A Travellerspoint blog

Lake Ohrid and Skopje, Macedonia and Pristina, Kosovo

semi-overcast 15 °C

Lake Ohrid is over three million years old and Ohrid town is one of Europe's oldest settlements
Ohrid_Old_..ritage_Site.jpg

Even before we got to Pogdorac, Albania I was worrying about how we would get to Macedonia. Buses do not cross the border at Lake Ohrid.

I had read how people took one bus to the border, walked through customs, and looked for another bus on the other side.

The receptionist at our hotel spoke limited English. 'I will help you.' Our landlord in Tirana had given us a bottle of wine. We re-gifted it to the receptionist - thank you.
I remained skeptical when she walked us across the road and indicated we would catch the bus to the border there. To us it seemed the bus would be going the wrong way.
As she was heading back inside a car going the opposite direction stopped.
The girl and the driver spoke. 'Taxi' she told us. No evidence of a sign. She helped us negotiate a price, twenty Euros to the centre of Ohrid.

It was, I am sure, much easier to do it this way. We hopped in.

Support the underground economy.

It was about a forty five minute trip including a stop to drop off some fruit and the two stops at customs.
We never saw a bus as we progressed through the mountains.
Here there are hairpin turns. Not a relaxing drive.
driveohrid.JPG

Once in Ohrid we went to a cafe with wifi and I booked an apartment for seventeen Euros a night. We wasted time waiting for the landlord to get back to us, he never did, and eventually we arrived and he was there waiting.

It is a homey little place with a balcony, on a plainer scale than the hotel across the pond in Albania.

We went for a late lunch at the neighbourhood cafe our landlord recommended. A big salad, bread and beef stew, traditional food.
ohridstew.JPG
ohridrestaurant.JPG

We had been lent a map, there seems to be a shortage, and headed to the UNESCO World Heritage Sight old town. It sits on a hill. Quite a steep climb:
ohridclimb.JPG

We turned back before we got to the top, it would be dark soon, we wanted to find our way back to the apartment in daylight.
As it was, I stopped to take a picture of roses, full blooms on a tree, and Jeff disappeared. I was lost for about ten minutes. Turns out our apartment building was right across the street and he had gone in, expecting me to follow.
ohridroses.JPG
Eventually he came and found me. I have no sense of direction and poor observation skills!!

Tuesday, Nov 8 - we have had such wonderful weather. Today it is raining. We stopped twice for coffee on the way to the old town, trying to wait it out. Eventually we just bit the bullet and walked.

The fortress is from the eleventh century when Ohrid was the capital of Bulgaria.

We hardly saw any people, the streets were deserted, most businesses are closed, the 'season' is over.
ohridstreet.JPG

Near the highest point, overlooking the lake, is St Clements Church, the most sacred church in Macedonia:
ohridchurch5.jpg
St Clement was a student of St Cyril as in Cyrillic. He was born in the ninth century and oversaw the construction of an Orthodox church in Ohrid. The original church at this location was a university where the Cyrillic alphabet was taught.
It is the oldest University in Europe in discontinued use. Ohrid is the cradle of Slavic literature.

Hundreds of years before Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door of a Catholic Church in Germany in 1517, these guys were making the Bible available in the Slavic language.

Both the lake and the old town are UNESCO World Heritage Sights - one of only 28 sights with both the nature and culture designation worldwide!! And the only UNESCO World Heritage Sights in the Republic of Macedonia.

Even the main square, overlooking the port and the lake, is quiet.

Three dogs are resting on the grass, they look like rocks. Dogs and cats wander around like this in many Southeastetn European countries (like Bulgaria, Romania and Macedonia)
ohriddogs.JPG

Lake Ohrid pearls are featured in shop windows. They are handmade using a secret emulsion from the scales of a fish native to Lake Ohrid, resulting in a particularly luminous pearl. Even Queen Elizabeth owns Ohrid pearls!!

We browse around.

It is a dreary, quiet day in what must be a busy place in the summer!!

Macedonia remained at peace during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
It has been independent since 1991.

Entrance to the EU has been blocked by Greece over objection to the name 'Macedonia.'

We took a three and one half hour bus ride from Ohrid to Skopje, 110 km.
Our landlord arranged for us to be picked up at a regular bus stop near our apartment and walked with us to make sure we got on the right bus!

macedoniascenery.JPG

It was another very scenic, mountainous journey.

