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The Double-Almost-RTW, Part 2: SIN-LHR-Europe-YOW and back on SQ/AC C and lotsa LCCs

The Double-Almost-RTW, Part 2: SIN-LHR-Europe-YOW and back on SQ/AC C and lotsa LCCs

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Old Sep 23, 06, 5:52 pm
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The Double-Almost-RTW, Part 2: SIN-LHR-Europe-YOW and back on SQ/AC C and lotsa LCCs

Reduction

After completing the first half of my almost-RTW, I chilled out a bit by flying a mere 11 flights and visiting four countries in under two months. As it turned out, these travels were more interesting then what I thought would be the main event, but as usual the amount of time spent actually living life is inversely proportional to the amount of time available for writing trip reports, so you'll have to content yourself with the table of contents and make up your own story.



So one ordinary-seeming Thursday I unpeeled myself from my bed (alone) at 1:30 PM, filed away the silk scarves and pink fuzzy handcuffs and realized that today, I'd be sleeping in a SpaceBed. Eight hours of laundry, gym, money exchange, overwatering plants and underpacking pineapples later, I stopped in front of the door to my apartment and felt the feeling hit me: BOOM -- on the road again.

I took the long way, enjoying my last honest-to-Gawd sheen of tropical sweat for a while as I lugged my carryons to the MRT station and danced the ballet of two transfers on my way to Changi. Two escalators brought me from the station into the heart of Terminal 2 and the surprisingly quiet SQ business check-in island, where I managed a last-minute seat swap to a window seat on the upper deck (woot!). The Silver Kris lounge, by contrast, was packed with unhappy-looking middle-aged punters, like a Patpong gogo bar minus the dancers. I wedged myself and a plate of unhappy-looking hors d'oeuvres into a corner seat next to a morose older couple and once again wondered just why this place is so highly regarded.
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Old Sep 23, 06, 5:54 pm
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SQ 322 SIN-LHR C B747-400 seat 18K

Appositely enough for a flight to the UK, there was a long and orderly queue at the security check just to get into the gate, and not for the first time I was amazed that this nation of doddering pensioners, loutish yobbos and whiny middle-agers with bulges in all the wrong places had managed to build an empire spanning the globe just a few generations ago. No special anti-liquid measures were in place though, so the line moved fast enough and soon I was clambering up the stairs to the giddy heights of the Megatop's upper deck. I've flown Raffles before, but always in a 777, and I've flown upper deck before, but always in NH economy, so I was looking forward to the experience -- and was surprised to find it rather more packed and claustrophobic than I would've thought, the curving roof and 2-2 seating somehow reminding me of a regional jet. This feeling evaporated fast enough when settled down in my SpaceBed and sipping my first (and last) glass of Piper-Heidsieck, and I watched the constellations of blue guidelights around the runway shimmer and flicker as we lined up for takeoff, the Jumbo shuddering into the skies with the grace of a pregnant whale.

Soon after takeoff, an appetizer of scallops with mango and balsamic vinegar dressing landed on my tray table (tasty!), and I awaited the main, since for tonight's flight I had finally managed to Book the Cook. I had figured it would be appropriate to prepare my arteries for the hearty Slovenian fare that awaited me, so I'd opted for the 6-oz ribeye steak with mashed potatoes, but alas, I was reminded of the time I made the mistake of trying Kobe beef in a fancy French place in Singapore; what would be mouth-wateringly marbled if it was done right turned into just repulsively greasy, and even the token vegetables accompanying it seemed to be floating on an emulsion of oil. I skipped the cheese, munched away at a slice of once melted and refrozen ice cream cake, and was left full but vaguely dissatisfied.

Before bed, I watched "V for Vendetta", in no small part because the movie's DVD is now banned in Singapore for, supposedly, "anti-Christian themes". I'm sure the parable of acts of sabotage against an omnipotent, unaccoutable government and its eventual overthrow by people power have nothing to do with the ban... it was entertaining enough, and with my gut stuffed and my quota of violence filled, I stretched out on the SpaceBed (whose sheer size continues to amaze me) and slept like an occasionally turbulent baby for the next 6-7 hours.

