Slovenia-Overview

Toast and coffee in hand(and mouth), I stare out the window of the cafe pondering if Slovenia is the most beautiful country I have been to.  Not this exact location per se, as this area of Maribor, the second largest city of a whopping 90,000 population, is drab communist concrete and grey.  The overcast skys and rain don’t help raise the atmosphere.  My current view aside, the country on a whole is in league with New Zealand and other top players.

This tiny country of two million sits comfortably between Italy, Austria, Croatia, and Hungary.  The Eastern portion is made up of rolling hills that flatten out as you enter Hungary.  The West is full of majestic mountains, there is a beautiful lake near the center, and for beachlovers there is a tiny coastline in the Southwest.  The Soca river is a beautiful glacier color.  As far as nature goes the country is perfect.  Tunnels and bridges are commonplace and offer fantastic views of the countryside.  The roads are perfect, like pretty much everything else.  Slovenia is using EU money extremely well, unlike some other recipients(I’m looking at you Hungary and all your missing EU cash).  2017-09-17-1053.jpg

The people are fantastic as well.  Most speak English as well as a few other languages.  Croatian, Serbian, Italian, German being quite popular.  They are nice and service was top notch.  The service industry doesn’t ignore you as Eastern European countries do and they aren’t begging for tips or sales as Americans do.  My number one compliment to the people is to acknowldge their cleanliness.  There was no rubbish to be seen.  Not in city centers, roadsides, or on mountain trails.  I take that back, I did see rubbish in dumpsters and trash cans.  I was amazed.  I have never seen such a well taken care of country.

Slovenia is not just for nature lovers, though it is a paradise for hiking, biking, camping, skiing, motorbiking, paragliding, kayaking, climbing, and all other outdoor pursuits.  It is also rich in World War I history.  The mountains were the setting for massive battles between the Austo-Hungarians and Italians.  You can still walk through the trenches and see the defensive lines. Russian prisioners of war built the most impressive road I have ever been on.  It climbs straight up a mountain with dozens of switchbacks.  Many were killed building it and so the survivors built a pretty memorial church at the top of the pass to honor them.  My apologies to owls and partiers, I have no idea about Slovenian nightlife.  2017-09-17-1055.jpg

Food is a mix of neighboring countries.  Slovenia does not have its won food culture.  Sorry foodies.  The pizza is delicious and the local beer, Lasko, tastes like an IPA to me.  I wasn’t a fan.

Even the small things are awesome.  One example is that speed cameras are everywhere but there are multiple warning signs well before all of them.  It appears to be impossible to get a speeding ticket even if you drive with blinders on.

It does rain a lot, but that is to be expected in any green country.  I love the rain and having coffee on foggy mornings so this isn’t a negative to me.  Bring a jacket and remember that water dries and doesn’t hurt.

Visit Slovenia as soon as possible.  See Lake Bled, camp in the mountains, kayak the Soca, and take a city break in Ljubljana(just hope you never need to spell it).  Hell, if you pay my way I’ll join you and be your personal guide.  You will get a small amount of information wrapped in layers of sarcasm and wit.

 

Intercontinental Hotel and Area – Miami

The Intercontinental is a fantastic 35-story hotel located in its own little corner, on its own dead-end street, overlooking the water.  The exterior is non-descript but classy.  Pulling into front area in your rental car you ask the valet how much parking is.  A calmly delivered $35 takes you back for a moment.  You consider parking at the public meters just feet from where you are since it is a weekend but this clever valet reads your thoughts and puts the axe to them.  The meters are per hour sir and run on the weekends.  Well, so much for that.  You give a sigh and hand him your keys.  Leaving your luggage for another valet you walk up some steps, through a glass door in a glass wall, and into a large foyer.

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The Miami skyline. Next time will be the ocean view.

The foyer is a beautiful place.  Open-air restaurants, statues, nice seating areas, and of course neon lights everywhere(This is Miami after all).  You have a little trouble finding the front desk but you hit upon following the valet with your luggage and head to the left.  The front desk staff impress you as you follow their directions for the short walk to the elevators.  Now these things are wonderful.  They have touch screens for the floor buttons.  Perhaps these are in other buildings but I have yet to see their equal.

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Who could disagree with a torch of friendship?

Your room, though not quite as nice as the foyer, is perfect.  A couch by the window lets you enjoy the skyline view while the bed is unequaled in comfort.  Satisfied with your accomodation you head out to explore.  Briefly looking at the restaurant menus before heading out you make your mind up to find a restaurant outside as your pocket already has a hole burned through it from the room and parking.  But of course there is always enough in the piggy bank for a quick stop at the Starbucks in the lobby.  Carrying your drink out the front door of your base you begin your exploration of Miami.

