Monday, December 31, 2012

Four days of good bye...

As the title of the post suggests, we faced four days of good byes before we all left. At this point, Daniel was already back in Arizona and we hadn’t seen Naum in a few weeks. While an emotional time for us, it was also just what we needed for closure. We started off in Tetovo with Jen’s last kids club at the American Corner. They gave her so many gifts, so many kids loved her. And boy the car was packed! We barely had any room to sit.

On the 2nd, we had out last goodbye party. It was at our lovely little kebab place we found. Everything with food for what felt like 40 for pretty cheap. We had a blast just sitting around talking with everyone. A nice mixture of people just mingling. We then went out to a club afterwards. It was a perfect MK ending to the year.

After a day of packing and just hanging out with friends, we spent the next day relaxing at a spa. We all had massages and either a pedicure or a facial. The prices were so great I wish I had done this about once a month. We all then went to join Erin at Ajana’s. This was one of the first places I ate at in MK and one of the last ones. It was touching and difficult to understand how 9 months had already passed. We saw Lizzie off to Bulgaria where she was going to catch her plane.

My last day in Skopje was spent hanging out at home and with new friends. I made sure to go see Hyun and Vancho one last time. As well as my friend from Macedonian 2025 before I left. Jen and I had made up our mind to not go to sleep before leaving thinking it would help us re adjust to US time zones. I think it did help, but boy was it super hard to do so! I have to admit, that I think the bit of wine and coffee helped us both.

We headed off to the airport at around 2:30 in the morning. The last bit was epic! We had been told by United that whatever we got to take over the Atlantic, we could take on every leg of our trip. We already had to pay for three suitcases so we went and paid for them, then we stood in line to check them. We also had our two carry on’s, which we thought were fine. Then we went to security….and we were only allowed one bag. At this point we didn’t want to pay for another over limit bag for our 4th checked bag. We tried explaining what had happened and got mad, threatening to complain to United…speaking really fast in English at the same time (I felt a little bad afterwards) but I think they decided to left us go just to get rid of us. We kept talking about how we were going to complain to United until we got past security…we looked at each other, laughed and said there is NO WAY we are complaining…this was the best last minute gift from MK.

The planes were nice and almost empty the whole way home.  In case you don’t remember, we had to go from Skopje à Vienna à Zurich à New York à Houston/Chicago à Home. The first transfer was super easy…Switzerland was a bit, well stereotypical….line and directions and organization and comfy waiting locations and free wifi. And we had to go through security all over again. I thought Erin was joking when she told us about them looking at her weird with her glass bottle, but no they totally did. We barely had time to get through the airport before the plane loaded. We had to go through one last security checkpoint where they asked us questions about “Have you had your electronics repaired recently?” I mean is there a terrorist out there going “I only accept and repair electronics that are flying internationally so I can set you up to take the blame and blow up the plane?” oh well, it wouldn’t totally surprise me. We had a whole row to ourselves on the transatlantic! Totally nice. It was hard to say good bye in New York, but we knew we would keep in contact over FB.

It might be sad, but the first thing I bought was Auntie Anne’s Pretzels…delicious and American. When I got into Houston, I was dead. I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid of missing my flight, I couldn’t eat because I could barely stay awake, but I needed food. (Chili’s with a veggie burger and fries). And then my plane was a bit delayed.  But eventually (or so it felt) I made it on the plane and was finally going home.

It was nice to be home, to see family and friends. But I still miss the lifestyle of Macedonia and the food. I want to go back. I will go back, who knows when, but it will happen.

See you around the globe!

Three days with friends

After arriving back from my travels through three countries, I went to pick Lizzie and Jen up at the airport and drop Jen’s sister’s suitcase off. Jen’s family had all gone home and the three of them went to Venice! Now Jen’s sis was joining the rest of the family in London- Lucky Ducks! We had lunch there before waving good bye to her and heading back to Skopje.  We basically headed straight to Tetovo from the airport. There wasn’t a whole lot of things to note, just general happiness and excitement and lovely weather!

The next day (May 30th) was a huge day for Jen! She had organized a donation of about 10,000 books to local schools around Tetovo. There were so many people who helped her achieve this feat, and so many people who were in love with the outcome. They gave out free books to the kids of the area. When I say there was a crowd of people- there was a gigantic crowd! But some many people were so happy to get English books. (American Corner Tetovo FB pics: It was a blast, but really long and standing on our feet and tons of little kids trying to get lots of books. But we kept smiling through all of it and had so much fun!

The next day (June 1st) we relaxed, helped Jen pack and took a short trip to Mavrovo. We knew wanted to try to go see this national park and what was supposed to be beautiful. Like most natural places in MK, it didn’t disappoint. We had a bit of trouble finding a place to park and go see the lake just because there wasn’t so many signs about where to go to get to the lake. We just laid out on a rocky beach and listened to the  waves, after finding a spider the size of my palm, I couldn’t lay there anymore and went to explore and walk around the lake a bit. After about 30 minutes, we decided we needed to go back just because we felt like it was necessary to get everything done. We wanted to drive all the way around the lake, because, well, we could. It was a bit difficult in one area, because the road actually went through a PARKING LOT…like seriously? Well, it was relaxed and they even fell asleep! There were so many vacation homes around the lake and closed down resorts.

We decided to go to this gas station and get bread and cheese. We drove about 20 minutes out of our way for really delicious bread and cheese. It is that good. Just that good. I wish I had known about it sooner than when I did actually find out about it. The trip back was uneventful and it was finally starting to sink in that we were leaving.

Explorations of Eastern MK

Upon waking up in Sofia, I started my last long drive back to Skopje that I would take. I found I loved the symmetry between arriving at Sofia when I first came to Macedonia and when I was close to leaving- I was making the same trip to Skopje but this time I was doing it on my own. The day was perfect- the temperature was great and the sun was shining. It was a bit hectic to get out of Sofia. I was searching for the next big town and it was a bit difficult to see the signs and the gps failed me. Eventually, with a keen sense of direction, I found my way out of the city and on my way to MK. The roads were virtually empty after Sofia. I loved being able to just take in the country side as I drove, blaring the radio (not really understanding a whole lot, but hey).

Once I crossed the border (no problems and no fun stories), I stopped often for pictures and just to look. Following signs and the handheld map, I made my way towards the stone dolls. Legend goes that these dolls were a wedding party that were cursed by the forsaken other bride. She turned them into rocks. There are supposedly about 120 stone figures and range in size up to 10 meters high. Scientist say that the figures were formed 10 million years ago my tectonic erosion. Chose to believe either legend, but locals swear new ones appear every year or so. On the road back to the dolls, I kept just saying- well the signs said to go this way, so it must still be back this way and over this scary little bridge and through the field. And I was right. Suddenly there was the entrance to the “park.” I guess there is sometimes an area that sells food (or used to) and an area to picnic. But for little alone me, I just walked over to the dolls and made my way up to the top to photograph them all.  Tons of nature and relaxation. I wanted to just sit and read and just look around, but I felt the need to get going so I could get back to Skopje before dark.

On the road again, this time I was headed to an ancient observatory, recognized by a registry of historical sites. Part of the renovation of the area around it was sponsored by the US Embassy. I made my way following signs and around tons of little corners and mini villages (avoiding kids and goats). I made it up to the site and thought, I will just hike the rest of the way- knowing it was a bit far, but thought it would be nice since I had made great time….However, there were about 8 bees per square foot and I am allergic to bees. Haven’t been stung my one in a while, but didn’t want to try it out on a hike all alone in a foreign country. So I got back in my mini car and tried to drive up the mountain. Not so great of an idea due to recent rain, but I didn’t get stuck and decided that pictures would just have to suffice for this trip. I was able to get some pictures of the observatory and when I go back to MK (and have a 4 wheel drive), I will actually walk up the top of the observatory.