Breakfast came a-knockin' and I opted out of "carrot cake" (read: greasy Chinese radish stirfry) and chicken breast with morel sauce, going instead for poached eggs on a bed of vegetables. It was edible, but I should have had the foresight to ask them to skip the dressing squirted on top. With sides of a slightly dry croissant, a can of yogurt (muesli and cornflakes were also available) and some really good orange juice, I was stuffed and ready to watch the third and final part of Discovery Channel's excellent "History of Singapore" documentary, which as an additional bonus features lots of Singapore Girls. Soon enough we were coasting over the Channel and flying over London at the edge of dawn, the Thames, the floodlit Tower Bridge and, behind it, the luminous circle of the London Eye clearly visible on the approach to Heathrow. No circles needed this time, the 747 headed straight for the kill, landed with nary a bump and the flight was over.
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Old Sep 24, 06, 9:15 pm
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Originally Posted by jpatokal
The Silver Kris lounge, by contrast, was packed with unhappy-looking middle-aged punters, like a Patpong gogo bar minus the dancers. I wedged myself and a plate of unhappy-looking hors d'oeuvres into a corner seat next to a morose older couple and once again wondered just why this place is so highly regarded.
Hehe, great description

And yes, on my (admittedly few) visits to that windowless lounge I have wondered the same thing. So overrated. The one thing that did impress me at the time was the deep freeze full of mini Movenpick tubs... mmmmmmmmm.
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Old Sep 28, 06, 10:29 pm
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London (LHR-STN)

I was among the first to disembark from one of the first planes of the morning, so T3 was uncharacteristically quiet and, even thought I'd neglected to get my pink FastTrack slip, the queue to enter the EU was measured in seconds. I lugged my rollaboard through half a dozen tunnels, all at right angles to each other, and plunked down 9 quid for a Heathrow Connect ticket. This gets you more or less the same train as the Express running on the same track, only the Connect takes 11 minutes longer and the average expectation of your waiting time is 15 minutes, not 7.5. I sat in the concrete-lined station, which was cool, crisp and deathly silent in the dawn air, like a remote outpost of Oslo in otherwise solid brick London, and stared at the wall in a jetlagged state of semi-meditation.


Like the station, the Connect was quiet this early in the morning, as the jam was in the air above us -- I counted no less than five planes in LHR's stack, landing or waiting for permission to do so. I transferred onto the Tube at Paddington, which looked much more familiarly British (if not for the incessant panicmongering of American-style security announcements), and the Circle Line train crept out of the station only to stop in a tunnel and sit there, moping, for 10 minutes. Nobody in the train batted an eyelid. After an utterly incomprehensible announcement, the train lurched forward again and eventually deposited me at Liverpool St. It was just past 7 AM, and my flight wouldn't be leaving until 2 PM, so no matter how horrible the security queues it hardly made sense to go to Stansted yet. The gym at the station wanted 20 pounds for a day pass, and left luggage guys wanted 6 pounds for a bag, so I chose the cheaper of two evils, dumped my bag, and headed to look for the Tower Bridge without so much as a map.



