Viewing: Slovenia

Lake Bled in watercolor

My watercolor project for May took me back to one of the loveliest places I’ve seen this year: Lake Bled in Slovenia.

Painting the lady in red stretched me; this landscape seemed easy in comparison. I enjoyed learning how to take artistic license with color: looking for hints of color and amplifying them in order to turn a memory from cloudy gray to fresh and vivid.

Question: do you watermark your photos? I’m considering doing that, though it seems like a lot of work. I thought I could start with the watercolors and see how it goes. This experiment with watermarking has made me realize that I haven’t signed or dated any of my watercolors in the past year. Ooopsy.

Also, I’m wondering if I should start painting a travel series. I experimented with animals and fashion because I got bored with landscapes for a while, but I’ve since realized a travel series wouldn’t necessarily have to be all landscapes. Which of my travels should I paint next?

Koper on the coast

After the Grand Prix in Maribor, we traveled with the Glee Club for the rest of their time in Slovenia. This meant formally inducting our husbands into the Maleta (Suitcase) Club, a grueling task that they both met head on (wagas na pag-ibig ito!)…


getting to ride the tour bus, sit up front a.k.a. “First Class”, and hear daily announcements being read out from an iPad (oh, how times have changed)…
—and one of the best parts: getting to visit places that we normally would not go ourselves. One such place was the tiny town of Klanec, nestled among gorgeous green hills, where we spent two nights in a Franciscan monastery…
… and the harbor town of Koper on the Adriatic Sea, wedged between Italy and Croatia.

While the kids rehearsed for their evening concert…

… we were left free to explore this pretty little town.
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Breathtaking Bled

Apart from the center of Maribor, I didn’t see much of Slovenia when I was there 12 years ago. Now, without rehearsals or performances on the agenda, I was thrilled to have the chance to find out what I had missed—starting with a day trip to Slovenia’s famous Lake Bled.

The bus to Bled leaves hourly from the Ljubljana central station, and the trip takes about an hour and 15 minutes. Once we got there, we decided to take the 5km stroll all the way around the lake, which, according to various travel guides, takes an hour to complete.

Any European estimate for walking time always needs to be multiplied by 2.5 for Pinoys. We walk slowly, have short legs, and like to take pictures. Faced with a fairy-tale lake that looks gorgeous from just about every angle, you can bet we took pictures. Lots of them.

Even the most Amsterdam-like of weather (cold, cloudy and raining) can’t do much to diminish the serene beauty of Lake Bled.

The tiny island in the center of the lake houses the Church of the Assumption. The way to get there is via a traditional rowboat called a pletna, but we didn’t see any boatmen plying their trade that day.

I always have to tip my hat to cleanliness in a tourist area. In Bled, the lake and its surroundings are pristine. Look at that water!

I am not the biggest fan of walking, but the entire circuit around the lake was thoroughly enjoyable, especially with friends. Mimi and I were glad that the boys got along very well together.

One of the best things about traveling with another couple?


Having someone to take each other’s couple photos in romantic locations like this. No more sticking your arm out for sad self-portraits!


I’d love to be here in the summertime, although I’m sure it’s swamped. We got a small preview of what summer would look like at Lake Bled when the sun finally broke through the clouds in the late afternoon. Simply beautiful.
When the clouds lifted, just like the curtains in a theater, to reveal the snowy Alps, we all just stopped and stared. Behind those mountains, by the way, is Austria.


The Alps made a perfect, majestic backdrop to Bled Castle, Slovenia’s oldest castle, perched on a hilltop. It was one of those fantastic sights that hardly looked real, like the clouds themselves were trickling down from the sky. But it was definitely real—and I’m happy to have seen it myself in Bled.

European Grand Prix for Choral Singing

After our Sunday morning stroll in (mostly deserted) Maribor, Mimi, Pete, Marlon and I ran into the Glee Club right outside Union Hall, where they were due for their soundcheck.
After hugs were exchanged and manic shrieks faded away, we went into the holding room with them for last-minute instructions from Ma’am Malou, prayers and a huddle. I really have to give it to Ma’am, she was the picture of calm and purpose—exactly what a big group needed at a time like this.

It felt so strange to know what they were all feeling, but not actually be part of it—to be outside the circle looking in.

Then it was time for their 15-minute rehearsal, the only time choirs actually get to step inside the hall they compete in. Since the full repertoire is 25 minutes, the soundcheck was just about enough time to check the acoustics against a portion of each piece, and also if everyone can hear each other. I’ve been in halls where the audience enjoys a fantastic sound but you can’t hear yourself at all, let alone the people next to you, and it’s always a freaky feeling.

To me, they sounded amazing. Sparkling, fresh, warm, pino, with heart. And it’s not just because I used to sing in this choir, okay. I think I’ve heard enough choirs to know.