I made my way back to Skopje, just in time for the afternoon traffic. Parking in Skopje is always interesting. I’m sure there are actually parking laws, but no one seems to follow them. So I always try to find a way to park and hope not to get a ticket….this time was no different, but it was always an adventure.  I was able to just relax the night away and get ready for the next part of our adenture!

See you around the globe!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Road Trip to Bulgaria!

After spending the night in Bucharest, I headed down the road to Sofia. I wanted to see more of Bulgaria and hit some sights in eastern MK on my way back to Skopje. It rained all day. Literally all day long. I think I saw sun for about 2 hours, max. But it was still pretty. I got a pretty good start and made it to the border with no problems. It was a really weird border with a long driveway thing and then one stop check point followed by about 1 mile of road before reaching the actual border. Just when I think I have borders under control, something strange happens.

I pull up to the border control place and hand over my passport and the rental car papers. That’s all I needed or got at the border on the way in (see previous post). The lady askes me where this other paper is. *BLANK STARE* What other paper? The one that you get when you cross the border, (They gave me no paper) the one they gave you when you bought gas (Like a receipt? Well…..I through that one away!)…..pull over there. So I pull the car over and wait. About 2 minutes later I realize I can’t find any of the receipts where I bought gas (because it only happened once) and I don’t have this paper, and I can’t speak a word of Romanian to help me out to understand what this paper is supposed to be! I get my passport and the car papers. I walk back over there and hand this new lady the paperwork. They inform me that the fine for not having this paper is 10 Euro a day (total of about 80 euro for me) for all of the days I was there. But they give me no option to pay it. I keep apologizing, hoping this will change something. I can’t leave because they have my passport. After about 5 minutes of “You should have this paper!!!” “You need this paper!” They finally asked what border I came in on (Serbia), they shug and roll their eyes. I offer to pay the fine, but ask where I can pay it. They look at each other and hand me my passport and car papers back. Apparently there was nowhere to pay the fine and thus I don’t have to pay the fine…..(Make this the second time that I have gotten off of paying a fine for a law that I didn’t know about that I broke!)

I cross into Bulgaria over this amazing looking metal bridge- totally surrounded by factories. The Bulgarian border goes off with no problem (just had to wait a bit longer than normal). In Bulgaria, you have to have these little stickers on your car or you are driving illegally. I also had to get gas, so I stopped at the first gas station I saw. While filling up on gas, I go in and ask for the “vinegrette” for the car. After much discussion, I have to buy the 7 day one because that is the shortest one they have. Since it still wasn’t that expensive, it didn’t bother me that much. The drive was very interesting. The countryside varied so much! From rolling hills to forest to lakes. While totally rainy- just gorgeous!

I made it to Sofia just fine and stayed at my friend’s apartment. Got a bit of work done as he worked on his project as well. Then we headed out to dinner! We went to the Bulgarian restaurant that I went to the last time I was in Sofia (forget the name, but oh well). The restaurant messed our food up so bad they gave us free whisky. No joke. After walking home we both basically went to bed.

As I was typing this, I realized. I have absolutely no pictures. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Wow- way to go Cassidy!

See you around the globe!

Saturday, June 30, 2012



From May 23 to May 28th I was in Romania. I was going to a conference on International Social Work/NGOs that another Fulbrighter had put on for her research part. It was a long drive to get there through Serbia! The border was super long going into Romania as well. I guess that it was because it was entering the EU from a non EU country. But when I got to the front of the line with my car, they looked at my passport asked me where I was going in Serbian and the said good day! Like EVERY SINGLE other car they were checking for bombs and looking under the car/taking the car apart, but me the American, oh you can just go! It was a beautiful countryside and very pleasant to drive through. I enjoyed the drive and the scenery. When I got into Romania I was amazed by the amount of driving laws. Then I saw that no one followed them. Like ever. And the roads were bad that you often weren’t even able to drive on your own side of the road. We weaved in and out and through the pot holes. I later found out that there is a Romanian saying that you can tell if someone is driving drunk if they are driving straight!

I arrived to a lovey sandwich dinner, and company of other Americans and one German! I even got to see Bill from Thessaloniki! I wish I could catalog all of the days that I was there. From the lovely seminar to playing in the park with local children, to my utter confusion with Romanian (which I think was just my brain’s overload of languages this trip. And since this one wasn’t Slavic based, my head shut down.), to visiting some Really cool NGOs that work with local children!

The NGOs were nice and very helpful to see other countries and how they work. I had tons of questions that they were willing to answer. It was also good to talk with other Americans who were in the same position as me, but in a different country and be able to compare our experiences. I felt like the German girl might think we complain a lot, but we were really only sharing things that appeared crazy to us, but normal to locals. But not saying that it was horrible! But impressions might have been different.

At the very last day, I went with Bill and a Peace Corps Volunteer from Moldova (Zach) to Castle Corvinilor! IT was a really cool Romanian castle that had lots of empty rooms and a MAsconic meeting going on! With inductees! But the castle was built a really long time ago. There was a bear pit where they feed the prisoners to the bear, and a water trap that had been built by Turkish Prisoners who were promised their freedom and then killed after working for 10 years! There were nooks and crannies that we explored, even one that we weren’t supposed to! They are awesome to explore with because they like to take funny pictures! J

Then I decided to go to Budapest for the next night to take Zach and Bill there and see more of Romania, and then head on to Sofia the next day- letting me see new and different parts of the world! I spent the night in a friend of a friends apartment and explore for about an hour before giving up and going back to relax and de compress. But I did, of course, get a lot of pictures. And I want to go back, of course!

Two Lakes Hike with Lizzie

We woke up a bit early to go get lunch at the market. We found tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, bread, and sausage. Then we were off! Today was a big day for me. I was voluntarily hiking up a mountain. Yup, read that again. Hiking up a mountain by choice.
We were hiking to the Two Lakes View in southern Macedonia. There are (obviously) two lakes there- Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa. Between these two lakes there is a mountain: Galichica. At the top of the highest point in Macedonia in this mountain range is Magaro at 2255 meters high. At this point you can see Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa.

Lizzie is obviously a hiker, but I was the one convincing her to go! The day started off cold, rainy, wet, and cloudy. But we decided to try anyway. Off we went. It looked pretty nice until we made it to the stopping point. But first, as we were driving on this little back road/main thoroughfare  and through villages , we were once again laughing at what was considered a major road in these countries. This road was barely able to hold two cars on it. But we got to see Lake Prespa as we drove by. No pictures sadly because there was no place to stop along! We kept following this little road up and we came to one part with hiking signs. It was about where we thought we would have to stop, so we backed up and looked at the map. While the map and the guide book called them separate things, and we were a bit turned around, we did determine that we were in the right location! We hesitated about going up, but in the end decided that we were here and in 3 weeks we wouldn’t have the chance, so why not? And off we went.

What we should have done was take the car up a bit further and then walked. It would have saved us about 30 minutes of walking. Which I would have enjoyed, but oh well. There was a Red Cross Outpost that is more than likely open in the summer but not in any of the other seasons. There was also a small weather station. The first part was easy compared to the second part, but at the time, we didn’t know that. It was steep and wooded and made me out of breath very quickly! But then.


We got to this one part that should have been easy, but it was covered in snow. Yes, snow. In May. Like SERIOUSLY? But oh well, we decided to try to scale it. Remember that I am in Tennis shoes and have no winter coat or gloves. But we made it to the center area and then starting half climibg/half walking up the face of this mountain! We were laughing the whole way! I lost my water bottle and decided that it would still be there when I went down, so I waited to go get it (Mostly I didn’t want to have to climb down to climb back up). So off we went. Grabbing on to grass and rocks and sand, even snow to be able to keep going up.

The only thing that made it worth going up was what I was going to see when I got to the top. That is was a great motivator. We made numerous stops along the way to catch our breath. I was really glad that I had asked Lizzie to borrow some jeans because I had been planning on wearing capris and not very warm ones at that! We made it most of the way up when we turned and saw Lake Prespa.