It was probably the best six pounds I've ever paid. The weather was uncharacteristically gorgeous, sunny yet breezy, and the streets of the financial district of Bishopsgate were filled with power-dressing career women with stilettos that kill and insurance bankers in suits, everybody toting brollies and pissed-off expressions, storming angrily across the street with complete disregard for traffic lights whenever the flow of black cabs stopped for a second. I luxuriated in the feeling of not being in any hurry at all and poked my way down towards the Thames, popping my nose into St Botolphs without Bishopsgate (which sounds like a very British cross between a contested divorce and an anti-wrinkle toxin), poking at jars of pickled tripe in the Leadenhall Market and gazing up at the tersely named Monument, a Pillar raised by King in commemoration of Event. (Charles II and the Great Fire, if you must know.) At the utterly anticlimatic London Bridge, the modern version of which steadfastly refuses to fall down because it's buttressed with more concrete than LHR's runways, I turned left and poked my way along the riverbank to the Tower, which I circumambulated from a respectful distance lest I get sucked into an animatronic Experience that would leave me 15 pounds poorer. But behind it was something that either wasn't there the last time or is a very recent addition: the St. Katherine Docks, a series of Victorian-styled lofts with yacht parking lots for all the seriously loaded yuppies living nearby. It was utterly unexpected and thoroughly beautiful, especially as there was a row of actual wooden sailing ships moored at one end. Tower Bridge, lurking nearby, was also nearly as imposing as from the air and I revelled in the Londonosity of it all.



On the way back, I detoured a bit to swoon over the Matrix-style human storage systems of Lloyd's at Lime Street and then gazed in wonder at the Erotic Gherkin, as Swiss Re's rather vibratory headquarters on St. Mary Axe (another of those lovely British street names) is also known. I'm not sure why it is that reinsurers get the coolest buildings, but then again, I suppose it's only fair if your job consists not merely of insuring things, in itself only a rung above "lawyer" and below "used-car salesman" as a way to make a living, but worse yet, re-insuring somebody else's insurances.

I grabbed the first of today's three sandwiches (BLT baguette), choked on the ticket price (15 pounds!) and boarded what is still the slowest and crappiest-looking "airport express" on the planet. Dutiful boy that I am, I arrived precisely three hours before my flight as instructed, only to find that Easyjet wasn't, despite its earlier promises, boarding that early after all. I staked out some turf on the floor and joined the ever-expanding refugee camp until, a little under an hour later, they did start. I checked in my rollaboard and joined the queues to get through security, which were squirting out of the terminal when I arrived but had shrunk considerably during my earlier wait. I'd already successfully committed an agricultural felony by importing a raw pineapple into the European Union, so I'd decided to push my luck and try to smuggle a chapstick on board. Alas, even without a beep from the metal detector I was selected for a thorough patdown and the forbidden tube was detected and unceremoniously flung onto an ever-growing pile of confiscated contraband.

Everybody else had also shown up at STN three hours early and, since you were now allowed to bring your purchases on board, the next queues were at WHSmiths and Boots. I grabbed sandwich two (aged cheddar and pickle triangle) and, with seats again in short supply, camped out on the floor once more. STN is interesting in that, when flights are not ready to board, passengers are actively told to "Stay In Lounge" and eat, drink and shop some more; only when the busy gates free up and boarding is about to start do they switch to "Go To Gate" or "Boarding". My flight eventually rolled around, and it turned out to be right next to Maxjet and Eos at that, the two all-business longhaul carriers standing out like sore thumbs amidst the sea of low-cost carriers.

Last edited by jpatokal; Sep 29, 06 at 10:58 pm
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Old Sep 28, 06, 10:30 pm
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EZY3245 STN-LJU Y A319 free seating

I haven't flown very much on Europe's LCCs, although I did once sample KLM's "buzz", which if I've got my history straight was bought by and absorbed into Ryanair a few eons ago. In true LCC style, there was no jetway, so we clambered up the stairs and I snagged a window seat not too far from the front door. Somewhat to my surprise the flight was almost full, with most pax being Brits out for a weekend of cheap booze and not a few quite intent on getting plastered before the plane even landed. Pushback was precisely on time and the plane injected itself into an endless stream of Ryanairs, bounding to the sky and onward for the surprisingly short 1:40 hop across the continent to Ljubljana. (Helsinki is almost twice as far away!)

The guy next to me had had a couple of beers himself, but another fellow a few rows back had had a couple more and had to be semi-restrained by his friends from wandering about too much. At one stage, he left his wallet in the toilet, and the very British steward didn't miss the opportunity for a little public embarrassment: "Mr. Blanky Blank, you've left your wallet in the bathroom, but there's no money inside? That's a bit tight innit, going on vacation with no cash, wot?"

