Week 132 October 8, 2016, 2.5 years!

This week we had unlocked wifi and a refrigerator in our accommodation in Bitola,
Macedonia, but no kitchen. So, we ate many of our noon and evening meals at the nearby restaurant, Kus Kus – said like Cous Cous but their logo looks like Kys Kys, where we also had secure wifi. We holed up there with our devices and the internet for some of our time, to do planning for some of the specific elements of our next few months. Our journey takes work, requiring skills of both vision and attention to detail. And, woo hoo! We marked yet another new milestone this week: two and a half years since we left home. So far in that time Loren and I have managed well together with few disagreements and innumerable precious experiences that bless us with fabulous memories to savor for the rest of our lives.
The International Festival of Classical Music was held in Bitola this week and we were there for the opening and second nights. A wonderful violinist, accompanied by an equally talented pianist, from Kazakhstan thoroughly entertained us, including – if we understood correctly, four encores. It has had my brain trying to come up with words to share it. For example, one’s forefinger plucking and bow flying over and over her strings, while another one’s fingers gaily tripped and pounded on keys, Ajmah – said Aiman, and Capa – Sara, respectively kept our rapt attention for two non-stop hours at their 25th Jubilee opening.
The next evening Phta – Rita a highly gifted Serbian pianist played some of the fastest finger movements and most energetic fortissimo performance pieces that we have ever witnessed. While these three performers were female, there are also male artists scheduled for later in the Festival.
A highlight this week too was taking a taxi to visit Heraclea Lyncestis – a large site, like a complete neighborhood, of Roman ruins. You could see how some structures were built on top of older Grecian ruins. The mosaic floor tiles were especially well preserved. We walked back to our AirBnB from there for a little exercise.
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The next day we rode a bus to Gevgelija through a vast stretch of dramatic tree covered mountains, cut deeply through by a river running alongside our road. This brought us close to the border of Greece and near to Thessaloniki, which will be our first Greek destination of this journey. Gevgelija, Macedonia, is a town of 18,000 people, a fine place to hang around for a couple of nights, which we must do to remain out of the Schengen area for the last of our 90 days visa restriction. Here is the bus sign for our trip from Bitola – the first listed name to Gevgelija the last listed name. Some of the vowels look familiar, and a few consonants, of the 30 character Cyrillic alphabet.
As we leave behind the Balkan Peninsula, I can say that the people we met, the things we did, and the places we saw, gave us new treasured impressions. From two weeks in Croatia, a few days in Bosnia and Herzegovina, many in Montenegro, over two weeks in Macedonia, and part of a day in Albania, once again we have hopes to return, both to these nations as well as the ones we missed – Slovenia, Serbia, and Kosovo. Albania was the only country that was not part of the former Yugoslavia, which I learned means, “The Land of the South Slavs.” And, like parts of Romania, what little we did see reminded us of earlier times in the USA, coupled with unmistakable 21st century innovation. We heard more than a few nostalgic reflections on Socialism while we were here, hearing this sentiment the most: “Everyone had a house and everyone had a car.”
Though we knew nothing of the Slavic languages, nor could we read the signs written in Cyrillic, we were still warmly welcomed and well cared for. I must mention that we have had some of our best belly laughs from hearing our offline navigation app pronounce the names of the local streets as we find our way walking about! We have appreciated the thriving farmers’ markets, and, as in Italy, eating only foods that are in season. We have enjoyed hearing mostly mellow tunes from the USA of the 70’s and 80’s, many with covers by local artists, though some current and older tunes are aired too. I was sorry to see the number of cigarette smokers and smell some smoke inside airy restaurants. I was also quite impressed to see the many solar powered water heaters on buildings’ roofs.
Now, we are in Greece, to celebrate another milestone – the 25th Anniversary of our Honeymoon! When Loren and I were dating and talked about future travel goals, I let him know of my dream that if I ever visited Europe I had promised myself that I would visit Greece first. This was because Sister Coldrick, who taught my first college class – Western Civilization – had taught it so well that not only did I decide to pursue further  studies for a degree, I also dreamed that I would see Greece in person if I could.
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And Loren honored me with our honeymoon there. In 1991, we heeded the sage advice to wait until late in September to visit, since earlier in the month – right after our wedding – would still be quite hot. So, we honeymooned in Greece the last week of September and the first week of October. Now, twenty-five years later, it was such a coincidence that our Schengen visa had expired just in time for us to be in Greece again during the first week of October for this special occasion. We spent our first two nights on the mainland, in Thessaloniki, which is the second largest city in Greece. For some reason it reminded me of being in Manhattan, then I noticed a sign for a club named Manhattan! This city also has Roman ruins and is a port city. We holed up some in Mikel’s coffee shop with wifi while we were here, for more planning work.
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Then we took a short flight to the island of Crete, the largest Greek island, and fifth largest island in the Mediterranean – after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Corsica. Crete too has been on my wish list to see forever, or at least ever since taking Sister Coldrick’s Western Civilization class in 1979.
We are now in Chania pronounced HAH-knee-ah, where, so far, we have taken a full day tour to see a knife maker’s shop which introduced us to how the steel blades and then the handles are made, taste olive oil at a very high tech production facility, and, taste wines at a winery with a friendly cat.
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We also saw a 3,000 year old olive tree, and, enjoyed a traditional lunch prepared by our hostess Irini in a village in the mountains. Her husband Dimitri offered traditionally numerous refills of our glasses of homemade wine of golden brown color, sweet tasting like sherry, and, the famous apertif, Raki.
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We finished the day with a drive through one of the steep gorges on this western side of the island.
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We will head to Heraklion, also on Crete, later this week.
PLEASE NOTE: While this week we have had flaky internet coverage, we may not have any service at all in the next several weeks. Please visit here again for our next post which we will make when we can.


