Nicaragua

December 2017

 

Nicaragua completes our year of travel. This time we tried something a little different than our normal trips by spending much of our time volunteering at La Esperanza, Granada, Nicaragua a learning center for children of all ages who come to learn English, Math and Art. Ched has a bit of advantage over most volunteers, including me, since he is retired from the school system in the US after 24 years of teaching. He has a Masters in Education and a Masters in Art, yet what we have experienced here is nothing like he has ever dealt with in his many years of teaching. He has a special ability to communicate with children that is very impressive, which really came in handy here. Very few of the volunteers who come here have any experience in teaching and only a few speak any Spanish.

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We’ve seen so many of the children that are dedicated to learning English, the class we have been volunteering for, and they come every single day although they are not required to do so. I have to wonder how many children in the U.S. would make that same commitment without being required to. The poverty level here is horrific as we are reminded each and every time we make that 2- mile walk to school through congested, trash filled streets, fighting our way through the crowds of people at 7 in the morning. A typical day’s walk to school consist of dodging in and out of people pushing wooden carts with wooden wheels packed with fruits and vegetables dropping them off at roadside stands that offer them for sale. The majority of the time the streets are muddy with cars driving through pushing people out of the way as they go, honking their horns at people, bicycles, and animals, dogs and horses that are wondering about the streets. I have yet to see a pasture with horses but I have seen many horses wondering around freely feeding on any grass they are fortunate enough to find. Most of the homes here are small shed type buildings with tin roofs, some with dirt floors and some structures are nothing more than a stable with no walls only tin nailed together, yet you see families living there.

After passing the market area we see buses lined up going to Rivas another city about an hour south of Granada. Most people here, “the gringos”, refer to them as the “chicken buses” for obvious reasons. You can see most anything being transported on these buses along with the people including chickens. A bus ride to Rivas is offered for less than one US dollar. We also walk pass a Tortilla Stand with two young girls making and selling tortillas to people who pass by. As we pass the homes many of the children wave to us that we later see at school and many of them we never see at school.

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The horse and wagon still play a big part in day-to-day life in Nicaragua. You rarely go out without seeing them being used along the streets for hauling everything from building supplies to fire wood to furniture. The most unique transportation still in use here today is the horse drawn hearse with glass all around displaying the person who has passed to spirit inside with white fabric draped along the glass. It’s common to see the funeral procession moving slowly down the street with the family walking behind hearse.

 

There are many grand old buildings in Granada, beautiful churches, hotels and scads of restaurants. One favorite place to visit is the Choco Museo. They teach you all about Cocoa, which grows all around this area, along with giving you many samples tempting you to either sit and have one of their delicious drinks or perhaps take some home. I opted for the Chocolate Mojito and Ched had one of the non-alcoholic drinks both of which were very tasty. Next door at the Coco Spa they offer facials with a cocoa base. I did not try the facial thinking that it seems a shame to waste all that delicious chocolate but the massages they also offer look very tempting.

Granada is quite beautiful despite all the poor living conditions. Central Park located in the city center is a gathering place for locals as well as a few tourist. It’s usually hard to find a seat on the many benches in the park where people come to enjoy the air. I would have to assume they come here since most of the places here do not have air-conditioning. One of the most important things I have noticed is that the local people seem to be happy with very little stress despite their living conditions. I suppose the statement I’ve heard so often in life applies here: “You don’t miss what you never had”.

