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.


Week 129 September 17, 2016

We were still in Mostar of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the beginning of this week, where we walked to the far side of Stari Most – Old Bridge and saw the men who jump in a “Cliff Dive” after taking a total collection of 25Euro from the tourists. One of our AirBnB hostesses had sketched a rendition of it beforehand. We also found the Kriva Cuprija – Mini Crooked Bridge, nearby, and, a potent sign that I found very difficult to get a good photo but still felt it important to share: “DON’T FORGET, BUT DO FORGIVE, FOREVER.”

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Our AirBnB was located across the street from one of several mosques in Mostar. While we knew the muezzin would call the faithful five times a day – which time varies due to changes in sunrise and sunset, the loud singsong chanting often felt startling, even intrusive, since we were so close. The strange thing is, once the call ended, which sometimes felt abrupt and unexpected – probably because I do not understand the Arabic, I found myself missing it, wishing it had lasted longer. Finally, after spending a period of time hearing the calls to prayer in parts of southeast Africa, Morocco and now Bosnia and Herzegovina, I looked up the words and followed along as they were called. Then I felt more settled when the call finished.
On Sunday, September 11 – the 15th anniversary of the tragic events in New York City, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania, Loren and I rode an early bus back to Croatia for two memorable nights in the impressive-by-day, romantic-by-night, Dubrovnik. On our first of just two evenings here, and of a sober nature fitting to help honor 9/11, we first visited the War Photos Limited museum in Old Town, which is a walled citadel. This musej – museum, hosts rotating exhibits from various photographers which we were interested in seeing after visiting a smaller War Photos Exhibition in Mostar. We both came away sad from seeing more of what people in war ravaged parts of the world experience during the violence, and in their attempts for survival. Of course we had already had a sense of that from years of media reports…
For the first photo below, the photographer’s write-up explained: “1995 near Kljuc, BIH [Bosnia and Herzegovina] – A Bosniak soldier cries after arriving to his home village, 3 years early [sic] he had hid in the forest and watched his family and the rest of the village executed by Bosnian Serb forces. Photo @ Emmanuel Ortiz.” This now brings tears to my eyes. The third, “Iraq November 2015 – On his return home a man paints over the words ‘Islamic State’ on the front gate to his property in Sinjar.” I apologize, the heading for this one had probably named the photographer but I neglected to note it.
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To have witnessed  the aftereffects firsthand in Mostar — as I mentioned last week – extensive cemeteries, relentless begging by a few men, women and children… this amid so many bombed and burned out shells of buildings even over 20 years later now, some with trees and other greenery overtaking the insides of the shells of what used to be homes or businesses — was and still is heart wrenching. I wonder – is this because so many of the buildings were owned by those who were killed or displaced, never to return to reclaim them? Parts of Mostar thrive – we had lovely accommodations with two young, intelligent, talented women who are devoted to remain in their city. We ate delicious food, met other wonderful people, saw beautiful sights… But, the heaviness of the pain and loss that I sensed there continues to tug at my soul.
Afterward this photo display, we lifted our spirits a little with a Chamber Duo of flute and classical guitar in a small church. Just when might the world learn to make more instruments like these for posterity and peace, instead of weapons for devastation and destruction? When Loren and I returned to our sobe – room, I was inspired to read that the motto of the old Dubrovnik Republic is, “Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro,” which is Latin, meaning: “Freedom (or Liberty) is not sold for all the gold in the world.” I also conjured up the vague memory of a song from my childhood to the tune of Taps: “Day is done, gone the sun; From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky; All is well, safely rest; Love [my change] is nigh.” Sigh.
The next day, we had a wonderful time seeing our friend, a Unitarian seminarian who we first met in Segesvar, Romania, and his travel buddies who are also visiting here in Dubrovnik! It only required a little work to match our schedules, which was worth it. We went to Banje Beach together, walked the 2 kilometers of many stone steps of the medieval walls for great views, and, ended our time together toasting coffee mugs. Loren and I finished our day in Old Town enjoying a talented duo perform for what seemed like hours. And, now I better understand why Dubrovnik is called, “Pearl of the Adriatic.”