Sooner rather than later, the A319 ducked into the cloud cover and emerged into a space of mountaineous green, little castles and church steeples atop all the hilltops. We flew past what was probably Klagenfurt's airport on the Austrian side and, a few hills later, landed smoothly on Slovenian soil.
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Old Sep 29, 06, 7:19 pm
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I love your command of the English language It really makes your trip report a great read Keep it coming
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Old Sep 29, 06, 11:00 pm
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Ljubljana (LJU)

Ljubljana's Brnik airport is small and at first sight almost cute, but brutal efficiency is, alas, not a hallmark. There was a mob at the luggage reclaim (thank you, stupid British regulations) and, in order to keep people guessing, bags tumbled randomly (and slowly) out of one conveyor belt or the other, with the one of the left blinking "BELGRADE" and the other "PRISTINA". I eventually got mine and then headed out to collect my onward Air France ticket, but the Malev guy handling their ops spent the better part of half an hour with the couple in front of me, who had the effrontery to request the unusual, highly complex and downright dastardly task of issuing a ticket. This involved typing on two PCs, printing out bits and bobs on two printers (one dot-matrix and with a tendency to jam), getting carbon copies of a credit card (ker-CHUNK) and finally writing the thing out by hand. But I was thankful for small mercies: perhaps suspecting as much, the kind folks at AF had already prepared my ticket and Mr. Malev's job was limited to pulling it out of the safe and checking my ID.

I then headed out to exchange me some tolarje, only to find that the only ATM in the terminal was broken. No matter, as due to the country's imminent accession into the euro (January 1st, 2007 to be precise) the future currency is near-universally accepted. After having ascertained a ballpark estimate, I clambered aboard a fancy Merc taxi and instructed my balding monoglot cabbie to head for the nearby village of Kamnik, which he did at warp speed, violating numerous laws of traffic and physics in the process. The lush scenery was again beautiful, with mountains in the background, green forests, and yellow fields dotted with churches and kozolec hayracks, but alas, I was soon distracted by the increasingly worrisome antics of my frustrated driver. Having to wait 10 seconds at a traffic light caused steam to come out of his ears, being stuck behind a slow driver for 20 seconds made him apoplectic, and then he really lost it when I informed him that no, the Penzion Špenko he drove me to is not the same as Penzion Kamrica I had reservation at. But he was not to type to give up easily: in between slalom driving through the medieval alleyways of old Kamnik and spouting a constant stream of Slovene invective involving many bad things about somebody's mat, he interrogated passersby as to the pension's location and, half at random, finally managed to stumble on it. He greeted the sight with only English word he knew -- "F*cking!" -- and, when the bewildered pension owner popped her head in the door, loudly notified her that her miserable fleapit was impossible to find, as clearly she and her family were regularly sodomized by goats. The owner retorted that there's a honking big sign on the road pointing the way, and only a blind bat like the driver, with hairy palms caused by excessive masturbation, could possibly miss it. (The above freely translated from the original Slovene, a language I don't actually speak.) But before this escalated into the next Balkan War, I slipped the cabbie 25 euros and he careened off in reverse, hopefully in search of blood pressure medication.
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Old Oct 1, 06, 3:36 am
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Detour

This is going to be very longwinded so, since a video is worth a million words, I'll invite my gentle reader to check out the following two clips on YouTube. First, we have Queen's classic rock anthem "One Nation", about how we should all link hands and live in happy harmony:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=XJvNvBYTsGw

You don't need to suffer through the whole thing, just watch enough to remember what it sounds like as you've probably heard it before. And now, here's what a band called Laibach did to the song:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=1YE_j0xIsJA

Intrigued? Settle down and read the rest.