 

The main street starting at Central Park and running all the way down to the lake is called Calle La Calzada although the locals call it “Calle Gringo”. The reason they call it Calle Gringo is because that is where all the tourist, as well as Ex-pats, gather at the outdoor cafe’s most every night. This street is very good for people watching if you’re into that sort of thing and I’ve been known to do a little people watching in my time. Many of the locals will come by to entertain you, everything from Musicians to Acrobats twirling fire sticks, not to mention many of the locals pass by the tables attempting to sell their wares to who ever may be sitting there. You will also see a few panhandlers, especially one woman with six children and one on the way who works the area every night, having her children work all the people for money or whatever they can get stopping at each and every table and refusing to leave until they get what they want. She can get pretty nasty if you refuse to contribute to her family fund. Apparently business is good because the children appear well fed and healthy. Another interesting point I observed was various different American or possibly Canadian men, elderly to say the least with very young Nicaraguan women or should I say “girls”. Many of these men look to be in their 80’s and the girls could be anywhere from their teens to late 20’s. I had to stop and say a little prayer for these girls realizing how desperate they must be to feed themselves or their families to accept a life such as this. I did pay close attention trying to recognize any U.S politicians or Hollywood Actors or Directors that may possibly be in the area. I have to report none seen at this time. LOL!

When we are not volunteering at the school we have been able to take a couple of side trips to some beautiful areas near Granada. One of my favorites was a boat trip to the islands located out in Granada Lake, Monkey Island, Rock Island, and San Pablo Fortress.

San Juan Del Sur on the Pacific Coast was another weekend trip. The area was beautiful with a lot of Expats living there and a few bars and restaurants where most of them spent time, one popular place was Big Wave Daves.

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Our time has come to an end in Granada, celebrating the last day of school with a Christmas Party for the children. Just as the rest of the Christmas Celebrations we have observed while being here the party was quite unusual. About 100 children stood in line in the rain outside La Esperanza waiting to get in as the party started much later than the time they had been told. Once the gate opened the room filled quickly and the sounds of the children talking and laughing were out of control. The people who were in charge were all natives with a little help from the volunteers. As I stood there looking around the room and wondering what they may have planned for activities or games for the children, (as we would expect back home), I noticed one of the women in charge walking about the room with a balloon stuffed inside her shirt looking as if she was about to give birth. At first I thought she was making a joke but she never took the balloon out of her shirt. Then I noticed four giant speakers that had been brought in and another one of the guys with a computer selecting music to play. I thought this to be a bit odd since we had been told for the entire time we were there no Wi-Fi was available. Suddenly the music started and was turned up so loud you could hear for blocks away. The DJ stopped the music and the girl with the balloon in her shirt stepped to the center of the room asking for children to come up and enter a dance contest that was about to begin. Several children that appeared to be 9 to 10 years old stepped up to enter the contest. The music started with Salsa and a variety of other music and the dance began. We were in total shock to see children of this age, or any age for that matter, bumping, grinding, and doing the bootie shake that I have seen in a few late night clubs back home. The girls were rubbing up against the boys and the boys rubbing up against the girls. At the end of the dance they ask the rest of the children to judge the winner with applause of hands. After announcing the winner this group sat down and another group of much younger children got up to dance performing the same moves. This time there were 5 and 6 year olds. We go to the Latin Socials often back home and have seen some hot steamy moments on the dance floor but never have we seen anything like this. I have to wonder is this the culture here?

 

At the end of the dance contest the girl who had been walking around with the balloon in her shirt since the beginning of the party started to move about the room moaning and groaning and producing an odd scream turning her back to the crowd of children she popped the balloon under her shirt then turned around again holding up a baby doll shouting “Praise Jesus”. A few of the male volunteers started to march around the room toward her carrying flowers and other gifts. Not until that time did we realize she was attempting to reenact the birth of Jesus.

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Although the party was not over for the children it was for us. We said our goodbyes and walked our two miles back to La Casita soon to be on our way back home to the States.

 

 

Bulgaria

After leaving Brasov, Romania, we decided to catch the train and make our way back to Macedonia, stopping briefly in Sofia, Bulgaria. This is such an interesting city, I regret that we only allowed one day to have a look around.

When we got off the train in Sofia, there were a few good hotels within a short walking distance. We arrived in the night, yet had no problem getting a room at a nice hotel with a reasonable rate. We spent the next day on a walking tour of the city, also taking the subway which was also located a short distance from the hotel and train station.

