Oct 252012

Preface: I drafted most of this post in my head at 4 in the morning in a van from Ljubljana to Venice, where I jumped on a plane to Dusseldorf, waited around for 6 hours, and hopped another plane to JFK Airport. Lack of energy on that day, 15 October 2012, plus the insanity that comes with moving your life across an ocean, has kept me from actually physically writing this post out for the last week and a half, but without further ado, here it is…


That’s how it starts We go back to your house We check the charts And start to figure it out
So what is this post all about?

The short story: I’ve been living in Ljubljana, Slovenia for the last couple of years or so, and just moved back to New York. This is a description of that whole thing, wrapped up in short (or as close to “short” as it can be), and my feelings on coming back.

The long story, from the beginning: After studying abroad in Copenhagen by chance for a semester in 2006, I got a real itch to see more of the world and experience what it has to offer. I became obsessed with the concept that there were actually people living in farther reaches of this planet than I could imagine, and getting by just fine without the “comforts” of whatever I’ve been accustomed to for my first twenty-something years of life.

And if it’s crowded all the better, Because you know we’re gonna be up late And if you’re worried about the weather Then you picked the wrong place to stay That’s how it starts
At that time my responsible instincts took over and told me “Birthday or not, don’t go with Paco“. So I returned to Washington, DC in mid-2006 to finish up my senior year of college. Then there was a masters program. Then there was a job. And a girl. And New York, the city I’d wanted to live in for my whole life. And an apartment with two of my best friends who I hadn’t spent much time with since high school. And yet somehow, everything I’d always wanted wasn’t enough. For years now I’d dreamt about traveling Europe, speaking in foreign tongues, eating local cuisines, seeing the sun rise and set in places I could only dream of, and interacting with (and becoming one of) the locals. Would this ever come to fruition? Well, I already spoiled that answer for you above, so yes, but what made it so?
And so it starts You switch the engine on We set controls for the heart of the sun One of the ways that we show our age
Well, things change, people change, hairstyles change, interest rates fluctuate… Things ended with the girl, the job came to an end, and after a deep conversation during a mans weekend I realized that simply talking about what you want in life isn’t good enough – you have to put the wheels into motion yourself and start taking actual steps towards your goals or you will never realize them. Actions speak louder than words. So I set my full sights on moving to Europe. I moved home to my aunt and uncle’s house in Long Island, played the commuting game for a while, tried to go to fewer concerts, and saved some money. I scoured the internet looking for work – in Paris, in Barcelona, anywhere really. Then FINALLY, through a contact in the New York Tech Meetup listserve I became in touch with Boštjan Špetič, which led to Skype interviews with Andraž Tori, Dušan OmerčevićMarko Mrdjenovič and a few others on the Zemanta team at that time, and before I knew it I was on a plane bound for Ljubljana, Slovenia via Munich. It was that easy!
You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan And the next five years trying to be with your friends again
OK, so it wasn’t THAT easy. After the first job ended, I ended up getting a sweet new one somewhere else. I ended up meeting another girl. My interviews at Zemanta went semi-ok, as I’d been away from true CS problems for a few years – the bottom line is that I think they took a big chance on me and I want to say here and now that I am truly grateful. Sure, me moving from the New York startup community to the Ljubljana, Slovenia startup community is me taking a big chance on them too, but they’re the ones who made my European dream possible in the first place. On top of all of this, my cousin Nathaniel had plans to get married in late January, around the time I’d intended to go, but I wasn’t deterred. I postponed my potential move date and made a concrete plan.
It comes apart The way it does in bad films Except the part Where the moral kicks in
I told my sweet new job that I was leaving. I spent time with my family. I went to the first wedding of my generation of my family and ate one of the best breakfasts of my life, surrounded by the people that I love the most in this world. I asked the new woman to move to Europe with me. She said yes. We made plans for her to join me in Slovenia a few months after I’d arrived there, and the rest would fall into place. I booked a ticket and headed for Europe. Škrat picked me up from the airport on that grey Slovenian winter day (one of the first of many logistics that he helped me with over the last two years, for which I am truly grateful) and so began what I’d been dreaming about for years.
I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision For another five years of life
So, what did I want out of this experience?

I wanted to move somewhere new where I could experience new and foreign traditions and language. I wanted to learn and experience firsthand a culture and heritage of a people that I didn’t already know. I wanted to travel. I wanted to see a cycling race. I wanted to get into shape. I wanted to read. I wanted to cook. I wanted to drink outside. I wanted to see the sun rise and set in foreign lands. I wanted to make local friends. I wanted to live without the comforts of things that I was used to for the first 26 years of my life, and I didn’t want to have a concrete return date. And after everything, I wanted to know myself and the place that I had come from better.

You drop the first ten years just as fast as you can And the next ten people who are trying to be polite When you’re blowing eighty-five days in the middle of France Yeah, I know it gets tired, only where are your friends tonight?
So I got weird.