* * *
We are no ordinary type of group
We are no humble pop musicians
We don't seduce with melodies
And we're not here to please you
We have no answers to your questions
Yet we can question your demands
--"We Are Time"
Before I can explain why on earth I'm flying halfway across the world from Singapore to an obscure suburb of Ljubljana that I've never visited before and know nobody in, I'm going to have to twist the history dial back to when I was 14 or so. I've always had a thing for music, wigging out to Kraftwerk and Max Headroom on MTV before I had the faintest idea of what genre they represented, but I violently resisted my parents' futile attempts to expose me to classical and was equally unsatisfied with the steady diet of Guns'n'Roses, Metallica and other flavors of the day in school. Somehow, in those pre-Internet days, I found my way to the Usenet group rec.music.industrial, obtained a CD player and starting buying recommendations pretty much at random. And my very first CD was Kapital, a then-new release by Slovenian cult band Laibach.

It would be an exaggeration to say that Kapital blew my mind. No, it took me a long time before I could start to appreciate this crazy quadrilingual mishmash of movie samples, electronics, all in support of an elusive message, but I was intrigued enough to invest some more of my allowance in another Laibach release, Nova Akropola, which was one of their very first:

Drzava skrbi za fizicno vzgojo ljudstva,
posebno mladine, v svrho dviganja narodnega zdravja,
narodne, delovne in obrambne sposobnosti.
Ravna cedalje bolj popustljivo, dopusca se vsa svoboda.
Oblast je pri nas ljudska.
--"Država"

The state is taking care of the physical education of the nation,
especially of the youth, with the aim of improving the nation's health,
national, working and defensive capability.
Its treatment is becoming more and more indulgent, all freedom is tolerated.
Our authority is that of the people.
And the last track of that CD, "Država" (The State), did blow my mind. It starts with the speech above, plays a horn loop "like Radio Minsk before announcing the monthly potato harvest quotas" (to quote r.m.i regular Al Crawford) and builds a brutal drum track to a pitch of feverish intensity. But what did it all mean?

Razbiti mogoče oltarja ni,
oltarja laži, ki oblike množi.
Brezma dežna slika, brezbolne luči,
edina zavetja srhljivih noči.
--"Crtomir, Jelengar"

The altar cannot be destroyed,
the altar of lies, that multiplies shapes.
The spotless picture, the painless light,
the only harbors of the terrible night.
Laibach started their career in the 1980s, when Slovenia was still a part of communist Yugoslavia and under the iron fist of Josip Broz Tito. As any dissent would have been brutally crushed, Laibach adopted a different tack -- they adopted the symbols and trappings of authoritarianism and repeated choice bits of Tito speeches and the state's own turgid propaganda, goose-stepping around on stage and, without ever cracking a smile or breaking the facade, poked fun at the pomposity of it all. By the time the authorities woke up (aptly) in 1984 and banned Laibach, they were among the most popular groups in Slovenia -- and for their next concert, they just put up posters with a giant black cross, a time, and a date, and drew record crowds anyway.

Otroci duha smo in bratje moči,
katere obljuka se ne izvrši.
Smo črni duhovi od tega sveta,
opevarno noro podobo gorja.
--"Crtomir, Jelengar"

We are the children of the spirit and the brothers of strength,
whose promises are not fulfilled.
We are the black ghosts of this world,
we sing the mad image of woe.
Soon enough, Yugoslavia collapsed and, after a ten-day war, Slovenia wrested its independence in 1991. While it would be a bit much to give Laibach all the credit, they certainly played their role and have continued to skewer anything they can get their hands on, including issueing their own passports, producing the full-length opera of Krst pod Triglavom (Baptism on Triglav) and producing some of the bizarrest cover songs ever, including the entire album of Beatles' "Let It Be".
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Old Oct 1, 06, 3:44 am
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Kamnik

And by now, I'm sure you can connect the dots -- I came to Kamnik to catch Laibach's last concert of the season and, unaccountably, to see them live for the first time. Laibach's performance here was the climax of this year's Kamfest, and as I arrived a day early I had a chance to catch some of the penultimate day's festivities. At the kavarna next door, kids were entertaining themselves with a drawing contest, farmers with funny hats were out cranking folk tunes on the accordion and their wives, all donning traditional costumes, were dancing in circles as onlookers clapped and dipped their moustaches in beer. It looked precisely like the tiny neighborhood event it was.