Worth it. At that moment, everything that we had done was worth it. IT was totally worth it. The view was breathtaking and almost unbelievable. Hard to describe. The glistening lake and the mountains surrounding it, washed with snow and sprinkled with green. Breathtaking. We stopped and just looked for a bit.

Then it was onward! It got really steep and the trail markers disappeared. Like we couldn’t see any of them! It was a bit scary, but we figured we were only supposed to go up, right? And up and UP an d up we went. We stopped for an apple once, just to get our bearings. We had thought it would be clearing before we stopped, but then the clouds rolled in, So we sat a bit longer than we would have otherwise to just see if we could wait them out. We couldn’t so we started up to see if maybe we could go up while they were there, but then they would blow over!

This is where it got really interesting. I was grasping snow and bent over and holding on to anything. But then. Then we got to the  top! (Well almost, I think there was something that was a bit higher, but oh well. ) And we saw the views. Oh the views! AMAZING!!!!

After looking around and SEEING BOTH LAKES, we headed back down. Lizzie was walking it, but I couldn’t get any traction, and then I slid. Then I decided that I would shoe-ski down the mountain! Like, use my tennis shoes as skis, and just slide down! If you put your pressure on the back of your heels and balance with your arms- you slid down a mountain!! SUPER SUPER DOOPER FUN!!! Like enough fun to make me want to go on a ski trip!

Then we came to an area where we had found a yellow raincoat that we had decided would work for sledding down the mountain. And then we sled! Oh so much fun! Like it was amazing! I’m not sure if it was fun because we were so tired or fun because it was legit fun.

Afterwards we headed to Sv. Naum, which is a famous monastery in Macedonia where Sv. Naum is buried. If you listen closely you can hear his heart beating, supposedly. I didn’t, but maybe they would say that it is because I am not a believer (in Eastern Orthodoxy). But the area around it was beautiful, as was the architecture. We took a mini boat ride out to view it from the lake. Oh, did I not mention that it was located on Lake Ohrid?

Very peaceful. We took a walk back to a spring that leads into the Lake. We even sat on a rock and dipped our feet into the water. Or in my case my ankle, which was killing me! Then we wandered towards another church located on the same ground. It was nice, and the lake springs were so refreshing! The spring ran through the church! I guess the whole lake was blessed!

Then we were done we headed to Ohrid, where we were to meet Jen and her parents for dinner. But we had a real MK dinner at about 9pm. It was yummy! Then they offered to let us stay at the apartment they were renting, which was nice, because Lizzie and I weren;t sure if there would be any water when we got back and we wanted to shower! It also ended up being the most expensive meal I had ever eaten in MK!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Krushevo (May 20)

After returning from Kosovo with Cecelia, I went and picked up Aryn for our trip to Kruševo. This is known as the highest town in the Balkans. It is supposed to be about a 2.5 to 3 hour trip and I think it was. It was just much later than I originally anticipated. The GPS that I was supposed to be able to use doesn’t work very well on a curvy mountain town, and the hotel didn’t give very good directions. After about 30 minutes or more of driving around in circles we finally found the hotel. The lady complained about us being late, but ushered us up into room and bid us good night. The hotel was Casa or Villa la Kola where I had a free night’s stay due to a raffle with the International Woman’s Association. However, if you are wanting a weekend away from Skopje I recommend going to Kruševo, beautiful town and very relaxing.

After collapsing in bed and sleeping for a long time, we woke up to go exploring. The first thing Aryn wanted to do was to go buy her return bus ticket, so we walked to the bus station to get her on the 3:30 bus home. Then it was up to the top of the town where the Ilinden monument and the Tose museum were located. We came across the Tose Museum before the other monument, so we decided to go there first.

Tose Proeski was a singer from this town who became famous throughout the Balkan area and most of Eastern Europe. He was once dubbed the “Elvis Presley of the Balkans” by the BBC. He died in 2007 in a car crash in Croatia and has since become a cult legend. Someone built a memorial house to him (that is in the shape of a cross, by the way) in his hometown. It looks like they basically took his ENTIRE apartment and put it in a museum. And then made some wax figures of him doing stuff and put them in it too. However, that said. It was the most well done museum in Macedonia. It was totally handicap accessible, the first place that I had seen in MK that was like this. The museum was very well organized and very well done. There were signs next to every little thing. They had a set up for his recording studio, his concert, his living room. In the recording studio they had a wax figure of him…wait for it…dressed in an adidas red three stripe track suit (this will only be funny to you if you have lived in Europe). About the time I discovered the living room, it started to get creepy. This is when I realized that they took his whole house and left only his clothing out. They even had his passport and computer.

Here is a link to a video of him preforming a song:

After a quick coffee to relax at the memorial house, we walked up to the Ilinden Monument. This monument commemorates an uprising against the Ottoman empire in 1903.

[In the town of Kruševo, on  St. Elijah’s Day, there was an uprising.] The people of the town declared a Socialist Republic, which lasted 10 days.  Turkish troops crushed the rebellion quickly with a troop ratio of 16:1.  The temporary republic inspired dissent that lasted for about three months.  The Turks were unable to stop the Republic from sending a declaration to Europe asking for help to stop the bloodshed of Christians in Macedonia.  (My thesis, pg 37)

It was amazing. Not breathtaking in the normal sense, but in the history that is seeped into every little side of this monument. This is a new age monument- everything represents something.  There were white concrete barriers (?) that showed the different centuries that MK was under Ottoman rule, including the ones that showed where they had fought back. Then once you get inside the museum, each wall represents something different. The walls have designs on them that represent the struggles that Kruševo went through on the road to independence. From oppression to WW2.  There are four stained glass windows as well, but what they represent is escaping me right now. The view was beautiful of the mountains from up here as well.

Then we walked back down to the center and had lunch at the only real restaurant that we saw. They didn’t have a lot of vegetarian food options, but the food was still yummy! We had this cheese dip with pizza bread, and a mixed salad (which means shredded lettuce carrots, beets, tomatoes and cucumbers). Then we tried to go look at some of the churches, since the other museums would be closed now. But the churches were all closed up as well. The center square was a bit sad looking with the empty fountain and everything. We decided to have coffee before she had to leave. Then I went back to the hotel and grabbed the car before heading out to the Stone Man. Which is a monument to the uprising again. It shows a man throwing a stone at invisible Turkish soldiers. It is a bit off the road and it doesn’t have very good markers. But the views towards it. WOW. I can see why people paraglide off of these mountains. See:

I then drove towards Bitola to spend the night at Lizzie’s before we had our fun adventure the next day. But once we got there, I Wanted to go to Heracula. It is the ruins located (they claim South of Bitola, but I never felt like we left the city) in Bitola. They just uncovered some of the mosaics. They had them covered for winter. There was (emphasis) an amphitheater, church, and a sewer system.

Lizzie’s apartment was having water trouble- as in she hadn’t had it for 2 days by the time I got there- and she never got it until 4 days after I left. We went to enjoy dinner at a local restaurant that has the best tavche gravche I’ve had in MK. Yum!

See you around the globe!

Saturday, June 2, 2012



On Saturday May 19, I went to pick up a rental car that I had rented for the next two weeks to explore Macedonia and the surrounding countries! Cecelia went with me because we were going to Kosovo for a day trip. I had reserved this car through Interways RentACar because they had the cheapest price and through in a GPS for free! And SURPRISE you had to do everything online! It was so different, when they said, go to our website and make the reservation, I think I looked at the phone like they were crazy! SO I go online and request the Opel Corsa Automatic for my two weeks, get an next day response to the reservation in my inbox and it confirms everything and lowers the price that I was expecting to pay! Way to go. Or so I thought.

