Tuesday, 26 July 2016

C & H

Calvin and Hobbes

It's Not Just About Ljubljana Though

We're big fans of this delightful country and are looking forward to returning next year to Izola via Ljubljana.  If you get the chance to visit, do so.

As capital of one of Europe’s most forested countries, it’s perhaps fitting that Ljubljana is this year’s European Green Capital. A city of just 300,000 inhabitants, Ljubljana has often been ahead of the game when it comes to green initiatives – from the introduction of a sophisticated waste management system (Ljubljana was the first EU capital to adopt a zero-waste programme) and the creation of new green spaces from degraded urban land, to electrically powered golf buggy-type vehicles (kavalirs) offering free transport around the old town, which is otherwise closed to traffic. Official Green Capital celebrations kicked off last month, but there are numerous events taking place throughout the year.

The city oozes charm, a delightful confection of Baroque and Habsburg inspired-architecture, richly painted churches, abundant greenery and engaging riverside cafes. Moreover, its location, at the heart of this tiny, but astonishingly diverse country, means it’s no more than a couple of hours away from anywhere, be it the imperious limestone mountains and glacial lakes of the Julian Alps, the magical subterranean world of the Karst region, historic coastal towns or the lush vineyards in its hinterland.


FacebookTwitterPinterest Eating alfresco in the old town. Photograph: Jaka Birsa

The old town 

Ljubljana’s most obvious point of reference is its gorgeous old town, buffered on one side by a neat castle-topped hill and on the other by the languorous Ljubljanica river, its willow-fringed banks sprinkled with easy-going restaurants, cafes and bars. It is an attractive lattice of cobbled streets, arched alleys and fine cultural monuments, many of which were bequeathed to the city by Jože Plečnik (1872–1957), Slovenia’s most celebrated urban planner. From the brilliantly conceived and much-photographed Triple bridge (he contributed the two angled footbridges in the 1930s), to the graceful market colonnade, the city is run through with his unique designs. Two-hour Plečnik tours can be arranged through the tourist office (€50 for a group of up to five people or €60 for up to 10), which also operates other excellent themed tours.

Otherwise, the best and most original of the city’s many guiding companies isCurioCity, whose tours include From Ljubljana With Love, which takes visitors to local social enterprises including restaurants and shops, and Lazy Sundays, which includes a park stroll, brunch, coffee and beer pitstops, but otherwise does not very much at all – in the best possible sense.

Ljubljana Castle 

FacebookTwitterPinterest Sunset seen from Ljubljana Castle. Photograph: Guy Edwardes/Getty Images

Lording it over the huddle of orange- and red-roofed townhouses below is the 16th-century Ljubljana Castle, whose grounds have been given over to a cluster of first-rate museums: Virtual Castle, a clever 3D multi-visual illustrating the castle’s development; an engrossing exhibition on Slovene history, with particularly illuminating sections on socialist Yugoslavia through to the Ten-Day War (or Slovenian Independence War) in 1991; and the sweet Museum of Puppetry, a long-cherished art form in Slovenia. The stocky Clock Tower, meanwhile, affords peerless views of the old town, and, in the distance, the serrated, snow-dusted Kamniške Alps. If you don’t fancy the stiff 15-minute climb to the top, a funicular goes right into the heart of the complex.
• Tickets €7.50 adult, €5.20 child, €19 family, or €10/€7/€26 including the funicular, ljubljanskigrad.si

Krakovo and Trnovo

Ljubljana is replete with genteel, village-like suburbs, but few are as appealing as Krakovo, within a 10-minute walk of the old town. An erstwhile haunt of Slovenian artists, today Krakovo is characterised by thickset medieval houses and neatly tended allotments, the produce of which sustains the huge open-air market on Vodnikov trg (Vodnik Square) as well as numerous city restaurants. In neighbouring Trnovo, there are more examples of Plečnik’s work, notably Trnovo bridge, on one side of which is the architect’s surprisingly modest house (€6, guided tours only, on the hour, 10am-5pm, mgml.si). Most of it has been left as it was, notably his studio, complete with equipment, books and plans.