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As we walked through the streets we were very impressed at how clean and well kept the city is. One of the buildings we passed had armed guards resembling the guards at Buckingham Palace in London. Since the language is not one we understand, we could only assume it was a government building of some kind.

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The first stop was a brief stroll through the Pagan Museum, checking out the artifacts used in rituals so many years ago. Many of the things on display were not that different than some of the things used in rituals of the Catholic Religion. Apparently, freedom of religion is alive and well in this part of the world, considering we have seen evidence of at least 5 different religions with Christianity and Muslim being the most practiced in the area.

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Our next stop was at the National Art Museum located in beautiful Battenberg Square. This museum was quite interesting so we spent at least a couple of hours or more walking through. The gallery has a unique collection with arts of distant lands as well as not so distant. So many of the things we saw on display were taken from Macedonia, a neighboring country to Bulgaria. Ched is from Macedonia and was very confused as to how Bulgaria ended up with so many artifacts that came from his country. One would have to believe that such treasures would not leave the country from which they originated.

 

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This was our last stop in Bulgaria. Time to catch the bus back to Skopje, Macedonia for a few more days before flying back home.

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Romania

Brasov, Transylvania, Romania

     Our Romanian adventure started in Bucharest, the capitol of Romania. I will have to say, that I was not impressed with Bucharest and did not find the area interesting enough to spend much time in. Before we arrived, we read warnings about the area having high crime, among other problems. One warning had stated there were packs of wild dogs in the area and not to go out without dog biscuits. We saw no crime and never needed those dog biscuits during our time in Bucharest, even though we did do a lot of walking and riding of subways, and trolleys. The people in this area were not especially friendly and most of the taxi drivers were very rude but no incidents occurred to make us feel threatened. On my next trip to Europe, maybe I will take a closer look at Bucharest. There must have been something of interest that we missed.

     We took a train from Bucharest to Brasov, about a three-hour train ride costing about 24 lei/Ron per person or $7 US.  Love those trains. They were a little rustic in this area but we found them to be much more comfortable than the bus. Our hotel was only a short distance from the train station. With the help of a young Romanian girl we found the correct bus that would drop us closest to the hotel. The only disadvantage in getting to the hotel, was its location, high up on the side of the mountain, leaving us with a walk up a steep incline, while pulling bags through small one-way streets.

 

     Brasov is a small medieval town nestled at the base of the Carpathian Mountains. We found it to be one of the cleanest, well kept cities that we visited on this trip. The city square was where most everyone ends up who comes to Brasov. Also, Black Church is just to the side of the square, one of the oldest churches built in the 1400’s and the most interesting church I have ever had the pleasure to visit. The area is also filled with shops, restaurants and street entertainment.

     We went to Romania especially to visit Dracula’s Castle, which is located in Bran about 15 miles away from Brasov, a 45-minute bus ride.  While making plans to visit the castle we found brochures everywhere – even in Bucharest, offering trips to Dracula’s Castle along with other castles in the area. The cost ranged widely- anywhere from 45 euros to around 200 euros depending on the stops you choose. The trip was a group tour of around 12 to 15 people. After asking around we found out from the local people that the same locations offered by the tour companies could be reached by bus costing no more than $6.00 per person. That was exactly what we were looking for. There are buses that run all day back and forth to Brasov.  We wanted to be on our own, take time to explore the area and come back when we were ready.

     Bran is a very small community located at the base of the mountains just below the Bran Castle aka Dracula’s Castle. After hearing so much about Dracula’s Castle, I could not wait to go there for a visit. As a matter of fact, we went out of our way just to visit that area where the castle is located. As we walked up the trail towards it, I  appreciated its beauty, but somehow I did not feel the energy I thought I would feel when we got there.  It soon became apparent to me why I was having those feelings.

