Tag Archives: organic

The Slovenian Experience: Part I

The end is still ways off, but I want to record the highlights and recommendations of my short time living in Ljubljana so far. I moved here in February this year.

Ljubljana

I nominate Ljubljana as one of Europe’s hidden gem cities. It’s beautiful, particularly the centre. I love the gracefully aged faces of buildings, antiquated, but still alive; the street lighting at night, walking along the river Ljubljanica, and how willows weep over the river walls. Cafes add outdoor seating which hugs riverside footpaths and fill with life when the weather is good.

Ljubljana street at night Ljubljana street at night Locks on a bridge over the Ljubljanica

Capital Market

For Lidiya and myself, the most anticipated event of the week has been a visit to the capital market on Saturdays. It hosts a section dedicated to organic products, many of which are locally produced; a fish market, with a mix of wild and farmed fish; a massive fruit and veg market; souvenir stalls; as well merchants of nuts, dried fruit, grains, seeds, dairy and even organic meat, for those inclined.

Capital market, Ljubljana Capital market, Ljubljana Capital market, Ljubljana

Even on damp days the market is bustling. Buskers are dotted around the centre and add to the atmosphere as you peruse the wears on offer, while enjoying a veggie pie, made freshly in front of your eyes, from buckwheat flour in wood fire stove.

Busker in Ljubljana

Local and Organic = Happy and Healthy

There are several milk vending machines around the city, the first place I’ve seen or heard of. You insert coins, receive a bottle and fill it as desired with raw, unpasturised, unhomogenised milk. The milk is delivered daily from Slovenian and Italian producers. I don’t drink milk, but appreciate having it available it’s raw form. It’s illegal so sell in many parts of the States, I’m not sure what the law is in Ireland, but I’ve never come across it in stores. The health benefits of raw dairy products are discussed here.

Even in the local supermarket chain Mercator, they have their own, reasonably priced, organic range. It’s a joy to live somewhere where local, organic produce is valued.

Sustainability

Equally valued is the environment. From what I’ve seen and heard of their nature, it is immaculately preserved. A friend, and fishing-lover, told me that the rivers there are home to the best fishing in Europe. Fishing licenses are quite expensive in monetary terms, ranging from €20-€80 per day, but good value in environmental terms, if that is the cost for taking care of the waterways and it’s inhabitants.

Places to visit

This is a very short list, as I haven’t done much moving around yet.

  • Lake Bled, is as beautiful as it’s reputation would lead you to believe.
  • Lake Bohinj is near Bled and home to Slovenia’s first eco hotel, Eco Hotel Bohinj
    Bohinj Park Eco Hotel
  • Shmarna gora is a hill, about a 30 minute local bus journey from Ljubljana. The 25 minute climb to the top offers great views of the city.
    The view from Shmarna Gora
  • Metalkova, a very interest place; an autonomous social centre in Ljubljana. Similar to Copenhagen’s Christiania.
    Metalkova

Rock Climbing

Climbing gear is really well priced. I’ve picked up new equipment from Iglu, which have a few stores in Ljubljana. You get a 10% discount there is you are a member of Stena climbing club. Stena has a really nice, and challenging, boulder wall. The average climber there is really good. (I was mezmorised recently by an amazing climber doing a full dyno on a 45 degree overhang to a pinch, a hold I would struggle with on a vertical wall). I’m consistently the weakest person at the wall, which I mean in a matter-of-fact, rather than self-defeatist way. It has put a lot of positive pressure on me to improve.

The weather has just picked up, and soon we’ll make our first outdoor climbing trip.

Language Learning

I started learning the language too. Slovenian study courses, and even in person classes, are in short supply. I met Valentina, who studies in Ljubljana, through MyLanguageExchange.com, a fairly suspect looking website (the design looks a little late 90’s) for finding language exchange partners. She has been teaching me twice a week.

