Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Matka Canyon

FACBOOK PHOTOS! (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.306952289383975.71424.301683946577476&type=1&l=46d018fe9d)
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. ( https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.314061042006433.72689.301683946577476&type=1&l=c5a3d04864)

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. (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.306436829435521.71344.301683946577476&type=1&l=574867b87d)

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: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150797499625848.387297.23234200847&type=3)

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: http://on.fb.me/IQn6mi

Monday, May 7, 2012

Budapest Day 1!

On Thursday April 26, I hopped on a night train to Belgrade to go off to Budapest! This was to be my first trip out of the Balkans since September (as well as my first trip alone since then as well) and I was excited!!!

I had heard that the trains were bad and slow and I shouldn’t take them-from the locals, but from the internationals, I heard they were fine and I should take them. The options were either a 10 hour night train ride or a 6 hour night bus ride. I choose the train- more leg room, actual sleep, locking compartment door- all major pluses for me to choose the train over the bus. When I bought the ticket, the lady told me 8pm, but the schedule said 8:45; I decided to arrive 10-15 minutes before 8pm. Luckily I did because the train left at 8:10 on the dot (its scheduled time, by the way). I had to pay a little bit more to have a sleeping compartment, but it was worth it! The train was really clean, and the compartment steward was really nice.

The train goes north to Serbia, and it takes about an hour or so to reach the border. When we got there, something that I had secretly been hoping to happen did! I have been to Kosovo twice, and have three stamps from there. Now, as you may know, Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as a country, but rather a wayward province that needs to give up on this silly independence idea and get with the program. The International Court of Justice has stated that when Kosovo declared Independence, it was legal, with Serbia responding that it will Never recognize Kosovo independence. According to Wikipedia, Kosovo had gained 92 diplomatic recognitions as an independent state (90 out of 193 UN members, 22 of 27 EU members, 24 of 28 NATO members). The US does recognize Kosovo as a state. Now, I had heard that Serbia would annul the Kosovo stamps. But this hadn’t happened yet. But this time, they came in and asked for my passport, glance at my name and went to stamp me in. Then he saw the Kosovo stamps, flipped back to the front, looked at my name and looked at me, then back at the Kosovo stamps. Then he said “Just a second, problem with stamps Kosovo.” I just said ok and waited for him to bring my passport back. They drew two lines over them and wrote “anule” (which by which I think he meant annul, but I digress). This ended up striking up a conversation with the guy a few cabins over, because he was all- “what was the problem with the Kosovo stamps? I have them?” Then we got to talk in Macedonian for a bit. When I actually have to use the language, I seem to remember more than I give myself credit for.  [There was also a customs guy carrying a battery operated drill-I’m not real sure why they needed that, as there was no where to open with a drill in the cabins. More on this later]

A little bit later, I promptly feel asleep. It wasn’t great sleep, but better than nothing or what I would have got on a bus! When I woke up in Belgrade, I went in to buy my next ticket. I thought I was going to have to wait about 2 hours, but low and behold, the online schedule was incorrect! There was a train at 6:50 to Budapest (well technically Prague, but it stopped in Budapest, so who cares!). Hopped on the train, grabbed my seat and promptly fell back asleep for a bit. I always have this internal debate- do I stay awake and force myself to see this new scenery or do I take a much needed nap? I usually choose the nap- because then I won’t be cranky later.

I did get to see about an hour or 2 of scenery in Serbia, it was flat. No joke, the flattest country I have been in since August! Lots of pretty fields and small houses. I got some reading done that I had been meaning to do since last May (sorry Dr. Ely! I promise the book is interesting and I’m enjoying it, just a bit hard to get into…). All in all a peaceful, easy journey to Budapest. At some point this little old lady got on and she just gave me the heeby jeebies. I swear she was trying to smuggle stuff into Hungry. She walked back to the bathroom with a bottle of alcohol and came back empty handed. The border crossing took about 2 hours though. SO long, and they turned off the A/C and didn’t open any windows. Very hot. And they came on with drills again. But this time I heard/saw them unscrewing the compartments in the bathroom areas. Then the customs guys walked through with about 6 bottles of hard liquor. So maybe she was smuggling something…They passed by me with no incident.

When I arrived in Budapest, I went to the Tourist Information Center to buy a Budapest Card. This came highly recommended to me, but I can’t do the same to you. Unless you are over 26, the card doesn’t save you any money. You can buy a travel pass that does the same thing, but lesson learned later. I also bought a ticket to a folk dance performance and dinner cruise. Then I adventured off to find the hostel. Let me tell you- Hungarian is a very difficult language. I couldn’t pick up a single word while I was there. It is basically its own language family. It is connected with Finnish and Estonian, but they are not mutually intelligible.  All I knew was that I had to look for “Sventi Ivanti” or something like that to get off this trolley bus.

