From Kotor Bay, Montenegro where we were at the beginning of this week, Loren and I took a day tour to the Ostrog Monastery of the Orthodox religion. It is built into a cliff high up on a rocky mountain. Many faithful make pilgrimages here, third in number only to sites in Moscow and Greece. It was quite foggy or overcast on the drive there so we could not see the monastery. Before we left the fog had lifted and we could still make it out on the distant mountain that was still somewhat shrouded at the top.
Montenegro has much rugged terrain, with our trip back from the monastery making for fabulous views from our touring van, despite the clouds – of towns, vistas, vegetation, and waters. We were enthralled by the bay’s vast symmetric-like terrain, perhaps even more stunning for the shadowy reflections.
We took a second hike up to the fortress that zig-zags upwards and downwards in dribs and drabs. We were on a less used trail this time, so had it nearly to ourselves.
Kotor we learned, like Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia, is visited by behemoth cruise ships each day, meaning numerous people poke around the towns during the daytime. The size of the bay dwarfs each vessel, looking like a toy boat in a bathtub from the mountainside.
One afternoon Loren and I $plurged on a delicious and leisurely lunch at Restoran Galion on the harbor. Loren insisted on waiting for a table to be available next to the water instead of taking the first one we were offered. That was a perfect idea for a more delightful exerience of the fabulous ambiance and exquisite food. We also took the suggestions of our Monastery tour guide and shared a glass of Alexadriovich Trium – a white wine, and a small bottle of Procordet – a red.
The next day poured rain on and off and on again all day. Late in the afternoon we bade farewell to Montenegro when we boarded an overnight bus to Skopje – said Scope-yeh, Makadonia – Macedonia, or, officially, FYROM – the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. On the map Loren noticed that our route would pass through Kosovo and Albania while we were on the bus. But, the drivers held onto our passports and in the pitch dark, border crossings were indistinguishable from anything else.
We found ourselves transferring buses at 5am in a light rain. I want to remember that people who I do not know are not strangers but potential friends, even in foreign lands. An example is when a woman in a black triangular scarf with gray hair peeking out visibly from beneath it, who had boarded the second bus before us, gestured me to two available seats near her. Even though we were spoke different languages and were dressed differently, she had noticed from the first bus that I was traveling with a partner and helped me find what I needed in that moment. With a grateful smile I nodded my thanks and her smile in return was a welcome gift. I am sure if we had not had the language barrier that we would have had a friendly conversation. That second bus was just a little more comfortable to sleep in just a little bit better.
Here is the latest set of Haiku poetry that I wrote before we arrived in Macedonia:
Sounds through the Windows of Three
Three-Story Walk-ups in the Balkans
by Claire Adalyn Wright
wee hour male chants –
just like joyful football* fans’
singing of anthems
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina:
street kids’ loud laughing,
destitute parents’ scoldings
young adults’ gleeful
friendly, nearly flirtatious
*European football – what Americans call soccer
After a thorough introduction with a local map of the sights to visit in Skopje from our AirBnB host, then a morning nap, we visited the modern City Center. The many statues, Stone Bridge, Old Town, the Bazar, and its microbrewery beckoned. Here we paid more for two small beers and a plate of zucchini chips than we had spent on our full lunch – a salad, plate of cheese fries, dish of veal livers, a large beer and a serving of baklava, at a restaurant in our AirBnB neighborhood. Any wonder I am still carrying those extra pounds and more since I started complaining about them last fall?
We finished our day by seeing the Memorial House of Mother Teresa in her native Skopje, which displays memorabilia of numerous important aspects of her life.
We then spent another day in Skopje, first visiting at the free City Museum, where they tell the story of the utterly devastating earthquake that happened here in 1963. The spelling in Cyrillic of Museum almost looks like the name Musej that we were already familiar with from Croatia. Then, we headed for the bus to take us up the steep hill on the outskirts of town. We were befriended by a woman who was waiting for the same bus – which was not one of the other numbered ones that frequently kept arriving. She spoke little English, so enlisted the help of younger people around who were also waiting, to help us understand that our bus would arrive in 20 minutes. It was closer to 45 minutes though, and in that time we learned that she has a sister living in Washington state, and that her name is Ole – Olive. Together we rode half way up the hill in our bus.
Then Ole invited us – using sign language, to visit the church there with her, where there were festivities to celebrate a holiday. We later learned that this was the annual Little Mother Mary Day. Big Mother Mary Day is celebrated every August 15 or 20, and, on a liturgical calendar, nearly every day is a religious holiday. Ole made sure that we each had a bowl of soup and a drink while we enjoyed the traditional circle dancing of some parishioners to traditional pieces that several musicians played. We returned the favor by inviting Ole to join us on the cable car to the top of the hill to see the Eiffel-Tower-style large cross at the top. On the bus ride back, she again requested others’ help to be sure we knew that she had enjoyed a lovely time with us. We conveyed similar sentiments.
In our Skopje neighborhood, people park their cars on the sidewalks because the streets are not wide enough to park on both sides and allow for a car to drive between them – even given their small car models. But, the result is that pedestrians must walk in the street. I am not sure what the right answer is to this problem.
We often meet interesting travelers, and at this AirBnB were two more: two young men from Los Angeles, originally from Argentina and Mexico. The most interesting thing is that the Argentinian – at 35 years old – will be starting to study Polish academically in Poland this October. I am impressed with him knowing and following his passion.
Our last full day in Skopje was spent taking another bus up a hill to see Macedonian Village, a newly developed resort meant to preserve the traditional arts. We had another wonderful lunch of five traditional foods here. Then we hiked the two and a half hours back down to town.
Now we have traveled by bus once again to stay a few nights at Lake Ohrid, Macedonia. Ours is the one on the left in the map below. The other is Lake Prespa. I am excited that we actually might be able to visit Albania during the daytime as opposed to an overnight passthrough. Albania claims nearly half this lake – just like how Lake Tahoe in California is nearly half claimed by Nevada. Lake Prespa is similarly nearly half located in Macedonia while the other half is split between Albania and Greece. Our AirBnB host offers day trip driving tours, and a couple of his routes include a visit to Albania… hmm.
PLEASE NOTE: While now we have viable internet service we may not in the next few weeks. Please visit here again, I will make my weekly post when possible.