Wednesday 18 January 2006


Following on from our trip to Ljubljana, we spent four days and four nights in Venice, and I have to
say it is at once a really great place to visit and seemingly an awful place to live. It's really cool taking a water bus down the Grand Canal, but on
the other hand it's really annoying to find that you can't get to your destination which is about 20m away because there is a canal in the way. On
the other hand it must have been a great defence against marauding Lombards.

Some of the views in the city are fantastic. As a bonus they really seem to have a thing for towers, so you can get a great view of the whole setting from 60m up, where you can see right out to the Adriatic, or to the Alps.

We were staying on the island of Lido, which is a long, thin island that has the rest of the islands on one side and the Adriatic on the other. I was surprised to find that it actually has cars, something that isn't present in the main Venice islands, since, I mean, what would be the point? We stayed at a hotel called the Villa Mabapa, which was nice, but not as nice as the place in Slovenia. Eric had gone home to Coburg, and was replaced by super-sub Matthew, who flew in from the UK.

The first day we spent basically looking around. We had four full days to check out the place, so we weren't in any hurry. The second day we went through San Marco's Basilica and the Doge's Palace, both of which were amazing. I tell you, that Doge was sure on a good thing, except that it seemed like a lot of politicians spent all their time tramping through his place. Basically every inch of every floor, wall or ceiling was covered in some kind of decoration or painting representing some aspect of Venice. Those visiting dignitaries surely couldn't help but be a little intimidated. The other issue with the residence, as I see it, is that it is connected directly to a prison via a bridge.

The Basilica is similarly ornate. The walls and domed ceilings are covered in all kinds of, I'm sure, deeply profound images. There are also many cool Latin phrases, few of which I could interpret, but were cool anyway because they were in Latin.

On day 3 we went to see the Peggy Guggenheim collection. While little of it made any sense to me, there were lots of people there who looked very impressed, so I guess it was good. There were certainly a lot of famous names represented there, so at least I can claim to have seen the art that I don't understand. We also visited the Jewish quarter to have lunch at a place that we had heard about. We would have had dinner there, but they were closed for Sabbath after sundown since it was Friday.

By day 4 we had seen most of the interesting stuff, so we took the bus across to some of the other islands. We went to a museum on the island of Murano, which is the centre of the supposedly famous Venetian glass industry. However, this museum was not as impressive as many of the other sights. After this it was time to catch the night train back to Coburg. It wasn't the most comfortable ride ever, and we didn't get much sleep, since we had to get up at about 6:00 to change trains in Munich. However, by this time I was somewhat tired, and glad to be able to catch up on some sleep.

Monday 9 January 2006


Ask 10 Australians what the capital of Slovenia is, and only 0.03% of 1 of those people will know the answer. That earlobe notwithstanding, Ljubljana is not exactly the top tourist destination for travellers from Melbourne. However, it certainly is a nice city, and would probably be a great place to visit in Summer. However, for some reason I chose to visit in the middle of Winter.

Regarding the trip to Slovenia, the thing that first springs to mind is the weather. It was awful. – It wasn'’t too windy, but apart from that it couldn'’t have been much worse. After the first night when I arrived, it pretty much rained the entire duration of our stay. On the last day it started snowing, which would normally be an improvement, but it was still very wet, uncomfortable snow. We spent three days trudging through a layer of water and sludgy, partially melted snow that covered everything except the middles of the roads, which were instead covered by cars.

Now that I’ve said that, allow me to combat the overwhelmingly negative impression I have given of Ljubljana by relating some good points. The city itself is very pretty. Apparently it was largely flattened by an earthquake in 1850, so most of the buildings are relatively new. The city is set in a small valley in the middle of the eastern Alps. This is said to give the city a very peculiar weather cycle, the wrong end of which I imagine we encountered. The city is threaded by a long, meandering river, which can confuse visitors sometimes by not going in a straight line. On top of a nearby hill is the Slovenske Grad, the castle that overlooks the city. This site is particularly nice since it provides a perfect vantage point for a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains as they nestle the city.