We show up at 9am when they open to get the earliest start possible on our day trip since I was driving to Krushevo when we got back. We do all the paperwork, check everything out with the car, and are ready to leave at about 9:30. Then I get in to leave and go to put it in drive…it’s a manual. So back inside I go and tell them I can’t drive that car. When I requested an automatic, and you confirmed that car, I should be getting that car. Well their system is stupid and apparently doesn’t tell them if someone wanted an automatic or manual, even though online I requested Opel Corsa Automatic. That car was also apparently rented out, so they were going to upgrade the car. They said I would have to bring it back in the next day when the other car was available. I told them no, because I wasn’t slotted to be back in Skopje until Tuesday. What I should have said was I wasn’t coming back to Skopje- it was too much hassle and stress later. (wait for that blog post).  But the kicker- the other car was at the airport a 30 minute drive from where we were. So out to the airport we go! And then back to the center to drive to Kosovo! We left almost 2 hours after we wanted to leave. VERY upset customer, even though the upgrade was super nice!

We had no problems at the border. And we went off to drive to Prizern, mostly because Cecelia really wanted to see it. I wanted to see Prishtina but the road back from Prizern is scary and you don’t want to do it at night if you don’t have to! We stopped along the way for a few pictures and a video or two.

We also had an encounter with the police!Apparently I was going 55 km/hour in a 40 km/hour zone (34 mph in a 24 mph). They flagged us over and one guy (Cop A) comes over and says “Miredita” which is Albanian for hello. It is also one of the few words I know. He then proceeds to try to tell me something in Albanian, and I have to interrupt him and tell him I know no Albanian. He thinks, then shows m the radar gun (they have radar guns?)  which reads 55 and says “40” in English. Immediately contrite, I apologize and wait for him to say something else. He then asks for the car documents and my drivers license. Next there was the word “ticket” with hand motions. He walks away as I go “well crap” to Cecelia. Then we realize that I’m supposed to be over there with him as he writes the ticket. (cultural difference from America!) I go over there and Cop B comes over and tries speaking to me in English. Then I realize something: how much is this thing and how do I pay it? So I ask the guy in English and he tells me that his English is exhausted and he doesn’t understand (roughly). So taking a leap, I suggest that I know some Macedonian. This is a leap since I would be expecting them to know Serbian, which is not as good in Kosovo. Cop B tells me that is fine and we switch to “Macedonian.” Turns out the fee is 35 Euro and I could pay it somewhere else or right there. I do have that on me, so it would be a problem. But this turns into the “Why are you here?” questions. Once I tell him that I am a student in Skopje studying international politics, Cop B tells cop A to let me go because I am a “good student” (never knew that could get me out of a ticket). But Cop A tells Cop B that NO! I will get the ticket. And snatches the papers back that Cop B tried to pull away. Cop B shurggs and goes back to talking to me. Once I tell him that Kosovo is beautiful and that I am only spending one day in the country he tries to tell Cop A that I shouldn’t get the ticket but Cop A insists! Then Cop A calls some one and hands the phone to me, convo goes a bit like this:
Random Person: Hi
Me: Hello?
RP: What’s going on?
Me: I think I was speeding. I think I was going 55 in a 40. But I’m bot really sure.
RP: Oh! You’re American!
Me: yes
RP: what are you doing here?
Me: studying in Skopje.
RP: oh cool. Well this guy is my cousin, I’ll tell him to let you go.
Me: ok….
There was some silence, so I hand the phone back to Cop A and he talks for a bit pretty upset then hands me everything back kind of mad and say “ok go.” I walk back to the car thanking him profusely and apologizing. Then Cecelia asks if she can take a pic of me with them. Cop B says no and Cop A say of course and tells Cop B to get in the picture. I won’t post the pic online to not get them in trouble!

When we got to Prizern, we stopped for some lunch at a restaurant downtown, before just wandering around and taking pictures. And getting ice cream. And getting yelled at for taking a picture of a sign that said no pictures of the church. And then taking another picture of the church later just on principle.

Then we headed off to the capital. We had been told there was an interstate between them. There was not. There was a back county road.  Pretty sights, but it took more time than we were expecting, so we got into the capital after all of the museums closed. We arranged to do dinner with Andy at 6:30p, so until then we just walked around. We wandered on the main street, where they were setting up a big screen and viewing area for a futball match that night. Then we went to go try to see some of the mosques listed in Lonely Planet, but they were all mostly closed. We were able to go into one of them and look around- it was very beautiful!

There is a wall of pictures of the missing or dead from the war with Serbia for independence in 1999 along one fence in the center. It was disheartening. So many faces, so many young boys, so much death. After the mosque viewing we also found a park with older Roman style stones in it with a plea for people to help get the antiquities that were stolen by Serbia in 1998 back to Kosovo. Only one has been returned.

Cecelia and I had a bit of a problem finding the place we were to eat as it isn’t very well marked while being hiding behind an umbrella. But nonetheless, we got there and sat down and waited for Andy to show up. While he promptly did! We enjoyed a delicious dinner of various things while have intelligent conversation. We ate for 1.5 hours if that is any indication. Then Cecelia and I had to leave to head back to Skopje. She drove while I took a cat nap, since I still had three hours to go once I got back to Skopje. That border was an uneventful as well. We were worried a little bit since Cecelia is going through the same process as Erin did in the beginning of me being here. But no worries we were back!

Stay tuned for the next part of the adventure!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Matka Canyon

On Wednesday May 16, I went with IWA to visit Matka Canyon.  What I thought was to be a boat ride followed by a possible hike turned into a three hour difficult hike! Might not have gone had I known that! We all met up at the ABC café to drive out to Matka. Matka is really near to Skopje, think 10-15 minute drive, but is SUPER difficult to get to if you do not have a car. I had been meaning to go before the weather got horrible but had no one to go with me and was still nervous about trekking out by myself to some strange place. Then the weather got horrible. Then it never got nice! So this was a great opportunity!

As soon as we got there, we started up this foothill. We just crisscrossed our way around until we reached the top of this little hill overlooking the end of the canyon. One regret I have is that I never saw the actual canyon! We ate a little bit there and relaxed before heading back down a different way. This was our key mistake. It took a long time to get down because there was no path at all. Well, it was totally overgrown. It was fun to forge our own way a bit, but it was difficult going. I twisted my ankle a few times and it still hurts now (May 28th) if I try to do too much with it! We ended up right by the cars where we parked in the morning.

We then headed over and grabbed a coffee before heading home to Skopje! I did get some awesome pictures of Matka and one good video!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Belgrade Day 2!

Check out the AMAZING pictures why don't you on facebook. (

The next day we woke up to try to go to the Nikola Tesla Museum which opened at 10am. First, and now we knew better, we got burek for breakfast and then set off. We went a new route, but it was also very rainy and wet today. When we arrived at the museum. there was a children’s tour group. They told us that at 12pm there would be an English language tour, if we wanted to wait. We decided to go get a coffee/look at buying souvenirs until the museum was “opened.” Lizzie didn’t want to go look at souvenirs so she spilt off from Jen and I. Jen and I couldn’t find the shop, it didn’t exist! So we went back to a coffee shop and drank coffee/read magazines! Then at 12 we met back up with Lizzie and toured the museum. There was a video about what Tesla did for about 20-30 minutes, then he showed us some of his cool things he developed. I want to link you to this infographic about Tesla that I found after visiting the museum: click here! ) Did you know that Tesla invented wireless communication? And that he had devised a way for free international service and internet/calling? And he did this all in the early 1900s?