But there was construction and my directions from the tourist info center included “Go to the Burger King Street.” I wish I could make this up. I walked out of the train station (much less the train station itself), and wanted to just stop. Within eye sight there was a McDonalds, BK, Mexican restaurant, subway, trolley, tram, buses, people, big buildings and more. I felt overwhelmed and a bit like a country bumpkin. This city life was way faster than the Skopje life I had gotten used to over the past 8 months. But I followed the signs to the trolley bus and using a little guess work found the right one. I almost got on the wring one, but the guy said something in Hungarian and pointed at the one in front of me. So I picked that one. It is amazing to me how much you can understand about a language or communicate without understanding a word. Gestures and facial features and tone of voice are so much more important than the words sometimes. I figure this out when there is a bit of words and then a hand gesture and I think I know what they mean. Even in a language I have never studied before. I did make it to the hostel after getting to see a lot of Budapest on the way. The lady was super nice and told me where the National Dance theater was so I could go try to get a ticket to the ballet that night.

After unpacking a bit, I headed downtown to try to visit the National Ethnography Museum. The day was beautiful- warm and sunny (and it stayed that way the whole time!!!)  I got to the museum about an hour before closing time and asked if it was enough time- the lady said “no, but you can come back tomorrow.” So I decided to go in. The building itself was breathtaking.  I’m not sure what it used to be, but I’m sure it was a palace or mansion of some sort. I always get like a little girl at times like this and picture myself walking down the stairs in a big ball gown all dressed up for the ball. But the beauty aside, the museum houses nearly a quarter of a million artifacts, 2/3 of which belong to the Hungarian collection. “Its primary concern, however, remains to impart knowledge of traditional Hungarian culture: how the peasants and craftsmen who formed the bulk of Hungarian society lived under the circumstances typifying the period prior to the advent of the modern industrial age.” It also shows a bit of global culture as well- there was a Amazonian and Greenland exhibit. The lady was right- you needed about 30 more minutes of time to see it all. If I had possessed a map (which museums here don’t seem to believe in), I would have picked to see the rest of the Hungarian exhibit rather than the one about the Amazon and the melting ice caps. But all in all a great museum. And you could take pictures!

After this, I grabbed an ice cream cone and walked towards the bus stop to go up to the castle area where the Dance Theater was. We passed the most colorful church I have ever seen, more on this later though. As I got off of the bus at where the hostel lady had said was correct, I was lost. There were no signs to anything. And the national Dance theater was the least of their concerns. But I had about 45 minutes, so I wandered through this little handicraft market and fell in love with this way overpriced jacket that I didn’t end up getting. But I did figure out what I wanted to get from Hungry!
Then I kept walking in the general direction of the theater and actually found it. I was able to get a ticket to the performance of Romeo and Juliet for that night! There was a dance fest going on and the tickets were a bit cheaper than normal. But I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. This age old story was totally rethought and very modern. I couldn’t tell who Romeo was until he killed himself at the end. (I don’t remember that Juliet actually went on and killed herself too, but apparently she does.) the way to tell these two sides apart included green kitchen sink gloves, and red arm bands. No joke. And this weird monk guy who went back and forth. The dancing was beautiful, although modern, and engaging. You were just watching the stage the whole time, and you couldn’t take your eyes off of them!
View from the Buda hill to more of the Buda side.
After this, I hopped on a bus. This nice guy tried to tell me that the bus wasn’t going where I wanted it to go, but I didn’t understand until it didn’t actually go where I wanted it to go. lol. But that was ok, I was able to hop on a metro (after finding it- they hide it with the littlest signs ever!). I tried to go eat at this one vegetarian place recommended by the  map, but it was  closed, so I headed to the next place only to find that it too was closed (this time due to the time of night and not the state of the restaurant. ) This is when I realized that it was 21:45 (or 9 pm) even though a Friday, most places were closing at 22 (10). I had walked past a few Chinese restaurants, including a take out one. Since it was so late, I decided to just grab some stuff to go and head home! I’m also very glad that other people learn English- because traveling would be so much more difficult if they didn’t.  Note: I don’t expect them to at all, it is just a nice surprise and relief when they do, especially in countries where the language is like Hungry!

See you around the globe!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Week Between Travel Part 2

I’ve been titling these the posts “The week between” but really they are more like the two weeks and a weekend between travel.  The weeks are standard- work at an NGO, work on new TFA stuff, read, try to get too much done, etc.

On Saturday April 21, Florozon (the NGO I am working with one day a week) along with the US Embassy sponsored a “Keep Vodno Beautiful” preservation hike. Now I had never heard of a preservation hike, but I was all for picking up some trash. This country is literally littered with trash. Almost everywhere you turn there is something there. People just don’t seem to care that much about putting stuff in trash bins. Surprisingly enough Vodno was pretty clean on the path, so there wasn’t a lot to clean up. But if you went off the trail at all it was covered, but off the trail was steep drop offs and thorns and scary looking stuff. I went up with Cecelia (from IWA) to start off the day. There was a really great showing of people, both American and Macedonian.