After a few lessons, we had both mentioned how surprising it was that there is hardly anything available online to learn Slovenian. So we decided to do something about it and will shortly be releasing the online self-study course, Learn Slovenian Online. Our aim is to create, not only the first online Slovene language program, but to craft it into the best resource for learning Slovenian on the web. To hit that target we will regularly gather learner feedback to update and improve the course.

If you are interested in learning the language and would like an early invitation to try out the course, in turn for sending some feedback, let us know: info@learnslovenianonline.com.

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Chance, Coincidence, Connection

I’m on a bus, passing Californian vineyards and what I think are orange groves. I planned to write about my time in Denmark several times, but the motivation never came. The five months in Esbjerg was great, and in short, I took advantage of the quiet town and Lidiya’s busy study schedule, put my head down and worked and thought and planned.

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls, the biggest waterfall in North America

I just spent the last four days in Yosemite National Park, which were quite surreal, partly because it’s so iconic—I’ve seen so many postcard-picturesque images of the park, and really everywhere you look is breath taking, that it felt like I needed a little conscious effort to make those images my own—and partly because of an insanely contrasting series of events that happened in parallel with my exploring this week, all related to work which I probably won’t go into.

Team Tito

Team Tito (minus Eoin)

Last week I was in San Francisco with the Tito guys, to work together as a team in the same location for the first time, and to host a meet up of friends and customers of Tito.io, an app we are building to be the best for buying and selling tickets.

San Francisco has been in my mind for some time. When I think SF, I think ‘alternative’; ‘the norm to be a little weird’; the words ‘yoga, vegan, organic’; ‘tech industry’; ‘startup capital of the world’, ‘liberal, progressive, open minded’. I had/have this romantic image of the place, that it’s perfect for me and that I would feel really good there. And, apart from a new type of crazy (homeless and crack addicts I’ve been told) that socialise around the Bart (metro, like the Dart) station on Mission 16th, my week’s experience matched my high expectations.

Bi-rite organic storeThe awesome Bi-rite supermarket; so much local, organic, delicious, super-tasty stuff.

Traffic pole

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge just after sun rise

I won’t ramble off the doings of my trip. I documented it fairly well on Instagram—you can follow me here if you like—or on Facebook. My last couple of posts were also heavily ‘doing’ filled, which is fine. I think the saying that “life’s a journey, not a destination” is effective in breaking a blind devotion to getting somewhere, but that it’s bias towards the importance of the journey makes the destination seem important when considered to the extreme, to the point of thinking that plans, goals or achievements are meaningless. A journey, by definition, doesn’t have to have a destination, but it can include one. So life can be a journey with a destination, or a journey with multiple destinations which decide and re-decide on, more or less, at will. That was a long preface to just say that I’ve been heavily goal/doing, or destination focused for some time (and still am), but feel more like writing some thoughts now, and that both are one and the same, not conflicting.

Buying a belt

At the end of my week in San Francisco, I returned to the Airbnb place I was staying at to pack and head to watch the Super Bowl with a friend from university, who I hadn’t seen in years. I needed to buy a belt, but didn’t leave time to go shopping before going to Brent’s. A house a few doors down was having a yard sale and I asked, by chance, if the guy running it had a belt to sell. He unexpectedly sold me the one he was wearing, which fit and was in good knick, for $7.

We started talking and he told me about his plans to move to Taiwan, to try life in a different country and that he was a couchsurfer. I’m now staying with Denis for a night, on my return for Yosemite, before flying home. There’s something about a shared love of travelling that increases the chances of random encounters turning into something cool staying with locals is more interesting that a hostel or hotel.

Talking to strangers

I’m moving at the moment, from Denmark, via London and San Francisco, to Slovenia. Not the most direct route and also means I’m carrying about 75% of the things I own with me. The downside is carrying 32kg on my back, the upside is always having my climbing and camping gear with me, which I probably wouldn’t have taken on the SF trip if I had the choice.