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     While listening to the locals talk about the castle’s history, they rarely mentioned Dracula. Dracula’s Castle is highly advertised worldwide as the home of Dracula, the character in the novel based on Bram Stoker aka Prince of Darkness.  Bram had a history of inviting large groups of people to dinner, only to end the evening with slaughtering everyone who came.  According to our tour guide, he would then impale many of the dinner guests and display them in front of his home for everyone to see. It appears his actions were against Muslims for the most part, as a defender of the Christian faith.

     As far as the blood-sucking vampire stories we’ve all heard, none of those are true. The only blood consumed by Dracula was when he had just killed someone and sat down to dinner, using their fresh blood as dipping sauce for his bread.

 

     It appears that the family of Queen Maria, Princess Ileana, now owns the castle, advertising it as “Dracula’s Castle.”  This is misleading to say the least.  Had this been the castle where those incidents actually occurred, the tour through Dracula’s Castle would have been much more interesting. But in reality, the castle of course was never occupied by Dracula and definitely not owned by Dracula or his family.

     The castle is furnished with furniture that once belonged to Queen Maria. Although it is very beautiful, I have serious doubts that all of the people who visit the castle would do so had they known they were only going to see the furnishings of Queen Maria.

 

Venice, Italy

Venice is one of the most beautiful cities we have visited thus far. However, the overcrowding of people, along with the debris they leave behind tends to take away from its beauty.

The first day we arrived in Venice, the crowds of people made it difficult to walk on the streets. It wasn’t until two days later that we realized the Film Festival was being held there on August 30th, also a Regatta Race was in the area as well. From what I understand, on a typical day Venice has around 30,000+ visitors. They have already limited the number of cruise ships they allow to come to the city in order to control the over-crowding.  We found hotels and restaurants to be extremely high priced.  Perhaps this is also a way of controlling the number of visitors.

If you’re planning a trip to Venice make sure you pay close attention to transportation, especially at the airport. Marco Polo Airport is the closest to Venice.  Treviso Airport is the furthest away. You may get a better rate from the Treviso Airport but you will pay more in the end because of the distance into the city. A taxi from Treviso Airport into the Venice or Mestre area is around $100/84 euros. A taxi from the Marco Polo Airport is $30/25 euros. The number 45 bus, which runs 24/7 from the airport, will take you to the same places for $9.50/8 euros. The currency in this area is only euros. Another interesting point is the ride from the airport to the Mestre area is only 2 to 3 miles, a bit pricey compared to what we are accustomed to.

We stayed in the Mestre area to avoid the high priced hotels and crowds of people, not to mention the only way to get to most hotels is by water taxi, which could be a little tricky if you travel with alot of luggage. The Mestre area is a smaller community with lovely people, plenty of small shops, markets and a few small restaurants. My favorite was The Wine Shop with a great variety of homemade wines. I was able to take my 2-liter water bottle that I had emptied the night before, and get it filled with Malbec, a red wine that was some of the best I have ever had.

No problem walking on those streets!

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We booked our hotel online through Hotwire getting The Hotel Ducale; nice hotel but very small room. The hotel staff was very friendly, helpful and spoke English. Everything at the hotel was very convenient – – from being able to purchase bus tickets at the hotel to service of complimentary breakfast each morning. Transportation into the Venice downtown area from Mestre is normally by bus or train, with the train taking a little longer but offering the same price of 1.50 euros per person and is only a 15 minute ride. If I made a return trip, I would definitely go back to this area, very pleasant.

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Hotel Ducale – Mestre area

Walking around Venice was a little more pleasant after some of the events were over, although it was still crowded. We purchased tickets for the water bus taking us on a 25 minute ride through the canals to visit the San Marco area. San Marco, which seemed to be the most popular area of all was flooded with people. Ched remarked on all the changes that had taken place since he was there around 40 years ago. He remembered feeding masses of pigeons in the square. Today, there is no room for pigeons and difficult to walk freely through the street.