FacebookTwitterPinterest Šmarna Gora, near Ljubljana. Photograph: Alamy

On Sunday mornings, the banks of the Ljubljanica are taken over by a terrific little flea market, selling everything from antique sofas and vintage stamps to ex-Yugoslav military uniforms. While outdoorsy types love nothing better than hiking up 669m Šmarna Gora, five miles north of the city. At the top, you can grab a warming cup of tea.

Eipprova ulica

This convivial canalside street is Ljubljana’s main entertainment hub and boasts a colourful ensemble of cafes and pubs.


FacebookTwitterPinterest Odprta kuhna (Open Kitchen) Photograph: Jaka Birsa

Odprta kuhna

Spring sees the reopening of the city’s ever-popular Odprto Kuhna (Open Kitchen) on picturesque Pogačarjev trg, which is bound on one side by Plečnik’s elegant market colonnade, itself a great spot to pick up picnicky snacks. Every Friday, hungry punters flock to this buzzing open-air food market, where some of the city’s very best establishments (including Strelec and Gostilna AS) serve sample (and cheap) portions of their restaurant dishes. There are also stalls selling many cuisines that you might not otherwise find in the city. A phalanx of beer and wine stalls adds to the convivial atmosphere.
• Pogačarjev trg, odprtakuhna.si

Gostilna Dela


The idea behind this warm, bustling little daytime restaurant is to help those from disadvantaged groups assimilate into mainstream society, in a similar vein to Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. The daily menu is short, typically consisting of one soup, one meat (roast veal with carrot mash, say) and one fish dish (maybe sea bream on barley risotto), and a dessert, but that matters little when the food tastes this good; each dish goes for around €7 a pop.
• Poljanska cesta 7, +386 599 25446, on Facebook



Dining out in Ljubljana doesn’t get much more exciting than at this refined establishment, secreted in the castle’s Archer’s Tower. Climbing the elegant spiral staircase, you emerge into an artfully designed room whose rust-red stone walls are painted with scenes of medieval battle. Chef Igor Jagodic – a rising star in Slovenian gastronomic circles – conjures up beautifully crafted and technically accomplished dishes such as veal tongue with smoked eel and horseradish mayonnaise, and buckwheat croquettes stuffed with duck liver, black walnuts and fir tree foam. The space is perfect for assignations of a romantic nature.
• €30 for a three-course lunch, Grajska planota 1, +386 31 687 648, kaval-group.si

Pri Škofu 

A comely neighbourhood restaurant in Krakovo, Pri Škofu has been quietly going about its business for years. Fabulous home-style cooking is the order of the day, most of which is prepared using hand-picked produce from the nearby allotments. Visitors choose from whatever’s chalked up on the board, which might be pork tenderloin in a fig sauce, or a black truffle risotto (€10), then take a seat inside the unadorned but snug interior, or outside on the sunny pavement terrace.
• Rečna ulica 17, +386 1 426 4508, on Facebook


FacebookTwitterPinterest Dvorni Bar Photograph: peterirman.com

Dvorni Bar
Slovenian wine is little known outside the country but it is outstanding, and this seasoned wine bar down by the Ljubljanica is just the place to begin your education. Start with a drop of Rebula, a sumptuous dry white from the picturesque Goriška Brda region abutting the Italian border, before moving on to a glass of full-bodied, blood-red Teran from the Karst – best sampled with a plate or two of tapas (€3-€5 a glass). When you’re done here, pop next door to the excellent shop and stock up on a bottle or two to impress friends back home.
• Dvorni trg 2, dvornibar.net

Metelkova City

FacebookTwitterPinterest Photograph: Alamy

Once a Yugoslav army barracks, Metelkova was squatted in 1993 and is now a rag-bag of alternative venues in the centre of Ljubljana. The autonomous social centre and legendary night spot features all kinds of live music: everything from jazz and rockabilly to dub and techno.



