First of all let me thank those of you who have gently nudged me back to the keyboard. My apologies for my absenteeism. One could say that I have integrated, found other things to do and new friends to enjoy, but the real truth is that I have been lazy. There are so many things to catch you up on…. the Folk Festival, my town’s Name Day, Kriva Palanka Independence Day, the recent changes in how Peace Corps pays for my housing (very bad for me!), etc. but I’m going to devote this to my family’s visit.
Sept 17th my beautiful daughter arrived along with my fabulous sisters from Atlanta and Houston. I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to see their faces after more than a year! They flew into Sofia, Bulgaria as that airport is typically ~$150 – $200 cheaper than Skopje. They picked up the rental car and headed for my home town of Kriva Palanka. Peace Corps policy is that I’m not allowed to drive any type of vehicle in any PC country, so sister from Houston did all the driving–and did a great job despite unfamiliar traffic signs, two-way traffic on one-way streets, and many roads basically built to accommodate a donkey and cart. Conversation: “Linda…What does that sign mean?” “I don’t know, since I’m not allowed to drive traffic signs are pretty low on the priority list!” Obviously I was not much help!
We only got lost once in Bulgaria, but fortunately Bulgarian and Macedonian languages are very similar and I was able to ask directions. We actually HAD a GPS, but the maps were insufficient and once we got to Macedonia, there were only the 2 main highways. So much for that idea……
My counterpart and her husband (who works at the border patrol) were anxiously awaiting our arrival to take us to dinner, so I text-ed her when we arrived at the border and her husband called his buddy who hastened our entrance into Macedonia. We went directly to the mountain restaurant where the new arrivals were introduced to their first rakija and first Macedonian food! At my request they had packed in their suitcases an assortment of laptops, sneakers, jeans, and other items pre-ordered for different friends and co-workers. When sis from Atlanta opened her suitcase to give my counterpart’s son his sneakers, she said the look on his face made it all worth-while.
Jet-lagged and well-fed, we finally arrived at my apartment and sorted out beds–or more like couches and pull-out chairs. (Most couches in Macedonia double as beds. In winter it is very common for the whole family to sleep in one room as it is the only heated room in the house.) My daughter slept with me in my bed and I suppose she got the short straw, because it’s not very comfortable, but she was very cheerful about it and probably too tired to care.
The next morning we were off to see my town’s most famous landmark, the Monastery. Besides seeing the beautiful location and churches, we got prayed for by a Floridian who heard us speaking English, and got invited into a closed part of the restaurant and served free beer, rakija and water. Everyone in my town was so happy for me and eager to meet my visitors. After the Monestary, it
was off to Kratovo to see my host-mom and have Sunday dinner. Sam’s host-parents showed up with their new MAK 16 volunteer (Lew) and another one of my crazy-lady friends rounded out the party. Nada got a bunch of gifts including new jeans, but best of all were the reading glasses. There are no over-the-counter glasses in Macedonia and she couldn’t afford to buy new glasses.
Monday started the whirl-wind tour of Macedonia. We went down the East side, picked up another volunteer in Shtip, then over the mountains to Demir Kapia and Papavo Kula winery. http://popovakula.com.mk With the local volunteers, we had a party of 10 for dinner WITH wine pairings and the tab was about $200. Tuesday we drove 15 minutes north to Negotino and visited the wood-carver’s co-op, then on to the ancient ruins of Stobi http://www.exploringmacedonia.com/default.asp?ItemID=1DB490D86D2A554B8D2060DFE4101A75&arc=1 where we were lucky to catch an English language tour that had just started. Then across the country to Bitola, the second largest city where we had a late lunch and a city tour from the resident volunteer. We ended the day in Ohrid staying in a beautiful penthouse apartment with windows open to the lake on 3 sides.
Wednesday morning the tour guide I had hired arrived at the apartment and together we determined the day’s agenda. 1st was a visit to the cave church in Radolishta where it happened to be the name-day for the saint….so we got in free of charge. It was beautifully painted, and it was fascinating to see how the 2nd/3rd century monks had
literally carved the church and sleeping quarters into the rock. Then back to the poet city of Struga where they have an American Dollar store! (Here it’s 100 Denari store which is more like $2.40 store, but you can get American STUFF) Then back to Ohrid where we met up with my friend Kathy and her daughter who happened to be visiting as well. Ohrid is a very old and charming town at the north end of Lake Ohrid, previously known as the city of light. http://www.exploringmacedonia.com/default.asp?ItemID=D7B9801599F86A45895CDBE20C3565BF Our tour guide walked us around to all the notable parts of the city and explained the history. It was great
to be able to ask questions and listen to the history with only 6 of us. That evening the Volunteer that lives in Ohrid joined us and took us out to one of her favorite cafes then showed us her apartment. It’s always interesting to see how other volunteers live…I would say my accommodations are on the low side of the scale, although far from uncomfortable.
Thursday we were back in the car headed up the west side of the country. We stopped in the town of Gostivar picking up the volunteer there and headed up to a lovely restaurant at the mouth of the mighty Vardar river. Sections of the spring were blocked off to form a fish farm, so the trout we ate had been
swimming that morning. Then on to Tetovo where again a volunteer was willing to drop everything, jump in the car and show us parts of her town: the Painted Mosque, Turkish bath turned art museum, and the ‘wedding street’. Then on to Skopje, the Capitol City. Since the GPS didn’t work, and we didn’t know where the
hotel was, I jumped in a cab and had him drive me to the hotel with the girls following in the car. We dropped the luggage and went to the city center where we were joined by another volunteer and one of my girls from Kriva Palanka who happens to be going to college there. The food was good, but when my sister ordered a dirty
martini, it came with a side of black olives–worst martini ever! The Stone Bridge is the landmark of Skopje and it now sports a new statue “Warrior on a Horse” in the background–much controversy because it represents Alexander the Great, who Greece claims as their historical figure. (One of the contributing ‘tensions’ in the region.)
Friday evening we were back in Kriva Palanka and made 2 short visits to my neighbors. Saturday we experienced the Bazaar and bought some quick shopping before we were off to Sophia. My sisters and daughter were pleased to
stay in a western-style hotel (Radisson Blu, Sophia) because they finally were able to sleep in soft beds. We explored the city a bit and dined on authentic Bulgarian ‘traditional’ food at a restaurant nearby. They left for the airport the next morning at 5:00 and I left for the bus station at 6:00, felling a bit lonely, but happy to have had this special time with my sisters and daughter. Everyone agreed that although Macedonia had never been on their ‘bucket list’, it had turned out to be one of their favorite vacations……..mine, too!