Ljubljana (plus Postojna) – a real gem in South Central Europe

The Slovenian National Flag at the castle.

The Slovenian National Flag on top of the Ljubljana castle.

Travel time again!

This time, the Woodpecker clan headed out to the South East of Europe, a region a bit less well-known to us so far – and yet so beautiful.

Final destination was some beach time in Croatia (see some of the next posts on how nature did not agree to our plans on that).

But as a first stop we checked in to the capital of Slovenia:

Ljubljana, a real gem far beyond Woodpecker’s expectations!

Actually, the city is a great spot to relax, simply walk around and soak up the somehow rural and laid back feeling of this small but beautiful and diversified country.

In fact, I have never seen a capital anywhere on the world so laid back and with that kind of “village” flair like Ljubljana, and belief me, I have seen quite a lot of capitals so far. (only thing I saw as calm as Ljubljana was maybe Canberra in Australia, but this was more calm in a boring way to me, whereas Ljubljana comes in calm in a “enjoy a relaxed life” way).

Ljubljana sits in a beautiful surrounding at some small rivers between high peeks of the Alps on the horizon, it has about 250.000 inhabitants, and even the most lazy of you can reach everything by foot. Plus a funicular railway up to the castle hill if you are really that lame or have kids who enjoy riding vehicles as much at junior Woodpecker.

The most beautiful area is however the promenades and places around the river Ljubljanica with plenty of cafes and chill out places in the shade.

A great place for around three days. Not much more perhaps, but these three days you will enjoy utterly!

See yourself (hover for captions, click to enlarge):

Next stop took us to the absolute amazing

Caves of Postojna.

Simply amazing!
And benchmark setting for Woodpecker in terms of caves.

The caves are so huge that you would be able to put a dwarf city like the “Mines of Moria” there. A real Lord of the Rings setting, that is.

Actually, they even have a bridge like the “Durins bridge” in Moria that is crossed by the fellowship in “Lord of the Rings” (see pic below).

And the cave is so huge that you enter it by a roller coaster like train. It is running at high-speed through the first 3 km of the cave system. And it is VERY narrow. Stick out your head and you’d be beheaded for sure. Creepy!

See yourself (hover for captives, click to enlarge):

Next stop on this trip was close to Zadar, Croatia.

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Take Time for your Passion and Happiness will follow!

Lake Starnberg with thunderstorm. Woodpeckers sailing seasons opening weekend - two days weather like this, but FUN it was!

Lake Starnberg with thunderstorm approaching. The sailing season opening weekend – two days sh** weather like this, but great FUN it was!

Hurray!

I was not very ambitious on new year resolutions, but one of them:

Signing up for a sailing club

is accomplished.
Woodpecker had his first two days of Sailing at Lake Starnberg this weekend.

And what a great weekend we had!
It was quite bad weather, cold, stormy, rainy and with some pretty heavy wind gusts in-between. Of the 15 boats we went out with, three(!) overturned, leaving 7 people quite soaked to the showers. One mast broke and a shroud was ripped apart in a wind gust (a very rare event). And Woodpeckers boat was rammed twice(!) by the same beginner (…what did I do him that he was chasing us so hard?!?), leaving two quite unattractive dents in the wooden port side deck. We all were shivering and exhausted by the end of the days, but almost everybody with that frozen smile in the face, saying: “When do we go out again?”.

So, it was FUN!
(…and boy am I glad that I don’t own the poor boats)

But wait a second:

Sailing? Club? Starnberg?

Woodpecker, are you stupid? Did you leave the road of frugal living? Sailing is a posh and expensive sport, isn’t it? For the rich, the spenders and others who don’t know how to get rid of their money.
And Lake Starnberg! – the most expensive area around Munich, full of millionaires and other price-insensitive folk.
That doesn’t sound like a good treat to your budget, does it?

Well, interesting enough, as most times in life, there is a way to combine fun and cost saving:

In this case, I found out about the University sailing club, and an option to sign up as an Alumni with them!

Total cost per sailing day: 12 EUR!
That is for a day from 9-5. After theory, briefing, preparing the boats, lunch break, debriefing and securing the boats in the evening, this leaves about 5 hours of sailing, or 2,50 EUR per hour on the water.
This is incredibly cheap. For comparison: At lake Ammersee you pay about 30 EUR per hour for a rental small boat – and those are scrappy and old barges compared to the nice and well-kept wooden boats of the university.

Plus the University sailing club comes with a beautiful and centrally located own lake site, an own harbour, several different types of boats, most in a great condition, plus schooling rooms, a small dockyard, two motor boats for support and rescue, showers, changing rooms, food area and a variety of trainings and courses for free!