The good folk at Ziferblat do things somewhat differently. Put simply, the longer you stay, the more you pay (€0.5c per minute, or €3 per hour; a daily ticket is capped at €7), for which you get unlimited beverages (alas no alcohol) and cookies, and general all-round use of the facilities, including the kitchen. Indeed, guests are encouraged to use the cafe’s not inconsiderable space – amply filled with recycled and vintage furnishings – as they wish, be it to read, paint or play an instrument. There’s even a hammock if you fancy a kip.
• Vegova ulica 8, ljubljana.ziferblat.net

Union Pivnica 


Occupying the cavernous former worker’s canteen of the Union brewery (one of Slovenia’s two major breweries; the other is Laško), this rocking venue showcases the very best in both warehouse chic design and Slovenian beer. On offer is a prodigious array of pale, dark and amber ales, including numerous unfiltered versions (from €2.50-€4). Naturally, the beer has to be soaked up somehow, so grab a plate of grilled beer sausages while you’re at it.
• Celovška cesta 22, pivnica-union.si

Café Čokl 

Named after its personable owner, this cosy, happily careworn cafe is the place for caffeine connoisseurs. Fairtrade coffee beans are sourced from single estates, which are then roasted by Tine himself, with each one chalked up on a board indicating the date the beans were picked and when they were roasted. On a warm day, park yourself outside on the sociable little terrace and treat yourself to a cup of deliciously refreshing cold-pressed coffee.
• Krekov trg 8, cafecokl.si


FacebookTwitterPinterest Cubo hotel is the slickest in town Photograph: David Ralita


The city’s slickest hotel is housed in a stunningly refurbished, white 1930s residential building, and the 26 bedrooms are decorated in discerning shades of grey, complete with all mod cons and abstract art on the walls, alongside glassed-in bathrooms featuring enormous walk-in showers and L’Occitane toiletries. Around half the rooms have unencumbered views of the castle. It’s impeccably serviced too.
• Doubles from €115 B&B, +386 1 425 6000, hotelcubo.com



B&Bs are few and far between in Ljubljana, so this is a most welcome find. The understated rooms come in two categories: those in the main building boast high ceilings with panelled walls and waxed wooden floors; another six, more contemporary rooms are just across the way. Breakfast is taken in the quaint in-house cafe – worth a visit even if you’re not staying here – or on the rooftop terrace in warmer weather.
• Doubles from €95, +386 1 433 8233, slamic.si

In a sleepy little corner of the old town, this exquisite, family-run hotel – a fine conversion of a bourgeois townhouse – conceals 10 rooms of considerable charm and style: parquet flooring, polished teak furnishings including fabulously chunky bedsteads, and brass-fitted taps and showers alongside some thoughtful touches like 1930s-style telephones and side-lamps, and framed watercolours of old Ljubljana. The pocket-sized courtyard, with its trim lawn, is the perfect spot for a sundowner.
• Twins/doubles €115 B&B, +386 82 057 241, adorahotel.si

Tresor Hostel


It’s not often you get the chance to sleep in a bank, but this buzzy hostel gives you the opportunity to do just that. A stone’s throw from the Triple bridge, it is set around a high, central atrium, with spacious, spotlessly clean dorms – each sporting the name of a currency – sleeping between four and 12 people. Many of the bank’s original fixtures and fittings, such as the lockers, have been cleverly incorporated as design features, while the old vaults now function as a common area and kitchen. And there’s a pint-sized bar for a cheeky nightcap.
• Dorm beds from €13.30, breakfast from €2, Čopova 38, 386 1 200 9060, hostel-tresor.si


From Those That Did

With every decade comes a few products that go from obscurity to gift list must-haves—seemingly overnight. But what happens to the people who turn a novel idea into a household name? Here are eight cases.