My bag at Camp 4, Yosemite

My pack, just arrived at Camp 4, Yosemite

I extended the week long ‘work’ trip by another week with the plan of exploring SF and the Bay Area. It wasn’t until one of my team mates mentioned Yosemite that I realised it was within reach and decided to spend my time there, unsure of bus times, weather conditions or where exactly I would sleep—I knew there were working lodges and campsites, but spent 20 mins trying to distill information from the Yosemite website to decide the best place for me to stay before giving up and deferring the decision to someone at the park who already had that info in their head. My bus driver turned out to be a veteran climber from South Africa who told me about the different routes as we drove through the park and suggested I stay at Camp 4, which I learned is synonymous with climbers. So the journey was smooth and by late afternoon I had pitched my tent in the middle of the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Despite it snowing towards the end of the week, weather conditions also turned out to be good and climbing is possible year round, so I set a mission to try and track down some climbers.

My tent

My little tent in the shadows bottom left

I spotted someone with a carabiner, and they told me how to get to some close by routes. There I met some climbers who weren’t really up for a third wheel, so I returned to the camp resigning myself to hiking for the rest of the day. At the camp parking lot I met Jacob, who was out climbing with his girlfriend and daughter, so I assumed there would be little chance of joining. But, Jacob offered a quick belay (to secure the rope while I did a climb) and I was ecstatic. We got on great, had a very enjoyable days climbing and chilled out back at the Mountain Lodge in the evening.

Climbing at Yosemite

Seconding Bone Heads in Yosemite

We parted company and the guys invited Lidiya and myself to come visit next time we are in the area, which I’m very excited about. I got one of those ‘I’m not sure when, but I know it will happen’ feelings. I returned the invitation, for where ever Lidiya and myself happen to be in the world. You can’t beat ending a day smiling and thinking that meetings like that are special and involve more than coincidence.

Connecting the dots

I watched the films Before Sunrise and Before Sunset back to back on the bus journey from Yosemite. If you haven’t seen the movies, they are two of my favourites which I’ve re-watched repeatedly and can’t recommend enough. There’s a line in the second one, Before Sunset, where Celine says that we tend to take connections with people for granted when we’re younger and then realise that they are rare as we get older. The optimist in me says that I will continue, relatively frequently, to connect with great people throughout my life, but the sentiment is a valuable reminder to appreciate and be grateful for them.

Those films, I watched around the same time as a few of friends. We related to, or just found fascinating, so much of the dialogue and discussed them a lot. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit, a couple of those friends, one who I practically grew up with. I’ve written before how, usually, I’m never home sick, and that I don’t really miss friends and family so much—with the exception of Lidiya, who I’m excited about seeing in the evening even if she’s only been out for the day. This time, pre-friend visit I was almost giddy excited, almost in disbelief, I realised I was more excited to see the guys and catch up, than explore SF. That was pretty interesting and cool. I thought about what the change was and the closest answer I’ve arrived at is a change in perspective. That, if I only catch up with these friends once or twice a year for a handful of days, then over the course of our lifetimes, that’s really not a lot of time.

So that makes this sense of gratitude twofold; to have met and shared and experienced so much with awesome people, and to have and appreciate the opportunities to spend time together.

Outro

So arguably that stuff is ‘doing’, not just thinking, but I’ve separated it from other doing stuff e.g. food experiences, visiting startup offices, running, climbing routes, hiking, camping in the cold, being afraid of bears, morning/daily ritual or other exercise and diet/nutrition stuff…. Stuff I think cool or significant, and could talk about, but more in a ‘describing the thing’, as opposed to ‘describing the emotion or experience’ from that thing. Or maybe there’s no difference at all and doing always involves emotion and experience, just at different depths. Or, another maybe, the events I decided to separate and write about made me think.

Svanholm: Organics, Communal Living and decision-making for positive growth

Lidiya, Liam and myself made our way to Svanholm after several very interesting days at the Floating City in Copenhagen, with the amazing Signe as our host.

