10 Random Observations About Slovenia

Slovenia
Sean McLachlan

Now that I’m wrapping up my series on Slovenia, there are a few bits and pieces that are worth sharing but didn’t fit in any articles. While these observations won’t be surprising to anyone familiar with the country, they were amusing to this first-time visitor.

1. As this photo shows, guys will always know where to go. Luckily the urinals are much more modern than the sign indicates, and you don’t have to be naked to use them.

2. When you buy a return bus ticket, it comes with a little schedule of the return buses for your route. Brilliant! Why don’t all countries do that?

3. Maypoles are popular in Slovenia. You see them in most of the smaller towns and villages.

4. Slovenia has the weirdest drug laws I’ve ever encountered. It’s illegal to buy, sell or possess marijuana. Pretty standard, you might say, but get this – it’s legal to smoke it. How you can smoke it without possessing it is anyone’s guess. Also, it’s legal to buy, sell or possess seeds but you can’t grow them into plants. Huh? Wait, let me rephrase that – HUH????

5. If you hike to the top of Triglev, Slovenia’s highest mountain, you are considered a “true Slovene,” but not before you are spanked by birch twigs to celebrate the occasion. It’s not clear if this is a real tradition or something invented by Slovenia’s S&M community.6. Slovenians love ketchup. It’s served with practically everything, even pizza. Apparently the tomato sauce on pizza doesn’t give it enough of a tomato flavor.

7. Slovenia’s national anthem was adapted from a poem about drinking wine. It’s perhaps unique among national anthems in that there’s no nationalistic chest thumping. Instead it calls for world harmony.

8. Don’t call it Slovakia, and don’t call the region the Baltics. I managed to avoid these common errors, but once when I was in Estonia I flubbed it and called the Baltics the Balkans. This slip of the tongue will get you razzed by the locals in either region.

9. If you’re going to have a food festival, why do something boring like celebrate wine or cheese? The Slovenians get creative with Bean Day, Chestnut Sunday and a Cabbage Festival.

10. As you can see below, if you’re entering the loading dock of a Slovenian supermarket, make sure you have some stuff.

Check out the rest of my series, “Slovenia: Hikes, History and Horseburgers.”

Slovenia
Sean McLachlan

Belfast airport now charging for smoking

Belfast, smoking areaBelfast International Airport has introduced a new charge. After deciding to charge people £1 ($1.64) to drop off passengers and £1 for a clear plastic bag to put liquids in, now passengers are going to be charged £1 to use the smoking areas.

Airport officials defend the charges saying it costs them extra to maintain separate smoking areas, which are used only by a minority of the passengers.

Smokers will have to insert a pound coin into a coin slot to open the doors to the smoking area. Do you think this is fair? Take the poll below or sound off in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy Piotrus via Wikimedia Commons]

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Smoking ban takes effect in Spain today

Spain, spain, smoking, smoking laws, smoking banStarting today in Spain, it is illegal to smoke in any enclosed space where the public gathers. This includes bars, cafes, and restaurants. It will also be illegal to smoke in school playgrounds and near hospitals. Smoking will even be banned from TV shows.

Spain joins a host of countries that have recently toughened up anti-smoking laws, including Finland, Egypt, and Syria. Countries with national health care systems are looking for ways to reduce costs, and getting people to give up an unhealthy habit is one way to do that. In the U.S., health insurance companies have been among the biggest proponents of anti-smoking legislation.

Living in Spain, it’s seems inconceivable to me to spend a night out on a juerga (pub crawl) and not come home smelling like an ashtray. Then again, I had a hard time believing British pubs would enforce the UK smoking ban a few years back, and they did.

Spanish bar and cafe owners aren’t happy, though. With the economic crisis some have already gone under, and others fear that customers will keep away. A Spanish law in 2006 seemed to have solved the problem by allowing smaller places to choose whether to be smoking or nonsmoking, while larger venues had to provide no smoking areas. Most smaller places chose to allow smoking, but a few did well by becoming bastions of clean air. Now everyone has to ban smoking, and those larger places that built special nonsmoking sections ended up wasting their money.

New Wisconsin hotel smoking ban: big fines, no choice

Wisconsin has just cracked down on smokers from out of state. It’s only the second state with a smoking ban that applies to every hotel room in the state. This differs from most smoking bans, like the one in Kansas, in which the properties can allow smoking in a certain percentage of guestrooms. Michigan is the only other state with a hotel smoking ban this severe.

The hotel business in Wisconsin wasn’t thrilled about the legislation and did push against it. The greatest challenge, however, seems to be convincing the guests that it’s not a scam – that the ban is actually the law. It’s a lesson worth learning, for guests, because the consequences are severe. Notes USA Today:

Wisconsin’s roughly 2,000 hotels post signs declaring their building a non-smoking facility. They’re also requiring guests to initial a statement promising to comply or face paying a fee. Hotels are charging penalty fees anywhere from $100 to $300, she said.

[photo by ell brown via Flickr]

Five places to puff in Manhattan: Tips for Smokers

Yes, I know. Every time I write something for the smokers out there, the comments always fill up with an argument over smoking itself. For now, I’m just going to assume that there are some people out there who happen to smoke and travel. I have this sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only one. So, for those of you who enjoy a puff on the road, here are five places where you can smoke in Manhattan. At least one of them will surprise you.

1. Tobacco shops
Rather than single out one, I’d like to call your attention to several cigar shops in the city. Rules vary: some allow cigars only, while others also welcome pipe and cigarette smoker. Regardless of what you choose, do have the courtesy to buy something in the establishment before lighting up. In Midtown, you’ll find De La Concha on Sixth Ave at W. 56th Street and Davidoff stores at Columbus Circle and on Madison Ave (at E. 54th Street). There’s a Nat Sherman on 42nd and Fifth and a Barclay Rex across the street from Grand Central Station. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.2. Cigar bars
If you want to light a heater and enjoy a cocktail at the same time, there are a handful of establishments open to the public. On the Upper East Side you can hit Lexington Bar and Books or Club Macanudo. In Midtown, you’ll find the Carnegie Club. Be prepared to pay. Drinks and sticks are a bit pricey, and if you bring your own, you’ll be charged a cutting fee.

3. Private clubs
The best-known is the Grand Havana Room, which sits atop 666 Fifth Ave. It’s a beautiful space and has a fantastic restaurant. The only way you’ll get in, aside from becoming a member, is to convince one to invite you up.

4. Inter-block alleys
Yeah, this is the “when all else fails” alternative. There are alleys that cut through the middle of some blocks in Manhattan, and Midtown has more than a handful. My favorite goes from 5nd to 53rd and is between Sixth Ave and Seventh Ave. It’s covered. In the summer, Moda (the restaurant in Flatotel) runs a bar in there, so you’ll lose some space. This alley is covered, making it great for rainy day.

5. Jury duty
Okay, this one’s really for locals. If you get called for federal jury duty, here’s a good reason not to avoid it: there’s a smoking room just off the big room where the jury pool waits in the courthouse on 500 Pearl Street. Since you can’t leave the building (except for lunch) when you have federal jury duty, this room, I guess, is intended to make your experience more pleasant. The room is dark, sports old furniture and has no windows – it’s hardly a luxury space. After spending several hours waiting to be tapped for that product liability trial, however, it’s hard to complain about the digs.