During World War II, Richard T. James was a naval engineer stationed at a base in Philadelphia.According to legend, he knocked a torsion spring to the floor one day and watched it keep moving, and an idea for a toy was born.
In 1945, James manufactured 400 of what his wife Betty dubbed “the Slinky.” He sold all of them after giving an in-person demonstration at Gimbels department store in Philadelphia during the holiday season. Two years later, Slinkys had become a phenomenon. James moved production to a machine shop in Albany, paid for an advertising campaign, and by 1950 had racked up $1 billion in revenue (in today's dollars).
Then things got weird. The newly wealthy James went through a philandering phase. To repent, he gave away huge amounts of money to evangelical Christian groups, which became sort of an addiction. He continued to donate as the Slinky fell out of fashion and revenue stalled. In 1960, with no forewarning or explanation, he bought a one-way ticket to Bolivia, leaving his wife and six children. Betty James believed he joined a cult in a rural part of the country. She took over the Slinky business and turned it around, thanks in part to plastic and rainbow-colored variations that delighted children of the 1970s. Richard James spent the rest of his life in Bolivia; he died there in 1974.


Dean Hochman, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
In 1963, Edward Craven Walker, a British war veteran who ran a travel agency, came across an unusual egg timer in a pub. It was a glass cocktail shaker full of oil and water with a light bulb beneath. A chef could time the boiling of an egg by turning it over and watching the oil globules rise to the top, which also cast moving shadows around the room.
Inspired, Walker spent the next 10 years toiling in his backyard, searching for the perfect combination of oil, wax, and water within a halogen lamp to create what was marketed in the UK as the Astro Lamp and known colloquially in the U.S. as the Lava Lamp. The swirling mass of light and colorful globules beneath the bullet-shaped lamp became the ultimate room accessory for a groovier age. Walker’s company, Crestworth (now Mathmos), sold 7 million lamps a year by the late 1960s.
But Walker’s true passion was being an advocate for the nudist lifestyle and philosophy. Even before the Lava Lamp, he came to some renown producing “naturist” films, such as Eves on Skis(1958) and Traveling Light (1960), which featured nude underwater ballet. He founded the Bournemouth, a nudist spot in the coastal resort town of the same name, and District Outdoor Club, a club in Dorset.
Walker turned the company over to younger entrepreneurs during the Lava Lamp’s nostalgia-inspired revival in the late 1980s. He died in 2000 at the age of 82.


For his master’s project, San Francisco State University industrial design student Charles Hallwas tasked with creating something to improve human comfort. His first idea was a bean bag filled with gelatin and cornstarch. It weighed 300 pounds and was incredibly impractical.
His second idea was better, and well-timed for the Sexual Revolution. In 1968, Hall developed a “waterbed,” a bedframe filled with heated water. He patented it as “Liquid Support for Human Bodies.” Friends who stopped by his apartment/workshop in Haight-Ashbury dubbed the invention a “pleasure pit.” Hall approached some furniture-makers but was turned down, so he started his own manufacturing company, sold the beds via special order, and delivered themhimself around San Francisco. Soon, influential people were buying them, including the Smothers Brothers and members of Jefferson Airplane. Hugh Hefner even had one and covered it in Tasmanian possum fur.
But Hall didn’t become a bedding kingpin, even though, by the mid-1980s, one in every five beds sold in the U.S. was a waterbed. Soon after he started selling to rock stars, cheap knockoffs flooded the market. “We were selling a fairly expensive product when the real volume was in the head shops and counterculture,” Hall said. “It was very much youth oriented, but we weren't selling at youth prices.”
A peaceful man who enjoyed tinkering and the great outdoors, Hall ignored friends’ advice to hire a lawyer to sue the first wave of manufacturers. So none of the furniture companies who joined in the trend thought they owed its creator a dime, partially because the concept had been described before Hall’s patent (famously in Robert A. Heinlein’s classic 1961 sci-fi novel, Stranger in a Strange Land). The cheap beds were leaky and uncomfortable, hastening the end of the fad.
In the 1980s, Hall finally changed his mind and tried to get a cut of the profits made from knockoff waterbeds. In 1991, he won $4.8 million in a patent infringement case against one of the makers of higher-end waterbeds, Intex Plastics of Long Beach.
Meanwhile, Hall moved on to the outdoor recreation equipment market. A company he co-founded, Basic Designs, developed the Sun Shower, a solar-heated portable shower in a bag for campers. He also co-founded Advanced Elements, which develops paddleboards and kayaks, including an inflatable boat that can fit in a car trunk.
And, yes, he still sleeps on a waterbed—in fact there is one in each of the three homes he owns. 