For the second time in the former country of Yugoslavia we passed a serious wreck, another car on its roof, just past a bend in the road.
These roads are very twisty, narrow, climbing up and down mountains. There is a lot of road work going on so improvements are being made.
The distance between Ohrid and Skopje is 110 km as the crow flies, 172 km by road. We were glad to be on a big bus as the minibuses seem more stomach-churning, perhaps more of a sway, plus they travel faster.
This is the nicest and cleanest bus we have taken in the Balkans.

The scenery is breathtaking although the view is often blocked by trees or the side of a mountain.
cca86f30-49bc-11e8-b8a5-c177d9513b15.jpg
On the outskirts of Skopje there is a river and in the river was a large dead animal, a cow, a deer or a moose, I couldn't tell what it was, but a disturbing sight. Yuk. Not an auspicious first impression. Garbage and litter are not confined to Albania, I saw a lot on the side of the road as we travelled, even high in the mountains.
The city centre is quite neat though.

Most of Skopje was destroyed by an earthquake in 1963. It is not a city of venerable old buildings.

In a city cluttered with statues stray dogs roam the streets.
We went on the free three hour walking tour that starts at the Mother Theresa statue daily at 10 am.
Along the main pedestrian walk on Macedonia Street seven large dogs with yellow ear tags followed our group, breaking off on occasion to chase a bike or bite cars. They bite on the metal or plastic near the wheel well, barking merrily, our guide has to stop talking because we can't hear him.
Animal rights groups seemingly want these dogs left as they are, running loose and free, relying on the kindness of strangers for food.
After a four year old child was killed by a stray dog early this year in another area of Macedonia there were many incidents of dog poisoning even in Skopje, followed by huge protests to protect the dogs.
We witnessed a man get out of his vehicle carrying a puppy pounder after three dogs chased and bit at his car - he did not actually hit a dog as our tour guide intervened and sharp words were exchanged.
dogs.JPG
They have implemented the tagging system to monitor the strays. The tag indicates the dog has been vaccinated. A foreign system to us, our group is mesmerized - when we stop for a drink a few dogs lay down outside the cafe and then quickly follow along when the tour resumes.
streetdog.JPG

Mother Theresa statue on Macedonia Street, a pedestrian promenade in the city centre:
skopjetheresa.JPG
Mother Theresa was born in Skopje. She went to Dublin at the age of 18 and trained as a nun. From there she went to Calcutta and the rest is history.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, where she was baptized in 1910, was destroyed in the 1963 earthquake. It was at this location that the 'Mother Teresa Memorial House' was opened in 2009. It consists of a Catholic Chapel and a small museum dedicated to Mother Theresa.

The Memorial House stands out from other recently constructed or refurbished buildings in central Skopje in both size and simplicity.
b90f5ea0-4900-11e8-aaa8-495226a6b2fa.JPG

Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu at about 18 years, before she travelled to Dublin to become a nun:
youngtheresa.JPG
The Catholic chapel is very simple and modern, decorated with filigree - a craft of Macedonia learned from the Turks during 500 years of Ottoman Rule.
Filigree is typically herbs, plants, vines. In the chapel version, symbols of doves for peace and fish (early Christian symbol that predates the cross) are incorporated within the filigree.
filigree.JPG

The Warrior on a Horse, commonly known as Alexander the Great, dominates Macedonia Square:
8cb40dd0-4a66-11e8-a8d1-71ec767e0ac9.JPG

The first European style building constructed in the city in 1926, Ristik Palace, is located on Macedonia Square. It survived the 1963 earthquake and is today the picture of understated elegance in an over the top, architecturally, city.
It boasted the first elevator in the city, still in use today.
skopjebuilding.JPG

About a block away a sign marks the spot where Mother Theresa actually lived. The house, along with 70 % of the city, was destroyed in the 1963 earthquake:
Theresahome.JPG

Tumba Madzari was a matriarchy - on a bridge lined with too many statues, this one stands out, quite elegant:
tumblastatue.JPG
The Cult of the Great Mother Goddess was from about 6000 to 4500 BC. Times Up!! Although there seems to be a dispute if there ever existed a true matriarchy due to lack of recorded pre-history.

