Sunday, November 24, 2013


A farmhouse I discovered in Macedonia.
 We left Sofia, Bulgaria on a bus to Skopje, Macedonia. Mom was starting to get the hang of traveling. We boarded the bus and handed our passports to the driver. He collected them and we knew we would not get it back until we got through passport control. We settled in to our seats and got comfortable. The heat was on and I knew I was going to be dying. My seat was next to the heater. The heat was on full blast and 45 minutes into the ride, my hiking shoes were hot! My legs felt like they were on fire!  The sun was beating in through the window and sweat was rolling down my face. Mom was snuggled up next to me. I could not bear another minute. I looked around and the bus was only a quarter full. I asked her if she wanted to move to the seats across the aisle. I needed to get away from the heat! She moved across the aisle and I moved away from the heat vent! Ahhhh! Air. I may survive the trip to Skopje. I was more ecstatic when we stopped for a break before border control and we could get off the bus! I walked around and stretched out my legs. I saw a small church up the hillside and went for a short walk.

When the bus driver looked at us and motioned to the bus, I climbed back to my seat. This time he turned the air conditioner on full blast. I guess nothing in moderation on this bus! I moved over to the sunny window and put on my coat. Brrr! 

We arrived in the capital in the late afternoon. We walked from the bus station to the Iguana Hostel. After I walked into some woman's house, the hostel owner came and got us in the correct entrance. Oops! Our room was great! It was new and clean so we were happy with our $17/night room. We left the hostel and started walking along the bike paths next to the Vader River. We we stopped for dinner at a restaurant overlooking the river. I opened the menu and saw wine bottles for $4! It was wine time. Mom decided she would like wine so we ordered a bottle. We ordered dinner and mom looked at me and said she was done with wine and the rest of the bottle was mine! It was good and I obliged her and finished it off. The only problem was that I was full and happy so we called it an early evening and back to the hotel. I curled up in bed and was asleep in no time. 

I awoke with the sunrise and decided to walk and see the city while mom slept. It was a beautiful morning for a walk and I enjoy watching the city come to life. 

As I walked, I realized Skopje was an interesting city. I loved the bicycle and walking areas next to the river. I love cities that are walkable or have great bicycle paths. It rates right up there with good public transportation. As I walked along the park I noticed the number of book stands. Obviously a country that enjoys reading. As I got closer to the city center, I notice there are numerous buildings that are grand. But they look new, not original. 

I see two bridges with statues of famous artists, musicians and writers and the second with political figures. I can tell these are also new. 
I walk on to the center square and there are statues everywhere. I see the 16th century stone bridge and more statues on the other side.
It is excessive. All of the statues,fountains and new buildings make me feel like I am in Las Vegas. I was going to ask the locals about all of the construction. 
It was only 6:30AM and I planned to meet mom at 8 AM for breakfast. I decide that I have time to walk to the city fortress. I knew she would not want to walk the hills and I wanted to get some exercise. I walked up the hill and see this sign. 
I look at it and giggle to myself as I enter the fortress grounds. I keep telling mom to keep her English simple. Don't use all those extra words and say "excuse me ma'am. Would you happen to have a coca-cola light?" I have learned it is easier to say "Coca-cola light?" Just keep it simple and you get what you need. Mom is concerned I can't speak English anymore. I have promised I will when needed. I may need some practice when I return. 

A couple stray dogs joined me for my exploration. The fortress walls provided a good view of the city and surroundings. 
Afterwards, I walked back to the hostel for breakfast. Then mom and I went to explore the city. We enjoyed the city square and numerous fountains.
Then on to the other sights. This looks like the Arc de Triomphe, right?
 For a moment I thought I was in Paris...or Las Vegas! See why it confuses me? Then on to the Mother Teresa Memorial home. She lived here as a child and had her first communion at a church at this location. The Macedonian's love her and are proud she lived in their country.
I loved her feet on the realistic! 

