Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Family Comes To Macedonia Part III

"The health of the eye seems to demand the horizon.  We are never tired so long as we can see far enough."  Ralph Waldo Emerson

          After a great time in Ohrid, we said our final goodbyes to the city and started the trek to Skopje.  We decided to go away from the main road and instead through the far western part of Macedonia. Driving through Mavrovo National Park, Debar and Gostivar allowed us to experience a bit of Macedonia I had never seen. 
          However, before I show you that journey I want to share some of the photos Landon took around Ohrid:
Boat in Albania.*
One of the many peacocks around Sv. Naym.*
An old WWII bunker.*
The entrance to Sv. Naym.*
Here someone is cooling their watermelons in the river.*
Ohrid's tourist alley.*
Together at Ohrid. *
Sv. Kaneo at twilight.*
Almir holding down the fort at Kaneo.*
Marija prepping for the night.*
A storm rolling in from behind Ohrid.*
An ivy covered storefront in Struga. *
          Heading out of Ohrid, we were excited to see the new sights as our official family vacation began.  I hadn't felt like I was on vacation in Ohrid, simply because I was playing host and tour guide.  That all changed once we were on the road and I was ready to get going or so I thought.  Since it's been years since I've been on a road trip with my brother I quickly learned that a road trip to him means stopping every sixteen seconds to take a picture.  Then once we stopped he would disappear around a tree, down a cliff or around the bend.  I couldn't get over how fast he disappeared! It was like he put on some sort of photographers invisibility cloak. However, he did get some great pictures and we learned to only allow three stops per drive. Ohhh family time. 

The road from Ohrid to Debar parallels Lake Debar and is a must to travel on.
The patient couple.
One of the few times he didn't have his invisibility cloak on.
I want you to visit Macedonia.*

          Debar is a fascinating little town and has been around since the days of Ptolemy.  It's been controlled by Tsar Samuil, Albania (the Christian one), the Byzantines, the Ottomans, modern Albania and of course Yugoslavia.  Today it reflects that history in the architecture and feels much more Albanian than Macedonian.  Both groups of people live together quite well and I was impressed with it's cleanliness and hospitality.

Yup, that says "Taxi". 
          After leaving Debar we passed through Mavrovo National Park.  It's one of Macedonia's must see for Nature lovers and was stunning to drive through.  There are plenty of wild animals there that cannot live anywhere else including wolves, bears, deer and boar.

A beautiful stop along the way.

It reminded me of swimming holes in the Appalachians and yes the water was still quite cold.

I know this is suppose to represent Socialist workers but really it just looks like he's arm wrestling the wall.


Macedonian trail guides. 
          As we moved along from the park into Skopje I realized that I wasn't used to sitting in a car for hours. I was used to being on a bus, when no one talked to me and we went along without stopping.  On that day, that wasn't happening.  Landon really wanted a picture of everything, Mom and Gary were chatting up each other up and I realized I was going to have to get out of my Peace Corps solitary travel mode and into family travel mode.  I'm glad that I realized that so quickly because it made the rest of the trip a great one but I was a bit grumpy for those first few hours. (I've asked other PCV's if they've felt the same when people visited and all agreed they had).

          Once we were settled into our hotel in Skopje, we decided to beat the heat with a walk around the center and find some dinner. I'm going to condense our two days there but if you'd like a more thorough examination of the city click here.  Skopje is a prime example of how the Balkans are a cultural and historical crossroads not only in space but in time. It's lively, contradictory, a political hotspot but affordable to most.  Also, it was nearly destroyed by an earthquake on July 27, 1963.  Much of it's modernist-brutalist architecture was built after that and wasn't designed with much forethought.  Thus it's a kaleidoscope of different architectural and cultural periods circulating together.
Oh now Landon is embarrassed to take a picture!
There's always another PCV traveling around to join up for dinner. This time it was the lovely Monica.
There was a joint concert and art festival going on in the main park.
The orchestra had played all over the world and it was free there.
Built in the 15th century, Kamen Most stone bridge connects the city's center to the Turkish Old Bazaar or "Čaršija". Behind it is Kale Fortress, which is the newest fortress in a string dating back to the 7th Century BCE. 
You never know what you'll find in Macedonia's largest Bazaar.