Lidiya and me playing on a Christiania bike at the Floating City, CopenhagenOur arrival at Svanholm was semi unannounced. We got in touch with the right people several months in advance, but closer to the date we couldn’t get a reply to confirm an arrival date. I was a little nervous on arrival, but five minutes after Rene greeted us, we were all ecstatic. We arrived to volunteer, or rather live as guest workers, for about a month. The conditions, or better, the quality of life for all members of Svanholm is really incredible. We had access to the largest kitchen I’ve stepped foot in, decked out in nothing but organic, and largely local produce. The accommodation was in very comfortable and beautifully placed in the south wing of the historical estate.

Svanholm's main buildingSvanholm's main buildingSvanholm is a an international collective, based in Denmark, sharing common ideals concerning ecology, income sharing, communal living, and self government. The 32 year strong community runs their own commercial organic farm, sowing grains, potatoes and veg of all kinds; agricultural produce is sold to supermarkets and used for the communities own nutritional needs. Livestock are organically kept also; milk is sold and the meat is used by the collective. Surprisingly for me there are only two vegetarians in the approximately 150 person large village. I was something of a wonder because I eat like a vegan. Most members like their meat and the manure the cattle provide is essential to the organic farming process.

An income sharing economy is in place which originally saw the income of all members going directly into the collective economy. All necessities were in turn provided. Less than ten years ago a reform took place and now the economy works on a 80:20 ratio; where 80% of each member’s income goes to the economy and 20% is received to do whatever you like with. Most members work in a professional capacity outside of the community, but internal jobs are created as well; several people are employed by the Building, Kitchen and Agricultural Groups, as well as in the Organic boutique, the kindergarten, in the main office and without doubt some other places I’m not aware of.

For electricity, two windmills are owned and operating, with excess energy being sold to the national grid. Several cars are shared successfully, managed by a booking system. A very new wood chip burner heats everything, the radiators and water. The wood chips are provided by the community’s sustainably managed and outstanding forests. When we arrived in mid October, the weather was still warm and Liam, Lidiya and myself were running or walking almost daily through the tall and powerful trees decked out in the height of autumn.

Svanholm's forestSvanholm's forestMeals are cooked in the evenings by the kitchen staff and the food is fantastic. And meals are shared in a great dining area, joining the equally great kitchen. These times are very important I feel, it’s the time when the community is most visible. Everyone lining up to fill their plates, sitting together, talking, kids running around tables, or in the play room on the upper floor; it’s very much a large family. The dishes are taken in turn with all members of the community involved and on the weekends, kitchen staff get a rest and again community members take up their share. I stayed for two months in total and after the first, guest workers are asked to take up these responsibilities also, which is more of a treat than a chore. I always felt grateful for having food cooked every night, dishes washed… So when the one or two nights a month of your service arrive, it’s a nice feeling to put in your bit.

The main answer I received when I asked why people moved here was to bring up kids; it really is a paradise for them. A kindergarten operates within the village which is public and the surroundings are dotted with the most interesting and beautiful playground pieces; another community company creates what you could call very interesting, alternative and natural playgrounds.

Babies sleeping outside at the kindergartenMemories

My fondest memories from my time here include, cycling north to a local castle with one of our fellow guest workers and friend, Nis. I distinctly remember feeling the winds force increase as we descended our first gentle hill; the sound of speed and ease of movement increased and I seemed to involuntarily fill my lungs as full as can be. I exhaled slowly, felt a warm and relaxing current flow around my body and saw flicks of Liam’s, my brother’s, hair curling out and back giving way to the wind; Lidiya cycling in front of him; Nis in front of her. With the sense of relaxation came a thought; Here we are and this is what we’re doing and I’m quite sure this is how we’re feeling.

Tom impressed me much, a very young spirited man, who continues to lead an incredible life. He is part retired, but still drives a bus, and changes the world everyday. He visited us for an evening to show us photos of the most incredible houses he built in Sweden and we spent another in his little cabin in the woods, fire stoked and stories flowing.