The old stone bridge is a relief for the eyes. Although rebuilt many times it seems authentic to the city where it has spanned the Vardar River for centuries:
stonebridgeskopje.JPG

Karposh, a Christian outlaw who led a rebellion against the Ottoman Turks in 1689, is believed to have died on the Stone Bridge - he had been captured three days prior and was impaled but purposefully kept alive and awake until a molten crown was placed on his head to finish him off.
Our guide relayed this story and he is a historian. Below the stone bridge and to the right, is a statue of the Macedonian hero, Karposh, who led an uprising that eventually failed and was slowly executed by the Ottoman Turks to discourage dissent.
karpov2.JPG

The stone bridge connects Macedonia Square with the Old Bazaar.
The old bazaar on the east side of the river has been in operation since the twelfth century.
Kapan Han - reconstructed travellers' inn from the 1500s, located in the Old Bazzaar - now used for businesses.
skopjespuk.JPG

The Old Bazaar in Skopje is the largest Bazaar in the Balkans outside of Istanbul.
Turkish style restaurant in the old bazaar:
turkishrestaurant.JPG

The fortress, Kale:
kale.JPG

We are staying across the street from a very good Italian Restaurant with a nice patio and a good vibe so
we dine on traditional food at lunch and have Italian for dinner:
skopjeitalian.JPG

Close to our apartment on Macedonia Street, in front of a shoe store, is a statue of a bull. I rub his nose hoping it brings me some kind of luck, hoping I will always be able to afford shoes! Just another example of Skopje's propensity for borrowing ideas and transplanting them -
bull.JPG

I like the Chelsea Girl statue across the street from the bull, life-size, not gigantic, whimsical.
chelseagirl.JPG

Macedonia Street, now a pedestrian promenade, was once Marshal Tito Street.

Macedonia was once in Yugoslavia. This, though, is recent history, a mere hiccup in thousands of years of history.

Recent history:

Ottoman Empire ruled from the fifteenth to twentieth century - 500 years.
Occupied by Bulgaria from 1915 - 1918
Ruled by communist dictator, Tito, from 1945 to 1980
Declared independence 1991.

From Sarajevo to Belgrade to Skopje Macedonia we heard Tito praised - he may have been a dictator but he was a charming dictator a young Bosnian woman stated.
It was better with Tito.
Who was this guy, Josip Broz, the leader of communist Yugoslavia?
He was born in Croatia to a poor Croatian father and Slovenian mother. He left school at an early age and trained as a locksmith. From this inauspicious start he became the leader of Yugoslavia.
He maintained contact with both Russia and the west during the Cold War and kept Yugoslavia separate from the Soviet bloc.
He was considered more benign than Enver Hoxha of Albania and Stalin of Russia.
The people we met and talked with in Macedonia, Bosnia and Serbia (an exquisitely small but very random sample) were nostalgic about the good old Tito years - it seems they had enjoyed a good quality of life and felt secure under his rule.
Can this be true?
Somehow he kept the tensions among the various groups in check and has been considered a pretty good guy. 128 countries sent representatives to his funeral.

Eleven years after his death the lid blew off and from one country, Yugoslavia, we eventually got 7: Bosnia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Macedonia.
Canadian troops, mostly deployed from Edmonton, stayed in Skopje during the Kosovo War. Ground troops were driven across the defile, into the war zone, along the steep mountain roads, mine sweepers leading the way.

On 10 November, a bright and hazy day, we took a mini bus from Skopje Macedonia along twisting, climbing, descending, climbing, mountain roads to Kosovo.
drivetokosovo.JPG
Why Kosovo - it’s personal.
On the Macedonia side of the border three cows roamed around the parking lot.
cows.JPG
kosovosign.JPG
The mini bus rattled and squeaked its way along the two lane highway, not relaxing!! The driver passed the time talking on his cell phone.
cellphone.JPG
As we approached Pristina the landscape flattened out and we were on a freeway for a time.

Pristina has a population of 500,000.
The most famous building is the unique Library at the University. Designed by Croatian architect Andries Mutnjakovic to incorporate both Byzantine and Islamic styles, it is considered one of the world's ugliest building.
It was built in 1982 during communist times.
The style has been called Brutalist. A metal grid, kind of representing filigree, but more sinister, covers the concrete walls and has a functional element - to protect against sunlight.
sinister.JPG

To the left of the monstrous library is the familiar shape of an Orthodox Church.

Construction started in 1995 but its completion was interrupted by the Kosovo War in 1999. In the intervening years it has remained in its unfinished state.

There is a dispute between the University and the Serbian Orthodox Church re land ownership. The fate of the church is under consideration. Students want to turn it into a bar or have it demolished. It has been part of the landscape for over 20 years.

