Teden restavracij (restaurant week)

Teden restavracij (restaurant week) is a Slovenian culinary campaign, which promotes excellent Slovene cuisine, as in fancy gourmet restaurants. The participating restaurants allover Slovenia offer a special menu for the duration of the week, consisting of at least 3 courses for a fixed price, which is considerably lower than usual. That means it’s a great chance for us plebs to enjoy some much fancier food than we could usually afford and discover some new restaurants, but beware, they get you hooked on coming back at full price.

All restaurants that participate are invited to do so by the food critic Uroš Mencingar after he visits and reviews them. He seems to know what he’s about, because restaurant week is getting increasingly successful. The restaurants are supposed to be the best in Slovenia and range from fancy slow dining to more hearty, comfort food or exotic options, so there’s something for everyone.

Restaurant week runs twice per year for 10 days, even though it is called a week, and has been running for a few years now. In autumn 2019 there were 100 participating restaurants and the price for one meal was 19 eur, excluding drinks, but they offer an accompanying wine selection or additional courses if you want to go the extra mile. The menus are posted online in advance so you can pick and choose where to go and reservations are mandatory. You need to book a spot as soon as possible, because they usually fill up quite fast.

I’ve known about it for quite a while now, but I never got around to making a reservation until October 2019. My boyfriend and I tried out the Kult 316 restaurant, which is a fancy place run by the Higher school for hospitality and tourism in Ljubljana, where the students get to show off their work. We were more than satisfied. So much so, that we’re planning to come back and blow our budget during non-restaurant weeks as well. It turns out, that their regular menus are not actually eating-bread-and-water-for-a-month expensive, so this was a winning choice altogether, as we now know a new fancy and affordable place.

Here’s the menu photographed on the cover photo that I’ve tried to translate into English to give you a sense of the fanciness we got on our plates:

  • Choux dough pastry with curly sprouts pesto and purple carrots with plums, mustard, trout caviar and crunchy breadcrumbs
  • Cold almond soup with Indian cress oil and apples
  • Venison tartare with elderberry gel, pine tree mayonnaise, hazelnuts, penny bun mushroom foam and lettuce
  • Guinea fowl fillet and chicken mavželj, celery root with brown butter, quince, Brussels sprouts and meat sauce
  • Chestnut cream with white chocolate, chocolate crumble, meringue with mandarins, plum and black tea sorbet

You can see the food photos here, without the soup course, because I was too excited about the food to take that photo. 🙂

A bit about LARP

I’d recently started writing a blog post about our trip to Drachenfest, a German LARP festival, and I found myself facing the question of how to properly explain what LARP actually is. Since LARP is a relatively obscure fantasy thing, I decided to write a separate “what is LARP?” post here, to hopefully give you at least the basic idea of what kind of new geek weirdness I’m talking about now + it comes with pretty pictures of me dressed in various character costumes.

The acronym LARP stands for live-action-role-play, which essentially means that you transform into and play a character, usually in a fictional (fantasy) setting. It is somewhat similar to the tabletop game D&D (Dungeons & Dragons), where each person plays a character defined by a set of stats, which goes on missions or quests in a fantasy world guided by the DM, i.e. the narrator of the game. However, in D&D the players sit around the table and talk themselves through the many adventures their characters participate in, while in LARP the players actively become the characters and enact everything that happens to them during the game.

Orcses! I’m the small one on the right.

During LARP games or events, you dress up in the costume of your character and play as them, which is fully based on improvisation and reacting to the fictional setting and story that you find yourself in, which is why environment plays a huge role in LARP. It’s a bit hard to pretend to be a medieval lady, an elf or a vampire, if everyone around you is dressed in jeans or talking on their smart phones. That’s why LARP events are usually held in more private spaces, specially decorated to represent the fictional world that the characters are supposed to be in. It is also why all events require at least some basic costume standards, in order to facilitate immersion, i.e. really getting into the mindset of your character and into the game itself.

Similarly, since you have to act out whatever your character is up to, there is a general guideline to “play only what you can show”, which does not relate only to your actual abilities and how you look (i.e. not playing a dwarf when you’re as tall as a basketball player – although it can be done!), but also to using in-game props and trying to make whatever you are doing believable for the other players. Additionally, there are no DMs or narrators during LARP events, so noone is telling you what is going on or indirectly pointing out what you should do. Your character really needs to be a person and do something – although it might seem daunting at first, there are no wrong actions in LARP, the only bad option is inaction. Of course there are always official GMs (Game Masters) present, which keep the story going, act as referees and make sure that everyone follows the rules, and NPCs (non-personal characters put there to support the story), but they cannot be everywhere at once, so you have to actively participate as a player. In contrast with D&D, you are not the star of your own campaign, but rather a part of the story, which will be as boring or as exciting as you help make it.

The day I was a priestess of the White lady.

As you can probably tell from the above, LARP is quite similar to historical reenactment in terms of dressing up and behaving in a certain way, dictated by the world the event is taking place in. However, reenactment events are usually meant to recreate an event exactly the way it happened (i.e. battle reenactments), with a fixed outcome, or made to show people what life looked like back in the day (i.e. medieval fairs or Roman camps). In contrast, LARPs are not meant to be a show and are organised in such a way, that individual characters matter and have something to do. Your character gets to go on quests, learn new in-game or actual skills, interact with other characters, solve mysteries, organise riots or rituals, cook food etc., kind of like in real life, except not.

