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

Colorado Locals Start Marijuana Tourism Business

Colorado could join Amsterdam as a pot-smoker’s travel destination if two Denver locals have anything to do about it.

Matt Brown and James Walker have started a travel company aimed at those looking to take advantage of the state’s new marijuana laws.

According to NBC News, the company known as My 420 Tours sets travelers up in “pot-friendly” hotels, takes them on tours of marijuana dispensaries, and secures tickets to pot-related events.

The state of Colorado legalized recreational use of marijuana towards the end of last year although the commercial side of things – that is, selling the drug to others – is yet to be approved. To get around this, Brown and Walker facilitate introductions between travelers and those involved in the local cannabis industry.

“It’s an opportunity for people who prefer marijuana to alcohol to come to Colorado and know that they’re not going to have to walk around downtown asking strangers for pot,” Brown told NBC.

Their first tour slated for the end of April has already been a sell-out, but the duo hopes to offer more pot-themed travel packages in the future.

[Photo credit: Flickr user eggrole]

A Traveler in the Foreign Service: Can a guy who didn’t get high get a security clearance?

I was sitting at my kitchen table with a former law-enforcement official feeling nervous about the fact that I’d never taken any illegal drugs.

“In the last seven years, have you illegally used any controlled substance- cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana, hash, narcotics, stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, steroids, inhalants or prescription drugs?” the man asked, reading from a list of prepared questions.

“No, not at all,” I answered.

The man looked up from his yellow legal pad and put his pen down.

“You never smoked marijuana?” he asked, squinting his eyes as if struggling to see me.

I had no pony tail, I wasn’t wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt, and there were no half eaten cartons of Cherry Garcia in sight. Was my story really so unbelievable? I half-considered concocting some recreational drug use just to be a bit less boring.

I had passed the Foreign Service written exam and the oral assessment and had received a “conditional” offer of employment from the State Department. The offer was contingent upon being able to pass background and medical examinations, and having the good fortune to be invited to join an A-100 class, which is an introductory class for incoming Foreign Service Officers.

My kitchen table non-confession was with a contract background investigator who had been retained by the Office of Personnel Management to delve into my background to ensure that I wasn’t a spy, a terrorist, or a drug addict.
After the series of questions on drug and alcohol use, he asked me if I had any plans to overthrow the U.S. government by force. He was reading from a prepared list of questions, so it wasn’t like he’d sized me up and thought I was a radical jihadi, but I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone had ever answered yes to that question.

I sailed through the rest of his prepared questions without a raised eyebrow until we got to a section on my prior foreign travel and foreign contacts. I did my best to compile a list of my foreign travel over the prior seven year period, but had no idea who I should list in the foreign contacts section. I’d made dozens of foreign friends in my travels over the years but for the sake of simplicity, listed only a few as “close and continuing contacts.”

I assumed that the State Department would want Foreign Service Officers who had traveled extensively and had foreign contacts, but in the context of a background investigation, foreign travel and contacts are viewed with suspicion, and each foreign trip elicits a litany of additional questions.

After speaking with me, the investigator started knocking on the doors of my neighbors to ask about me each of the many addresses I’d live in during the previous seven years. After several of my former bosses and co-workers were interviewed, I was warned that the investigator needed to interview my current boss.

The State Department recruiter had specifically warned us against giving notice at our current jobs because our employment offer was merely “conditional” and not a done deal, so I had to inform my boss that I was quitting. Probably. But not really giving notice just yet. They were understanding, but it made me a bit of a lame duck months before I was to leave and the day the investigator came to our small office, the place was buzzing with gossip. I had to tell everyone that I was “probably” going to join the Foreign Service. Sometime soon, I hoped.

More than a year after I passed the Foreign Service exam I finally had my security clearance and a concrete offer to join the Foreign Service. A week prior to leaving for training in Washington, I asked my girlfriend to marry me. She said yes, but we had no clue what country we’d be in the next year and that suited me just fine.

Next: The List, The Call, The Flag- Assignments in the Foreign Service

Read more from A Traveler in the Foreign Service here.

[flickr image via Wiros]

Dutch government to ban skunk weed

skunk weed, joint, marijuanaThe Dutch government is planning on reclassifying skunk weed as a hard drug, the BBC reports.

All marijuana with more than 15% THC content will have to be removed from the country’s coffee shops. The new rule will go into force next year and will affect about 80% of the pot sold in coffee shops.

The Dutch government has already announced plans to ban drug tourism by requiring customers to prove residency in The Netherlands before being allowed to buy marijuana. That plan will also go into effect next year, assuming it actually becomes law. Drug tourism makes an awful lot of money for an awful lot of people in The Netherlands, so the law is sure to meet some strong opposition.

But don’t worry, stoners, there are still places where you can get all bleary eyed and chow down on donuts. In Spain it’s legal to grow a small number of pot plants for personal use, and Portugal, which has the most liberal drug laws in Europe.

So if you’re headed to Holland next year, instead of lighting up, check out these other fun things to do in The Netherlands.

Dutch coffee shops face crackdown

Is it the beginning of the end for Dutch tolerance of weed? The recently elected conservative coalition has promised a number of controversial measures, including curbs on immigration, banning Islamic face covering, and of more interest to travelers, cracking down on legal marijuana smoking.

The Netherlands has been a destination for pot smokers ever since marijuana was made legal in the 1970s. The experiment intended to allow the use of soft drugs like pot while clamping down on hard drugs like heroin. It has had mixed success and as the political pendulum has swung to the right in recent years, more and more curbs have been put on the coffee shops where customers can buy and smoke pot. Magic mushrooms were banned recently, and some towns are restricting coffee shops or even closing them all down. There are currently about 700 coffee shops in The Netherlands, compared with 1,200 at their peak.

Now the coalition government wants to make all coffee shops into private clubs, effectively getting rid of the drug tourists. The question is, will this work? Common sense dictates that where there’s a demand, there will be a supply. Coffee shops might get around the law by offering temporary memberships or international memberships, or allowing members to bring guests. The measure would also not stop illegal sales of drugs. What it will do, however, is reduce the number of people coming to The Netherlands specifically to smoke their vacation away. While some of the bigger and more established coffee shops will no doubt survive, it looks like the industry is in for a bad trip.

[Image courtesy Tyson Williams via Gadling’s flickr pool]

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