Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Making Our Way to Minnesota

BH and I had a rough time getting to Minnesota. Our first flight was delayed for three hours. Our second flight was then delayed four hours. Luckily, this second delay meant we made our second flight. However, we were not so lucky with our third leg of the journey (Detroit to Minneapolis). Upon arriving in Detroit, we spent a good hour in the customs line only to discover our luggage was still in Paris.C'est dommage. We missed our last flight, but Delta gave us a night at the Best Western. I would guesstimate that about 70 passengers missed their Delta flight and were put up in this hotel. The line for the shuttle bus was ridiculous, and everybody was flying from Paris, therefore tired and on their last nerve. We did get a little bit of shut-eye at the hotel, but before long it was back on the shuttle and back to the airport. Right now, I'm using the internet provided by Google for the holiday seasons on Delta flights. Thank you! This is the first time I've used the web at 30,000 feet.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Смърт за курвите

I was unfortunate enough to walk by this graffiti the other day.
I would translate this as "Death to Whores". Wow, the creativity. I hope it is sarcastic. But I doubt that it is.
Incidentally, I saw some prostitutes down the road from this sign. At first I thought they were just waiting for a friend, but their skirts were way too short for -10 degrees Celsius, and the way they were pacing back and forth...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Final Days in Macedonia

Originally, we had planned to go to Kosovo on Sunday, but there weren't any tickets for Prizren, and there were elections so we didn't want to go to the capital in case there was any sort of political unrest. It worked out well in the end, because BH's friends, Radmila and Zoran, gave us a great tour of the city and informed us of the history of Skopje.
We started out by seeing an art museum near the head of the main street. Apparently, there was an earthquake in Macedonia that destroyed a bunch of buildings in the area. A clock on the museum was not destroyed, and it continues to show the time of the earthquake in 1963.
As we continued our tour, we were a little chilled. So we stopped for a coffee, and made a cute little video. It starts out in Korean Sign Language, then ISL, then Macedonian Sign, English, and finally my bad combination of English and sign. You can see it here:
Pretty fun stuff. Afterward, we went on to see a church built in honor of Mother Theresa. Although she is ethnically Albanian, she was born in what is now modern-day Skopje. The whole time, I was thinking of Alice from Korea, and her beef with Mother Theresa. She supposedly wasn't the complete saint that society paints her as. Then again, she probably did do a lot of good as well.
BH with MT
As we continued along the main drag, we noticed a lot of statues that we hadn't seen before. Skopje really has a nice collection of art downtown. (This is something Sofia is lacking) I liked this one with the two ladies shopping.
Radmila and I
Alongside the river there is a bunch of construction. I asked Radmila about it, and it seems like they are building some sort of Greek-style colosseum. Greece probably isn't happy about that. One of the barriers for Macedonians entry into the EU is their name. Greek does not like that they are using the name, since there is also a Greek Macedonia. That's why it was known as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia when becoming a member of the UN. Anyways, their was a decent amount of construction in the city, and it should be interesting to see the developments in the coming years.
Crossing the 15th century old stone bridge, we came to a Turkish hamam (bath house) that had been converted into a modern art gallery. The art was so-so, and in the cold weather it would have been much grander to take a nice steamy bath. I miss Korean bathhouses.
Kristin and BH outside the hamam
Continuing on, we came to the Grand Market, which is the biggest in the Balkans. We saw some churches, and after a bit realized we were starving. We wanted to have traditional Macedonian food, but had some communication problems and ended up at an Italian restaurant. This restaurant, however, was amazing. And cheap. The pizza was great, the pasta was fresh, the seafood was nice, and the bread. Yum. If you end up in Skopje, you need to try out this restaurant. It is called Gusto.
Fresh Italian at Gusto
 At this point, Kristin was a little tuckered out. However, the rest of the group kept on, and visited the Kale Fortress at night. Although it was a little boring to walk around the whole fortress, it had some nice views.
View of the city
By this time, I was also tuckered out and headed home. We had a second dinner a the mall, Turkish pizza, yum, and then I headed to dreamland. The next morning was a day of Christmas shopping, kebabs, and then the bus back to Bulgaria. Although the entire trip was less than a week, it was phenom.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ohrid to Skopje