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On Loren’s and my early morning walk to the bus station, it dawned on me that a whole segment of tourism has sprung up around Game of Thrones sightseeing. Our first inkling of the trend was in Ireland, and we have since encountered more offerings of it in Morocco, through Croatia, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now we are in Kotor, Montenegro – Black Mountain in Italian, renamed by the Venetians from its original name. What other than Crna Gora? Black Mountain in Montenegrin, of course. Here, perchance, they speak some Italian! We are staying on Stari Grad – Old Town, street, within the old city walls. 
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So far here we have hiked the hour up 1000 stone steps to the extensive old fortress that shines with a bright yellow glow over the citadel walls and nearby harbor at night.
Montenegro uses the more familiar Euro money system, after we learned to change from the Romanian Lei, Croatian Kuna, and, Bosnian and Herzegovinian Mark currencies. One nice thing is that the words Dobar dan – for Greetings, Zivjeli – Cheers, Hvala – Thanks, Molim – said mow-leem for Please/you’re welcome, and, Ciao – Bye, that we first learned in Croatia have been consistent across Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro too. What we notice here is the Cyrillic alphabet is used, making sign reading much more challenging… We enjoyed several conversations with the delightful tour office staffer. From her we rented bicycles for a 40 kilometer – nearly 25 mile, ride around the series of inlets and bays tucked back in behind the Mediterranean waters of Kotor Bay.
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This extensive Buka – Bay, area is considered fjord-like. While there have been a couple of evenings of fierce thunder and lightning, we have had mainly good – even stunning, weather during the days. Many times we have heard a song bird that has a similar trill to my favorite — the Canyon Wren — that serenaded Loren and me many times many years ago in the US southwest. I also delighted in the dainty lavender colored blossoms, cats everywhere, blue skies, warm sun, a bit of a breeze… Ahh.
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I will conclude this week with some rambling thoughts and learnings: I recently heard that the number of Eastern European countries is 25. I tested myself and came up with the correct names of 21 of them, and made up 4 others that were not right, off the top of my head. Loren accurately named 18, and made up one, before tiring of the game. Then, I learned that the number is actually open to debate – more commonly people consider it to be 21! The interesting thing is how a couple of months ago I would have been straining my brain to, perhaps, come up with half of them.
Then, I challenged myself to name the 53 countries of Africa – again, I later learned that there are 54. I had to think a while and only came up with 30… I believe that before last fall I could not have even named ten with confidence, so I am proud of knowing at least this many now. Loren won this time – he named 32. Now I have a list of the 54 countries. It is just 4 more than the number of states in the USA, but somehow feels overwhelming to learn where all these 54 countries are on the continent of Africa. Ok, it just takes time to learn something new, and for me, travel helps a lot.
This is similar to when, before I moved to California, I only understood the geography of the eastern states of the USA. Now I also have a better sense of the layout of the western states, from travel and from living in closer proximity. I am fairly well versed now at naming all 50 of the US states. How about you? Now I have hope for my learning the African countries yet.
All this led me to wonder how many countries are there in the world? I learned that the number varies, depending on whether or not you include some areas in dispute – the Palestine State for one, the Western Sahara for another, or, countries seeking freedom or independence from occupation – namely Greenland, Kosovo, Taiwan, and Tibet, and, the constituent countries of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Based on my little research – I am claiming there are 197. Many are in Asia. Loren likes to call that area, “The Next Segment of our Journey.” We will see what materializes in time. We are not yet even half of the way around the world from home… This list will take some time for me to memorize, and will likely change as world events continue to unfold.
PLEASE NOTE: This week we had limited internet coverage, so I had to upload my photos after the original post. As we may not have viable service over the next three months, please visit this site again, I will share weekly posts when and as often as I can.



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.