Additionally, reenactments are constrained by actual historical periods, while LARP events offer a bit more freedom and additional fantasy elements, such as magic, alchemy or sci-fi tech, when it comes to costumes and character creation. In terms of setting and time periods, there is a huge variety of LARP events, such as medieval fantasy or Viking, post-apocalyptic, zombie, vampire, Harry Potter-ish, Witcher-ish, pirate, steam punk, futuristic or sci-fi, Star trek, Star Wars and many other LARPs, so there is something for everyone and if you can think of it, it probably exists (the links given are just examples, there are many more). The events can last from several hours in one day to multiple days – LARP festivals.

In short, LARP is more like an improvisational theatre, where everyone is dressed in costumes, but there’s no audience and the players are performing for each other. All players co-create the story and determine how it is going to go with their in-game actions, so there are no true winners or losers, as the act of playing is its own reward. Of course characters develop and progress over time, and they can have in-game ambitions, win tournaments or political struggles etc., depending on the story and the setting, but LARP by itself is never meant to be a competition, but rather an experience.

My very first LARP event back in 2016.

That can be a bit hard to grasp for beginners, however, a good LARPer follows the guideline of “play to lose” and doesn’t always try to be the best possible superhero. The game is more interesting for everyone, if the characters are diverse and more than 1D stereotypes of heroes/bad guys/pretty girlie elves/grumpy dwarves/sexy vampires etc., and if even the most badass army general has some kind of a weakness. It’s like in movies or books, the best ones are the ones where the characters are relatable as people, have actual personalities and manage to surprise you sometimes, instead of being predictable black and white stereotypes. The encounters between players are more fun when they are playing well-made characters and that is where the “game being its own reward” thing comes in. However, all this does take a bit of practice, particularly if you are playing a character whose personality is very far from your own, as you have to control your natural reactions and really think of what they would do in the situation (you can always decide to play as yourself, though).

There are of course many different styles of LARPing, focused on different aspects of the experience, as they can be either role-play, fighting or quest oriented etc. Since I’m more into the role-play-and-developing-your-character part of LARP than into the bashing-your-brains-out-with-foam-weapons part, I prefer the German and Nordic style of LARPing. They are geared more towards role-play, believable interactions/reactions and unobtrusive rules, instead of mechanic-heavy, complicated rules and counting points kind of LARPs. But, to each their own. You can find quality combat-heavy events with real weapons such as medieval or Viking fighting and tournaments organised by the SCA, where they are usually quite good at historical accuracy as well, but most of LARP events use foam weapons for safety. There are LARP events organised more like fight training with foam weaponry (usually known as boffer fighting) or even based on paintball or nerf gun shooting.

My badass Witcher-ish monster hunter apprentice alter ego Jedrt, who died in her first battle.

So, as you can see, the term LARP is an umbrella term for running around in costumes and pretending to be an imaginary character. Is it weird? Yes, absolutely, but it is also insanely fun! I admit, it’s not something I’d ever put in my CV as an engineer, as even just being a geek still has a bit of stigma attached to it, even though it is slowly becoming a part of the mainstream culture, but it is a creative way to spend your time and it will likely even teach you some new life skills. I’ve learned how to make and sew my own costumes and become a bit more outdoorsy than before. I’ve also been a GM for our local group in Slovenia for a few years now, which has improved my organising and emergency time management skills too.

It is worth noting, that my view of what LARP is, is a bit tinged by my organising experience, but like everything else in life, everyone experiences LARPing differently, so I say give it a go if it sounds interesting to you and decide for yourself. If you’d like to know more about it, particularly in terms of in depth definitions and explanations, larping.org has a pretty informative series of posts trying to accurately describe the phenomenon of LARP here. They are probably a pretty good place for all your other questions about LARP as well, but you can always ask me more in the comments. 🙂

How to get started?

LARPing is quite popular in most of Europe, Asia, Australia and Northern America by now, so if you live in one of these countries it’s highly likely that there’s an active LARP group in your area. Try to find them online or ask around for costumed weirdos running through the woods every so often and don’t be afraid to reach out, as it’s always nice to be weird together. Otherwise, there are several international events happening around the world every year, so if you really want to try, that’s always an option, although it can be a bit expensive to get started completely by yourself.

As for Slovenians, you can find us at larpslo.si or under LARP Slovenija on Facebook – welcome!

Here’s one from our recent foray into the land of Belesija (with the Slovenian LARP group).

All photos taken during LARP Slovenija events.

Yo, I’m on the radio!

While I was exploring southern Sweden my path led me to Göteborg, where I was couchsurfing with the guys from One and a half vegan. Timi and Donatas are also fellow engineers, who run a radio show about sustainability on the K103 Göteborgs student radio and they invited me to be their guest in one of the episodes.

The whole thing was a bit impromptu, as we’d only decided to do it a few days before, but I’d say we managed quite well despite some technical difficulties – I know I had fun doing it. We talked about ways to reduce waste while travelling and you can check out the episode here (it’s in English 🙂 ). It was mostly based on my recent blog post about how travelling with less waste can save you money, which you can find here, but we also touched upon some other topics, so go give it a listen!

Obligatory after show selfie.

If you are interested in living a sustainable lifestyle or if you just realised you should probably know more about it, I can promise you that their other stuff is also quite interesting and that they actually fact-check as much as they can. I particularly like the fact that they deliver their content in a non-preachy, informative way, without any guilt tripping, and despite the name it is not aimed at vegans in particular. They are genuinely just trying to spread awareness and encourage us towards a more sustainable living, like adopting small, feasible lifestyle changes through their “change of the week” suggestions at the end of the show.

