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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We finished the day with a drive through one of the steep gorges on this western side of the island.
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.