We decided to go back finish buying souvenirs and then go get lunch! We ate at a nice, Communist style decorated Serbian food location in the center of town! There was a slight misunderstanding with the ordering that was eventually worked out (When I ask what’s in the tomato salad, and you answer ONLY tomatoes and then try to serve me tomatoes AND onions, it is not ONLY tomatoes in the salad!). I also had a vegetable soup that was basically pureed veggies. After a leisurely lunch, we went to find a café for Lizzie and Jen to sit in because they were tired of exploring Belgrade. I however, was not! So after dropping them off I tried to go to the pedagogical museum which was supposed to be open on Sundays but clearly was not. Since nothing else was supposed to be open I was forced to head back and do nothing. Since I had nothing to read or do, I stopped off in a bookstore and got a book for really cheap. It ended up being a good read and interesting, but I don’t think I will go out of my way to get that author again. So after busing myself and finding new books I want to read when I get back to the US/buy on my nook, I ended up back in the café with Jen and Lizzie. I proceeded to order cake and tea and sit there with them for 3 hours. We then went to get dinner, and ended up with Chinese. Yummy Chinese food that we could take to go! Then it was back to the hostel to finish gathering our stuff and head to the train. Luckily we got there when we did because we got the last cabin together, the noisy one on the end, but man, if we had been any later, there wouldn’t have been any space for us! As it was, the guy had to make the top bunk up for me to sleep on. We had an uneventful border crossing at 5am. And an uneventful ride, this train was much more annoying than the last one- we would go really fast and then stop for 30-40 minutes rather than a slower pace with less stopping. And the top bunk rocks a whole lot more! Which means that I got less sleep than my last adventure through Belgrade! We arrived safe in Skopje again and Jen headed straight to Tetovo while Lizzie hung out until she could catch the train to Bitola in the afternoon.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Belgrade Day 1!

ACCOMPANYING PICTURES can be found on facebook. (

We decided to take the night train to Belgrade for a few reason. Even though the locals tell you it is horrible and one should never take the night train (they are wrong). It was cheaper than renting a car (even though we could have explored the countryside which (spoilers) would have been nice on Sunday) and it involved sleep rather than the bus. So after dinner with the Pout Family, we went back to the apartment to grab our stuff and headed to the train station. We had a bit of fear when we get there and the train to Belgrade isn’t on the list of departing trains! But it was actually leaving that night at 8:10, so who knows. We purchased our tickets and headed up to the platform. We had to pick the compartment (pictures are wonderful helpful hints, by the way) and we walked up to the train car. Then the train compartment manager (is there a word for this in English) came in and told us to go forward because those ones were better. We kept telling him for the three of us, but he kept trying to put us in one with other people. So we kept walking until there was a totally empty compartment that had three beds pulled out. What was interesting was that this was a different compartment than the other one I had taken. This one had 6 beds and they weren’t as nice. But both were considered 2nd class. I have no idea why! We were able to just sit and talk for a bit as we waited for the train to start (and the hour and a half it took for the train to get to the border, actually).  After the border, we just made our beds and fell asleep!

The next morning we arrived about an hour before we were supposed to. But we were able to find the hostel pretty easy. The directions were “walk out of the side entrance, cross the street and you are there.” While it was a little more complicated than that (there were no cross walks), but it was pretty simple.  We brushed our teeth and just got ready for a bit as we looked up stuff to do. (spoilers) Supposedly Tito’s grave opened at 9am, we decided to grab a bite to eat and walk towards Tito’s grave. We skipped the breakfast at the bottom of the stairs because we thought there would be tons of food on the way and I don’t really know why else. We started walking and found no food and no directions and the map was a bit wrong. But 45 minutes later, we arrived there after asking directions from people who had no idea where the “park with Tito” was. Like really? No one knows where Tito is buried? Seriously people? It’s like a major tourist attraction. I mean I didn’t know what to call “grave,” we tried in English and Polish and a possible Macedonian word. But no luck. We did enjoy our nap. There was a dog that didn’t like Lizzie sitting on His Grass, but just barked until she moved. The security guy didn’t really understand what we were doing—he kept walking and looking at us and standing there and looking. The grave/mausoleum was very well done. Very relaxing and pretty. They had a history of the non-aligned movement (can Cuba be a part of this? Isn’t Cuba communist, and thus not allowed to be non-aligned? Apparently they were a part of it.) along one side and a display of the relay batons that kids had given to Tito. As well as some of the letters that people had wrote to Tito (or embroidered). After this we went to this little museum that was specially designed to house some artifacts from around the world that were given to Tito.  At one point there was this group of older Serbian guys there who wanted to take a picture with me. I thought they wanted me to take a picture of them, but nope, I was to be in it. That was a little odd- I mean I’ve been around the black guy, the Korean guy, and the red head, but never the white brown haired girl getting the picture taken. Made me laugh. 

After this, we decided to go to the 25th of May Museum but it wasn’t open until 12pm. So off to the Sv. Save church which is supposedly the largest Orthodox church in the world. But we were looking for food along the way. After going down this really steep hill, we found a restaurant that had vegetarian food (this is odd in the area)! And made it to the church. There was an exhibit in the National Library near the church that has a “Ours or Alien?” exhibit I think it was about fairy tales or something. This church was totally unfinished- I looked it up a bit and it was apparently bombed during something (either WW2 or NATO bombing) and is being rebuilt after this. We decide to walk to the center and the fortress and passed by this gaming card trading gathering. We went up to Kalmagean (which always made me think of fortress-mageaden). There is a military museum up there that I wanted to see- it showed the history of Serbia through the military. It is decently quick to go through if you don’t understand Serbian. However, there were a lot of maps and a lot of things to see! So many ages of history and conquests and being conquered. The most interesting part, to me, was how they covered the NATO bombing of Serbia. Serbia had shot down a fighter pilot that was a US citizen. They had pieces of his plane and his uniform there just hanging around. They were very proud of this fact. Then there was a giant map showing the NATO aggression against Serbia.

Since we were already up this hill and at the fortress, we decided to go to the edge and look over the river. For some reason the walking was killing Jen. So we all just laid down on the grass and rested for about 45 minutes. Sometimes talking sometimes sleeping, until we needed to go see what time we were meeting for dinner with the other Fulbright researchers. So we go back to the hostel to shower (did I mention it was hot all day and we were icky nasty sweaty?). We knew there were reservations at 8pm but not where, so we started walking towards the center, figuring that is where they were. Luckily we were right, and they were down at the river at some Spanish restaurant. The prices were outrageous! And there was only salads as the options for vegetarians. And wine! Wine is so expensive compared to Macedonia! But we sat and ate dinner and enjoyed talking about research, adjusting to life abroad, and what they like to read, etc. I was so tired and there was really loud music so I mostly just watched the interactions that were going on. We were so tired and our feet were so sore that we decided to just go back and go to sleep rather than go out dancing or to another bar.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Week Between Travel! Part 3

Sadly this trip has no photographs to go with it. I didn't have my camera with me at any of these places!


The first three days back were pretty routine- NGO work, TFA work (I’m preparing for my TFA journey starting this summer. Check out the blog at Jacksonville Journey.), finishing up my Fulbright responsibilities, etc. But then on Friday May 4, Jen, a few others and I went to the Marine’s Cino de Mayo party! It was the third one I had been to but the first anyone else was interested in going to. I was looking forward to seeing a few friends there, and meeting the new Marines that are stationed in Skopje now. We had a great time. I can’t think of any other holiday where you would see Mexican flags in a US Marines house. Just saying. (Although I do have to point out that stereotypes are stereotypes and not all Marines act the same way.) Then on Sunday I got invited back for an impromptu BBQ- which was a lot calmer and totally fun!

On Tuesday, I went with IWA to visit A Balkan Tale, which is a new museum exhibit about the Ottoman influence in the Balkans. It had a very well done video, and a bunch of photographs around an old part of the National Museum. The photographs were of famous sites around the Balkans that existed in the Ottoman empire times. It was really cool to see, and I found a new museum in Skopje to go back to. Skopje stinks on tourist information, like really bad. There is almost no literature on it, and there is no handy guide/map that hostels give out or have available. So I have almost no information on Skopje or things to do in Skopje. It stinks!!

After the museum visit, I went with the American Corner to go talk to a language school in Skopje as part of their out reach while the corner is closed for renovation and moving. It was fun! We played taboo and talked about school in America! It was fun trying to see them figure out new words to explain things in English.  (But the American Corner did:

On Wednesday, the 9th, IWA had their last meeting of the school year that I can attend. The meetings always go the same: 1 hour of social time (aka mostly gossip or talking about what you have been up to) then the meeting will start late with a raffle and then a bit of discussion of what is coming up. At the end of the year, that’s not much! Afterwards we went to Restaurant Lira, which was really yummy! They had great baked zucchini, and we had a delicious Macedonian spread of appetizers. They are a nice group of ladies (even though most of them have no clue what real life is like in Macedonia- not that I do either, but it is so much closer for me than them) and I have enjoyed getting to know them this past year! When I got home, I worked from home for the NGO I work with.