So, thanks for having me on the show guys and I’ll hopefully see you again soon!

4 backpacking hacks to reduce the nasty

Everyone probably knows the stereotype of the dirty, smelly backpacker, who’s been wearing the same shirt for 3 days and looks a bit crusty around the edges, and noone wants to be him. However, the truth of it is, that backpacking can be nasty business, especially in the summer. Smelly shoes and toxic waste socks, sweaty shirts, dirty pants, backpack scraped shoulders and stale hair are often a part of it, if you’re doing it right and are too tired to do much else than fall into bed at the end of the day, so here’s a few of my hacks to alleviate the nasty aspects of backpacking:

#1: Always start any longer journeys with a fresh, relatively new toothbrush. Trust me on this, it may seem trivial, but after a while your toothbrush will get quite disgusting if it hasn’t had the chance to air dry while you were accommodation hopping. You’ll be glad it was in a good state at the start, as it will be less horrible later.

#2: Keep your dirty laundry in a cloth bag, the sweaty toxic mess will stink less there than in a plastic bag.

Let your dirty laundry breathe.

#3: Bring baking soda. For everything! If your shoes smell horrible and you don’t want to unleash chemical warfare on your hostel roomies, put a bit of baking soda in them over night. Also works great as a face scrub or a mouthwash in a pinch, a treatment for heartburn (drink a teaspoon dissolved in water), emergency relief for insect bites or sunburns (just add water, make a paste and apply) and can be used to clean practically anything, including food containers. A little goes a long way, so I usually bring only a small package.

#4: Bring laundry soap. If you’re travelling light, you’ll have to do your laundry quite often and you won’t always have access to a washing machine (or the time and the will to use it). It’s quite quick and easy to do your laundry in the sink if you bring along some detergent: I prefer to bring laundry soap bars instead of liquid detergents, as they can’t spill inside your luggage and will last longer.

Laundry soap bar, more than enough for a month.

Make sure that you’re only washing items which will dry by the following morning if you’re moving around a lot, such as socks, shirts and underwear. I don’t recommend washing pants, sweaters or towels this way, because it’s harder to properly clean them and they take a very long time to dry, so chuck that into the washing machine along with everything else when you have the option. If you’ve ever been a backpacker, you’ll know that pants or even a shirt can always last one more day in a pinch, but there’s no way I’m wearing the same underwear twice. 🙂 If you force yourself to wash your socks and underwear every evening, you’ll never run out and it won’t take you more than 10 minutes.

P. S.: Washing sensitive clothes is also better done in the washing machine, as you have to hand squeeze the water out of the clothes to avoid dripping everywhere and that can damage the fabrics if you’re not careful. You could try wrapping them in a towel to remove the water instead, but that’s usually less successful and will leave you with a very wet towel that may not dry until morning.

It’s not much, but it really does help with the overall nastiness. Let me know if you also do/have tried any of these things in the comments! 🙂

How less waste travelling actually saves you money

Yes, I too am all aboard this ‘let’s reduce waste’ train, so today I’ll share some tips on how to travel with less waste. Note that I didn’t say zero waste, because I believe that would be practically impossible. If we’re being honest about our trash, then even a single paper parking ticket destroys the goal of zero waste. However, travelling with less waste is totally doable and if you’re not convinced you should do it for the environment and other noble reasons, then let me tell you it can also save you quite a bit of money. Now, obviously we are not talking about tons of money, but when you’re planning your next trip every little bit helps.

#1 Bring your own

My travel kit: the coffee cup is from Romania and everything else is from Sweden.

This is probably the simplest one and also the hardest one to get used to in my experience. Bringing your own water bottle, cutlery, a coffee cup and some kind of food container seems like a lot of work, but it really pays off in the long run, I swear. Enough has been said about the ever popular personal water bottle, so I’ll not get into that too much, but I will tell you that if you bring your own bottle, you’ll never pay for one of those über expensive bottles of water at the airport again. The airport security people are quite used to travellers bringing through empty water bottles by now and they’ll even empty it for you if you forget to do it and most airports now have drinking water taps. So, if you decide to bring any of these, then it should be the water bottle.
Protip: get a glass or metallic one, because the plastic ones start to stink after a while.

Moving on: plastic disposable cutlery costs at least 0.5 € per pack these days and, if you buy one every time you eat any kind of takeaways, it will add up. You can bring one of these knife-fork-spoon thingies instead (or a full set if you prefer) and if they’re made from decent plastic they are very durable, easy to clean and super light. Metal ones also work great, but make sure the knife is not an issue for plane travel. I’m very anti bamboo cutlery, because we have perfectly good and practically eternal metal or plastic cutlery options, so the bamboo ones seem like such a hipster waste of wood with shorter lifespan, but that’s a personal choice. As long as you choose something durable, it’s fine.

One of my folded shopping bags.

Also, it goes without saying: bring your own shopping bag! Reusable shopping bags are surprisingly useful for everything and take up very little space. You can use them to carry your shopping (obviously), to store shoes (the small grocery bags meant for fruit and vegetables are super useful for that) or your dirty laundry (I find it smells less disgusting over time if you store it in a cloth bag, instead of a plastic bag – you can check out a few of my other tips for making the backpacking life less nasty here) or whatever else you might need. I’ve used one as an improvised rain cover on more than one occasion.

Next up: the coffee cup. I’ll admit, this one rarely directly saves you money. However, often when I get takeaway coffee they’ll kindly fill up the whole cup, so I get more coffee for the same price, which ultimately means more bang for your buck (it counts, right?). It also has other uses, I often use mine to transport fragile small items, like souvenirs on the way back home, or to make my daily green tea when I’m staying in accommodations without a kitchen.