 The Ambassador and 2nd in command came out, as (I think) did the Mayor of Skopje. They handed out shirts, hats, gloves, water and apples to people. We, of course, started about 30 minutes later than stated. I got separated from the main group almost right away (I was still with people, just not the main group). When I realized there wasn’t a lot of trash, I just started putting it in other peoples bags so we didn’t make MORE trash for the environment. The Ambassador and a few people got really into it and were so running off into the side of the hills through the brambles and everything. (since I had not been feeling well, and didn’t wear pants that were capable of doing so, I just stayed on the path and tried to find trash to pick up. Then it started raining, I stuck it out for about 30 more minutes before the others who had turned around were coming back and caught up with us. They did collect a lot of trash though! Wow!

two of the three people that I work with at the NGO.

On Sunday, April 22 the American Corner was doing an Earth Day event at the zoo. Since I hadn’t ever been to the zoo here, I decided to go. (This was on my list for a while, so I was super excited to have an excuse to go!) Nevenka had also asked me to take a bunch of pictures for them, because their camera was going to die. (I took over 300 some odd photos, by the way!)

They had it set up so kids could go from continent to continent to learn about the different animal species that were endangered on those continents. Then there was a zoo tour. Then a prize drawing! I went around and looked at a lot of the tables, but since it was all in MK, also wandered around the area and looked at the nearby animals.
like a guina pig exhibit. like at a zoo?
Then they offered a tour of the zoo. I figured I would go on it even though it was in Macedonian because I might understand a bit and would get to see more things at the zoo!
they even had the press there!
 They have some cool animals there, and some famous one. The zoo didn’t used to be in good condition, but they have seriously shaped up over the past few years! But people still like to feed the animals things they shouldn’t- like chips and bad for you stuff. After part of the tour, well most of it, Gordona and I snuck back to meet Nevenka and grab a bite to eat. I din’t think I’ve ever drank a ½ liter of water that fast, I was so thirsty! It was super hot that day and I even got sunburned! When the kids got back, they had the prize drawing with a secret surprise at the end- the last three kids drawn got to go into the lemur cage and feed them!

(and I got to tag along so I could take pictures!) When we first got in there, they weren’t having any of that fruit stuff, so the keep went and got a package of raisons and they went crazy for the raisons. I think we were in there for about 15 minutes or so? Towards the end, as I was taking a picture, I felt this little scampering up my back and froze.

All of a sudden I had a lemur on my shoulder, just chillin’. After the event was over, we went a looked around the rest of the zoo before heading home to just relax. It was a long day!
the scraf was more "too little too late sun protection" than actual cold because it was still really hot!

On Tuesday, April 24, I was invited to go to a mime event by Marissa. Since I had never been to a mime performance, I decided to go. (I mean how many times do you ever get invited to a mime performance?) We met up for dinner at Kaj Marshalot, where I had been wanting to go. It was supposed to be decked out in old communist memorabilia and they were supposed to be dressed as pioneers. (they weren’t and it wasn’t) but the food was still yummy! We ended up having front row seats at the performance and little did I know, that didn’t bode well for me! (or it boded extremely well, it just depends on how you look at it…) Marissa knew the guy who was preforming, he comes from the same small island in Maine that she lived on before joining the State Dept. We saw Avner the Eccentric preform. And he was AMAZING! Oh my gosh, it was so much fun! If he is coming to a town near you, go see him.

So- a mime performance, what exactly is that? Well, I’m sure youtube can help, but, basically they preform wordless comedy. They do tricks, they make a fool of themselves, and they let you relax.  He kept making faces to me, because I happened to be sitting on the aisle and was a girl I think. But it was fun! I even got pulled up on stage once! And there is video to prove it. No pictures though.

After the performance, we hung out at the reception before heading to our respective homes.

On Wednesday, April 25, two fun things happened. I got to give a presentation of my research findings and go drink Macedonian wine! I had been approached by the Center for Research and Policy Making in Skopje to give a talk about my research. It was great! I had a wonderful presentation (click here to see a picture and a short article about it) and great conversation with the participants there. I got to talk about the ways I think the government should be more involved in non-governmental organizations in Macedonia.  I mentioned how more money should be spent, but if they can’t spend more money, they should be more active. The actual politicians should set an example and be more active in organizations that they care about. They will be able to lead by doing, which is so important in a culture that doesn’t seem to really volunteer.

Then it was off to the International women’s Association annual Wine and Cheese tasting event. For 500 MKD (about $10) you could drink all the wine and eat all the cheese from around Macedonia that you wanted! So worth it! Lizzie, Justin, Erin, Aryn and I went over there. We ended up meeting up with Angjie who was working the event and got to enjoy a lot of yummy (and a few not so great) wines. We had a blast and ended up staying until it was over. When we got back to the center, they wanted to grab a bite to eat, so we tried to go find an open place. But those places that say they stay open until one am? Well they close their kitchen at 11pm, go figure jerks. So no food. But sleep!

See you around the globe!