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Walking the main street with a Starbucks from the hotel

It turns out that you are located in an office district.  Off to your left are office buildings with normal associated shops and restaurants.  To your right is the ocean.  In front of you is a large park complete with amphitheater.  You walk through this park and emerge at an old and ugly mall.  Quickly going through here, avoiding all the tourist trap salespeople and some wild chickens you proceed to the other side and into Port Miami.  Passing this you arrive at the Miami Heat arena and its blaring advertisements.  Deciding that you have walked far enough you head back and plan for going on the bus tour on the next day since it leaves just a short walk from the hotel.

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Beware rabid feral chickens
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A little walk to the port
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Enjoy the perfect weather watching the massive cruise ships sail for the Caribbean

 

Chicago – Exploration

The Second City has given us Second City, an improvisational theater that has left its mark on the world by being the launching pad of many a famous comedians.  Those familiar with “Whose Line is it Anyway” will understand what Second City is about, especially since most of those people came up through Second City.  I had two goals on my visit to Chicago.  Watch a Second City show and try a deep dish pizza.  One was good and one was terrible, but which would let me down? 

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Ready for a Day Out in The Second City

 

I do not find pizza to be a breakfast food and all shows are in the evening so that left a full day for exploring the city.  Only taking three hours to make myself beautiful, the misses and I headed out in search of a Starbucks.  Our hometown doesn’t have a Starbucks if you can believe that.  We are a bunch of savages, so a sugary coffee on vacation is a special treat.   It was not a very involved search.  Stepping out of the hotel we found one, and one more on the next block, and the next, and two more after that.  I can assuredly say no one will suffer from caffeine withdrawls in this city.

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Roaming the Streets

After our sugar rush we roamed the streets towards Magnificent Mile.  Braving the cold for all of ten minutes we decided to try some local cuisine for lunch.  A cozy little restaurant called Chipotle sounded interesting so we favored them with our business.  All was well and good.  People must be familiar with this Chicago eatery as we are always asked if we got ill from eating there.  It is an odd question and no, we did not get ill.

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Not Quite Manhatten, but Close Enough

With heavy bellies we continued to roam the city, admiring the shops and skyskrapers, until we cam upon the Chicago River.  We were impressed with this waterway, and not just for the looks.  It has interesting traits, such as it flows backwards, which is extremely impressive. The view along the waterway is also impressive.  A path along the South side allows a view of the triple decker Wacker Drive and of the waterway.  A must visit area of the city.

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A Beautiful Fire Hydrant

Finishing our walk we head for one of the famous Chicago pizza restaurants.  We were both excited as we love New York pizza and couldn’t wait to compare.   The Battle of the Pizzas.  The restaurant itself had a fabulous atmosphere.  Dark with graffiti everywhere and photos of famous people who visited, though I didn’t recognize more than half of them.  Sitting down the first thing we noticed was the price.  It seemed outrageously expensive.  We discussed leaving but couldn’t do it.  We had to give Chicago pizza a fair shake.  Ordering our deep dish pizza and a pitcher of local beer we settled in.   The beer arrived quickly enough but the hour and a half wait for the pizza seemed a bit ridiculous.  Then things got bad.  Chicago style pizza is disgusting, plain and simple.  It is nothing but tomato soup with a block of melted cheese.  It is a gut bomb with no taste.  Chicago, you lose this competition badly.  Please stop making this pizza(that isn’t even really a pizza) and concentrate on the many things you do well.  Let New Yorkers make pizza from now on and have it shipped in.

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The Chicago River. Will Have to go Back to See it Green(I Mean More Green Than it is Here)

Only able to eat half of our soup bowl we got the rest for take away and tried to give it away to a begger on Magnificent Mile. Here the misses learned a valuable life lesson.  The beggers refused this expensive pizza when we offered, saying they only wanted money.   So sad that these people ruin it for those that really need help.  Shaking our heads we leave the bread bowl of nastiness on top of a garbage can where it belongs and head back to the hotel to get ready for our night of laughs.

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A Beautiful River Walk

Finishing my toilet in two hours this time and looking and feeling fantastic we head for the Second City theatre.  It is not in the city center so we hop on a bus North that takes us along the lake and into a nice area.  After a short but freezing walk we arrive at the theatre.  Chilled to the bones and quite early, we get our will-call tickets and settle in at the attached Starbucks.  Warmed a bit we hop into the theatre, which is much smaller and simpler than I expected.  It surely wont be mistaken for a Vegas showroom.  Shown our simple chairs we mentally prepare ourselves for a night of laughs.  The drink lady stops by but we pass on drinks.  She is to become a thorn in our side all night.  Annoying and mistaking us for other customers, first giving us someone elses drinks, then someone elses food, and then their bill.  Maybe she cannot see well in the dark.  I advise the company to purchase her a headlamp.