Finally: the food containers! The bulkiest and surprisingly the most useful items for solo travellers. When I travel alone it’s hard to buy the exact quantity of food for one person in the supermarkets. In the past years I’ve often found myself wondering how to store the leftovers without them leaking inside my backpack. Sure, you can wrap them in three layers of plastic bags, but even that doesn’t always prevent messy spillages. I usually ended up not buying such food to avoid throwing out half of it or buying a smaller, more expensive package, until I started carrying these around (a few examples of their usefulness in the gallery below). They’re super good for carrying around lunch for the next day as well, if you’re cooking food in a hostel or bought something you couldn’t finish.

Bringing even a single food container with me has helped me eat better and cheaper, so I now usually carry one or two. They come in different shapes and sizes and if you use the flat silicone ones they don’t take up any space at all when not in use (I got mine here). Additionally, food containers are great for storing jewelry or other sensitive small items, because they’re lightweight and keep their shape even when squashed inside a backpack. Just make sure whatever you are using seals properly to avoid any disasters that you are trying to prevent in the first place.

#2 Bathroom stuff

My refillable container collection.

Airport liquid regulations are probably every traveller’s nightmare at this point, particularly for us women, as we tend to use many more different body care products than men. Buying small packages under 100 ml can be pesky, as they are actually quite expensive considering the volume and the same products we like to use are often not available in travel sizes.

The obvious solution is buying refillable travel sized containers. It’s a one time relatively small investment (I got mine for about 10 € here) and you can refill them with anything you like to use, which is ultimately cheaper and more convenient, particularly if you travel a lot. Just make sure whatever you buy is good quality, as the cheaper plastic ones tend to break or crack quite easily. If you get the silicone ones, they should last you for years and are super easy to clean (some of them are even supposed to be dishwasher safe, depending on the brand).

Part of my bathroom travel kit.

The other option is going solid. You can use solid soap, shampoo and even conditioner and avoid the liquid regulations altogether. They tend to last much longer than the liquid products and are thus also cheaper. I’ve been using solid soap for travelling and my daily life for a while now, although I occasionally still use liquid bodywash. I also recently switched to solid shampoo, so I’m still trying to find the right one, but I don’t think I’ll ever switch to solid conditioners, as my hair just needs too much pampering.

Both options result in much less waste, less hassle and ultimately also some money savings. I use my refillable containers for things like make up remover, facewash, conditioner, toothpaste etc., but I definitely do not recommend using them for eye lens fluid or anything that needs to be kept sterile. As mentioned above, I also bring solid soap and shampoo, and if you are wondering about how to store these while travelling, I got you covered too.

You can either use a metal or a plastic case, but I’m not a fan of that, because they are waterproof and everything inside will stay wet, which gets disgusting after a while. What I use are tiny cloth bags, which are made from coated cotton, so they are kind of waterproof, but not (I got them here). I use the same for my toothbrush as well, because the cloth and the items inside dry out during the day, as long as you take the time to shake off most of the water before putting the stuff inside. The bags do feel damp on the outside after you store the wet items inside, but don’t really leak through much and I find everything is usually dry when I use it again. It is not perfect though, as the soap tends to stick to the cloth sometimes and the inside of the bags gets soap-dirty after a while, but, luckily, they are machine washable.

#3 Bonus less waste options

Even more of my stuff.

There are many everyday items you can replace with less waste options and I’m fully for that, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience me too much (I just don’t see myself ever washing my toilet paper or something similar). For women, one of the more obvious switches is the menstrual cup, which I’m actually surprisingly happy with and saves me at least 10 € per period. The other one applies to both genders and that is an old-school safety razor, where you only change the blades. I cannot recommend this one enough, as it just leaves everything so smooth that there is no comparison with the disposable ones. My boyfriend tried shaving with mine too and he is getting one of his own now, because he was so impressed by its performance. The good stainless steel ones are a bit expensive (I got mine here), but they should last you for life and the replacement blades are only a few € for 10 of them. I’m a super clumsy person and I’ve never cut myself with it, so it really is a safety razor. 🙂 However, be advised that you are not allowed to bring them on a plane inside hand luggage because of the blades, which is a significant drawback.

There are other less waste switches that I’ve made, like using reusable (washable) cotton pads, panty liners and handkerchiefs (I can’t for the life of me bring myself to try reusable ear buds/Q-tips, because they all just look so gross), but they are not very practical for longer travels. Everything washable must be washed at high temperatures for hygienic reasons and when you are travelling you don’t often have the will (or the time or even the money) to do two loads in the washing machine, since most of your other clothes can’t survive such temperatures and you don’t really want to wash them together anyway. So, these things are great for home use or going away for a weekend, but I’ll honestly say that I can’t bring myself to bother with them when I’m travelling for longer than a week.

Some other things you can do that don’t necessarily save you money, but are easy to do and contribute to less waste, are not printing your boarding passes and other tickets, as you can usually get a mobile version instead, and not asking for receipts or printing them at the machines if you don’t actually need them. Same goes for straws, don’t ask for them/refuse them if you don’t need them, or better yet, if you are really attached to drinking with a straw (again, a personal choice), then buy a reusable one, such as glass or metal. Paper straws may seem like a green alternative, but you are still creating waste for no reason and the chemicals used for dying them in pretty colors can in fact be detrimental to your health.