I moved out of my comfort zone, to a magical place called Slovenia. A fairytale city with dragons and castles. I took Slovenian lessons. I drank coffee. I drank red beer and green beer. I celebrated Pust (Slovenian Carnival, kind of like Halloween) in Cerknica. I went to local web meetups and even spoke at some of them. I spoke at the university. I read books (yes more than one!). I spent time hacking together side projects into the wee hours of the night. Some things I finished, some things I didn’t. I made friends. Lots of them. I joined a band and had a bunch of gigs. I bought soap/shampoo/deodorant at the local shops. I shopped for fresh produce at the local market weekly and cooked most nights of the week, learning to make many new dishes along the way. I got in shape – I completed the Rapha Rising Challenge, successfully climbing 6881 meters on my bike in the span of a week. I spent ten days traveling around the Croatian islands with my phone off. I swam in the Mediterranean. I ate fresh fish. I slept on the deck of an overnight ferry under the stars. I watched the sun set and I watched it rise again. I drank more coffee. I hiked. I went cycling, swimming, canoeing, paintballing, and canyoning. I ate well and I slept well. I wore slippers. I ate Chinese food, Thai food, and sushi. I ate octopus, squid, lobster, crab, and shrimp. I drank wine from a variety of excellent European wine regions. I saw many of the major European capitals. I spoke Slovenian, Italian, Dutch, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, French, Danish, German and Czech. I paid with Euro, Kuna, Tolar, Koruna, Pound, and Kroner. I flew in planes. I rode trains and looked out the window. I drove cars (and go karts). I looked out over the sea from ferry boats. I ate Christmas dinner. I spent New Years Eve dodging fireworks and drinking champagne, beer, and mulled wine. I drank wine in the hills of several Italian wineries. I saw some of the best cyclists in the world race over the Poggio in the Milano-San Remo cycling race. I went to the Berlin Buzzwords conference. I reconnected with old friends and saw ghosts from a former life in Copenhagen. I hosted two passover seders. I drank homemade schnapps, rakija, and medica (not all at once). I went to Okotoberfest. I stayed in a bar after it closed with locals in Budapest. I saw all of the craziness surrounding the royal wedding in person. I experienced a surprise wedding reception for two really good friends. I experienced the bright morning sun after many nights in Metelkova. I ate at Nobel Burek. I celebrated the Jewish high holidays in Vienna, Ljubljana, and Trieste. I DJd. I snuck into the music school and played piano. I drank on the streets. I went snowboarding in Slovenia, Austria, and Italy. I went dog sledding. I lost my favorite hat. I gave away my second favorite hat. I shaved my head (twice). I left something behind.

I traveled to Bled (Slovenia), Groningen, IKEA in Italy, Zagreb (Croatia), London, Birmingham (England), Ferrara (Italy), Venice, Piran (Slovenia), Florence, Bled (again), Trieste (Italy), Vienna, Šmarna Gora (Slovenia)Koper (Slovenia), Vienna (again), Piran (again)The Škojcan Caves (Slovenia), Lipica (Slovenia), Trieste (again), Trnfest (Trnovo, Ljubljana), Rijeka (Croatia), Cres (Croatia), back to Rijeka, Hvar (Croatia), Split (Croatia), Bohinj (Slovenia), Piran (again, this time with the boys for a man’s trip), ParisNew York CityBostonLjubljana, Venice (again), Paris (again), Prague (New Years Eve), Heiligenblut (Austria), Kranjska Gora (Slovenia), Dog Sledding Somewhere In Italy, Krvavec (Slovenia), Heiligenblut (again), Vienna (again), Kranj (Slovenia)Podpeč/Preserje (Slovenia), Milano/Alba/Asti/San Remo/Porto Fino (Italy) with Jones and the boys, Turjak (Slovenia), FRI (CS University) Ljubljana, Slovenia, Budapest, Cinque Terra (Italy)Stožice (Ljubljana, Slovenia), Koper (again), Krk (Croatia), Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Trieste (again), Velika Planina (Slovenia), Krk (again)Toško Čelo (Slovenia), Orle (Slovenia), Javor (Slovenia), Prezganje (Slovenia), Dubrovnik (Croatia), Piran (again), Maribor (Slovenia), Vintgar Gorge (Slovenia), Plitvice Lakes (Croatia), Povile (Croatia), Postojna Caves (Slovenia), and Munich (Oktoberfest, Germany) among other places that I didn’t take pictures of and/or forgot to mention.

I saw Dum Dum GirlsAloe Blacc, Mulatu Astatke, Sufjan StevensArrested Development (yes THAT Arrested Development!), Xiu Xiu, Slovenia vs. Belgium (soccer)Cara Beth Satalino, Balmorhea, Fleet FoxesUSA vs. Slovenia (soccer), Elton John, Damir Advić, some Kung Fu thing at Hala Tivoli, Lambchop, Tune Yards, Des Ark, Nils Frahm, Shearwater, Ljubljana vs. Austria (hockey), Ronan Marquet, DJ Tanja, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Julia Holter, some Croatian surf rock band, Sigur Ros, Japandroids, Damir Advić (again), and countless other shows and events that I also either didn’t take pictures of, forgot to label the pictures of, and/or forgot to mention.