But our favorite tourist activity was the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia. We walked into the museum and 20 other tourists entered. It looked like we had walked in on a tour. Everyone had press type of badges. We stood back and listened as a gentleman welcomed everyone and informed us about the memorial center. I did not know 98% of Macedonian Jews were killed during WWII. I was shocked. We were escorted into a room where a movie explained the history of the Macedonian Jews. As we stood back and waited for the rest of the tour to move on, the director of the museum approached us and told us about the railroad car that was used to transport the Jewish people to concentration camps.
As we talked, he told me his grandfather was one of the 2% that survived the Holocaust. I asked him several questions and learned that his grandfather had survived because he was considered a political prisoner and was separated from the other Jewish people. I was moved as he talked about his grandfather and how he met his grandmother and his families legacy in Macedonia. I will never understand what they went through or the strength and determination but I have empathy and a desire to see these atrocities stop. I have been saddened by the stories from one country to another of the wars and war crimes against the civilians. It takes me back to the young boy I met in Cambodia that reminded me "we must learn about these things or they will be repeated over and over again." Such powerful words from a 10 year old. His words have lingered in my mind as I have traveled.

In the morning, we packed for out trip to Ohrid, Macedonia. I left mom at the hostel and I walked to the bus station to buy tickets. We were leaving after breakfast. Over breakfast we chatted with the woman at the hostel about life in Macedonia. I was interested in all of the new buildings in Skopje. She told me the government is "spending like we are rich Americans! We don't have the money for this. I love my country but this is crazy!" As we talked to her, she talked about life in Macedonia and how the country did not go to war to separate from Yugoslavia. But life was still difficult for many people. It is hard to get ahead. She told how her husband and children wanted to take a 1 month vacation to the USA but it was difficult for them to get a tourist visa. They had the available money in a savings account and an itinerary but got turned down twice. One of her husbands coworkers from the USA made a call to a friend and they got their visa in 3 days. As I listened to her story, I realized how difficult it is for tourists from other countries to travel to the USA. I have heard stories of people getting turned down numerous times and finally giving up. They usually say they can spend their money elsewhere. It makes me realize how fortunate I have been in visiting other countries. I show up with my passport and money for a visa on arrival and no problems. I have only had a few countries where I had to apply before I arrived and they have been relatively simple. 

We said goodbye and walked to the bus station. Today, the journey is on a small minibus to the southwest area of Macedonia near the Albanian boarder. 
The ride was beautiful. We had a gorgeous fall day and we enjoyed the autumn colors. As we came around a bend, I saw a herd of sheep grazing by the road.
One of the things I have enjoyed is watching the daily life. Farmers still watch over their herds of sheep, goats and cattle. They roam free and graze on the land. 

We arrived at Ohrid and after walking down a hundred decrepit steps we arrived at Villa Durdunka apartment. The view of the lake was amazing. Momma (the owner as we affectionately called her) showed us to our apartment and spoke to me in Macedonian like I understood everything. I love playing charades with the people as they show me the basics of the apartment. I am amazed how much communication is through body language. Momma took my passport and studied my birth date. Then she pointed at her ring finger and seemed to be asking if I was married. I said no and smiled. She started telling me her son is not married. Uh oh! Here comes a matchmaker. Then she got her niece to ask me more information in English. She was trying to set me up with her son that was traveling in Bulgaria. This conversation was repeated each day. She was sweet and I was invited back to stay anytime.

As we settled into our apartment, the view of the lake was tranquil and relaxing. Mom was ready to stay for a week! 
My first task was to go to the market and buy food so I could cook. I wandered through the central square looking for the market. Suddenly, I felt something on my hips. Two paws!  A dog was trying to hump me as I walked through the main square! I turned to push him away. He kept coming back. Stop! No! Go away! I turned to walk away and he came back and attacked me again! What the ....... ? Now I was embarrassed.  The people at the cafe were watching him try to hump me! Thankfully, my knight in shining armor came to rescue me. He grabbed the dog and pulled him away. I gave Humper the evil eye as I walked away. I hoped he would be gone when I returned! 