I hope I’ve given you some food for thought and a balanced, relatable opinion, as I am by no means fanatical about zero waste living, but I do believe that whatever we can easily do, we should do. And although they require some initial investment, these adjustments really will save you some money in the long run, so give it a go! As has been said before, we don’t need a few people doing it perfectly, we just need everyone doing it imperfectly to make a difference. Since we can’t really control what happens to our trash after we toss it out, the only way we can make that difference is to not create a certain piece of trash at all. 🙂

P. S.: If you’ve made it to the end, you’ve probably noticed my less waste approach is not also plastic free. As an engineer who works with polymers, i.e. plastics, I’m well aware of the many benefits of plastics when used responsibly, so I don’t believe that anything plastic is inherently bad or incompatible with sustainability values. Good quality plastic products can be extremely durable and can be used for years when properly cared for, so think carefully before going on the increasingly popular zero waste anti-plastic binge and throwing out all your plastic containers to replace them with metal ones. Throwing out perfectly good, usable objects of any material is just creating more waste, which is essentially what we are supposed to be trying to avoid, so less sitting on the anti-plastic high horse and more using our brains, please.

Swedish culinary evenings

One of the best things about living abroad is making friends who are willing to share the ways of their country with you. Most importantly, the food! My Swedish friends from Luleå were pretty awesome in that regard, as we managed to cook various things together quite often, so this post is going to be about the Swedish food they taught me to make.

Freshly baked kanelbulle.

I think the first Swedish thing we ever made from scratch were kanelbulle or cinnamon rolls, which wasn’t really planned, as my friend was making them to take to work and I came over to help out eat them. Cinnamon rolls are a Swedish classic for coffee breaks, along with kladdkaka, the awesome chocolate mud cake. I was actually surprised by how easy and fast it was to make them, so I’ll definitely be making them myself in the future. You can find a recipie here.

#1: Palt (potato-flour dumplings)

The palt we made.

The next time we cooked Swedish food was serious business and I learned how to make palt, a sort of potato-flour dumplings, which are a typical comfort food from northern Sweden. Like with any traditional food, there are as many variations of palt as there are households, so even my friends didn’t quite agree on the preparation method amongst themselves. However, the dumplings are always made of raw potatoes and two different kinds of flour and eaten with butter and lingonberry jam. They are supposed to be filled with pork meat, but we made the meat on the side. One of my friends claimed they cooked better that way, which was apparently a very controversial issue. Either way, our palt turned out great and we ate so much my stomach hurt afterwards, which I was told meant we did it right, because palt is supposed to induce a lengthy food coma. 🙂 You can find a similar recipie to what we made here, but I also made my own how-to video below:

#2: Västerbottensostpaj (cheese pie)

Västerbotten cheese pie.

The next thing I learned to make is also my favourite Swedish food of all: the Västerbotten cheese pie. Anyone who has ever met me probably knows that I love all types of cheese, preferably in large quantities. If I had to choose only two things to survive on, they would be cheese and green tea, so this pie was right up my alley. Västerbottenost essentially means cheese from Western Bothnia, which is a type hard, aged of cheese that has gained a cult following in Sweden during the last few decades. The cheese pie has thus become a staple for holidays and special occasions, and with good reason. It basically consists of lots of melted cheese, butter and eggs, so it is pure happiness, and it is usually eaten with sour cream and chives. You can find the recipie here.

Like everything in Sweden, the cheese is also a little bit quirky: due to the high demand the company tried to expand production out of the origin city of Burträsk, which proved impossible, as the cheese just didn’t taste the same. Despite countless analysis and several documentaries, no explanation has been found and the cheese refuses to be moved from its hometown. Understandably, the price is not the lowest, so the Swedes are pretty serious about any cheese sales. There was one in the supermarket next to my house once and I snagged the last two chunks of it, which sent the next shopper into a panic – she literally attacked the supermarket employee and demanded to know if they might have more discounted cheese hidden somewhere. Considering the Swedish unwritten rule about not standing out or drawing attention, Västerbottensost is serious business indeed.

Anyhow, after the first time my friends and I made the cheese pie several more times, including for Midsommar, and I even made it at home in Slovenia with great success when I visited in April. Now I just have to figure out how to get a lifetime supply of the cheese when I permanently move back home again…

BOINK!

It is no secret that I am a big tramp for trampolines and have been one since I was a child, so this post is just for fun and pure stupid #qualitycontent. After a visit to the Ljubljana zoo, where they have a huge trampoline (which is likely meant for kids only, but I didn’t care 🙂 ), my boyfriend made this gif, complete with sound effects and all. I think it’s hilarious and deserves a spot on my blog, so here it is:

Made by Matic Zupan.

Some of my D&D characters (D&D pt. 2)

As promised in the 1st part of my Dungeons and Dragons posts, here are two of my favourite D&D characters their backstories in a condensed version. They are also one of the few I’d bothered to draw. So, meet Štefan and Antoinette!

Štefan

Štefan was a spoilt half-elf punk with a crooked nose, which I played in one of the earlier D&D games. I’d joined an existing campaign after making some new friends and I started out as a level 3 rogue, who was originally named Seldur. However, his fate was inexplicably but firmly tied to that of another rogue, and because my friend couldn’t be bothered with the elvish name, he renamed him into Štefan. The name stuck and Štefan became Štefan.