Saturday morning, we woke up early to follow a Lonely Planet walking tour of Ohrid that I copied down at the hostel in Skopje. After a quick breakfast of toast and pancakes, we took a taxi to the gorna porta to start our tour.
Gorna Porta or Upper Gate
The tour continued with a church near the Upper Gate called St. Bogorodica Perivlepta. This church was built and painted in 1295 and was dedicated to Mary. When we entered, we were given an excellent tour, in English, of all the paintings by a woman who had done her PhD on the church. She explained all of the images in the church, as well as what aspects made it similar to other churches in the Balkans and those aspects that made it unique. There was a story circling the interior of the church about the life and death of Mary. This is part of the Apocrypha, so it was a new story for me. There was also an image of God having two heads and breasts. Pretty radical. She finished the tour explaining her own worldview, which was basically loving the world and its creatures fully. Following the true message of loving your neighbor as yourself. How have so many churches throughout history distorted this message so radically? Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures of the interior.
Sv. Bogdorica Perivlepta
The tour continued up to the main fortress, pass an amphitheater, and then started to wind back down the hill toward Lake Ohrid. Halfway down the hill, we came to another church: St. Pentelejmon. This is a re-construction of the original church erected by St. Kliment, who is now interred in the church. St. Kliment was a pupil of Saints Cyril and Methodius, and the inventor of the modern day Cyrillic alphabet. After paying our respects to Kliment, we split off, with the girls heading back down to the city, and BH and I finishing the tour. The tour brought us to a cliff over the lake with fantastic views of St. John Kaneo church. The church itself wasn't amazing, but look at this view.
The tour finished with some views of the old town along the lake, and we ended up back at the restaurant we ate at the first day. BH and I had some cake, did some Christmas shopping, and before we knew it, it was time to go back to Skopje.
5 hours later, and we pulled in to the bus station and met up with two of BH's friends: Radmila and Zoran. They were sister and brother, and both Deaf. Somehow, they ended up at the same hostel as us, so we went back to our rooms, unpacked, and then went out for dinner at a decent restaurant downtown (Trend). Tapas was followed by a visit to the Deaf club. We had a great time meeting some of the Deaf Macedonians, and all four of us felt very welcome.
BH, Zoran, and Diane
We spent some two hours just trying to chat, using a mixture of ASL, Bulgarian/Macedonian, and charades. Since it was Saturday, we wanted to go clubbing, so we went on a search. We found this club called Papaya, and Radmila wanted a discount for the Deaf. Since we were foreigners, we eventually all got in without a cover. The club was a little boring, however, so we continued on to 69 Club. Once again, by being adamant about a Deaf discount, we got in for free, and entered the loudest club I have ever been to. You could feel the music in your entire body. It must have been great for BH, Radmila, and Zoran, but my ears were hurting. Couple of drinks and a couple of hours later, we went back to sleep at our hostel in Skopje.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ohrid, Macedonia

 Friday morning we took a bus (very cheap) from Skopje to Ohrid. The ride lasted about three hours. Even though it is a small country, we had to drive through the mountains. Although this made the trip longer, it was nice to travel through this winter wonderland.

Snowy mountains ... mmm
We arrived in Ohrid around noon and took a quick taxi to our hostel/apartment. It was a really nice set-up for only ten dollars a day. All these bus rides make me hungry, so we walked down to the lake for a meal. The trout looked delicious, but it is, apparently, endangered so instead I ordered a salad and BH got a snail risotto.
Unfortunately, disgusting
 After lunch, we explored the lake shore. There were swans paddling by, and the lake was amazingly clear. I wanted to go swimming, but nobody else wanted to be a polar bear. Ah well. It was freezing out, but the view over the lake was ridiculously beautiful. Kristin maybe spent twenty minutes taking pictures. I also took a bunch.
After the sun set, the cold set in as while. We did some more shopping and sight-seeing, went back to the hotel and watched TV. Apparently, all of the TV channels in Macedonia are in English. BH and I watched the Discovery Channel for a while until we were hungry again. We went to some restaurant that maybe catered to bikers. The goulash was good and cheap. And the menus were amusing.
Kristin did not find this funny. I did

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Scoping out Skopje

Macedonia is incredibly close to Bulgaria. Both culturally and physically. So we decided to go there for a long weekend. It was a fantastic country.
BH and I left on Thursday morning and met up with our friend Diane at the bus station. It was a little cold in Sofia, and we hoped the weather would hold up. Buses leave five times a day from Sofia, and we jumped on the 9:30 bus. We crossed the border a little past noon, and the scenery was beautiful. After two more hours of the bus, we arrived in Skopje. We checked in at the Art Hostel and set out to explore the city.
Living in Sofia, it is hard not to compare new countries with what we are used to. The main stretch in Skopje is quite nice. It is wide and pedestrian only; it also has a bunch of statues ranging from the thought provoking to the bizarre.
The fish itself was cool, but why the weird legs?
Of course, our priority at the time was lunch. We had just spent five hours on a bus. We needed to eat! I thought there would be plenty of Macedonian restaurants to choose from in the center, but all we could find was Italian cafes and Irish pubs. We asked a couple of young Macedonians, and they directed us outside of the city. A short, and cheap, taxi drive later and we were enjoying a delicious Macedonian meal. I had some sort of meat BBQ with cheese grilled inside, while Diane had an amazing stew. The only downer was the beer; only order златен лав if you love watery brews. Regardless, if you go to Skopje, I definitely recommend the Pivnica Krigla. I would guess that most taxis know where it is as well. They finished off the meal with a free pancake stuffed with nutella. When I asked why it was free, they said they don't get foreigners much and want to show us a good time. It was delicious. 
 Dinner was followed by a walk next to the Kale Fortress. We were just wandering back to our hostel when we ran into the grand bazaar. Apparently, it is the largest in the Balkans. The market was great. Easy to walk through, well lit, and plenty of things to choose from. 
Since this was our first night, we decided to head back to the hostel and not spend all our money on the first night. The walk back to the hostel included seeing the old stone bridge (15th century) as well as a bunch of new things under construction. From what I have seen, this is an up-and-coming city. 
After a brief rest at the hostel, we met Kristin at the bus station. Like us, she was hungry. We went back to the city center for dinner. The first unpleasant thing, however, happened. A taxi cab called us over and, after a little haggling, told us he would use the meter. He did use the meter, and was very talkative and kind. When we got to the center, it was maybe 100 denar. However, when I turned to pay him, he tripled the price. I was going to leave him a good tip, but seriously? I hate getting ripped off just because we are foreigners ergo easy targets.
Taxi cabs aside, we finished out the night with a great dinner at a Mexican restaurant. I don't know why we ate Mexican in Macedonia, but it was the best Mexican I have had in a long time. BH and I enjoyed some gazpacho (actually Spanish) and quesadillas. As we were eating, it began to rain. We were a little dismayed, but at least we had good food and good company. The prospects of the next morning and moving on to Ohrid were bright as well.