On Thursday, I went to SEEU to give a presentation/lecture on Feminism in America. I mostly wanted to get them talking about feminism and feminist ideas. But man. These kids are tough. They don’t seem to want to open their minds and consider other opinions. And by were they so racist and sexist! I mean, I know that they have never been exposed to anything like that, but it was still tough t stomach some of the things that they say.

Friday the 11th involved getting home from SEEU with a really really bad combi driver. This guy lied, and took two hours to get to Skopje. It was not fun or good. But he was a good con man.  We even had him drop us off as close to Ramstore as possible because we were done with walking and only paid him 100 MKD. Then Jen, Lizzie, Daniel, Anjie, Aidan, Eliana and I had a good bye dinner. That would be the last time we could all get together. We went to Plaza de Torres and had yummy yummy dinner before we had to hop on a train and go to BELGRADE!

The Bad Blogger Cassidy

Life has happened. And life is tricky and takes all of your time. I have a lot to tell you all. But this is a snapshot of what I have been doing since my last update, and maybe you will understand why I haven't been writing:

May 4: Cino de Mayo Party

May 6: BBQ at the Marines

May 8: A Balkan Tail Museum Visit and Language school visit with the American Corner

May 11: Good-bye dinner with the Pout Family followed by a night train to Belgrade

May 12/13: Belgrade, with a night train back to Skopje

May 16: hike in Matka with IWA

May 19: Kosovo

May 20: Krushevo

May 21: Hike to the 2 Lakes hike, St. Naum, dinner with Jen’s parent in Ohrid, spend the night

May 22: Breakfast with Jen’s parents in Ohrid, drop lizzie off in Bitola, drive back to Skopje

May 23-May 27: Conference in Romania

May 28: Drive to Sofia, spend the night

May 29: Drive to Skopje, see the monastery and stone dolls

May 30: pick up Jen and Lizzie at the airport, drive to Tetovo

May 31: Book donation at the American Corner Tetovo

June 1: Trip to Mavrovo

June 2: Veles tour and stobi winery trip, good bye party in Skopje

June 4: Good Bye dinner with Lizzie, good bye drinks with Macedonia 2025

June 5: Touristing with Jen in Skopje

June 6: leave Macedonia to go home!

See, now it makes sense, no?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Adventures on the way home from Budapest

I thought I had enough adventures on the way home to warrant a full post on them. There are however, no pictures to accompany this. I feel awkward taking pictures as a tourist on a train with no other tourists. Makes me feel odd, even though I know the locals know I am a tourist. I’m not sure why really…

But! I shared a cabin (is this what you call them?) with this Turkish girl on the overnight train from Budapest to Belgrade. She was really nice and friendly and we talked for a bit before falling asleep. The guy in the next cabin over was from Iran/Turkey and they were able to speak Turkish together. I don’t think I had ever really met someone from Iran before. (I’m sure I have and their original location was just never revealed.) He brought up how the US doesn’t like Iran right now. The funny part of this story takes place at 1:42 am when we cross the border. The train stops and they come around knocking on our doors for our passports. I have mine  ready, but she has to dig hers out. We get stamped out of Hungary and she goes “That was odd. I wonder why they did that.” Thinking that she was just tired, I stated “Well, Serbia isn’t part of the Schengen zone, so…” Her response “*&$! Really?” She didn’t know that! And she had no clue I Turkish citizens were allowed into Serbia. After quickly turning on my cell to see if they were, and finding no internet, she got ready to be kicked off the train when we crossed into Serbia. At this point, I am really hoping she is allowed in because I don’t want to be kicked out for associating with her, or have my luggage searched or something! The Serbian border authorities just glance at our passports and let us in, so we go back to sleep. (I later looked it up and they are allowed in. This is one benefit to being an American- we can go most places in the world without having to worry about if we are allowed in.)

When we arrived in Belgrade, the guy was trying to rush me off the train. But I figured that I had the whole day and I was exhausted, so I took my time. When I went in to check what time the train left for Skopje I found out that there was a day train! Like seriously internet? I know you aren’t reliable, but to be this OFF?! I decided to go ahead and take the day train- that meant I didn’t have to pay anything extra to be able to sleep that night- and I would get to see the countryside. It was so beautiful!

I met some colorful characters on the train.
-the lady whose husband was in the US for some reason or another and she thought my accent sounded good. (which was a nice lie, but a lie none the less)
-the college student who was interested in the book I was reading and how it treated the Balkans. He tried to speak to me in Serbian at first and I had to admit that I had no clue what he was saying. We had a nice hour long conversation about life, politics (he didn’t like the Serbian politics) and the book I was reading.
-the old guy who just sat across from the college student and I and stared when I spoke English
-the old lady who got in the cabin and tried to speak with me and told me I needed to drink a lot of water because it was so hot

I like traveling by train. It was so much more relaxing than the bus. While it takes about 3-4 hours more than a bus, those 6 hours that are the same are vastly different! There is space to move on the train, bathrooms on the train, better seats on the train! And most importantly- leg room! If you are crunched for time during the day- take the bus. But if you are traveling at night- take the train. If you don’t need to rush- take the train. If you don’t want to be fed up by the end of your journey- take the train.

See you around the globe!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Budapest Day 4!

For this leg of the adventure check out Travel By Cassidy Facebook for the accompanying pictures!


I hate to start out with the same line of a slow morning, but when traveling anything after 8 am is slow for me! But this one was going to be really slow because the museums were all closed this day. All Mondays actually. There are a few things to do, but not much. I decided to go to the zoo. It’s supposed to be one of the best zoos in Europe, and I’ve been to a lot of different zoos while on this trip, so when I have time, I go to the zoo. There was a ridiculously long line for the zoo though. Like 30 minutes or more. I almost gave up and didn’t go. But there wasn’t a whole lot else I could do, so I waited. And took notes on what I had done so I could write these blog posts better. And tried not to get a sunburn, because man it was HOT! But eventually I got into the zoo, the thing that had caused the most delays- only one lady working the ticket booth. At the only attraction open on Mondays. No joke.

This zoo was HUGE! Just look at this map! I started off exploring to the left and saw a bonsai garden, didn’t realize there were different types of bonsai trees. They also had this gigantic tropical forest area with sloths, and lizards and different ecosystems including the swamps of Florida! Then I just wandered. This zoo was huge and had lots of different animal habitats from all over the world. They even had a farm exhibit, where a cow licked me. And a high guinea pig area. Like what is with these guinea pigs and tons of habitats? I even grabbed an ice cream cone because it was so hot that day. At least they had free water for us to fill up on. I did see hippos out of the water. Did you realize how BIG those things are? Like I guess I have always seen them in water and only their heads. But these things deserve their killer reputation. If that was running towards me the only thing left to do would be to pray. It was a really cool zoo, but I was just over it about 2 hours in. I was hot and I was tired and it was just too crowded. Way too crowded. I like all the empty places I have explored. (I know selfish- they need the money!) So I finished walking around to say I walked it and left. Good decision to leave, when you aren’t enjoying something you won’t have happy memories.

I grabbed lunch at this little café with a veggie sandwich and a glass of water. It was nice to just sit in the shade and grab a bite to eat. Then I hopped on the metro and went to see the Photography Museum.  They had an exhibit about water and motherhood. And another one about the Danube River. Very cool photographs and a nice museum to explore. However, there was a Moulin Rouge outside, and I kind of thought that was in Paris, since I had walked past it there you know? Poor Paris- everything gets stolen from it, the Arc de triumph, Moulin Rouge, next it’s going to be the Eifel Tower! It was a quick museum to walk through and worth the $2.50.