We were staying in the Hotel Mons, a four-star hotel on the outskirts of the city. On the first day we arrived we hired a cab to get there. However we later noticed that this cab did not seem to have any company insignia, and also lacked a radio. As a result we were not surprised to discover later that the fare of 3600 Slovenian Tolars was in fact about twice the going rate.

We spent the next day looking around town. Some photos that I took are here (one positive feature of the hotel is that it provides free internet access, so I was able to upload these photos). There were some spectacular views from the castle, which I can only imagine would have even been better on a fine day. We used the hotel’s shuttle service to take us into and out of town – along the way we probed the driver about the best places to spend New Year’s that night.

In the end we decided to watch the midnight fireworks from just near the main square. The city had organized some free concertsso we were able to drink wine and listen to some nice jazz music while we waited. After that we headed off to listen to some (in my opinion) awful techno music for the rest of the night.

The following day was a bit of a rest day – we slept in and then went to see a movie in the afternoon (this was a good chance to see a movie in English, since they seem to use subtitles in Slovenia in preference to dubbing, which they do in Germany). Then in the evening we went to a restaurant that Tim declared had served the best food he had ever eaten. With a rap like that I could hardly refuse to go, and the food was indeed very good. I’m not sure, however, whether I could say it was the greatest meal I had ever experienced.

The following day we had to check out of the hotel at 12:00. We had planned to do some shopping, but it turned out that it was a public holiday (I suppose this was since New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday they have the holiday the following day). This meant that pretty much everything was closed, but we managed to find a restaurant in which to have a slow lunch. After that we caught our train to Venice at 16:16, leaving behind Eric who had to wait until nearly midnight for his night train back to Coburg.

Monday 2 January 2006

Prodigal Son Shone on by Prodigious Sun

As mentioned previously, the company has shut down for more than two weeks over Christmas. Aware as always of the demand of my home fans, I bowed to public pressure and undertook a whistle-stop tour of my parents' home in Melbourne.

It was gratifying to see how well my parents have been holding up in my absence: in fact the casual observer might think they were adapting well to my departure. I, however, know differently. After all, if I were forced to live without myself, I should find it quite impossible.

Therefore I was pleased to be able to give them the greatest gift of all: my love. This was in lieu of any decent physical gifts, which I couldn't be bothered providing. What I did provide was some cheap and tacky rubbish I picked up at the Nuremberg Christmas Market.

When at home we carried out the traditional Smith family Christmas. This involves a trip to my father's mother's house for Christmas Day celebrations, a subsequent trip to the day clinic for liposuction, a trip to see my mother's family on Boxing Day and then a trip to bed to sleep off the cumulative effects of too much food and alcohol.

It was great to be able to see the family again. This year, at least, I actually had some news to report, making for an abrupt change from previous Christmases in which the entire year's events could be described in the brief pause between two mouthfuls of turkey breast. On the other hand, most of the news was already listed in these pages, so I was probably going over old territory.

However without doubt the best thing about returning home was the cricket. It's hard to understate how tough it has been to survive in a country in which cricket is treated with all the respect of the slimy growth one finds on the underside of the fridge during defrosting. However a trip to the day two of the Boxing Day Test, and a lot of time in front of the TV has done much to repair the psychological strain.

However my time at home came to an all-too-soon end on the 29th, when I had to return to Germany in order to go to Slovenia. This trip took a ridiculous amount of time: taking into account timezone differences, I left at 17:30 from Melbourne on the 29th and arrived at the hotel in Ljubljana at 18:00 the following March.

As tough as this was, it did have its upsides. The weather was fine, but the ground was covered in snow, and the train trip through the Austrian Alps featured some breath-taking scenery. Unfortunately the train was moving the whole time, meaning that I couldn't take any photos. Also I was very tired and couldn't be bothered getting my camera out of my bag.

As yet I have not seen much of Ljubljana - I will be back to describe my time in this currently nondescript city.