle up in the tree, with a pear allowed to grow inside.  The famous Skofja Loka bicycle gang visited the festival too.  The local bike shop had e-bike testing for 5 days. I took Dan on the Super 8 ride.  I called him and told him to take his girlfriend, he told me “I already did”-she liked it.  There was the suicide fire last year, they finally finished the roof and “topped” it off by adding a copper tower.  Why? I have no idea.

We drove by the Postojna Caves last fall, but Natasa  wouldn’t pay the $25 to go in.  So I took the bus there by myself.  It was great.  Everyone says it’s a big tourist trap with the train and all.  But that was the awesome part (besides the caves themselves), it allowed families with kids and the elderly to experience the caves.  The train goes underground for 7 minutes, your in there way deep.  It takes the stalagmites a 100 years to grow 1 cm (less than 1/2 an inch).  There were formations that were 500,000  years old.  The walkways had railings and slip proof walkways through out.  Definitely a great day trip thing to do in Slovenia.

My phone camera isn’t the best  inside the cave.  Here’more  professional pictures

Here’s some misc photos that I want to share. Signs, Art, Sports, Nature, Celebrations, Logging, Farming, Bee Door. There are many small dairy operations here, some with just a few cows. I caught a small producer bringing his milk to the Cheese Plant, by car. There was a National Geographic photo exhibition in Tivoli Park.  There were photos of Triglav National Park on one side and photos of National parks of America on the other side.  I took a couple photos of the photos.

Slovenia  celebrates it’s writers and poets with numerous holidays, statues and monuments.  Public art exhibit in Ljubljana had a quote by Ivan Canker from a book called My Life, 1914.

“AT THIS SCHOOL WE WERE BARE-HEADED AND BARE ARMED AND WE ROLLED OUR TROUSERS RIGHT UP ON OUR THINGS.  ONCE IN THE HEAT OF MY LONGING FOR FURTHER WISDOM, I WENT AJUST A LITTLE TOO DEEP IN THE WATER.
SUDDENLY I FELT AS THOUGH I WERE RIDING A HUGE GREEN HORSE, STRAIGHT TOWARDS THE SPLENDID SUN.
INCOMPARABLE BLISS SWEPT OVER ME & I FELT LIKE AN EMPEROR.  AT THE MOMENT A PITILESS GRABBED ME BY THE HAIR & FLUNG ME HARSHLY ON THE PEBBLES.  
THERE I SHUDDERED & BURST INTO TEARS WITHOUT KNOWING WHY.  IT WAS JURCA’S FARM-HAND WHO PULLED ME OUT OF THE WATER.
IF ANYONE HAS ANY OBJECTION TO ANYTHING I HAVE DONE LATER IN LIFE, HE SHOULD TAKE IT UP WITH THAT FARM-HAND, NOT WITH ME.”

Ljubljana is the Green Capital of Europe 2016, I try to visit the special monthly exhibits.  There was a  water exhibit that I really wanted to visit. Droughts in Thailand, India, Syria, Vietnam are effecting both people and the economy.   They say the next (or current) wars are going to be over water. A Documentary movie by Slovenian’s, Tomo Križnar and Maja Weiss, 2008 called “Darfur- War for Water” was on a poster.  It’s a 7 part series in 15 minute segments. Little Slovenia was trying to help broker a peace deal, kinda makes me proud to be here.  This is part one:


I’ve been working on the Go Skofja Loka business plan for promoting arts & crafts tourism.  Most of the pieces are already in place.  Trying to get everyone on the same page by working together, that’s the real task at hand.  Skofja Loka has all 3 attractions that make an Adventure Travel Destination: : physical activity, natural environment and cultural immersion.  The biking, hiking, fishing, swimming, arts & crafts, traditional food and farming make Skofja Loka a perfect un-crowded traveler/tourist destination.  Here’s 150 things to do in Skofja Loka.

I hope this blog post finds you  coming back in the future.  Living in a new country away from America, has been eye opening.  I feel lucky this month that I was able to donate, to my favorite charities. ROOM TO READ,   SOLAR LIGHTS IN AFRICA,   AVAAZ,  350.ORG

 

Till next time
Jeff

Next: Who knows?