More than a product, more than a fad, the Pet Rock stands as a practical synonym for a useless idea that makes its creator rich overnight through sheer cultural zeitgeist.
Gary Dahl, an advertising executive, came up with the idea in a bar in Las Gatos, California, listening to his buddies complain about “incontinent dogs, destructive cats, overly fecund gerbils, and vacations foiled because no one could babysit the bird,” in the words of one 2015 obituary for Dahl.
He decided to market a super low-maintenance “pet” as a novelty item. In 1975, he oversaw the production of a series of cardboard pet carrier cases (complete with air holes) that held a single smooth rock, gathered from a Mexican beach, on a bed of straw. It came with a training manual. (A sample: “[P]lace it on some old newspapers. The rock will know what the paper is for and will require no further instruction.”)
According to Paul Niemann's More Invention Mysteries: 52 Little-Known True Stories Behind Well-Known Inventions, newspapers and magazines couldn’t resist the zany story, and Dahl twice appeared on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. That year, he sold more than a million $3.95 Pet Rocks. He told People, “You might say we’ve packaged a sense of humor.”
The fad fizzled after a few months. Dahl tried for another gag hit: He created a Sand Breeding Kit, with “male” and “female” vials of sand. But soon, he retreated back into advertising, running Gary Dahl Creative Services. But don’t think the man who made a fortune selling rocks was just another stuffed shirt. He opened his own pub in Los Gatos called Carry Nation’s, after the temperance crusader, and won a bad fiction writing contest in 2000. (“The heather-encrusted Headlands, veiled in fog as thick as smoke in a crowded pub …” is how his entry began.)


The Rubik’s Cube was invented by just the kind of person you’d expect: Ernő Rubik was a professor of architecture at the Academy of Applied Arts and Design in Budapest who built geometric models as a hobby. One of these became the prototype for the Rubik’s Cube.
He passed it through Hungary’s patent process, and in 1977 the state trading company, Konsumex, began marketing Rubik’s Cubes. The classic cube consists of 26 small cubes, in rows of three, that rotate on a central axis. When the cube is twisted out of its original arrangement, the goal is to return it to its earlier state, with each colored side in alignment, moving through any number of the 43 quintillion possible configurations. The toy became a global sensation in the 1980s. By the middle of the decade, one fifth of the world’s populationhad played with one.
In the years following the Rubik’s Cube, Rubik opened a studio dedicated to puzzle games and developed several, including Rubik’s Snake, Rubik’s 360, and Rubik’s Magic. He also dabbled in computer games in the 1990s. Despite splattering his name on products, Rubik himself “shied away from the spotlight for 40 years,” according to a biography attached to a traveling exhibit of his work. In 2009, he was a Hungarian ambassador for the European Union’s Year of Creativity and Innovation events. In a profile for the occasion, he wrote that books were his main passion and that he still has homebody hobbies, naming his favorite pastime as “collecting succulents.”