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Boat to San Marco

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This was my first visit to Venice, seeing the beautiful old buildings and churches, walking through the maze of streets, trying to find our way back, stopping to ask directions along the way while enjoying the beauty of canals flowing in all directions. While walking the streets, we passed a floating vegetable market.  There was also a garbage boat collecting garbage, making its way through the canal just as a garbage truck would drive down the streets at home. I had to wonder what it would be like to live there, having to travel by boat to get out of the city or go to work or go shopping every day. We also saw two men-moving furniture on to a large boat; moving day for someone.

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Floating Market

 

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All of the activity taking place along those streets and waterways was very interesting since the only way I had seen Venice was through the movies or television.  In my mind, it was all men, dressed in striped shirts, black pants and straw like hats giving rides to people while standing on the back of Gondolas, rowing down canals. There are definitely some of those, but I never realized they had to share those waterways with all the rest of the residents.

Venice is a town everyone should see at least once!

Next stop…Romania!

Edipsos, Evia Island, Greece

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Evia Island is an island located off the north shore of Greece.  I had never heard of this island until the day before we bought our bus tickets to go there.  We knew we were not ready to leave Greece yet, but we wanted very much to leave Athens.

We realized that some of the highly advertised islands in the area, although beautiful, could be overpopulated and just as pricey as Athens; therefore, we would need to choose wisely.

About ten years ago, I became acquainted with nature’s hot springs.  I’ve enjoyed several throughout the US and many other countries.  I got hooked the first time I was able to soak my sore bones in the hot, soothing mineral water that bubbled up from the ground. Having heard that some of the islands surrounding Greece have these hot springs, I decided to base my search on that; hence, I found Evia Island.

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After a bus ride of less than a hundred miles, which was continued by Ferry, we reached our destination in a little more than 3 hours.  Once we arrived at the ferry, everyone was asked to get off the bus.   Each passenger was required to buy a ticket to cross over to the island; a trip that took around an hour.  No one spoke English and we were not sure what to expect, so we just followed the crowd. We were surprised to find that Edipsos was located at the exact place we were getting off the boat.

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The location of the hotel could not have been better:   a short walk from the bus station, a market right around the corner, a block up from the beach and a 10 minute walk to the thermal baths (a/k/a hot springs). The hotel, Dafni Studios, is an older building but very well kept, with marble floors, a tiny little elevator and a balcony overlooking the street lined with restaurants and shops.  At $30 a night we felt it was a steal. This price is common for most of the hotels in the area, which was surprising after what we had just left in Athens, not to mention this is a beautiful little island town.

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After getting settled we were off to find the main attraction that had brought us to this island. The search for the hot springs was not difficult since all you need to do is follow the old folks walking down the street in their swimsuits, carrying beach bags, with a towel thrown over their shoulder.  It was very apparent that we had found a favorite hide-a-way for old guys, although not all were in that age bracket.

Since there is no time limit on going to the thermals, we could not wait to check out the water and decided to go back around 7:30 that evening.  Many people had the same idea and were laying around on the tops of rocks in pools of hot mineral water.  This was the highlight of our time spent in Evia Island.

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Nights in Evia Island are also a big event. Every night, the street around the bay front is closed to traffic. A large variety of vendors set up, selling just about anything you could imagine.  Musicians, puppet shows, games, carnival type shows, different kinds of food, etc. were all along the streets on both sides, making a walk through the area a bit challenging as well as entertaining.  The first night we came across this event I thought they were having a special celebration, but after asking around I found out this happens every night. Each night we were there we would go down to check it out and found that every night the streets were just as crowded as the night before.

We enjoyed our stay on this little island but nothing lasts forever…

Next stop, Venice, Italy.

 

Athens, Greece

Athens:  One of the most sought after travel destinations worldwide.

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Now that I’ve been there, the only way I would make a return visit is for a brief stop-over in the airport or possibly for a connection to a bus or ferry to get to one of the 200 Greek Islands.