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The Most Dangerous Parking Garage Ever

For a few hours we enjoy the show.  They are not as good as Ryan Stiles or others I have seen, but perhaps it takes years of practice.  It is more set routines than improv which disappointed me, but my expectations were sky high, so I blame myself.  At the end of the show they announce that they will now try new routines and those that wish can stay to see them.  This is worth skipping unless you wish to help them and provide feedback.  We stayed and missed the last bus because of it.  This wasn’t too bad as we got a taxi with an Indian immigrant who was nice and funny, telling us how he had gotten used to the cold.  He was a little perturbed at us though as he was heading to Wrigley Field, which offered much better fares, but instead we took him away from the stadium.

Second City, while not perfect, makes for an enjoyable night.  You will laugh, cringe, and leave with a smile on your face.  If for some reason you really hate the show and get depressed, go get a Chicago pizza and drown yourself in it.

USA Paris Agreement

My dearest Mr. Trump and idiot supporters,

I was extremely distressed to hear of your recent decision to pull out of the Paris agreement. I admit my reasons for the agreement to be successful are somewhat selfish but I believed it was in everyone’s interest to come together and make this happen.  I understand one of your main reasons for exiting is to save or create jobs.  I am finding difficulty in this.  I gave you coal in order to advance the civilization in the 19th century. I believe it was named the Industrial Revolution.  Looking at my calendar I can see it is now well into the 21st century.  You are now able to harness the unlimited power of wind and my friend the sun.  Why are you trying to create or save jobs of a dead industry?  Let these few people retrain and find new jobs, perhaps in the renewable sector, instead of devoting undue influence to them.

Why must the human race be such a hurry to destroy me?  Is it the materialistic culture that has taken over?  Everyone needs more money to buy the newest iPhone, or the biggest and newest SUV.  Or perhaps it is that trait of only being able to see things from your point of view.  It is still cold where I live so global warming isn’t happening.  The ocean looks clean when I vacation in Mexico so what they say about plastic filling the sea must be a lie.

I have tried to provide the best I can for your species.  Beautiful forests, coral reefs, snow-capped mountains, clean and cool rivers, cute and fluffy animals.  Sadly none of this has been enough.  My forests get torn down, coral reefs are disappearing, my most remote mountains are being covered in refuse, rivers have been turned to sludge, and animals obliterated.  All for what?  So you can watch videos of cute animals on a screen instead of in the open.  It is enough to make a host upset, and make now mistake about it, you are a guest.  Would you be the same kind of guest in a hotel room?  Of course you would, I have seen how you treat things that are not yours.  So I shouldn’t be surprised that you abuse and use me, but remember one thing, I am in charge.  No matter how important you think you are I am the one in charge.  When I get fed up all I need to do is shake, start a fire, make it rain, or conjure up some wind and you all become helpless.  Judging by this current decision of the most important of your countries(and the desire to get rid of my beloved EPA) I believe I will have to be more active in the name of self defense.

Forever(I hope) yours,

Earth

Ramadan in Saudi Arabia

That fine and mysterious Muslim month of Ramadan is upon us. I very rarely claim to be an expert on anything, and Muslim holidays are no exception.  I have not read any books about this special month but have discussed it with the Arabs that I work with and seen it for myself.  

For this turn of the moon, as the Muslim calendar is based on the moon, the followers of Allah must fast while the sun is showing.  This means no eating, drinking, smoking, or pretty much anything else you can think of. Expats and Non-Muslims have to hide to eat, drink, and smoke.  Most work sites and compounds put up a “Non-Muslim Break Area” sign for rooms where these things are allowed which appears to be well tolerated. Getting caught in the open doing any of these things is severely offensive and not recommended. Not in your car, hospital, or anywhere in the open. Shops and restaurants are closed all day and the streets look like a ghost town while there is daylight.  Very few cars on the road, all shops shuttered, trash blowing through empty streets like some Arab Western. They claim the purpose of this is to show every person the suffering of those that are doing without, so they can better understand the difficulties of the needy and be appreciative of what they have.  