And the best of all:
It comes with a load of young, motivated and non-money focussed people sailing together with Woodpecker!  This really is important, as it was a major donwturner to me that many commercial sailing club around Munich seem to attract mostly elderly and money-soaked posh people (this does not at all hold for sailors in general, but unfortunately often for clubs around Munich).

Obviously the University club comes with different rules – all of them very much appreciated by a downshifter, but not so much maybe for a career-driven consume-optimizer:

  1. You have to sign up well in advance for courses and commit to dates. You can only do whole weekends, two times 9-5.
    No problem for a downshifter with enough of time available. Sure a problem for the career-optimizer where work always goes first and weekends are desperately needed to sleep or do household stuff.
  2. You can do spontaneous half-days as well, but only on Wednesdays starting from 16:00.
    See bullet above.
  3. You don’t own your own boat but share the club boats.
    Well, perfect. In most cases sharing is much more economic, plus see above what can happen to the poor things! You want to be on your own pulling overturned boats out, tossing them to land, repairing damage and so on? Me not.
  4. You have to prepare and store away everything by yourself, including sail drying, little repair works etc.
    Fantastic! Part of the fun is to really work with the material instead of being a simple consumer of services.
  5. You are encouraged to help out at frequent occasions. Be it helping the carpenter in the dockyard for a day, instructing beginners, later becoming an official trainer or preparing a party, whatever. In return you are allowed to rent out boats outside the courses later on.
    Man! That’s great! Excactly the model I appreciate. People volunteer on different things they are good at to the benefit of everybody. And you are in-between the action and the community. Much better than dedicating the woodwork to an employee and only sit dully on your deck having champagne, isn’t it?

So let’s see where this is going, but I am quite positive this was one of the best decisions so far this year.

I think in general that’s a good receipt:

Go out, think about your passion, find a way to do it the most cost-efficient way, take time away from work and devote it to your passion. And sooner or later, happiness will follow!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Vienna – a top Downshifter’s venue!

The town hall with Austrias National Colors

The town hall with Austrias National Colors

After the more general post on the fun of a father & son trip, I want to follow-up with some thought (and pics!) about the fantastic city of Vienna, that I also had the pleasure to live in for some time as a student.

In my eyes one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and quite first place worldwide when it comes to quality of life (of all cities Woodpecker has seen at last, but as exploring cities is one of my hobbies since 20 years, I know a few). Even on top of Munich that is! Well, slightly on top at least… 😉

So, what makes Vienna so special?

Well, if you are into bustling, booming and glittering cities, devoted to commerce, consumerism, growth and cheap superficiality, then Vienna would be nothing for you.

In that case, you should go to Dubai, Hong-Kong, Singapore and what not. All glittering steel and glass. Looking impressive for today. And maybe for tomorrow. But in their core, these pure “business” or “money” cities seem unattractive and boring (at least to me), and I dare not imagine how they will look like in let’s say 100 years.
Nobody seriously would think that this glittering towers will be sexy a 100 years from now, would you? So basically, all this “modern” boom cities are reflecting todays consumerist attitude: Looks nice, brings fun on the short-term and then to be littered and exchanged for the next one.

Then look at Vienna in contrast:

A city like an open air museum, built for centuries. Displaying self-confidence, power (albeit most of that is obviously gone), massive solidity, a sense for beauty instead of pure efficiency, and a generosity and openness in city layout sprinkling with large green avenues and tons of beautiful parks that would make every Asian Boomtown inhabitant feel like living in Garden Eden.

Impressive and stylish historical buildings are actually so plentiful, that back in the time Woodpecker studied in Vienna for some time, ordinary student parties took place in palaces that would be reserved for state receptions in Munich or Berlin. That is with red carpets on the floors (mostly coated with plastic covers though), huge historic pictures in golden frames at the walls, marble stairways and crystal candle holders on the ceiling. And in-between the student music of that time, bottled beer and teen spirit. Fantastic!

And all of that combined with a relaxed, friendly and slow-moving atmosphere.
In fact, back then locals were quite proud of a study comparing the average walking speed in different European cities. First (most hectic) was London, last (most slow) was – of course! – Vienna. And people were proud for it! Compare to Germany, were a result like that would have caused another outcry: “Oh My God! We are not first! What went wrong?! We have to improve immediately or will all go under!”

The whole city of Vienna actually is un-hectic. I think one reason is that Vienna in fact has fewer inhabitants today than in its greatest time, around 1910. Thus the city is laid out for more people than there are today, whereas most cities in the world were laid out for much fewer people a hundred years ago and are now totally overcrowded.