Week 131 October 1, 2016

This week, still on Lake Ohrid, Macedonia, we rented bicycles one day. We rode from the Old Town of Ohrid, around part of the beautiful clear deep blue lake, through Struga to Kalishta, to our destination to see a cave church. We went partway into the dark interior, but it was hard to capture a photo of the facade. It was unmistakably an autumn day of bright sun with a chilled wind indicating summer is all but over. We hired friendly Joko and his boat to ride us back to Ohrid, and enjoyed seeing the sunset together with him.
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What we notice now – and often have a taste of thanks to Loren’s daring filching – are the ripe fruits of many laden grape vines, and apple and fig trees.
Our AirBnB was right next to the lake where we enjoyed most of our meals on the patio. A plethora of birds entertained us, flitting from boat to shore, preening and sunning. At this time of year, swans teach their cygnets to practicing flying in preparation to migrate for the winter.
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In looking over a few tourist brochures, I learned that Constantine Miladinov’s Poem, Longing for the South is read at the start of each annual Poetry Festival that is held in Strega. I also was moved by this quote:
“Senses are gates of our souls.”
We had a memorable day tour to see parts of the lake with Georgi, our AirBnB host. He stopped for us to take photos, to see the Museum of Bones – a recreated historic village, the National Park Galicica with St Naum Springs – a water source of the lake, and, the Monastery of SvNaum– St Naum, with its resident peacocks.
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Then we crossed the border into Albania. Georgi drove us to Korce, before stopping for lamb chops and a glass of Kosac, which is also the name of a local Albanian birra – beer.
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The restaurant where we ate has a collection of books and one jumped out at me about the life of Stiv Xhobs – Steve Jobs. At the back of the book, the only part printed in English, was his Commencement Address to the Stanford University graduating class of 2005. It was good to be reminded again of his reflections that I had read some years ago.
As we have seen in many places there are numerous cats out and about. Recently though we have also seen many dogs on the loose. It is entertaining to observe their behaviors – lying lazily in the sun, striking up friendships with each other, trotting along as if they have important engagements to attend. One little pair scampering towards me were so enamored with nosing each other side by side as they approached that they did not see me and ran into my leg. One of them appeared to be so baffled, as if to say, “What just happened here?” It was quite amusing. One little one actually joined us, then guided us, from a lake edge trail up through myriad paths to the fortress we intended to visit. It made sure that we entered the gate safely and waited as we paid, then merrily trotted on down the hill.
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We had a pleasant morning walk at Lake Ohrid before we left by bus to travel to Bitola, then by taxi to Di Hovo. At our Di Hovo Villa we met a young couple on holiday. She is from Moscow and lives half the year in Berlin, while he is from The Netherlands, worked in Moscow where they met, and currently lives in Berlin. We had a long conversation over a leisurely breakfast then went on a hike together to see a creek and waterfalls. The next day we enjoyed a hike to a monastery together. It is always delightful to  find kindred souls to share some travel experiences and explore new places together.
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Now, traveling again by taxi we have arrived in the nearby city of Bitola. We look forward to attending a piano concert here this evening!
PLEASE NOTE: While this week we have internet coverage, we may not always have service in the next few weeks. Please check back here, I will share my weekly post when and as often as I can.

Week 130 September 24, 2016

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.
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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.
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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.
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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
Split, Croatia:
wee hour male chants –
just like joyful football* fans’
singing of anthems
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina:
street kids’ loud laughing,
destitute parents’ scoldings
subsequent crying
Kotor, Montenegro:
young adults’ gleeful
friendly, nearly flirtatious
innocent banter
*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?
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.


REPOSTING in Progress: Weeks 2 to 109

This place holder is for the entries from our original blog to be added, eventually. Please check back – this re-creation is a labor of Love and will take a bit of  t-i-m-e- which, while still traveling, we do not always have a lot available to devote to this.