One disadvantage of being last minute travelers is having to take whatever is offered for flights and lodging.  This type of travel would not work for some, I suppose, but for us this is the only way to go.

Our flight into Athens arrived at 3:00 in the morning. We had no euros for transportation to the hotel but were fortunate to find a money exchange that was open since no American dollars are accepted. We had previously searched online for Athens transportation options. After finding that a taxi from the airport to the downtown area could be around $50, we decided to look further.  The best travel seemed to be the X95 Bus that makes trips to and from the airport to downtown Athens.  It runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week ,taking 45 minutes to get downtown – – not a lot of difference in time than a taxi would have taken. The cost for the two of us was 12 euros, which was about $15, with a drop off point in Syntagama Square, only a short distance to the place we were staying. We probably could have walked to the hotel, but being in an unknown area and at that hour, we decided to take a taxi. We found out later during our stay that we had made a wise decision.

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We decided that our first stop should be the Acropolis, along with a visit to the museum. We were able to walk to most of the points of interest from our hotel but the walk to the Acropolis was a little over a mile.   To save energy for the climb and walk around the Acropolis, we decided to take a subway to get there.

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We both enjoyed the walk through time, seeing the work of past architects, sculptors and artists, feeling the history and energies of the past all around.  As for this part of Athens I felt it an honor to be here, but we soon found out that the rest of the city was not quite as inviting.

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I found very little English spoken in this area, which was surprising as well as disappointing.  In my past travels I have relied on locals to give me tips on the best points of interest and things to see, rather than relying on the highly advertised tourist areas. Since we had no inside information we decided to take one of several sightseeing bus tours, hoping not to miss anything while touring the city.  While taking a break on the tour and waiting for the next bus we decided to have a cup of tea at one of the street side cafe’s.  The biggest surprise came with the bill. The tea was 5.50 euros per cup or about $7. We found the same high prices at most of the restaurants as well.

Another deciding factor as to whether we stayed in Athens or moved on to our next stop was the area in general.  The signs of criminal activity are all around.  Graffiti is everywhere, even on government buildings.  We saw the police chasing a young man, throwing him to the ground and putting him in handcuffs.  On our last afternoon in Athens we were on our way back to the hotel when suddenly I felt a little something at my side.  I looked down to find a young thug’s hand in my purse with my cell phone half way out. A natural instinct turned me into “Granny Clampett,” which he did not see coming.  He seemed a bit shocked and backed off even though he had other young men waiting in the background.  I felt very lucky that the incident went no further and certainly did not want to push my luck. I reported the incident to the hotel, only to have the hotel clerk tell me that was a common occurrence in the city.

It was time to leave Athens!

Exploring the Mediterranean   

August 2017

First stop:  Macedonia!

Macedonia is a small country just north of Greece, also bordering Bulgaria, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania. It’s a well-kept secret – – for me anyway, and for most other Americans according to what I heard from the locals.  They told me they get very few American visitors.  This amazes me considering the beauty and interesting history Macedonia has to offer.

Our first stop in Macedonia is Skopje, the capital city. Skopje is Ched’s birthplace.  He left there long ago and remembered little about the area, so it was a challenge finding our way around.  Lodging has not been an issue here since we have been able to stay in an extra apartment owned by Ched’s family.  After looking around though, there appear to be great deals on places to stay in Skopje, so lodging shouldn’t be a problem for any traveler.

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Our View from Ched’s Family’s Home

The taxis are very reasonable and restaurants offer a large variety of delicious meals at a very affordable price.  Ched introduced me to one of the Macedonian favorites:  Bourek.  It’s severed mostly as a breakfast food and made from sheets of pastry dough filled with feta cheese or possibly spinach and feta cheese, then baked to a golden brown.  Most of the locals eat Bourek with yogurt. It’s a tradition, I suppose. This is not the typical yogurt you find in America.  It’s served as a drink. I will have to say, it isn’t too bad.

