10 Random Observations About Slovenia

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.”

Ten Random Observations About Iraq

While traveling in Iraq I noticed some interesting things that didn’t fit into any of the articles in my series. Some of these observations may be obvious to those more familiar with the country, but odd first impressions are one of the fun things about travel!

1. The traffic police have these cool kiosks that imitate their uniform. Looks like this guy left his tie at home.

2. Spongebob Squarepants is popular here. The best photo I didn’t take was of a woman in an abaya at Kadamiyya shrine, one of the holiest spots for Shia Islam, carrying a Spongebob balloon. No child was in sight!

3. The TV commercial for Vaseline Healthy Soap shows a mother washing her son in the bathtub. In an almost identical version the child in the tub is a girl and she’s wearing a bathing suit.

4. None of the hotels I stayed at had plugs for the sink, but the caps for the mineral water bottles fit perfectly.

5. There were many imitations of Western snacks, such as Mountain Rush soda and Wrinkles potato chips. Oddly, these were made by Western companies and distributed by regional ones. I suppose that was a way to get around copyright infringement.

%Gallery-170776%6. Most restaurants only serve the same half-dozen meals: lamb or chicken kebab, chicken tikka, roast chicken with rice, and roast chicken without rice. They’ll often have a nice long menu listing lots of other meals, but you won’t be able to get them.

7. The various security services have a bewildering variety of uniforms. Nearly all of them are available for anyone to purchase in the various shops in the Baghdad souk.

8. Arabic music videos have credits.

9. Iraq uses three types of outlets. Most are UK style, some are EU style, and there’s a third plug that’s unlike any I’ve seen anywhere else. You can see one below.

10. No Iraqi I met thinks Obama is a Muslim.

You might also be interested in my ten random observations about Ethiopia and Greece!

Don’t miss the rest of my series, “Destination: Iraq,” chronicling my 17-day journey across this strife-ridden country in search of adventure, archaeology and AK-47s.

Coming up next: “Visiting Iraq: The Practicalities!”

[Photos by Sean McLachlan]

Monkey waiters in Japan a hit with diners

Here’s a novel approach to providing customer service. At Kayabukiya Tavern, a restaurant just north of Tokyo, two Japanese macaque monkeys, one named Yat-chan and the other, Fuku-chan, fetch drinks and bring people warm towels to wipe their hands.

Dressed in waiter-like outfits, the duo are certified to work here. Customers love them and ply the monkeys with soya beans as tips. Because of animal rights regulations, the monkeys only work two hours a day, but according to this Mail-on line article, there are three more in training. Click on the video to see them in action. Some folks think the monkeys can understand drink orders.

Man attacks a con artist with a golf club after being sold fake plane ticket vouchers on Craigslist

This story reads like something you’d see in a movie scene. It actually would make a good movie scene if you could build a movie around it.

This funny tale came our way from Christopher Elliot’s blog. Elliot, problem solver extraordinaire sometimes helps unhappy travelers find resolutions to their hotel and airline woes in order to get them a favorable outcome.

In the case of Ted LeClair, a man who bought travel vouchers for Southwest Airlines tickets at Craigslist from someone who checked out as reputable–but wasn’t, found his own happy ending from swinging a nine iron at the crook.

Elliot recounts the story in humorous detail, but here are the highlights:

  • LeClair buys Southwest ticket vouchers through Craigslist after meeting the guy selling the vouchers. They meet in person and the guy checks out.
  • LeClair’s daughter is at the airport with LeClair’s mother to use the Southwest ticket, only to find out the ticket needs to be paid for with cash since the credit card purchase was canceled.
  • LeClair’s daughter can’t take the Southwest flight and is in tears.
  • LeClair is hopping mad.
  • LeClair arranges to buy ticket vouchers on Craigslist from the same person, but as a fictious female using a female friend of his to make the phone call connection.
  • LeClair calls the police to tell them he knows how to catch a criminal. The police say, “Yeah, yeah, but give us five days.”
  • LeClair shows up at a health food store with a golf club where the crook is to hand over the vouchers to the fake female and book the ticket.
  • LeClair demands his money back and when the crook doesn’t comply, LeClair whomps on the crook with the nine-iron.
  • The police are called by folks at the health food store.
  • The police eventually arrest the crook and let LeClair go.

Airport workers push plane off of runway

In a demonstration of physical prowess and the power of team work–slightly reminiscent of the Chinese display of can-do power at the Beijing Olympics, 30 airport workers pushed a CRG7 airplane off to a side lane at the Zhengzou Airport in China.

Whew! As one pusher said, “Thank God, it was only a 20 tonne medium-sized airplane. If it had been a big plane, it would have knocked us out.”

The reason for this particular great leap forward was because of the plane’s mechanical failure that began while it was landing. No one was hurt, but once on the ground, the plane was through working. It’s hydraulic system was toast. According to airport officials, a tow truck wouldn’t work without the hydraulic system. The plane is where the workers left it since technicians have yet to fix it.

How long does it take to move a medium-sized plane a little less than half a mile off a runway if you have 30 able-bodied people? About two hours.

According to the Ananova article, there were 69 passengers and 7 crew on board. I’m wondering why were they allowed to stay on the airplane?

Thanks to Gadling reader Bob for sending along the link to this story.