Štefan was the son of a very powerful woman, the famous elf leader of the largest assassin’s guild, and for the first part of his life his mother spoiled him rotten. As one would expect, he became a snotty, conceited brat with a haughty demeanour that noone could stand. He also had quite a knack for spending too much of his mother’s money on whores and drinks, so mommy dearest decided to take drastic action. One day after a night of heavy drinking Štefan woke up in the middle of nowhere with a sack on his head. When he let out a string of curses the sack was lifted, revealing a very grumpy, annoyed older rogue. After throwing a major hissy fit and proclaiming he had been kidnapped, threatening the rogue with “do you even know who my mother is” and so on to no effect whatsoever except for an eye roll, Štefan finally run out of steam. It was then explained to him in no uncertain terms, that his mother had decided to send him for some intensive training so he would toughen up, effective immediately. He was to do as he was told, keep his mouth shut and learn to survive in the wilderness where the rogue’s party was currently up to no good adventuring.

Naturally, that did not go down well with Štefan, so he got bitch slapped when the older rogue had had enough of his complaining. They reached an uneasy truce, followed by a review of Štefan’s skills: he was excellent at drinking, complaining and boasting, hopeless at preparing food, lighting a fire and practically any other useful survival skills, but he did know how to handle a bow. After shooting off a tail from a squirrel running up the hardest tree, Štefan felt like he might have finally gained some of the older rogue’s respect, until he blew it by haughtily asking “so, who is going to carry my bags?” when it was time to go. It only went downhill from there, when he managed to get the entire party into trouble by antagonising 20 lizard warriors by bathing in their sacred lake, but that is a story for another time.

Antoinette le Grit

Antoinette was the character I played while living in Sweden. She was a fat, middle aged, slightly dumb, but surprisingly charismatic and very idealistic goblin sorceress, who had a gift for getting in trouble.

Antoinette was born in a cave and spent most of her childhood reading books and gorging on food. Thus Antoinette, who was still called Grinda Grit at the time, learned about very important topics, such as royal gardening, knighthood, bard ethics, astrology, elvish beauty habits, dwarven courtship and the proper way of drinking tea, while her siblings grew up to be productive members of goblin society, so her father apprenticed her off to an old sorceress, who never seemed to cast a real spell.

Eventually Grinda stumbled upon an ancient spellbook: as soon as she started reading, her tongue moved of its own accord and suddenly the entire cave system started to shake. The old hag run into the room, took one look at the situation and stuck a giant chunk of sticky caramel into Grinda’s mouth, rendering her unable to speak. But the words kept writhing inside Grinda’s mind and smoke started coming out of her ears, the spell demanding to be finished. The old sorceress however, had dealt with stubborn spells before and proceeded to hit her on the head with her stick until the spell relented. The next morning the hag exiled Grinda out of the cave system and noone protested.

Grinda stumbled around for a while. Sometimes it seemed like natural disasters followed her around, but she chucked it off to astrological alignments and cosmic events, as she was smart like that. However, most everyone she met thought her kind to be vile, evil creatures. She tried to be friendly and change the horrible public opinion, but no one wanted anything to do with her, until she run into a travelling wiseman, who gave her shelter for the night. His name was Yodel, he was old, friendly and also a sorcerer, who lived in a strange cottage with sheep hooves. The cottage would follow him on his travels and obey his whistled commands. It also housed a giant magical library and Yodel taught her to control her magic. However, the old lecher figured that Grinda should repay her room and board with more personal favours, involving naked flesh. Grinda was beyond appaled. While she knew she was not exactly a highborn human lady, her books clearly stated that a period of courtship and marriage rites should be observed before any kind of nakedness. So, she reacted as her goblin nature dictated, smacked the old fool in the face, bit off his ear and left.

As she stormed off, she decided to educate the world about goblinkin and repair the image of her kind once and for all. She was a smart, educated goblin woman after all, who was well aware how to properly drink tea and act in polite society. Firstly, she changed her name to one more suitable for her cause and exalted personality: Antoinette le Grit. Next, she founded the G.R.O.P.E. – Goblin Rights Organisation for Peaceful Equality, which currently still consists of two members: herself and her sister. Her brother refused to join on the grounds of irreparable differences – the word peaceful was not exactly in his repertoire. And finally, she swore she would never again be thrown off balance and react negatively or violently. She learned to make pamphlets for G.R.O.P.E. and to disguise her natural smell with a poultice, which an old lady at the market swore was all the rage currently, although the casual observer would tell her, she now smelled distinctly like old cheese; and she traded cantrips for food and respect. She also very occasionally resorted to stealing, but over time the definition of very occasionally stretched to every couple of days.

Thus it came to be, that Antoinette was caught stealing two chickens, trying to stuff them down pants. The chickens were not particularly pleased and made a whole cacophony of clucking noise, which drew the village militia, who arrested her. On the way to the prison, Antoinette dazzled their tiny peasant brains with her worldly ways and educated charm and they were almost ready to release her, when a dwarf, leading a cow on a string that was clearly not his, crossed their path. He attempted to push the cow behind the nearby house, but the cow refused to walk backwards (as explained by Antoinette, everyone knows that cows are physically incapable of walking backwards) and the militiamen decided to take both of them to the prison. However, the prison cell was found empty the next morning: both thieves had vanished without a trace…

About Dungeons and Dragons (D&D pt. 1)

You’ve probably heard of Dungeons and Dragons or D&D at least once in your life, as it is likely the most famous geek thing on the planet and also one of my favourite games. For those of you who haven’t though, D&D is a fantasy tabletop role-play game (RPG), where each player creates their own character and joins an epic adventure led by the narrator and storyteller called a dungeon or game master (DM or GM).

An old school D&D session.

