08 September 2008

Day 7: Munich–Ljubljana–Kočevje

This morning I spent a little more time with mein neffe Diego, who is usuallz in his "happy place" in the morning, with many smiles. (He certainly wasn't in his "happy place" last night. Long day, even for someone who can't walk.)

I left the train station at Starnberg at nine for the long trip across Munich to the other side of the city to the Munich International Airport. Of all the airports I've gone to on this trip, this is the most relaxed, although finding my way to the desk that actually checks in for flights on Adria Airwazs, the national airline of Slovenia, took a bit of guess-work and plain ol' wrong turns. I still had a full hour of time waiting at the gate, running through my phrase-book Slovene one more time. However, I can proudly claim that I can count to ten in Slovene now.

I arrived in the Ljubljana airport, found my luggage waiting for me beside the plane—that's a first—and then met Maja right outside. What happened afterward would require Maja's explanation, since we got horribly lost going into downtown Ljubljana. Don't blame me, I don't know the city. Maja hadn't been here in over a year, and she had forgotten the easiest way to get to her mother's health salon in the middle of the city. After some mistakes, we finally made it, and I got my first good look at this country.

I don't want to say much about Ljubljana right now, since I won't see the historic center until tomorrow. At the moment, I've seen a city that switches drastically between the ultra-modern the unadorned new, a small but very vital city. I look forward to seeing it up close tomorrow, a city in which I never expected to find myself.

Maja and I arrived at the health salon, parking right up on the curb—you can do that in Ljubljana—where her mother and her boyfriend Jason were currently working. Maja and I then went to her mother's apartment to pick up some of her baggage, packing her tiny European car to the dome light with suitcases, and then returned to the salon.

What happened after that... I really don't know. Maja took us on an epic adventure of lost throughout Ljubljana, at one point slamming us the wrong way down a one-way street while trying to navigate a one-car tunnel with traffic running the wrong way. Basically, we added forty-five minutes onto the trip trying to find an effective way around Ljubljana city center.

Jason and I never let her hear the end of it, believe me.

But we finally hit the exit road and headed to Maja's hometown of Kočevje. We first stopped by her grandparents' house as a surprise: they knew she was coming in for her birthday over the weekend, but not that she was coming in so soon. Maja surprised her grandparents and her aunt, and all of us were treated to an "impromptu" meal thez whipped up of sausage, pork, beef, and enormous amounts of Slovene wine. Actually, the wine was Macedonian, but Maja's grandfather was extremely proud of it and encouraged Jason and I to keep partaking. The whole family was enormously welcoming to me, despite speaking not a word of English. They did seem impressed with my meager Slovene. They insisted that Maja and I dance for them, but all they had available to dance to was a Croatian version of "Rose of San Antone." You do the best with what you have.

Maja, Jason, and I then moved into the center of Kočevje to the main pub to meet up with her father, Stane. Now is probably the best time to mention that Slovenian has two competing beers: Laško and Union. Laško has been made since 1825, as the cafe umbrellas continue to remind me. Union is brewed right in Ljubljana. You must pick one or the other beer, and their defenders are staunch and serious. I'm not a beer fan, so I haven't made my decision yet. But that wine her grandfather gave me from Macedonian sure was sehr gut. I'm glad that most people around here also understand German, or I would be completely lost.

All of us returned to Maja's house in Kočevje, which is enormous. Her father currently lives here. Honestly, I'm too zoned by being in Slovenian in the first place to even understand what's going on. I can't believe I am here. Slovenia is pure Alpine country, great forests with castles capping each hill. The language has a few words I can comprehend, but otherwise it's an entirely new world. People's emotions are very up-front here, more so than in Bavarian, as I've already discovered, but the welcome I've received from Maja's family—even thought I'm just a friend of hers—is quite overwhelming.

So, until Ljubljana tomorrow, se vidiva.