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!