I crashed for 12 hours and started the morning by slaughtering the huge breakfast laid out for me, culminating in a bacon-and-ham omelette that threatened to overflow off the plate and grease my pants instead of my arteries. In a morning of determined sightseeing, I conquered the nearby hill and its ruined castle, walked the length of Kamnik's medieval main street Šutna, forked out 300 tolars for the dubious privilege of checking out patchy frescoes in the Mali grad chapel, and found that I'd pretty much covered the lot by noon. Kamnik really is an improbably pretty little town, but for all its prettiness and littleness there just isn't all that much to do there once you've oohed and aahed for a morning. I celebrated with a cold pivo, a salad of raw cabbage and vinegar, and a schnitzel that, like my earlier breakfast, contained enough salt to pay a Roman army and was large and impenetrable enough to provide shelter from an unexpected rainstorm. I surprised myself by eating the whole thing, but afterward my gut felt like a cannonball had been stuffed into it and I wheezed back to the pension for a nap.


By the time dusk rolled around, familiar strains of totalitarian oompah-oompah were wafting down from the stage on the hill and the streets were in a tizzy, with punks strolling the streets and the police, ambulance and fire trucks summoned for what was clearly Kamnik's largest event of the year. I washed down a reasonably authentic pizza with a glass of cviček (the Slovenian rosé cunningly disguised as a red) and delivered my pineapple to the suitably bemused-looking Kamfest organizers as my token of thanks for making it all happen.

None too soon it was 9:30 PM and I joined the throng at the stage. There were an easy 500 people in attendance, a motley mix of locals from Kamnik and metalheads from elsewhere in the area, but I'm fairly sure I was the only non-Slovene around. (Not that anybody noticed; there are a surprising number of blondes in Slovenia, some even of the non-bleached variety, and I was regularly spoken to in Slovenian in tones that presupposed that I was a local too.) I had no problem at all squeezing myself into the front row, but in true rockstar style Laibach kept us waiting beyond the supposed starting time, and there was a fierce wind blowing up the hillside -- why were some of these nuts only wearing shorts!?


With a drum roll, a squirt of the fog machine and a twirl of the lights Laibach appeared on stage and launched into "In the Army Now", which entirely failed to warm up the crowd, and "Dogs of War" didn't fare much better. "Alle Gegen Alle" at least garnered some recognition, but only in the next track did Laibach choose to diverge from their usual modus operandi -- the four guys on stage were joined by the impressively stacked NSK gogo girls, in clingy black Laibach tank tops, tight leather minis, high heeled leather boots and the NSK logo delicately peeking out from their garter belts. A stomping rendition of "Tanz mit Laibach" followed, the girls beating out the rhythm on drums in perfect synchrony, but alas, only few people (myself included) actually hit the tanzfloor to groove mit Laibach as invited.

A half dozen tracks from Laibach's latest album W.A.T followed, interspersed with the synthesizer assault of "Wirtschaft ist Tot" (one of the tracks from Kapital and still more avant-garde than anything they've done since) and culminating in the eponomyous "We Are Time", after which Laibach bowed and marched off stage. The crowd wasn't all that impressed and a rather half-hearted round of applause and cheers of "Lai-bach! Lai-bach!" followed, but the band still deigned to take the hint and came back for the obligatory encore. The ballady "Mama Leone" fizzled, but reworking the Stones with "Sympathy for the Devil" fared better, "Geburt einer Nation" (yup, the Queen remix) was a crowd-pleaser and "Leben heisst Leben" finally got the crowd enthused, fists pumping to the refrain of "Life! ... Life! is! Life!". They then launched into another version of "Tanz mit Laibach", the crowd clapping along and dancing, and then... they left the stage, and let the song play out from a CD. The gig was over just when it felt like it was about to get going.