This all sounds very nice and I approve, but there have been some doubts raised in my mind the past few days as we have have gotten into this holiday.  The night brings out a different and crazy animal. Roads become clogged, which is a good thing, as any open tarmac will have youths in Toyota pick-ups, Landcruiser’s, Hyundai’s and Kia’s drifting.  Sometimes missing your car by a hair and sometimes losing control and spinning around to flood your face with their headlights before laughing and carrying on. Restaurants and shops change their hours to be open at night. Locals feast as soon as the sun disappears under the horizon and go to cafes to smoke and converse. Companies change their work hours for observers from a normal four hours to perhaps two hours so they can sleep during the day.  

Now it is true that my worries may be unfounded or incorrect but this sounds a bit like just changing everything 12 hours and becoming nocturnal.  Sleeping during the day and doing all manner of normal human activity at night does not make a fast or sacrifice.  Especially when the the air is like an oven during the day. Night is the only bearable time to be outside. I leave it for the reader to decide. 

Healthcare and Death

The worlds irrational fear of death has made healthcare unpractical.  No healthcare system in the world is viable.  They all lose money at incredible rates.  From Europe’s universal systems to America’s insurance system.  It doesn’t matter if an emergency room visit is free as in the UK or if an aspirin in an ER costs $60 as in the USA.

The major problem relates to our current culture.  Namely that every life is precious and death should be avoided at all costs.  Both of which are wrong.  We all have a price and death is no where near as important as quality of life.  Death is our curtain call.  Every show must end. Hopefully we have entertained and been entertained and leave with dignity as the curtain falls.  Nobody enjoys a show that ends badly or drags on.

Our healthcare systems should focus on two points.  Taking care of the young so they can contribute by working, and preparing the old for death.  But let us progress from birth to death.

At birth we are all equals.  There are no Hitlers or Einsteins.  So there should be a very straightforward process.  If you are born premature where you need an incubator nature should be allowed to take you.  Spending hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars and living in a little oven for months is ridiculous.  I’m sorry that some mistake was made but your parents can try again.  The same if you have a crippling disease.  It is selfish of parents to tell a doctor to do everything to keep you alive, especially when it is known that you won’t live long and those days will be in extreme pain.  No, if you cannot survive on your own at birth you should be allowed to die.

Next come children and adults.  Some will have issues such as asthma, allergies, and others.  No problem.  We have cheap medications where they can live normal lives at a reasonable cost to society.  Bones will be broken and trauma had.  This is normal and easy to fix.  No issues with a healthcare system covering these issues.  Other rare diseases would be on a case by case basis depending on cost and outcomes.  Call them death panels if you will, but we all have a worth.  Very few people would be worth millions of dollars for treatment.  A cancer removed by surgery is cheap and effective.  If that cancer becomes systemic and costs millions of dollars in chemotherapy treatments then it does not become worth it.  You may throw out all the miracle stories you wish but it is the odds that matter in this, not the individual.

Old people need palliative care.  An 80 year old getting a $100,000 hip surgery is not practical.  The use they will get out of it is not worth the cost.  Instead of extending life we should respect when it ends.  On a personal note I refused to see my grandfather once he developed dementia.  I did not want him to treat me as a stranger.  I wanted to remember him as the excellent grandfather he was, not some crazy old man who didn’t recognize me.  I was ticked with the half my relatives that made him get a pacemaker, which just extended his unhappiness.  He wished for death in his lucid moments and I hate my relatives for doing that to him.  On the flip side my aunt is 106 and still kicking.  Amazingly she lives at home alone and has never had a serious surgery.  It is the quality of the persons life that matters, not the length of it.

Old people, seniors if you wish, take up a huge percentage of healthcare funding.  If we would change our beliefs and honor and accept death we could make a healthcare system that works for all.  On our present course in just a few decades the solution will be much more intense and severe.  It will be much scarier than death ever is.

Kingston-New Zealand

Contrary to the name, Kingston is the minor spouse of Queenstown.  It is a tiny town on the southern end of Lake Wakatipu, about forty seven kilometers from Queenstown.  It has none of the recognition of its Queen nor anything to do besides a tourist train.

The Kingston Flyer, as the train is known, is all the town is associated with.  It is a tourist trap that doesn’t really go anywhere.  My tour bus stopped here on its way to Milford Sound for what reason I could not deduce beyond the owner of the Kingston Flyer paying them to.   Kingston Flyer 1.JPG

Having a coffee, looking out over the clear blue lake, and watching the steam train slowly pull out of the fake station was how I spent our hour or two here.  Afterwards we continued our journey without me having walked more than fifty meters from where I stepped off the bus.  Kingston Flyer 4.JPG

Kingston would be great for a nice quiet picnic but it offers very little to tourists, unless you are a fan of trains.  Stick with Queenstown on the North of the lake and make Kingston a rest stop on your drive south and all will be well.