Touring downtown Skopje:

Considering the temperatures are around 100 degrees this time of year, we chose to ditch our usual walking tour and accepted a ride to the downtown area from Ched’s nephew.  Surprisingly to Ched, there’d been a recent addition of hundreds of statues and fountains all around the downtown area, along with big beautiful buildings that were also recently built.

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Although these new buildings and statues made a nice addition to Skopje, we much preferred walking through the old town, visiting all the small shops, restaurants, markets and historical sites.  The house of the birthplace of Mother Teresa is here, along with a memorial to her.

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Mother Teresa’s Birthplace

While we were there, we also spotted a place called The Casa Cubana, a Latin Restaurant and Bar.  It’s quiet in the daytime but comes alive at night with great music and dancing.  We made a return trip there on a Friday night to get our Salsa on!

A visit to Matka Canyon:

A great suggestion by Ched’s family was a visit to Matka Canyon, located just west of Skopje.  Once we arrived at the area we took a short hike up the canyon by the water’s edge where we reached the main attraction, a small medieval monastery.  It’s located just behind a rustic outdoor restaurant built on a cliff overlooking the lake.  There we saw  a few small wooden boats with tiny strips of bamboo fused together  as a makeshift shade.  These boats were available for anyone that wanted to take a ride up the river.  After a short visit to the monastery to light a candle and say a prayer, we decided on a boat ride which would take us to a cave located about a half mile up the river.

Getting back to nature after so many planes, trains and automobiles was very satisfying and calming.  What a relaxing trip! Thank you Lydia, for the suggestion!

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Medieval Monastery

Matka Canyon 

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Bus ride to Ohrid Lake:

Ohrid Lake is located just over one hundred miles from Skopje.  The most logical way to get there is by bus ride, which is a little more than 3 hours long.  Along the trip we were surprised to see so many Muslim communities.  The area consisted mostly of new, tiled roof homes surrounded by twelve foot block walls.  There was also a Mosque with a tower located near the center of the village.

On Booking.Com we found a place with a 4 star rating near the center of town for $30 per night.  Once we arrived in Ohrid Lake we took a taxi from the bus station to our hostel for a little less than 3 bucks.   We took notice of the area along the way since we would be walking after getting settled in. The Hostel was owned and operated by the Joce family, who were very pleasant.  The small apartments were cozy and clean.  There’s also an outdoor sitting area with an arbor full of sweet tasting grapes. The owners were very friendly and helpful and made our stay in Ohrid even that much more pleasant.

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Lake Ohrid is a top tourist area in Macedonia, mostly visited by people from Turkey, Romania, Holland, Italy, Greece and other surrounding countries.  I only know this from speaking to other travelers who were from these countries and from talking locals about the tourism in Ohrid.  I was delighted to find that many of the people there spoke English.

We decided to go along with the majority of the tourists this time and take a boat ride to other locations that could only be reached by water.  This excursion took most of the day and covered some really beautiful area.  The boat stopped for lunch at an outdoor restaurant located on natural springs which offered paddle boat rides, nature walks and small shops.  A walk up the hill there took us to an old beautiful monastery called the Monastery of St. Naum, located near the border of Albania.

Lake Ohrid

On our second day in Ohrid Lake we chose to stay in the downtown area where we visited more monasteries and browsed the small shops.  Ohrid Lake is known for its hand made pearls so mostly every shop window displayed a wide variety of these pearls. Curiosity lead me to inquire from one of the locals (who spoke English) as to where the pearls actually come from.  He told me the story of a family that lived there many years ago. They had a secret family recipe that used fish scales from the Plasica fish that came from Ohrid Lake.  Today the fish are not as plentiful as they were 80 years ago and I was told that most of the pearls being sold in these shops come from China and other sources.  Buyer beware – True Ohrid Lake pearls may not be what you are actually buying.

After three days in this charming place, I found myself wishing I had more time there.

Next stop – – Athens, Greece, with a layover in Serbia.