I then hopped in a metro and rode downtown. I wanted to use the last little bit of my Budapest Card before it expired. And I made it! I grabbed another slushie and sat in the shade of the statue that I had no idea what it was and waited for the Communist Walking Tour.  I was giving Free Budapest Walking Tours another chance because this was to be a different guide. But it wasn’t really any better. I learned about what they say happened during communist times- about the healthcare, the religion, the politics. But not the building that they happened around. Very odd to me that a walking tour had more sitting than walking. So at the end when they were going to backtrack to the center, I headed off to the hotel. I just wasn’t feeling their version of history- I need to read up on this and see if they were just some of the people who hated communist or if literally all Hungarians hated communism this much.

When I made it back to the hostel, I changed shoes, grabbed my book (that I was very interested in now), and went to go sit and have a glass of wine before I left. It was relaxing to just sit and read in Budapest while enjoying wine. I also warmed up the last of the Chinese take-out before heading out to the train.

The train was an experience in itself. It was kind of entertaining to try to navigate with the Serbian guy who ran the train and spoke no English and he didn’t understand my Macedonian. But all in all good. After a little bit of watching stuff go by, I feel right asleep!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Budapest Day 3!

For this leg of the adventure check out Travel By Cassidy Facebook for the accompanying pictures!


Last night, the purse I had bought to replace the other one that broke, broke last night. I knew I had seen some of those tourist purses the other day, so after a kind of lazy start (when stuff doesn’t open until 10 am, you can’t really do a whole lot about it) I rushed off to find this store and buy a purse. After basically running/walking/metro taking to the center, I made it into the shop grabbed a bag I wanted (I had seen one I wanted, but wasn’t going to drop that kind of money on it), paid and started walking back to take the walking tour. I loved the walking tour in Sofia and had high hopes for this one. They disappointed horribly. I realized afterwards that I had never not learned anything in that amount of time before. They did a lot of sitting and not walking. They did a wonderful overview of the history of the entire country- but almost nothing about the city. And to be honest, if I wanted to learn about the history I would go to a museum. And I was still juggling the revisionist history that I was hearing. I almost left, but thought that I might be more interesting as it progressed. I was pretty wrong. I do not recommend taking this tour unless you want to learn all the history of the country without any of the history of the city or any of the pointing out of cool buildings or city history. (it was Budapest Walking Tours by the way).

After this two hour tour where I learned a lot about the country and very little about the city I was living in, I grabbed a vegetarian sandwich and ate it as I walked to the museum I wanted to go to. It was funny as I ordered the sandwich, I asked for the cheese sandwich and the guy was like, “it is only cheese, no meat…” and I am like, “yes, no meat is good.” I made it to the Budapest history museum/national gallery at the Royal Palace. I had heard about Die Hard 5 filming in Budapest the day before, but I didn’t think it would impact my life. Well it did. They closed the history museum down so they could film in it. Why they couldn’t film it on a Monday when all of the museums are closed, I do not know. I was livid for the longest time before I realized I just had to let it go and just enjoy where I was. You often have to make a conscious decision to just let stuff that bothers you go, or it can ruin your day. This was going a while to running my day when I made the decision that it would be cool when I finally saw that movie in the US and I would be I WAS THERE! I decided to go ahead and go to the National Gallery, which hosts only Hungarian artists. There were some really cool exhibits- children art work, landscapes, portraits, and old maps. They had 4 special exhibits going on while I was there. “Heros, Kings, and Saints” which included information about the most famous Hungarian heroes throughout history. It also had this ginormous painting that was supposed to go in the Parliament but then the winds of politics changed and they never put it in there. (there were only 2 women in the whole painting!) They showcased the peasants uprisings, Turkish wars, and revolution of 1848-1489. They also had an exhibit of two of the famous Hungarian artist that I had never heard of before. But there were some breath taking paintings. (Which I will try to find the links for later, I don’t have my notes with me here and I wrote the names of the artists down.) I did get to peek into the filming area of Die Hard, which was kind of cool. (for all these pictures and more, go onto the Travel By Cassidy Facebook page!).

After the gallery, and required picture taking outside and of the city, I walked back along the road to try to find an ATM or a shop that took plastic for my souvenirs.  Luckily I found one. But man these things are expensive! Like really expensive! But they took plastic and had the same prices as the rest of the town, so I went ahead and bought them. The place I bought lunch at had these Hungarian specialties called Kurtoskalacs. They are bread that is rolled up around a little wooden things that are then placed in an open oven and baked. They are first dipped in the seasoning of your choice- cinnamon, coconut, sugar, chocolate, etc. I picked cinnamon. And boy was it delicious! So yummy! It was so hot at first that I couldn’t pick it up/eat it, but once it cooled down a bit, it was great!!!! So worth it, the waiting and walking etc.

I then got on the bus to head back to the hostel (via metro as well) to meet up with Claire, we were going to the baths! When I got back she wasn’t there, I waited about 15 extra minutes before deciding that I should just go anyway. So I packed up my bags and went. There was a bit of a line to get in, which they had warned us about. I recommend buying your ticket beforehand because it will just be easier. But not necessarily cheaper- that was at the door. I just waited in line all by myself and it felt really awkward. There were all these families and couples around me, everyone had come with someone. I had thought about getting a massage, but decided that I could always just do that later if I wanted to. I bought my entrance fee and got this little plastic watch thing that was to be my locker key and entrance key.

The funny thing is, I couldn’t find out how to use the locker. It turns out that it was just the locker that was broken that I first tried. But eventually I succeed! As did this other confused lady that went with me to try to figure out why we couldn’t access the locker…Then it was a quick change and out to the baths. Baths is more than likely a loosely translated term for gigantic mineral hot tub. But the water is natural and just comes up from the ground full of healthy minerals and hot. Deliciously hot after a long day of walking. Even if it was still blistering hot outside. I was mostly in the shade. I then just tried to relax. Do you know how hard this is? Especially when you are in a pool sized hot tub with no one you know and you don’t understand a word of what is going on around you? But I tried. I just stretched and sat and used the jets as massage. And let the water work its miracles. I stayed in the outdoor pools for about 30 minutes, before heading to the inside ones. There are supposedly 18 different pools- with different mineral composition and different temperatures. I think I tried about 6 of them. Plus two saunas. It was just totally relaxing. I spent about an hour here before deciding to pack up and head up. I grabbed my camera to go take some pictures around the spa before leaving though. And then I ran into Claire! I decided to stay and go through it all again with her! So all in all for $15 USD I spent about 3 hours in hot tubs. By the time I got out, everything was refreshed and relaxed.

After changing, we walked to the center because her travel pass had expired. And this was a very bad decision. 45 minutes later, we make it down town. I should have just paid for her to take the metro into town, so much better for me, especially when I ended up needing a cab back to the hostel. But she had never been to Hard Rock outside of the US, so we decided to go there. I was not very happy with this decision, because they didn’t have a veggie burger, they only had a veggie sandwich and I didn’t want to pay that much for a freaking sandwich. But I realized I would want someone to come with me to a restaurant that I had never been to even if they couldn’t find a lot to eat as well, so off we went. It was horrible food, but good wine. And conversation. Then we left to walk back home. And made it only a little bit before getting in a cab. I could have made it, but it would have been one of the most miserable walks home that I had taken in a long time. It was also the shortest most expensive cab ride I have taken- it was almost 10 Euro!! But worth it, to not be laying on the side of a road somewhere waiting for my legs to be able to walk again.  Then sleep, precious precious sleep.

See you around the globe!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Budapest Day 2!

I woke up early (thanks to the sun not by choice) and had a small breakfast at the hostel consisting of cereal and toast (what is this thing called toast? You put bread in a small machine and it comes out crispy and brown?!) before heading out  to the Terror Museum. The museum opened at 10am and I thought I would just start there being able to go visit other museums as well. Well, when you go visit non-Balkan countries there are apparently these things called crowds and lines. Yes, for the first time EVER since I started this journey, there were not only more than one other person in the museum, but there was also a line to get in! We’ll we all waited to get in as I took a few pictures of the museum itself and the surroundings. It felt a bit wrong to take a smiling “Look I’m in Budapest!” picture in front of the museum, but the road was so pretty!