To tell the truth, this could be the last time So here we go, like a sail’s force into the night And if I made a fool, if I made a fool, if I made a fool On the road, there’s always this And if I’m sewn into submission I could still come home to this
And now the tough part. How/when/why did we decide that this adventure was over (for now) and what did that mean?

I think that we both knew in the back of our minds somewhere that we’d move back to the States at some point. Part of the allure of this experience for me was that it was a one way ticket until I decided otherwise, but at some point I think I knew that I would decide otherwise.

My mom had been over to visit the first summer, and Brooke’s brother and mom spent Christmas with us, but the reality is that both of our families are much larger than that, and we’re very close to them. We’ve got cousins and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews who we love dearly, and despite what the world has to offer, being close to the people you love offers infinitely more.

Ljubljana is an amazing place, and will always be a large part of both mine and Brooke’s lives. When we started talking about moving back and being near our families, we had a discussion over a drink on our balcony and said that if it weren’t for our families not being there, we could probably go on living that life forever. The pace of life was good. We were happy. We had friends. What more could we want? But the reality of the situation was that our families were far away, and we wanted to be closer.

So we announced that we were moving back to New York, which was surprisingly one of the harder things I’ve ever had to do. It was like breaking up with a girl – you know it’s for the best and you don’t mean to offend, but you also care about the other person and are worried about how they will take it. I definitely got a little verklempt when telling my coworkers, my band mates, and my friends, and I think Brooke did as well. It was almost as if I couldn’t make the words come out. Following the realization that we were actually leaving, and our final European travels (this time around), #TheLastTime got stretched out into a series of parties (planned and unplanned), a farewell gig for my band, the selling and giving away of most of our household things, lots of emotion, lots of hugs, and lots of drinking. When Brooke and I talked about it later and looked back on those last few weeks, we were really humbled by what we experienced and felt. Not only did we get to see Europe, get to work at two awesome companies with great coworkers, and have some of the best experiences of our lives, but we also made some amazing friends along the way who truly care about us.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, thank you guys for all of this. Thank you for letting us into your culture and for helping us to experience what we did. It means the world to both of us.

And with a face like a dad and a laughable stand You can sleep on the plane or review what you said When you’re drunk and the kids look impossibly tan You think over and over, “hey, I’m finally dead” Oh, if the trip and the plan come apart in your hand You look contorted on yourself, you ridiculous prop You forget what you meant when you read what you said And yeah we knew you were tired, but then, Where are your friends tonight?
So, did I get what I wanted out of the experience?

In the end did I do all of the things that I wanted to do? Yes.

Did I get everything out of this experience I possibly could have? Yes.

Do I have any regrets? No.

Where are your friends tonight? Where are your friends tonight? If I could see all my friends tonight If I could see all my friends tonight If I could see all my friends tonight If I could see all my friends tonight
Why did we move back to New York? To be near our families (and to start on the next great adventure, duh!)

Where are our friends tonight? In New York, Ljubljana, and everywhere in between.


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  9 Responses to “Leaving Ljubljana Vegas”

  1. Ow, I miss you guys!

    a friend from Ljubljana

  2. Love the piece and want you to promise that if you ever get bored, you’re cycling back here!

    I’ll do the same when the kids can handle a Ljubljana to New York bike trip over the Bering strait :)

  3. Really inspirational post. Makes me want to pack my bags as well.. :)

    You’ll be missed guys! Hopefully, we’ll see you soon!

  4. Sam you are amazing. I am so honored to have you in our family’s life! This was beautifully spoken from your heart and soul. We missed you and Brooke dearly…and my heart is so full knowing that the two of you had such an amazing experience, but are back with your respective families. I have not seen the two of you so happy as you were in the picture you posted with your cousins and friendsthe other night. When I saw Brooke’s smile, I knew she was back! (I think Loehman’s and TJ’s had a little to do with that too!!) Love you to death–Momo

  5. Fantastic blog post Sammy, I completely share your feelings, I planned my great escape and made it through as well which brought me completely new experience, a lot of adrenaline and problems. Not that I ever go back as you did, oh well, let’s see what will be my next destination, can be your neighborhood ;)

  6. Great post, I’m kinda of living the same thing right now.

    Good luck on your new highway !

  7. Sam & Brooke, it was a pleasure meeting you both, you are amongst few brave Americans, who experienced Europe as it is (with H note and all that jazz). Great friends are never forgotten, no matter how big the ocean is between them. Hope to see you soon(er than later).

  8. um, That was a pretty rad awesome summary! Glad to have you guys back. I can not believe all of the rad stuff you did while you were there! It was a ballsy move and totally worth it. I keep forgetting to tell you and B that we will be in NYC for NYE so lets hang!

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