Plus the city enjoys a beautiful surrounding, with its borders giving way to rolling hills with vineyards, with lovely winegardens on the foot of them and splendid walkways on top.

And then the Vienna mentality. Not unmodern, but not this rootless kind of hectic and homeless modernity, that other cities and their inhabitants display. Not that capitalistic and career driven either, maybe a bit more turned to the good old past. But in a quite sympathetic and un-pretentious way.
At least it seems to me that way, perhaps a local would want to comment?!

All in all very laid back, a downshifter’s dream city and a must see for everyone around in Europe.

Let’s have a look at some pictures (hover for Subtitle, click to enlarge):

And now a Special on a new discovery I made this time. As said, Woodpecker spent quite some time in that lovely city, but I have never been to the Natural History Museum before!

A lovely place that instantly makes you feel being warped back 100 years.
Please, dear Museum Directors, never let them talk you into getting more modern or adapting to todays taste!!!
(hover for Subtitle, click to enlarge)

OK, that’s it for the moment.
I could add tons more of pictures and of enthusiasm, but best go out and see yourself!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

The joy of a Father&Son trip: Vienna

The Vienna Giant Wheel - teaser for big little Woodpecker

The Vienna Giant Wheel – teaser for big little Woodpecker

Since a long time I am thinking to write a post about children and happiness. But never found the right angle to do so until now.

Because if you simply look at the statistics, they will tell you that after an initial boost, happiness and having kids is not really correlated.

Thats good news out there for people without kids: You can still be and stay happy!

But why is it then, that for Woodpecker myself having kids was an enormous life changer, and all to the better despite all that diapers, costs, sleepless nights, etc.?

I’ll put up the following theory (happy for any comments):

If you get kids and then want to continue an un-downshifted life devoted to work like you had it before without kids (as many people seem to do), then your happiness probably will stay flat.
Reason is that any happiness gains from having the kids (coming via the affection, your hormones, the new angle you’ll see the world from, a boost in optimism about the future, the sheer fun you can have with them etc.) will be counter-balanced by negative effects like having much less free cash-flow to consume plus having much less free time for other activities, if both partners are stupid enough to continue working full-time.
That’s a sad situation, but one that I can frequently observe among friends and colleagues. Many people do not really set the stage for enjoying the gift of kids to its full extend.

In contrast let’s look at a situation where you already are committed to downshifting, i.e. money and consumption does not play that much a role for your life satisfaction. And you work as little as possible and have no TV thus time is an ample resource to you (maybe that ample that you actually are one of the few happy people today that still know the feeling of boredom 😉 ).
Then kids will bring a wonderful boost of happiness to your life, so please:

Go ahead when thinking about having kids! Don’t wait for the “perfect point in time”, just do it now, before it is too late!

Hurray to father and son

Last week Woodpecker had some days off plus one of Germany’s luckily numerous public holidays (The day of work 😉 Hurray!)
Unfortunately, Mrs Woodpecker was not able to take this days off, so Woodpecker and Big Little Woodpecker (the three-year old boy) decided to do a mens-trip to my favorite city in the world, Vienna.

Vienna is the city I myself had my first father and son trip to ages ago, when we quite frugally cycled down the Danube from Passau to Vienna (yes, Woodpecker’s father was a good example in downshifting and having time for his kids as well!).

Vienna is the city that Woodpecker went to on his first holiday without parents and a friend only, when he was 16.

And it was the city Woodpecker had a simply wonderful time spending a year abroad during studies.

Now it would be the first city for big little Woodpecker to visit with his father alone (Ha! Dear old dad, outperformed you on that one 😉 ).

I’ll write about the uncountable beauties of Vienna in this separate photo-post, but here I’ll focus on promoting trips with your boy/girl as early as you can.

Fun and Fun costs

Well, it was a men’s trip, so we did take our comforts (by Woodpecker’s standards at least).

We spent the tremendous and unfrugal amount of I think 50 EUR at Viennas fun park, the Prater, riding the ancient giant wheel, a mini train, a horse (well, actually the little one did, and talked about it for days), auto-scooter, carousels etc.  while we were enjoying tons of totally unacceptable and unhealthy food besides. As some of you might know, it is not easy for a downshifter to spend money so recklessly (for most of the population it would have been a perfectly normal costly visit to a fun park though).

But wise Mrs. Woodpecker instructed me please not to look at money on this trip to make it something special. So we didn’t.  🙂

Next we had lots of more unhealthy food by enjoying at every occasion (and there are plenty!) the most of Vienna’s fantastic sweet bakery and confectionary products. We visited some Museums, see next post. Despite being three years old only, big little Woodpecker has more stamina in Museums than old Woodpecker, and he loves them.