Lunch followed at a park nearby. We got a chance to catch up with darling Leo, who was also with the Glee Club when we competed in the European Grand Prix in 2001. I can’t believe he now has two Grand Prix competitions under his belt.

Then, back to Union Hall to claim our tickets and wait for the competition to begin. The event had been sold out for weeks. Slovenes love their choral music!

We got the nosebleed seats in the very last row, but asked to be moved. In hindsight, we should have just stayed here so we could see what the judges were writing down!

The organizers very kindly moved us to the upper left of the hall, where we unfurled our handy-dandy Philippine flag and got ready to cheer for our Glee Club. Can you say groupies?

Then the competition began.

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Maribor on my mind

It’s not an exaggeration to say we traveled from one end of Slovenia to the other during our four days there. After landing in Ljubljana, we rode a train northeast to Maribor for the Glee Club’s competition, after which we took a bus to Koper on the southeast coast, right next to Italy and Croatia.

map via Wikipedia

The train ride from Ljubljana to Maribor took about two hours. Slovenia is not very big and there’s not a lot of distance to cover, but the train runs about as fast as those shopping mall kiddie trains. But that’s nothing to take issue with, because the route shows off Slovenia’s idyllic green landscape to stunning advantage.

Slovenia is a ridiculously gorgeous country. Marlon and I were tired after our early departure, but didn’t dare nap. Not with the constant stream of gorgeousness outside: farmhouses, streams, cattle grazing freely…

… hills covered in green, meadows carpeted in flowers, trees in bloom.

After months of gray in Amsterdam, I could finally believe it was spring.

A stroll around Maribor, after the jump!

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Butchers’ Bridge in Ljubljana

I first saw love locks, or padlocks used as declarations of eternal love, in South Korea. The wire fence on the N’Seoul Tower overlooking the city has thousands of padlocks and bike chains affixed to it by Korean lovers. I thought it was an adorable idea (because I thought Koreans were adorable).

Then I started seeing padlocks on bridges everywhere: in Rome, Prague, Cologne and on the Pont des Arts in Paris. The novelty wore off, and I stopped looking for them and taking pictures.

That is, until I arrived in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the first stop on this year’s Big Trip. In the pristine, charming center of this little gem of a city, one bridge made me sit up and take notice of love locks again. It’s called Mesarski Most, or Butchers’ Bridge.

At first glance it looks like a fairly small and ordinary bridge, marked only by the be-tailed bronze figure who looks like he’s ah-ah-ah-ah-stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive. 
The ubiquitous padlocks are present, some of them hung rather unimaginatively along the steel ropes of the bridge. But as far as the art of love-locking is concerned, these are the low-hanging fruit. 
Look closer. Because these babies are where you want to lock your love. 

Kick-ass. Bronze. Prehistoric. Creatures. How awesome are these?!

For the first time ever, I found myself regretting not having a padlock to fix on a bridge. And I am so not into that kind of thing. But I could totally get into protecting our love with a set of sharp bronze jaws.

These thoroughly fascinating grotesques are the creations of Slovene sculptor Jakov Brdar. In addition to the fossil-like creatures, Brdar’s art appears all over Butchers’ Bridge, such as these flat bronze pebbles with faces, which were strewn along the railings…

… and three visually arresting sculptures: Prometheus, the Satyr, and Adam and Eve.

Later, Marlon and I happened upon another work by Brdar at the Ljubljana central station, where we caught a late afternoon train to Maribor. One look at this grille set into the ground and there was no mistaking it was by the same artist. It’s a memorial to James Joyce, who spent one night at the Ljubljana central station on his way to Trieste, Italy on October 19, 1904.

If you’d like to read the quote that’s engraved on it, I found a much better quality photo over at Piran Cafe
Old towns in Europe are always charming, but they can start to run together after a few too many. It’s things like this—a mix of old and new that, while on the odd side, actually works—that make Ljubljana an instant standout. And call me weird, but seeing this within an hour of my arrival told me that after my first visit 12 years ago, that I was going to fall in love with Slovenia all over again.

The journey so far

Marlon and I reached the halfway point of our trip. This is the story so far, in pictures. 
We started off in Ljubljana… 
then headed to Maribor… 
… and Koper, Slovenia.
Then it was a short hop over the border to Venice, Italy… 
and now, Bologna. 
Seriously. Bologna didn’t earn the nickname La Grassa, or The Fat One, for nothing. There’s not much to do here except eat. And eat and eat and eat. So that’s all Marlon and I have been doing here so far. It’s a miracle I still have a waist, but please don’t ask me to turn sideways in pictures.
While we roll ourselves to Florence tomorrow, you all have a great weekend!