As far as I am concerned, D&D is the ultimate triumph of human imagination, as the characters only exist in the minds of the player and the entire game plays out through talking. The GM narrates the story, which is usually a quest that needs to be resolved somehow, describes the world and sets the atmosphere, with the players verbally impersonating their characters, describing their behaviour and decisions. Although the GM leads the game, prepares the plot, makes up the events, and acts as a referee, the players co-create the story with their actions, so everyone is constantly forced to improvise and the game takes on a life of its own. In order to provide some structure, a set of dice is used by both the players and the GM to determine the outcome of all actions and simulate the randomness of life. To make it more interesting, sound effects, fancy maps and mysterious quest notes, figures and elaborate landscape miniatures can be used, but ultimately the events take place inside the mind of the players and are fueled by their imagination.

Setting the atmosphere.

Every character in the game is defined by a set of values or stats on paper, which determine how fast they can run, how smart or strong they are, what kind of magic they can or can’t cast, whether they are likeable, observant, conceited, devious, oblivious, good or evil and everything else needed to accurately describe a fictional person that a player can relate to and role-play. The characters always have their own personality, specific objectives and wishes and usually also quite imaginative backstories (if you want to read about some of my previous characters for example, check out D&D part 2). All of this is done according to a huge set of rules, which is the main drawback of D&D and one of the reasons it is not more popular, but with a proper GM who creates an interesting world, knows the core rules and doesn’t overburden their players with them, the possibilities are endless.

The beginnings of D&D date back to the 70s, when the game evolved from miniature wargames, which originated from military strategy in the 19th century, as figures were used to keep track of the armies’ movements on the battlefields. D&D was traditionally played in a fantasy medieval setting and was long relegated to the stuffy basements of hardcore, antisocial geeks, as the games followed an unimaginative, pre-determined scenario of entering a dungeon, defeating the monsters, taking the treasure and gaining experience points (XP) to advance the characters to a new level, where they became more powerful and gained new battle abilities. As you can probably tell, D&D is essentially the grandparent of the entire computer gaming industry, with today’s RPGs like World of Warcraft, Assassin’s creed, the Elder Scrolls, Fallout etc. racking in millions every year.

One of the actually cool dungeons during a game.

The big boom of D&D popularity occured in the 90s, with the introduction of new editions and more complex systems, which were no longer focused on combat alone, but also on the social, role-playing aspects. That’s when the sky truly became the limit, as the game now offered enough structure to support lengthy campaigns with elaborate stories and the GMs could make up entire worlds and plots without worrying over the system. The game became quite popular within the whole geek community, but never gained a strong foothold among the “normal” population, because it still required the GM and the players to learn and know that pesky, book-length set of rules. With the arrival of computers that became much simpler, as the technical part of D&D can be automatized to a degree (there is even an online version of D&D called roll20) and the burden of preparing for the game sessions falls mostly on the GM.

”The campaign took 2 weeks to plan! How was I supposed to know it was going to take 10 hours?”

Mike (Stranger Things)

Nowdays, D&D requires relatively little effort from the players, if the GM is willing to do all the work beforehand, which is good news for those of you who have always wanted to try, but felt like it would be too complicated. Sci-fi and fantasy have gone from weird and stupid to socially acceptable, which is why the game is again gaining popularity, particularly through one shot try-it-out sessions for beginners. It will probably never be as popular as computer games, which have the advantage of being visually stimulating and more hands-on interactive, but it remains a timeless classic, because it is essentially a sandbox and everyone can create their own story with their own characters. Although the traditional and the most popular D&D setting is still the medieval fantasy world with an overly developed lore, the game is no longer just about dungeons and dragons, as there are now also D&D spin-offs set in the Harry Potter world, Lovecraftian universe, post-apocalyptic worlds, World of Darkness (vampires, werewolves etc.) and so on. Do you want to play a cuddly talking bear-vampire hybrid wielding a machine gun, who is best friends with a deranged water elemental half-elf who pukes fireballs? No problem! You won’t find this in any of the core rulebooks, but with a bit of effort, the game system can be adapted to suit any setting and accommodate the wishes of any player, which is why it is so great.

Protip: always bring snacks!

However, D&D at its core is still a social activity, which requires a good group dynamic. Like in any social acitivity, the people playing together need to get along and must have reasonably similar interests and level of imagination or the game will derail and at the very least become boring and tedious. I’ve played many games with different people, both strangers and friends, in very different settings, and I’ve even GMed a few, so there have been good and bad games. I’ve found that the skill or experience of the players and the GM doesn’t really matter, as long as everyone agrees on the same level of difficulty and noone is a total stickler for the rules, as everyone will usually help each other out with the technicalities of the game. So, those of you who would like to try D&D and feel intimidated by “experienced” players, don’t! The bad games always came down to two factors: either the players or the GM felt their contributions to the game were unappreciated and unvalued, which resulted in pigheadedness on both sides, with the players ultimately feeling like the GM was being unfair in their decisions, or the group just wasn’t quite right together. Sometimes people just don’t get along and that is perfectly fine, because it is after all just a game and it is supposed to be fun.

For me it has been one of the few constant hobbies in my life since high school and I’ve made friends by joining D&D groups both in Sweden and England when I lived abroad, so I encourage everyone who is at least a little bit geek-blooded to give it a try! Where else will you be able to steal the princess, burn down an entire village for looking at your shoes the wrong way, seduce a troll in a bikini, fight mutant zombie spiders and gelatinous blobs, or scam the living daylights out of a cleric? Because yes, these are events from the actual games I’ve played and I promise you, with the right group you will laugh your heart out and wish for more when the game is over.

Swedish Midsommar celebration

Midsummer, or Midsommar in Swedish, is one of the most important holidays in Sweden – in fact, I’ve been told it is more sacred than Christmas, and also the day when you are most likely to have sex with your cousin. Intriguing, right?

Since the prehistoric times, humans have been fascinated with the four natural transitions (solstices and equinoxes), attaching special significance and celebrations to each of them. The summer solstice or Midsummer marks the longest day of the year and also the beginning of summer in many countries, occurring on the 24th of June in the Northern hemisphere. It is probably the most popular of the four, as it is still widely celebrated in many places today, particularly in Northern European countries.

The Swedish Midsummer maypole.

Midsummer was always a magical time of hope, merriment and greenery, as the arrival of summer meant warmer weather, plenty of food and new life. With the rise of Christianity, Midsummer was appropriated as the feast day of Saint John the Baptist, with St. John’s eve celebrated with candles and church ceremonies the night before. However, unlike the Pagan celebrations of Midwinter or Yule, which got completely absorbed into Christmas, the traditional Midsummer celebrations managed to survive until today. Lighting huge bonfires and dancing through the shortest night of the year was and is a common tradition in countries such as the UK, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, France and even in my homecountry, Slovenia, although our bonfire night was moved to the 1st of May in modern times. However, the Swedes do it a bit differently.

Since 1952, Midsommar in Sweden is always orderly celebrated on a weekend, which means sometime between 20 – 26th of June, with the big celebrations always happening on Friday. The central point of the Swedish Midsommar celebration is the midsommarstång or the maypole, a huge pole decorated with all sorts of flowers and greenery, which closely resembles an upside down penis. The common belief and what most people told me is that it is meant to be a fertility symbol from the Pagan times, meant to ensure a good harvest and replenish the soil. However, the more serious historical sources I’ve found claim that the maypole tradition actually came from Germany during the Middle Ages, where they put up the maypoles on the 1st of May. Since it was a bit hard to find greenery to decorate the maypoles in May, the Swedes simply moved that tradition to Midsummer, replacing and moving the Midsummer bonfires to the Walpurgis night celebrations.

Here’s me decorating the midsommarstång.

Whether you believe the giant penis explanation or not, the Swedish Midsommar festival’s weirdness does not end there. After the maypole has been decorated and raised up, the Swedes dance around it in traditional clothing, singing funny traditional songs, but none are weirder than the one about the little frogs. It is called Små grodorna and it comes with a set of dance moves that made me laugh so hard I cried. You can see a video of the frog dance here (they have no ears!).

My friends and I celebrated Midsommar in Hägnan Open air museum in Luleå in 2019. The whole celebration was not as enthusiastic as I expected, as there were too many people just standing in the way with their phones, but it was fun anyway. They had a live folk band, games for the kids, lots of people wore traditional costumes and I got to dance the frog dance, decorate the maypole and enjoy a picnic with my friends, so I was pretty happy with it.

However, I was less happy with the swarms of mosquitos that chased after us when we decided to walk back home through the forest. Since Luleå is essentially one big swamp, all kinds of mosquitos reign supreme here during the summer, but luckily the repellents seem to work pretty well. Although I took some videos of the Midsommar celebrations, I was laughing so much they aren’t any good. You can see one of my friends impersonating the elephant, a traditional Swedish animal, in the video below.

The weather is supposed to be traditionally bad during Midsommar and it was a bit cloudy when I was there as well. The weather is also responsible for strawberries, as strawberries and cream are apparently a big part of Midsommar celebrations and they must of course be Swedish. I was told that the national news often covers the state of Swedish strawberries or lack thereof in the days leading up to Midsommar in a sort of strawberry watch, as they are that important. ††

The herbal snaps my friends made.

Besides the strawberries, the traditional foods eaten during Midsommar all sorts of pickled herrings, eggs, smoked salmon, boiled potatoes or spare ribs with sour cream and chives and in recent times also my personal favourite, the Västerbotten cheese pie. Since we had a picnic on the day of the actual celebration, we didn’t really have a whole cooked meal with us, but we did eat the cheese pie with boiled potatoes, sour cream and herrings the day before and had some cheese pie leftovers during the picnic as well. Also, another typical Midsommar thing is snaps or schnapps, a strong alcoholic beverage often made at home by adding different herbs to hard liquors. Shots of it are drunk before the meal or at anytime really, and we drank quite a few of them in the evening while playing board games.

Our Midsommar feast.

Flowers are also an important part of Midsommar. Houses and barns are decorated with greenery, which supposedly brings good luck and good health, and all the women wear flower wreaths on their heads. The legend goes, that if a girl picks 7 different flowers and puts them under her pillow on Midsommar, she will dream about the man she’s going to marry. Like in most countries, the shortest night of the year also has a strong romantic element in Sweden, as the daytime festivities are typically followed by a night of dancing and getting drunk, which naturally leads to dancing of a different kind and possible heavy dosages of regret the next day. Hence my friend’s joke comment about having sex with your cousin in the first paragraph of this post, as apparently Midsommar is an occasion when the whole family got together and people often did not know exactly who their extended relatives are.

Midsommar 2019 in Luleå

As you can see, the weird Swedish version of Midsummer is certainly worth experiencing and the Swedes are pretty proud of it, so there will be a traditional celebration in every town. However, I was told the best place to be for a full-on traditional Midsommar celebration in Sweden is the region of Dalarna, as they take it extra seriously.