Thursday, September 20, 2012

Another behind the times update

So, I'd left Romania one wallet poorer, but a lot of new friends richer. Next stop was Macedonia to meet another new friend, Jo. Jo and I had exchanged messages through CouchSurfing and decided to share the road for a while. Once again, the great country of Bulgaria stood between my origin and my destination points. This time however, I had at least a few hours to spare for the capital city.
Bulgaria was never on my original tour list, but neither were most of the countries that Jo and I decided to see together, so I decided to give Sofia a day's chance to impress me. Bulgaria started on a high note when we drove through the border check and cyrillic letters returned. I grew quite fond of cyrillic in Mongolia and seeing it again boosted my opinion of the entire country. I used my wonderful skills during my day walking around exploring Sofia. It is a beautiful city. Nice narrow winding streets filled with shops and restaurants. Public transport is everywhere, but walking is also quick and easy with streets that have visible signs at every corner. I enjoyed a pastry breakfast with my host before heading off to catch Sofia's free walking tour.
The tour was great, as they usually are, and filled with fun and informative stories about all the important parts of Sofia's history. Like Bucharest, Brasov and every city in this region, the tour focused largely on the big two: Communism and Orthodox religion. Unlike most of the cities, it had a little more to offer. Sofia added Islam, Judaism and Catholicism to the religious tour. In one spot in the city all four religious buildings are in sight at the same time. Just below that point is the other special part of Sofia: the roman ruins beneath the city. Roads, gates and even and ampitheatre sit just below the modern roads, houses and restaurants. It's interesting to see and walk around in. There were excavations going on while I was there, so maybe when you visit there will be more to see and read about it. Unfortunately, the descriptions were usually written in Bulgarian without English translations.
I had less than 24 hours in Sofia, but it was enough to decide that I would like to go back and explore some more. If you get the chance, I'd say check it out.

I skipped straight through the capital of Macedonia (Skopje) and arrived around 2 am in Ohrid. No room available at the hostel that I'd had prepared for the next night, so I camped out in a hotel lobby and watch Thor with the night guard. Good times...woke up and walked to the lake where I promptly sat down pulled out the computer and stole wifi from a nearby cafe, while enjoying the beautiful sunrise by the lake.
Checked into my room and dropped off the bags and then went exploring some more. Struga (a village on the north end of the lake) is small and without great big tourist attractions. Luckily, I can make a tourist attraction out of nearly anything. The market was great fun and I got some lovely peaches for practically nothing. Denari (the currency of Macedonia) is wonderfully cheap compared to the Euro/Dollar/Pound. Pastries, local drinks and more fruit still didn't hurt my budget at all. Saw and art show with some beautiful paintings...I wish I could have identified the artist. Then got a call from my landlord saying that Jo had arrived.
With Jo, I wandered through the countries of Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro. We swam in lots of different bodies of water, climbed a mountain or two, and lay down on some sandy and some pebbly beaches. But we're gonna skip over most of that just for the sake of brevity. I'll just throw out some of the best bits, in case anyone is reading this for advice on what to do and see.
Macedonia: Do - if you like boats, take the ferry across lake Ohrid from Ohrid to St.Naum. It was 10 euro for a return trip and it's a lovely ride. About 1:30 each way with a monastery and some springs on the St.Naum side.
Don't Do - the Struga international poetry festival. It was boring...The best events were organized just for the actual poets, not for spectators. And the great reading at the end was in Macedonian. The poets read in their native language and everything was translated into Macedonian. I'm not saying that it should have been English, but if you want to understand the poems, just giving you a heads up.
Albania: Do - Pellumbas cave. It wasn't spelunking in the proper sense. No crawling on the ground or lowering yourself through holes in the ceiling/floor. But it was a fascinating cave that I wanted to spend more time it. Take your swim suit with you and go for a dip in the river at the bottom of that mountain, great water and a free fish massage.
Don't Do - Petrella Castle/Fortress. It's an old fortress which has been completely turned into a restaurant. If you're looking for a tea and fancy a climb up a lot of stairs, have fun. But if you want dungeons and towers, look elsewhere.
Montenegro: Do - visit Ulcinj and the 14 km sandy beach. It's beautiful to the ocean side, if a bit rubbish filled to the land side. Also, do take one of the lessons offered by the schools on the beaches. I did windsurfing, but there's also kitesurfing, parasailing and more. Also, do wear watershoes to avoid the weever fish. He stings.
Don't expect buses to run frequently past the 1st of September.
And with that we'll wrap up the post for now. Sorry for the lack of details (or you're welcome), I'll introduce you to Bosnia i Hertzegovia next time.

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