The Vienna Tramway. Turned out to be THE highlight for the boy.

The Vienna Tramway. Turned out to be THE highlight for the boy.

And – very important – we made very ample use of our four day public transport ticket (only 16 EUR), riding the beautifully old-fashioned Vienna tram-ways up and down all of the city for sheer fun.
And, boy, that was fun!
Big little Woodpecker in the end was even more pleased by that simple and cheap pleasure than by riding the horses and the giant wheel at the Prater! At least 5 times a day he saw a tram somewhere and said: “And now, we have to ride that one, dad!” And so we did!

Two additional observations:

Feeling the time

As described here, Woodpecker’s sole new year’s resolution for 2013 was to experiment with time and e.g. living without a clock for a prolonged time.
We did exactly that the whole four days, except when we had to reach the trains to and from Munich.

We did not purposely look at the watch at all.

We simply slept until we woke up, got to breakfast (luckily the body clock is clever enough to wake you in time for that), start the day.
Looked for food when we felt like.
Did a break when the mood was for it.
Went back when any of us started to feel tired and slept when our bodies told us now it is time to stop to daff around in the chamber and to close the eyes. One day bed-time must have been after 11 p.m, after we had to make a final tram drive plus an ice cream in the dark. This is way later than the boys usual time, but then the next day he decided to do an additional nap around midday – a good opportunity for Woodpecker to have a coffee and read the newspaper.

What a fantastic experience! Simply drift through the sunny days and see where they are taking you!

Highly recommended with or without kids.

The plus with kids is, that this is actually their natural state of living, and I firmly belief you will see how relaxed even the most stressed and nervous kid would become, once you take the pressure of the clock from them. A very rewarding experience.

Getting into Contact

On top, doing it the slow way does get you into contact with all kinds of people, mainly locals. This is actually boosted if you are travelling as a father with a young kid, as fathers with young kids unfortunately still is a seldom thing in todays crazy world of work.

All the disadvantages that you still will encounter at your workplace if you seriously take out time for your family as a father are paid back by friendliness of people towards you if you move around with your small kid in public.

Example? Two times (!) tram-drivers got up from their steering wheel and helped me carry out the buggy without me asking them to do so.
Ten or twenty times I was approached by total strangers for a chat.
At least five times or so I got into contact with other parents as my and other kids teamed up for playing in one of the wonderful city parks.
At least five times the boy benefited from some sweets some people insisted on sharing with him.
All of the three breakfasts and one train ride we spent in nice conversations with other travellers.

Thus: Kids boost your social contact. Especially when travelling with one parent only.

Base Costs

As said, costs on fun, entrances and food were ridiculously high by Woodpecker’s standards.

But, guess what? Thats all no problem, as our “base costs” were really low, making the overall trip frugal again, despite a very loose brake on daily spending.

Of course we took the train to Vienna, relaxed, much more fun and contact, and cheaper than the car. With the regular special “Europe” offer, it was 90 EUR in total, kids being free.

Being there we stayed in a Youth Hostel for only 20(!) EUR per night, including breakfast. Kids again free. Absolute central location (send me a mail for details), two-bed rooms with own shower. Well, very basic but quiet and clean, what more do you need?

Thus a quick overview on total cost:

Woodpecker’s trip Average family trip Extreme frugal option
Transport for 2 Train, 90 EUR Car, 700km+parking, 150 EUR Car-Sharing, 50 EUR
Accommodation 3nights Youth Hostel,60 EUR 3nights Normal Hotel, 300 EUR As Woodpecker, 60 EUR
Necessary Food Eating out, plus some take away and picnics,70 EUR Eating out only,160 EUR Only picnics, 50 EUR
Fun Food Ice cream, pastry (a must!), frequent coffees (a must too in Vienna),50 EUR 50 EUR 0 EUR
Entrance Fee Museums, Fun Park,50 EUR 50 EUR Museums 20 EUR
Total, 2 persons, 4 days 320 EUR 710 EUR 180 EUR

Not too bad, isn’t it? 320 EUR for four days fun for two. Still fine with me, given we were so relaxed on costs. And still much closer to the extreme frugal option than to the average family trip.

The secret is that accommodation, transport and Eating out make most of the difference. Keep those in check and the luxury of daily spending will be ok.

Summary

All in all one of the best trips I had in my life, and of a total different nature than anything before.

A trip alone with your kid will force you to concentrate fully on him/her. If you do that and are willing to forget the clock, this will be a very relaxing experience.

It will make you see the world from a different angle.

It will be full of social contact.

It can still be frugal while having a lot of fun.

Go ahead and do it! (Or get a kid first 😉 )

Cheers,

Woodpecker