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!