Jorn, showed me how to work with leather, supplying his tools and skill. Toke and I had some great conversations which have given me so much rich material to grow with, some of it incredibly timely as to consider if it was coincidence or not… If you ask…

A leather sheath I madeI remember our dance evening. Carina, another part-time guest worker, anthropological student and very gentle person, her boyfriend Christian, a fantastic and attentive teacher and person, the super aforementioned Nis, along with Lidiya and myself shared our little combined dance knowledge and waltzed, tangoed and Irish danced an evening away; after the evening went we invited the night and it accepted. 🙂

Tats, a Japanese guest worker with a passion for welfare and dream of building an ecological cafe with the aim of supporting people with special needs, worked enjoyably with Lidiya in exchanging words and sentences from Japanese and Bulgarian, a beautiful cultural mix.

I wrote on my Bulgarian blog last year about self-questioning the fact that I seemed to not miss people so much. I happily concluded that I simply long for the next time we’ll be together and don’t like pulling on the past, but honestly I missed my brother when he left. We are running a marathon in April, the Connemarathon, and our training very enjoyably started here. We travelled together for five weeks and did some incredible things. He now publishes his work at liamohanlon.wordpress.com. ( I haven’t asked, but I don’t think he’ll mind me putting up one of his pieces 🙂 )

Pencil and pen drawing of a flower, by Liam O'HanlonI could spend several full and energetic lifetimes with Lidiya and she would teach me something new every day and keep my spirit warm. The memories are uncountable and to explain any further right now would take from the whole brilliance. 🙂

Martina, Signe and Lidiyasigne, Martina and MeWhat did I learn?

A wealth of things, but I will give my greatest impression from the collective; the decision-making process; simple, beautiful, encouraging creativity, solidarity, cooperation, construction, the building of paths to reach a shared vision where all are happy.

In short, monthly meetings are held, decisions made everything involving the collective are based on complete consensus. Everyone must agree for things to move forward. In similar democratic systems, this means painfully slow change, where one blocks the road, rejects a decision, and holds up everyone else. Here is you say ‘no’, it is necessary that you work towards a solution that sees everyone agreed. That might mean the decision is deferred from the meeting and a smaller group is formed between those putting forward the idea and those objecting; together you must find a shared solution.

This is simple, but there is hidden magic here. Firstly a divide isn’t created. If you have a majority consensus, you automatically create a two way split after a decision, pushing people apart; some get their way and others have to live with it because they are the minority (I’m aware some definitions of majority consensus democracy include that decisions be made with respect to minorities). So a complete consensus is a beautiful idea on paper. But in some cases, as I’ve been told is the case in the anarchist community, Christiania, in the centre of Copenhagen, one person can simply object and that’s that, the proposal is dead. It’s key that ‘no’ does not mean ‘no’, it means ‘no, but I am willing to work on something that will work’.

There are oceans and planets of distance between knowing what you don’t want, and saying no, ‘I don’t like, take it away’, and knowing what you want, or at least making an effort to uncover what you want through positively intended and creative efforts and collaboration. I asked whether those who have lived and experienced the model think it could be applied to governments and the answer was an outright no. There are limits within which this self-government effectively operates, and here is within those limits. I don’t think there it is by chance that the population of Svanholm hovers just under Malcom Gladwell‘s magic community number of 150.

The Great Oak, the heart of SvanholmI have to finish because I still page a list of notes I will continue to get caught up and we all have lives to get on with. 🙂

I had a very strong feeling that it was important for me to come here, that what I would learn would be incredibly enjoyable and support me for the rest of my life. And I’m happy to say I was very right. I recommend to anyone to come and experience Svanholm.

Svaholm's forestSvanholm main buildingSvanholm's forest

Amazing iciclesSvanholm in winterSvanholm in winter