In 1972, 26-year-old Mike Marshall of Oregon City, Oregon, was healing a wounded knee. For his rehab, he used a small sack he’d fill with small objects, such as rice and popcorn, kicking it back and forth to partners. Marshall dubbed the activity “hacking the sack.” His friend John Stalberger, who played baseball recreationally, saw the potential in the game for training the reflexes of athletes.
Kicking around a sack was not new in the 1970s. (In 2597 BCE, Chinese Emperor Hwang Ti had his soldiers kick a leather sack filled with hair to one another as physical training.) But Marshall and Stalberger were the first to apply for a U.S. patent for such an object. They called it Hacky Sack.
According to Josh Chetwynd’s book The Secret History of Balls (yes, that is the actual title), the two tried various fillings (rice, beans, plastic buttons) and skins (leather, pigskin, denim). A few years after Marshall died of a sudden heart attack, Stalberger received a patent. After some success hawking it independently, he sold the concept to the toy company Wham-O in 1983.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Hacky Sack was unavoidable in college quads, summer camps, and concert tailgates. According to one estimate in Chetwynd’s book, 250 million “foot bags”—both Hacky Sacks and generic competitors—have been sold.
Stalberger went on to live a pretty square life for a guy who popularized an item that’s ubiquitous in the parking lots of Phish concerts. Staying in Oregon City, he founded a construction company and worked as a business consultant and real estate agent while raising a family. He mostly avoided the events for hardcore Hacky Sack competitors, but he reemerged in 2009 to help organize the 29th annual U.S. Open Footbag Freestyle Championships in Vancouver, Washington.


If you had insomnia in the ’80s, the name Dennis Colonello might sound familiar. The Canadian chiropractor made a few cameos in the infomercials for his 1984 invention, a three-foot piece of blue thermoformed plastic with handles called the Abdominizer, which assisted in a curl-like exercise. The infomercials that blared across television screens during the late-night hours invited viewers to “rock, rock, rock [their] way to a firmer stomach!”—promising a tighter tummy for just $19.95, plus shipping and handling.
Colonello invented the device for the farmers he saw at his practice in a small town in Northern Ontario—people who needed to develop core strength without taxing their backs. It went on to sell 6 million units, some of which were used as sleds after users got bored of them.
Although the Abdominizer is no longer manufactured, Colonello rode the invention a long way and is no longer adjusting the vertebrae of dairy farmers. The website for his company, Peak Wellness, claims he “is well known throughout the industry as being the go-to guy for any celebrity in pain or discomfort,” and the practice has offices in the super-tony zip codes of Beverly Hills, California, and Greenwich, Connecticut. He has also worked with the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, Oakland Raiders, and the Canadian Olympic women’s basketball team.


Tim McCune, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stuart Anders was fooling around with steel ribbons in his father’s workshop in 1983 when he came up with an invention that would eventually become a staple accessory for teenage girls in the 1990s. About to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville with a bachelor of science and a certificate in education (if his LinkedIn profile is accurate), Anders went on to stints as an Army helicopter pilot, a high school shop teacher, and a fashion designer, but he never forgot his idea of a bracelet that stands straight until “slapped” against the wearer’s wrist. He even built a prototype.
In 1989, he met toy designer Philip Bart and showed him the bracelet. “I grabbed his hand and slapped it on his wrist,” Anders recalled. “His eyes got really big.” They partnered with Main Street Toys and introduced the “Slap Wrap” at the 1990 Toy Fair.
As soon as the Slap Wrap hit store shelves, countless knockoff bracelets joined it. Anders has estimated that he and his partners sold 6 million bracelets to the 20 or 30 million generic ones sold. And, like Hall’s, the reputation of Anders’ product was sullied by the inexpensive copycats. Kids suffered cuts when the metal ripped through the cheaper fabric, leading parents to become alarmed about the bracelets and school districts to ban them. Between that and a dispute with Main Street Toys that froze him out of royalties for several years, slap bracelets did not provide Anders the financial windfall one would expect for such a popular fad.
During and after the bracelet craze, Anders continued to design swim, beach, and workout wear for a company he owned, Southern Exposure Sportsware. In 1994, he founded Allied Industries, a design and manufacturing firm in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and is still the head of it.
In 2011, an elementary school in Florida gave students slap bracelets as a fundraising reward and discovered, after doling them out to the kids, the Chinese manufacturer had sent ones featuring drawings of nude women. Anders sent 200 of his brand-name Slap Wraps to the school and an encouraging note telling the kids, “Everyone has the ability to make new things that no one has ever seen before.”