Lady Liberty.
Mr. Liberty.
I always save a picture of a city's map. 
Kale Fortress. It was built in the 6th Century by the Byzantines and updated by the Ottomans. It's in need of repair and restoration but is still an impressive structure. 
You can see it offers an excellent panoramic of Skopje. The steel cross in the background is atop Mt. Vodno and is 75meters or 250ft high! 
They're smiling but it was hot. Very hot. 
Mustafa Pasha Mosque.
For our last dinner in Skopje, I took everyone to my favorite restaurant in Debar Maalo.  We chatted for hours about American politics, China, it's policies, Southern football and our experiences from the past year.
The best bread and onion rings in Macedonia. 
A five person classical ensemble was just outside our hotel.
Kale Fortress under the Moon.
Mustafa Pasha Mosque is the largest and most decorated of the mosques in Skopje.  Built in 1492, yes the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue, it's interior windows are staggered creating a pyramid effect. It's a beautiful setting for those that go to pray.
Mom picked the best dessert. Freshly picked cherries topped off this delicious sundae. 
          Sitting there in the hot, humid air enjoying our desserts at K8, the call to prayer floated over the city signaling the end of worship and the beginning of the evening's festivities.  As we listened to a tradition older than any other in our country we slowly soaked in that unique sound.  After it ended we sat in silence, finishing our Western desserts.  Then, we looked at one another knowing our Macedonian trip had come to a close.  Pushing our chairs away, we walked into that Turkish night ready to travel to a place none of us had seen but all had dreamed of.  Finally, we would gaze upon what so much of our Western architecture, history, literature and philosophy was inspired by:  The Ancient Greeks of Athens.

*Photos taken by Landon Monday

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Family Comes To Macedonia Part II

          The next morning we met up to another beautiful, summer day.  Mom and Gary were leisurely enjoying their coffee's while Landon was appreciating why I ride my bike versus taking the bus. We were all excited to begin the tour of Ohrid's Old Town.  Lake Ohrid is one of the oldest in the world, formed tectonically not glacially, and has had human inhabitants since around 6,000 B.C.E.  Basically people have been living at Lake Ohrid for at least 3,000 years before the Pyramids of Giza were built.  So that means Old Town is built upon layers and layers of history.
         Before we explored that history some shopping had to be done. Old Town has many hand crafted shops including leather goods, woodcarving, metalworking and a paper making shop.  That shop is famous because it uses one of three working replicas of the original Gutenberg printing press.

He starts with the pulp.

Then strains it, presses it and lets it dry.

Pretty cool.

          Everyone enjoyed going to the shops and only after Athens did they appreciate each shop owners laid back sales approach. 

          Following their shopping spree we went to Sv. Sofia, which is one of my favorite places to visit in Ohrid.  Although it's not precisely known when the original structure was built the building that you're seeing is 1,000 years old.  Follow the Turkish conquest of Ohrid it was repurposed into a Mosque. During the 1950's extensive restoration was done to remove the Muslim white washed walls and when they did, they discovered some of the best 11th Century Frescos seen in Europe. 

No one can take pictures inside so you're gonna have to visit to see them!*

          Next, we turned up the street and climbed the hill to reach the Antique Roman Theater.  Built by the Romans 2,000 years ago, it was rediscovered in the past century but wasn't fully excavated until the 1990's.  It's a gorgeous setting and one that always fires up my imagination thinking how you can be sitting where Senators once watched gladiators battle.  Now it's used for concerts and plays.

A little girl took this photo for us and boy she nailed it.

Soaking it all in.*

It's a beautiful site at night as well. 

            Completing our climb to the top of Ohrid we reached Tsar Samuil's Fortress. Build at the end of the 10th Century it's foundations are on top of other structures that date well into the 3rd Century B.C.E.  It's the defining structure of Ohrid and can be seen for miles around, I've enjoyed many a coffee on my porch watching the sun's first rays bounce off its stone walls. 

This is the view of Ohrid Valley from behind the city.*

This is from behind Ohrid looking towards Struga.*

Walking on history.*

Here you can see all of Ohrid Valley behind us.

In the foreground is St. Panteleimon, the monastery I went to during Orthodox Easter.
I have to add this great shot that Landon took. This young Captain is ready to take you out on the lake!*
          Later that afternoon everyone got together again and we had dinner at my host family's.  We had a ckara, bbq, and made s'more's.   I loved it since all of my different worlds, my American family, my Macedonian one and my counterpart were all together for a few hours.  It was a nice way to finish up our time in Ohrid.

The kids were lining up for s'mores. 

Goce got down with them as well.
          Next, I'll post our trip out of Ohrid, through Mavrovo National Park and our time in Skopje.

*Photos taken by Landon Monday.