As the audience filed out down the hill, the DJ played a cheery 1940s ditty with the refrain "Hitler lives, Hitler lives!". Whether this was condoned by Laibach or otherwise, I know not, but it certainly continued their trend of inviting misunderstanding -- the song actually was a postwar British moral message about how Hitler may have died in his bunker, but still lives on our hearts if we're unkind to each other!

All in all, I was left with mixed feelings. It was great to finally see them, and it's hard to imagine that I could have seen them anywhere else in such a small, intimate setting. On the downside, the stage show was all too much like any other band, and the less than fully enthusiastic audience was a downer. I was also surprised that not a single song was sung in Slovenian, and disappointed that not a single Communist-era work was presented; perhaps they've just lost their relevance to today's youth. Such is the fate of yesterday's revolutionaries.
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Old Oct 1, 06, 7:19 am
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It's my first visit to the Trip report section and lo and behold, there's a brilliant trip report by a fellow Laibach fan who actually bothered to go to Slovenia because of the band. Wow!
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Old Oct 1, 06, 9:26 am
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And I thought there where no other closet Laibach admirers around. Oh, and the trip report has got a brilliant start as well. Btw, is this one of those "The Great Moon Festival Escape" journeys?
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Old Oct 1, 06, 10:08 pm
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Thanks for another great instalment jpatokal, and for reminding me about Laibach. I remember, back in the distant fog of my student years, staying with some friends in a squalid student dive in Dunedin, NZ. The place had no heating, no insulation (it barely had electricity) so when the cold grew unbearable the ritual was to throw on a battered LP of some bizarre band I've never heard of, crank it up loud, and goose step/formation dance/improvise furiously to the anthemic strains of their official flat song. This turned out to be Life is Life by Laibach - after half-heartedly trying to track it down a few times without any success, I've never heard it since (until downloading it right now) but I clearly remember its surreal, martial/melodromatic/operatic qualities. I love it - thanks for reuniting me with this bizarre classic!
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Old Oct 2, 06, 6:01 am
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In the 20 years prior to this trip, I'd met a grand total of precisely one (1) person who shared this bit of my rather wide-ranging musical tastes. The range of people on FT has surprised me before, but I almost fell off my seat on seeing that no less than three Laibach fans read this and posted to say so within 24h of posting. Time for a Slovenian FT LaibachDo?

On with the story!
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Old Oct 2, 06, 6:14 am
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Ljubljana

Every now and then, when I flipped through my Lonely Planet Slovenia, I found myself wondering if somebody has substituted extracts of Jetlag Travel's Molvania spoof into some of the lesser-visited places. Consider this actual extract from page 157 (4th ed.), in the section entitled "Snežnik Castle", in itself a rather dubious-sounding location:
The dormouse ... is a favorite food in Notranjska, and the hunting and eating of it is associated with a lot of tradition. The fur is used to make the polhovka, the distinctive fur cap worn by Božiček, Slovenia's version of Santa Claus, and dormouse mast (fat) is a much-prized machine oil.
Either truth is stranger than fiction, or the local žganje firewater played some tricks on the author... then again, I've often found myself pondering the same thing when considering the Slovene (or Slovenian) language, especially its delightful orthography. Consider, for example, the fact that the letter "r" is considered a vowel, leading to wonderful words like trg (square), vrt (garden), smrt (death) and cmrlj (bumblebee), or that s (with), v (to) and z (with) are all common prepositions. Strings of four or five consonants are commonplace, so a srpska krčma is a Serbian bar and in your zajtrk vključen (included breakfast) you may find srhljivih ocvrti prtljažnik, namely a terrible deep-fried something.