Slovenia in Instagram

Buon giorno from Venice, where Marlon and Pete, Mimi’s husband, are engaged in the second phase of their Great Farting Battle (a.k.a. Ututan Wars). How romantic! 

I kid, I kid. After five exhausting but fulfilling days on the road with the Glee Club, we’re happy to finally enjoy couple time. Venice is the perfect city for that.
I will miss Slovenia though; I was thoroughly charmed by it. There’s a lot to write about, but that will have to wait until I get home. For now, let me share a few glimpses via Instagram. 
Flying into Slovenia via the Alps; public art in the center of Ljubljana; sunset at our hostel in Maribor; waiting for the European Grand Prix to begin; reflections at Lake Bled; sunset at Koper harbor.
I wasn’t too keen on Instagram, but the prospect of being away for so long finally pushed me into it. Follow me, currystrumpet—I may have come late to the party, but I bring goodies with me!

Dear Glee Club

Hello from Maribor, Slovenia! Today is the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing, which is why I’m here. When my beloved Ateneo College Glee Club competes against four of the best choirs in the world (from Ukraine, Sweden and two from Japan), I will be there to cheer them on. 
I was part of the cast that competed in the European Grand Prix 11 years ago, when it was held in Debrecen, Hungary. We lost. It was one of the most emotional and intense shared experiences of my life.

The support for the present Glee Club has been amazing, further amplified by social media. Back in our day, we lived and competed in a bubble. Below are excerpts from a letter I wrote them, which they read on the bus to Maribor.

Dear Glee Club Batch 2012,

You’re in Europe! Yay! Congratulations on getting here! Everyone who has ever toured with the Glee Club knows what you’ve been through to get here. You’re here, individually and as a group, because you deserve to be here. Many of you made tough choices; showed resourcefulness and dedication; listened to your passions; followed your guts. For these things alone, you are already winners and deserve to be congratulated.

I’m so excited for all of you, because 11 years ago, I was just like one of you. I know what’s in store for you guys: the best time of your lives. 

After we sang in Debrecen, many of us in the EGP cast shared the same feeling: that we could not have sung any better. The group was so emotional coming off that stage, even before the winners were announced. And it wasn’t because we were nervous or wanted to win. It was because we recognized that we had done our best. It’s hard to avoid using clichés here, because in this case the cliché is true. 

Look for that feeling when you step off the stage. Aim for that. To know, personally, deep in your heart, that you have given everything you could give. I pray for that for all of you. 

You will make (if you are not already making) memories that will last you the rest of your lives. You will learn (or are learning) what you love most and want in life. Remember what makes you feel happiest and hold on to it. It will help you sharpen your intuition and follow your heart later on, when life doesn’t make it so easy. 

I can’t say this enough: I know what it feels like where you are. That’s what makes me so excited for all of you. And so proud, too. 

I am rooting for you guys (hindi pa ba obvious?) with all my heart. My prayers and love are with you all. 


Batch 2000-2001

If you want to support the Glee Club, or see the level of excellence the Philippines is at in choral singing, or if you’re just curious about how an international choral competition works, check it out via livestream at 4pm in Slovenia, 10pm Manila time. The winner will be announced at 7pm in Slovenia, 1am in Manila.

Spring break

I’ll be away for the next couple of weeks on The Big Trip of the year. This trip will be the longest Marlon and I have traveled together. It’s even longer than our honeymoon, and I’m planning everything. So while I’m excited, I’m also a little freaked out.

But that’s all in the fun of traveling. Being able to go on a long trip was what I wanted when I started getting restless in Singapore. That bout of “metaphysical unease” two years ago eventually brought us here, and now we get to take that long trip. I couldn’t be more thankful for that.

Our (rather ambitious) itinerary includes a mix of places I’ve been before, and new places that we’ll discover together for the first time:

  • The 2012 European Capital of Culture, Maribor, Slovenia, for the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing. The Glee Club qualified 11 years ago, and qualified again this year. Go Ateneo! One big fight!
  • Ideally, if I wake up early enough, a day trip to Lake Bled in Slovenia
  • The Mediterranean coastal town of Koper, Slovenia
  • A double date with the Duhamels in Venice
  • One night in Bologna, to stuff our faces with Italy’s finest
  • FLORENCE. Four days. Can’t wait.
  • San Gimignano, our base for exploring Tuscany and the nearby towns of Siena, Lucca and Volterra
  • Marina di Carrara on the Ligurian coast to visit relatives on Marlon’s side
  • Pisa, where we catch our flight back to Amsterdam
I’ll be traveling with the laptop, but don’t expect to be blogging on the fly. So in the meantime, feel free to explore the archives, wish us luck and pray that we’ll still be solvent/married/shaped vaguely like humans by the time this trip is over.

Over and out!

P.S. “Viaje” calligraphy above by yours truly.