The Terror Museum is located in the old “House of Loyalty” of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party (the Nazis) and then the communist secret police headquarters. “In the cellar of the ‘House of Loyalty.’ Members of the Arrow Cross tortured and killed hundreds of people. In expectation of Hitler’s secret weapon, teenage boys were drafted for useless battles on the Nazi side and innocent Jews were plunged into the icy Danube.” Then the Hungarian Communist Secret police took over the building in 1945, “they reduced people to subjects: thousands of citizens feared them, and they in turn, feared each other. If ordered so, they killed without hesitation, or on the strength of confessions exhorted during brutal interrogations, they sent their victims to the gallows, to prisons, and labor camps.” The communist regime “seized, mistreated, or crippled one person from every third family.” (These are quotes from the booklet they give you at the entrance.) I also essentially have a small book about the Terror in Hungary that I think I will be putting in sheet protectors and placing in my classroom. The first two floors were interesting, but I felt they were a bit revisionist compared to what I had heard about the Hungarian communists in my history classes, but they claimed (and since this is the domestic view, it does deserve some credit) that the Nazi’s and Communists were both unwelcome occupiers who killed indiscriminately during the reign. And the Hungarians never wanted or supported them in any way, ever. (This is the part I have a problem with.)

But the cellar. Man, I’m getting chills and tearing up just trying to write about this. There is something different between going to a memorial museum and being in the place where they killed people that is just chilling and almost indescribable. When I got down into the cellar, I walked past a few rooms, just thinking “man, they kept people in here.” But then there was one room that was so tiny that you could only stand. I walked in, turned around and realized I barely fit. Then it hit me. They used this room for torture. They shoved grown men in here. They starved people in here. The drains in the floor were more than likely not for water. And then I had to get out of that room. The realization that I was standing where someone had died, more than likely for nothing- a wrong word said or not believing in the party line, or just happening to have been born Jewish. That there are things that I have said that if I were born under a communist regime that would have gotten me killed, or at the very least sent to a labor camp. The rest of the time in the museum was just chilling- there was a padded room that I walked into that was so chilling, I had to leave rather quickly. There was the room where they hung people. There was the room with the torture devices. Then there was the memorial room- with candles flickering and pictures and crosses. I’m not sure I can explain how different it is to visit a memorial house, rather than the place they actually killed people in. I’m not sure you will be able to understand until you stand there and have that realization yourself.

After this chilling start to my day, I went and got deliciously recommended (AKA they gave me a discount card) macaroons. One with chocolate and one with caramel. Oh so good!  It’s called La Delizia, and is located really close to the terror museum. Put this place on your list if you are going to Budapest go here for a yummy snack. A bit on the pricy side, but they were the first cookie shop in Budapest. After this, I went to the National History Museum. Where, apparently, relics of the past 1100 years fill up the four floors of the museum. There was the St. Stephen’s Coronation Robe (supposedly the most valuable…) and is one of the oldest examples of European Embroidery in the world. But for me, besides the general history of the museum, the best part/coolest part was Beethoven’s piano. No joke, they had his piano that he gave to  Listz (most influential Hungarian composer of the 19th century, celebrated pianist, outstanding conductor of his day). It was just cool to see this piece of history. There were a bunch of other random things in there from way back to the Ottomans/Austrian-Hungarian empire/ communist times. It was neat. There was some interesting things in there, that you might not see elsewhere.

I was able to get some postcard here and the lady said the post office located in front of the Nugati train station would still be open. Considering that I really like to send postcards from the country I live in, it was important to me to try to find this place. And since everything would be open tomorrow, this would be fine, I had plenty of time (note- the directions and happy go lucky foreshadowing!) So I hop on the metro and get out at Nugati. Then I cross the street and look for the post office. It is no where to be found. So, I continue looking down a few of the side streets figuring maybe across means beside. No luck, after about 10 minutes I give up and decided to go to the Fine Arts Museum. They had an interesting looking exhibit “The birth of Art Photography” going on. And I got a discount. I got to walk past Hero’s Square (There is the Archangel Gabriel- who told the first king he would be king-the 7 tribal  leaders who formed the Hungarian empire, 14 statues of kings and famous people, war/peace/wealth/labor grace the outer edges.) on my way to the museum. The museum had three different exhibits (and a MAP!!!!). They only hosted foreign art there, but man there were some good paintings. A lot of “Madonna and Child” and “saints” and “kings” and oh-dear-God-the same old same old things that people painted. I am not a big people person in paintings- give me scenery all the time and I will be happy. Also no still lives of dead animals, kind of disgusting! But there were some amazing paintings in there. The photography exhibit = not as cool as it sounded. It focused on the very beginning of photography as it became more widespread and less regulated to studios. And it told this history of photography, but without any really cool photographs that I was hoping for. The mummy exhibit was really interesting- they CAT scanned mummies to show a 3-D version of the mummies as well as the normal x-rays. They also commented about testing the mummies to make sure that we wouldn’t get sick, we wouldn’t by the way.

After leaving this museum, in which I had spent about 2 hours or so, I walked across the Hero’s Square and went to the other random museum there, since I was already here and wouldn’t make it back to the other museums before they closed. There was an exhibit my this Serbian lady about “8 lessons on emptiness” which I thought was to be a photography exhibit, but turned out to be a video installation that lasted about 30 minutes or more. Not as cool as it originally looked. Mostly because everything in the museum was SUPER modern- the modern where no one understands but the artist, and then sometimes not even them. The Serbian artist, Marina Abramovic, created this work in 2008 in Laos with children representing the military. The other exhibit was “European Travellers: Art from Cluj Today.” Cluj is apparently a region in Romania where a new art scene has taken over since 2000. But it is all really modern and new age, so not my thing. So after quickly walking through both of these, I decided to go check out the castle.

No joke, there is a castle in the middle of the city. It even used to have a moat! Basically I was able to take a bunch of pictures and walk around the courtyard, but everything else was closed, the moat was even dried up. (Although apparently you can have a wedding there- as one was going on.) Then I wondered into a random concert/police showcase. There were fire trucks, bomb squads, police, etc. there showing the people what they regularly did/ the equipment they used. Kind of random. But the park was pretty.

Then I hopped back on the metro to go back to the hostel to quickly rinse off before going to the folklore performance and dinner cruise. But I met up with another girl at the hostel, Claire, who decided to go with me! So off we set to find the place. We got there right on time only to discover that the folk performance was cancelled. Sad face. We still decided to do the river cruise, because why not? But this meant we had about 2 hours to kill in down town Budapest. We ended up walking around, looking at souvenirs (who knew this would come in handy tomorrow) and then getting a slushy. We just sat and drank our slushy and just chatted. It’s always nice to get to know someone, even if just for a bit. Then we headed back to the dinner cruise. Which, I do not recommend. You don’t really get to see a lot of the city, as it is only 1.5 hours long and dinner takes about that long. But we did get free wine and champagne, and really delicious food! It was a really awkward dinner, as they placed us with others, but they only spoke Spanish. So basically Claire and I talked to each other with a little bit of her speaking to them in Spanish as they spoke to each other. After dinner, we went up and watched part of the city go by as we talked about how we never would have guessed that we would be in Budapest at this point last year. After the cruise we waited about 20-30 minutes for a tram that was supposed to still be running before giving up and just walking the 20 minutes back to the hostel. Where a much awaited shower and sleep were necessary!

So- you will now notice that the blogs come with no pictures. I have reached the limit on pictures allowed on this google account. So until I find something else that I can use, I hear by will be providing you with links to the Facebook Page of Travel By Cassidy where I will get to share even more pictures with you that I can't on the blog. If you have a facebook, feel free to like the page so that you can be updated regularly about my travels.

This is Budapest Day 2's picture link: