Monday, December 10, 2007

Day 12
Friday, November 2nd, 2007
Ljubljana, Lake Bled, and Celje - Slovenia
Got up on Friday morning and Brooke, Sarah and I headed north about 40 minutes to Lake Bled. It is a quaint little town that sits at the base of the Alps, with a lake, a castle on a cliff overlooking the lake, and a church out on an island - what more could you ask for? In the summer the lake is warm enough to swim in - but we just went for a long walk around.

Bled Castle on the cliff...

Living in California for 2 years now, I've started to miss the seasons. So you can understand why I'd be excited about the fall leaves and colors :)

Old house, again the castle in the background...

That evening we drove back down to Ljubljana and picked up Jonny and continued on to another city about 1.5 hours away called Celje (sell-yay - Brooke, did I spell that correctly?). The missionaries in that area had started a Summer English Camp to teach Slovene teens English. They had a follow-up event that coincided with the Holiday; a Chestnut Picnic

Now, seeing as how Sarah and I had never eaten an actual chestnut, we were a bit unclear on what a picnic of said chestnuts entails. Basically, it is like a pizza party, with chips and drinks, but instead of pizza as the main entrée, you roast a crapload of chestnuts until their soft inside - kind of the consistency of a baked potato.

(Sarah with chestnuts)

They trained us well and we ate our fill.

(Ryan with chestnuts)

Roasted chestnuts get charred black ash on the outside - this leads to blackened fingers - that leads to the chestnut picnic version of a food fight where you smear one another's faces with said ash.

(Brooke with chestnuts...)
We also played some English games/mixers. We had paper taped on our backs and as we'd walk around and have discussions (in English, thankfully) we would write encouraging adjectives about the person on their back. The kids pretty quickly learned that Sarah and I are actors in Hollywood... which factored into most of the conversations.

(Jonny... with chestnuts)

After about 30 minutes, we placed all the paper into a pile and read the list of adjectives aloud, then tried to guess who's paper it was. When mine came up it said "Barely famous" at the top and everyone looked straight at Sarah and I and started laughing! Jonny was leading the group and said, "Ok, so let's have a quick discussion about what the word 'barely' technically means."

I saved that paper. Regardless of whether or not I ever am famous, it will be a good reminder to stay grounded. After all... isn't everyone pretty much "barely famous"?

Will someone from OKC tell James Sturgis that I found his younger, slovene brother? I might have creeped this kid out because I kept taking photos of him and telling Sarah "He looks SO much like James."

Afterwards the 4 of us went to get Kebap - which is not a Turkish Pop Group as Sarah and I guessed, but rather a gyro type late-night chicken sandwich/pita thing. SUPER good. Especially when you've had nothing but chestnuts all night.

Also, Brooke's hubcaps got stolen. A bummer of an ending to an otherwise cool evening. But more on that tomorrow...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Thursday, November 1st, 2007 - Day 1 in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ok, time to get back into this. Today is going to be quick, some photos from our first day in Slo with Brooke.

Brooke lives with another Missionary named Hailey in an apartment inside Ljubljana (Loo - blee - ahna, the capital of Slovenia, the northern-most country of former Yugoslavia: here's a good map Sarah stayed with the girls, and I stayed with Daniel Psaute who is the Coordinator of Nazarene missions in Slovenia, and Johnny - another missionary and Brooke's new fiance - across town.

Got up that morning and Brooke, Sarah, and I walked into the town square to head up to the castle. They were repaving the square; on the hill behind these workers you can see the castle up at the very top. The bridge just to the right of that white tent is the bridge you see in this photo below, which I took back in 2005.

From the castle we had a great view of Ljubljana and the surrounding countryside.

More of Ljubljana...

That afternoon/evening we went outside of the city to take some engagement photos of Johnny and Brooke. Beautiful, beautiful country. Also, because it was All Saints Day, every church was ringing the bells all day... and there were little churches EVERYWHERE. At first, cool. After 2,723 rings, shouting at each other above the noise... kind of annoying.

The culture in Slovenia (and most of Eastern Europe from what we saw) does not really celebrate Halloween much. But during All Saints, there are a number of really cool traditions we were able to see. One is eating copious amounts of roasted chestnuts... more on that later. Another is the lighting of these candles for deceased family members. Each candle is placed inside a red plastic vase and set around the chapel in a cemetery (like this photo) or at the actual grave (see below).

One problem with this tradition is that the candle eventually melts the plastic enough for it to touch the flame, then it catches on fire. They place lots of little water pots around so you can douse a vase if it catches on fire.... but the whole place smells like burning plastic.
I will probably get cancer from all those dioxins. But hey! That's what traveling is all about........ crazy Slovene dioxins.
More tomorrow!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Rainy day blogs, pensiveness, the "Then" and the Nazis

This blogging thing is getting into my blood. It may finally be the way to get Ryan Dobson to write consistently. I wonder why that is? Maybe because I feel like it's journaling, but into a conversation. The assumption being that people are reading this... and you know what they say about assuming...

I love rain - and the typical absence of it in SoCal intensifies that feeling. I was walking back from coffee this morning, listening to Gold from the "Once" soundtrack (P.S. - a GREAT song to listen to if you're walking through the rain, holding a warm cup of coffee and wearing a corduroy sportcoat), wondering, "What is it that about rain that I like so much?"

I think it's like Creation being contemplative. It's nature way of walking into a little hole-in-the-wall gallery, sipping bordeaux from a nearly bowl-sized glass, and listening to neo-folk music on an acoustic guitar... Rain makes me feel like painting even though I'm not a painter. And all this is achieved by the environment's grey brooding...

That's the context in which Sarah and I drove up on Mauthausen Concentration Camp (Mot-house-en) on Sunday, October 28th, 2007. I'm going to tell that story now and I'm going to ask that you try to emulate my context as well as you can. It may not be raining where you are - but you can imitate what rain does: put on that song, turn off the TV, close the shades. Whatever. I suggest "Home" by Foo Fighters... but you do whatever you need to.

So, Mauthausen. It was grey and cold and drizzly and exactly how it should be when you go somewhere like that. Mauthausen sits on a green, Austrian, rolling hillside. Because of the twisting two-lane road, you don't see it until you're there; it's grey stone walls looming at the crest of the knoll. The parking lot sits directly in front and was almost empty, as it was the lull in the tourist season. Next to the parking lot, the respectfully minimalistic ticket office was empty as well... we saw neither lines nor other visitors. After receiving our audio guides, we walked toward the main entrance to the camp.

When you visit a place like Mauthausen now, you anticipate a strange mix of imbued reverence and intrinsic touristy-ness; because it is simultaneously a memorial to the Holocaust and a visitor destination. But that day it was as little a sightseeing memorial as possible - it was a ghost town.

In January 1945, the camps, directed from the central office in Mauthausen, contained roughly 85,000 inmates. The death toll remains unknown, although most sources place it between 122,766 and 320,000 for the entire complex. (source:

We walked through the main gate and the camp was truly empty, the way you feel it should be.

I'm not sure how to describe this... I wrote in my journal that day: "I am a person who will try, but will be fundamentally incapable of understanding the Holocaust." But it was like God was trying to help me conceptualize the gravitas of this place. It was cold - you could see your breath and we kept blowing on our hands to keep them warm.

Originally a prison... [Mauthausen was] converted into a Concentration Camp for the prisoners who were not to be rehabilitated: most died in the Camp. Until death, prisoners were used for backbreaking work in the Stone Quarries... (source:

Outside this barrack window, skeletal, forgotten, tortured people stood in the cold rain for hours on end - typically for no reason other than torture. At one point, not long ago, human beings died, outside this window, because of their race or sexuality or political affiliations.

Facing the barracks were the "medical" buildings, housing the gas chamber and crematoriums.

As we walked around the camp and listened to our audio guides, we heard accounts of women being brought into the camp and raped by the SS officers; about prisoners who were stripped, shaved, disinfected, and made to live outside in "quarantine" for weeks; about people lured outside their barracks on the pretence of having their photo taken, only to be lined up and shot.

It kind of seems like I'm being melodramatic now, but with just a little attempt at empathy, the entire experience is overwhelming. You can feel the weight of the place.

After the gas chambers, the audio guide ends by leading you out through the main gate onto the grassy hill outside. As you walk, it tells you about the camp's liberation:

The camps of Mauthausen-Gusen were the last to be liberated during the World War II. On May 5th, 1945, the camp at Mauthausen was approached by soldiers of the 41st Recon Squad of the US 11th Armored Division, 3rd US Army. (source:

(photo from wikipedia - US tanks entering the camp on May 6th, 1945)

As we listened to the account of the camp's liberation, we walked through the gate pictured above and the most amazing thing happened; the clouds cleared and the sun came out. It was the first time we'd seen the sun since we'd arrived in Europe a week earlier. It was also the first time we'd really seen just how beautiful the surrounding Austrian countryside could be.

The photo above is taken just outside that gate, looking out over the stone quarry where prisoners-made-slaves died by the thousands.

Outside the camp, every nation represented by one of their imprisoned citizens has built a memorial to those who perished inside.

Again, I have to be careful to not over-state this... I'm hyper-sensative to the fact that I'm a well fed, very free, white American male... But walking out of that camp - the desolation and depravity and despair that it represents - and into the vibrantly colorful hillside, was a hallmark experience in my life.

It is remarkably easy for us to see these atrocities as "then", which would never happen in the "now." But those were all just normal people - the Nazis: fundamentalists who were willing to put the importance of an ideology above the value of another person... something we see often today. The Prisoners: Jews, Czechs, Homosexuals, Women and outspoken opponents of the Nazi regime who were victimized by a cycle of violence that cycloned out of control.

And you stand there, where those people stood, you realize how possible it is; how not-so-far-away we are from the "Then."

But then, there's also hope. There's also the sun breaking through the clouds. There's also the other side of the gate, looking out on green fields and farms and autumn colors.

They will beat their swords into plowshares

And their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,

nor will they train for war anymore.

Every man will sit under his own vine

and under his own fig tree,

and no one will make them afraid,

for the LORD Almighty has spoken. (Micah 4:3)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I promised some additional "artsy" photos from Vienna. I'm to tired to type much, so just enjoy these...

early morning from our room.

old time elevator

the market
the market

the market

the market

the market

our bathtub... just kidding. the market.

(but why do I think swimming in those would be fun?)

walking back up to our place.

the opera house

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Sunday, October 28th - Wednesday, 31st: Vienna, Austria
Sunday morning we left Hallstatt and drove to Mauthausen Concentration Camp. That experience is something I'm going to write about as it's own blog entry... And I'm not going to do that now. So I'll skip over it and blog it out of order - for those of you who are Type-A personalities, I'm sorry. Also, these are all fun photos... I'll post some artsy ones of Vienna in a day or so.

So after Mauthausen, we drove down the Autobaun into Vienna. At one point, when it wasn't raining, when Sarah was asleep, when it was downhill and the wind was at my back, I opened up our Volkswagon Golf and got it to 180km/hr. Now I can mark "pedal to the metal on the Autobaun" off my list of things to do before I die(even if it was in a Volkswagon Golf).

We arrived in Vienna that evening and it was raning...

We took the subway into the town square and headed to our housing - a sweet little Austrian lady who rented out rooms in her flat. While she was super, super nice... our room was a narrow, long closet. We had separate twin beds (see one in the bottom right corner of this photo) and the room was so narrow that we couldn't put the beds side by side. Also the place smelled like smoke and old coffee... or maybe if you smoked coffee flavored cigarettes... or like if you made coffee from old cigarette butts...

The next morning we started out doing a tour of the city center via tram. We got off at certain stops that looked interesting, like this park with statues of famous musicians.

There were a couple of little old ladies taking photos in front of this statue before us. When I stood in front of it and posed like Straus, they started laughing so hard we got kind of concerned about them. But then, that happens sometimes when I'm around: my comedy genius blows people's minds... especially old people.

That night we dressed up to go to the opera. The Vienna Opera House sells Standing Room Only tickets for only 3 euros! So we got to go see classical opera in Vienna - how cool!

Come to find out, the opera was really long, and in latin, and we were standing, and some of the people.... smelled.

So this is us, leaving the opera, 30 minutes after it started.

We found our way to an Italian restaurant named Danieli and had better Italian food than we've ever had in Italy.

I don't care what anyone says. It is entirely possible to maintain your coolness while wearing a money demonstrated in this photo.

On our way home that night, we walked by this high fashion store and found a mannequin that made us laugh. She's the High Society I-drank-too-much-on-my-way-to-the-opera-and-fell-down model. We named her Tami and we spent the rest of the evening coming up with things that drunk Tami would say like, "who put those stairs there?" and "don't judge me!"

The next morning we headed up bright and early - earlier than Tami would be getting up anyhow. This is the old-school elevator in our building.

We walked down to the farmers market and spent some time perusing. They have the most incredible selection of meats, cheeses, and produce I've ever seen.

We bought some of the freshly prepared food and made a picnic... hummus, cheese filled peppers and olives, and falafel.

Then we were on our way to Schonbrunn Palace - the seat of the Habsburg's empire

Staying hot while staying hydrated...

That afternoon, when we arrived back in the city center, we went to Demel - the Tiffany's of chocolate places in Vienna. Fortunately, I like my sacher torte dry, just like I like my humor.

So we found out that the Opera house was having a ballet (instead of an Opera) that night, and decided to go back for tickets again. This is us sitting in line waiting for tickets.

I have a low tolerance for lines.

This is us waiting for the show to start (the stage curtain is behind us). I took of photo of Sarah and then she took one of me and we photoshoped them together...

It was a beautiful show and we stayed for the whole thing! Then we went to bed.

The next day was our last morning in Vienna. We decided to do a little shopping, and we started at an antique book shop. In Europe, the word "Antiques" mean items much older than in the US. We found some awesome books, but none we could afford.

For lunch we treated ourselves to our favorite Austrian food: The street vendor weinerschnitzel. For those of you who like a great dog... this is the dog to end all dogs. They take a perfect bun and puncture it with a warming rod. While they grill your weiner, the bun warms from the inside out. Then they put your condiments inside, slip the meat into it, and grill the whole thing. Just trust me - it tastes really great.

Our friends Johnny and Brooke, who are missionaries in Slovenia, drove up to Vienna and picked us up to bring us down to their hometown: Ljubljana. On the way, we stopped in a small town known for their restaurants and family owned vineyards, and had a great, traditional Austrian meal.

Our last event in Austria - with Brooke and Johnny! We ate family-style, trying a variety of unknown dishes.