And the real fun begins when you start practicing pronunciation. An informal way to say "Hi!" is "Pozdravljeni!" and, to ask where somebody is from, you can say "Od kot ste?". Signs are handy for finding what you need, as an okrepčevalnica is a fast food grill, a prenočišče offers accommodation and a slaščičarna offers sweets and ice cream. "Nationality" on application forms is the blindingly obvious državljanstvo and condoms are easy to find, just flush bright red and stammer the terse moniker kontracepcijsko sredstvo. If hit by a dump truck and lying bleeding in a gutter, you will surely find it easy to ask passersby to guide you to the nearest doctor by requesting "Dovolite mi, prosim, kje je najbližji zdravnik?". Perhaps my favorite Slovene word, though, has neither consonant clusters nor Slavic sibilants: it's kikiriki, which means "peanuts".

On the upside, though, it is a rather phonetic language (although some vowels are a bit messy) and quite compact at that. Why not revise English too so that we count distances in mitrs, worship at a čurč and slurp at enrž drinks? Ińliš speliń wud bi sow izi en ložikal đen!


I spent the next three nights in a military prison on the outskirts of Ljubljana, in the former Yugoslav army barracks, present squatter settlement and future cultural center of Metelkova. Hostel Celica, dubbed no less than the best hostel in the world by Lonely Planet, is one of the cheapest places in town to stay and I considered myself lucky to snag the last bed in the house when I showed up. Or so I thought -- I'd forgotten why I'd sworn off communal living after a year in the army. My cellmates were an elderly Norwegian gentleman with a remarkable talent for intermittent sleep apnea and spontaneous self-resuscitation with an array of very loud porcine snorts, and a beefy English hiker who'd made the cardinal mistake of eating a Slovenian hamburger and spent most of the night practising the 50-meter sprint to the toaleta. Inebriated backpackers yelled at each other over loud rap music in the bar until 1 AM and, when I'd finally managed to fall asleep despite it all, there was a fire alarm in the middle of the night. Twice.


In the past ten years Ljubljana, always a pretty city to start with, has gentrified at a near-alarming pace and the Old Town area around Tromostovje and the Ljubljanica River was now chock-a-block with touristy street cafes and bric-a-brac stores. The advent of local disposable income was equally clear though, with plenty of hip little fashion boutiques, art galleries, record stores and tattoo parlours for idle youth (half of whom seem to sport nose rings and dyed hair) and way more graffiti than there was 10 years ago. This is not a bad thing, mind you; the total absence of flyers, scribbled tags and street art is one of the reasons why Singapore feels so sterile and Ljubljana doesn't. On the outskirts of town, change was even more apparent, with Commie-era monstrosities being pulled down and replaced with modern (if somewhat anonymous) edifices of glass and steel. The main street, Slovenska cesta, does still look as horrible as ever though and I continue to await the day when some farsighted developer realizes that the subterranean shopping monstrosity of Trg ajdovščina would look so much better after a judicious application of dynamite.


Up on the hill above the city sits Ljubljana Castle, which has been under renovation since 1964, was under renovation during my last visit in 1996 and, as of 2006, is still under renovation. To give them some credit, the castle was now looking considerably more patched up than before, the only problem is that they were busily ripping apart what they had already done to make way for the new funicular that is supposed to start running up the hill in 2007 or so. I sampled a horsemeat burger at the uniquely Slovene-Molvanian local fast food chain Hot-Horse, washed it down with a kava (small, black and jolting like a good espresso should be) and stomped back to my barracks.
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Old Oct 2, 06, 7:16 am
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Originally Posted by jpatokal
In the 20 years prior to this trip, I'd met a grand total of precisely one (1) person who shared this bit of my rather wide-ranging musical tastes. The range of people on FT has surprised me before, but I almost fell off my seat on seeing that no less than three Laibach fans read this and posted to say so within 24h of posting. Time for a Slovenian FT LaibachDo?

On with the story!
Make that four Laibach fans.
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