I found the fruit and vegetable market and bought fresh local produce. It was all delicious and I wanted to try everything! I splurged and got a jar of fresh honey, pears and some walnuts for a yummy dessert! And of course there was a bottle of Macedonian wine! As I returned through the town square I kept my eye out for evil Humper. Luckily he had moved on and I was safe. 

When I returned, I laughed as I walked in and found mom watching tv! What?!?! We have am amazing town and view and you are filling your mind with trash (reality) tv? I guess I have become accustomed to the quiet and lack of tv. It was odd having the background noise. I made dinner and then we watched tv before bed. The English Channel had all the "best" American shows My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and My Teenager Is Pregnant and So Am I. These shows are trash. I don't know why I watched them. 

I spent my days in Ohrid relaxing, reading and walking to the sights and beautiful sunsets.
One evening, I was approached by Bobi. He owned a small boat and wanted to take me for a romantic cruise around the bay and over to a park to see the beauty of his city. Yeah, I know what he meant by a romantic boat ride! I thanked him for the offer but told him my mother was waiting for me. He told me he would take me tonight and  tomorrow night he would take my mother and I for free. Ha ha! I smiled and said no thank you. I laughed, at least he went for what he wanted. I respect that. 
Another day, I walked to the fortress. Mom passed on the hike due to the hills and steps. It was a nice uphill walk. As I passed a group of school children the boys started racing me up the hill. I smiled and waved to them as they passed me. Then their teacher called to them. They were not happy. I beat them to the top...only because their teacher intervened.

The fortress had beautiful views of the lake and a small forest.
I took a walk through the forest to the most famous photography sight in Macedonia. Down a small hill and at the end of the forest path was Sveti Jovan of Kaneo.


The 13th century church overlooks Lake Ohrid. I sat down to enjoy the view and the peacefulness. I understood why medieval monks spent time here looking for inspiration.

Suddenly, I heard yelling. A fisherman was mad and yelling about something. He yelled at every person that came into the courtyard. I sat watching when a man sat next to me and started chatting. He pulled out a bottle of wine, cheese and grapes. He offered me to join him. I declined but I realized he was going to continue to insist I join him. He explained that the yelling man was drunk and mad because nobody wanted to go on his boat. After 30 Minutes, he finally went down to his boat and yelled at everyone from the sea. 
He got laughter when he dropped one of his oars in the sea. I didn't understand Macedonian but I learned a few new curse words! 

My new friend walked me back to town as we talked about travel destinations and life in Macedonian. He wanted me to go for a coffee but I declined, mom was waiting dinner on me. When I returned, Momma (owner of the apartments) greeted me with a bowl of fresh figs! Yeah, dessert for tonight! 

After a few days relaxing and hiking along the lake, it was time for us to move on to Albania. I asked around town about a bus to Tirana and was told we would have to take a taxi to another town (Struga) and then get a bus to Tirana. We were ready to move on but left a piece of our hearts in the beautiful Lake Ohrid. 


  1. Thanks Michelle for the great travel notes. I think that the set of pictures from Macedonia are some of your best yet. Keep enjoying the journey. I am struck by your observations, and want to hear more, about the impact of conflicts, past and present, upon individual people.
    Tim Mulder

  2. Your sister gave me your blog site and I have read every word and looked at every picture.

  3. Thanks for following along Willie! I am having a fantastic trip and I must admit my sister is one of my biggest fans. Love her and miss her so much!

  4. Thanks Tim! I loved the Macedonia pictures also. I may be getting a little better (or lucky) with the photos. I love talking to the people as I travel. I have found that when mom and I were traveling through EU it was hard as we moved so quickly. I am hoping to have more time and travel a little slower in Central America and South America. Hope all is well with you and you are enjoying life as much as I am!