Church of Christ the Saviour:
churchcross.JPG
I feel sad when I look at the abandoned church, the gold cross gleaming in the sunlight, tall grass all around. To the residents maybe it symbolizes victory, but it seems such a wasteland here in the city centre, right next to the University.
church34.jpg

Our apartment is very central. Although the stairwell and hallway of the building are littered with old flyers the apartment itself, is nice. 90 Euros for three nights, Duku’s Apartment.
We can see the distinctive spiked roofline of the Palace of Youth and Sport from our balcony:
sport.JPG
On November 11 we walked to the New Born monument - a typographic sculpture and tourist attraction unveiled when Kosovo became a country in 2008.
newborn.JPG
The New Born Sculpture sits in front of the Palace of Youth and Sport, a communist era building from 1977, now a shopping centre and sports complex.

Across the street from the Newborn monument is Mother Theresa Park. 90 % of the people here are Albanian and, although born in Macedonia, Mother Theresa was of Albanian descent.

If you were here in 1999 - this is Pristina today:
pristinasquare.JPG

We were accompanied in the early afternoon of November 11 by a young woman who volunteered to drive us to Martyrs' Cemetary and the Ethnographical Museum of Culture.
What a nice thing for her to do!! She was a friend of our landlord and did the translating when we checked in.

She also brought me a gift - hand knit slippers, made by her grandmother.
slippers.JPG
The workmanship is beautiful.
A real craft made by a real Kosovo/Albanian Muslim lady who lost daughters and grandchildren in the recent war. They were on an evacuation bus to Skopje - it was, inexplicably, a Serbian bus, that crossed a bridge that NATO blew up.

Kosovo War Memorial, deserted and desolate:
585b3620-48a0-11e8-aa02-87b8e2dad6ec.jpg
Not a tourist attraction, some evidence of vandalism and neglect, forlorn.

Martyrs' Cemetary has fewer graves than one might expect but families wanted their loved ones close so not many agreed to bury them at this location. Our new friend, who had never been here before, was stunned to find the grave of someone she knew - the brother of one of her best friends.

We wanted to pay our respects, it was November 11 - Rememberance Day.

For a more uplifting experience we went to the Ethnographic Museum where an authentic Turkish house from the eighteenth century is intact - there are in fact two houses but the larger one is being renovated so we could only tour the smaller guesthouse.

Low, three legged chairs made from a single piece of wood circle a table with copper tajines on display.
woodstools.JPG
Water was brought to the sink from an outside well in jugs:
drysink.JPG
There was a kind of central heat in this house, the owners were wealthy.
Ornate wood carving
woodwork.JPG
Eighteenth century deck overlooking the garden:
wooddeck.JPG

We ate a traditional meal for dinner, Kosovo sausage. Before receiving this huge plate of filling food we were comped traditional bread with a yogurt and cucumber dip, very good. Portion size seem huge.

We like it here. People are friendly. It seems very western. We can order an Americano (coffee) almost everywhere although macchiato is more trendy.
They use our alphabet. There is an American University near the New Born monument. New Born is in English. Their currency is the Euro.
We are staying near Bill Clinton Boulevard.
Bill Klinton Boulevard:
billklinton.JPG
Mother Teresa Cathedral is located on Bill Klinton Boulevard near the University Library:

The population of Pristina is very young and many speak English.
They like NATO.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

The name Kosovo is derived from a Serbian word meaning 'field of blackbirds.'
An apt name, there are thousands of blackbirds in Pristina. In the evening their singing drowns out our voices on the street.

Paul McCartney's tune from 1968 is persistently playing in my head;
'Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly...'

There is a place called Blackbird Fields near Pristina where, legend has it, a battle took place between the Serbs and the Ottomans in 1389. The Serbs were defeated in the end but they put up a good fight.

With a youthful population and a cafe culture Pristina boasts a lively nightlife - must be fun for international backpackers in the summer!!
Numerous coffee shops and bars line the streets and are great spots for people watching.

On 13 November we took the bus back to Skopje. Our friend arranged the taxi and the price was half of what we paid coming in - this guy used a meter. Two and a half Euros.
The taxi picked us up outside our apartment building on Rexhap Luci.
This is an interesting side street, fairly typical.
It has one lane for traffic and cars go both ways, and also park on both sides of the street, mostly on the sidewalk.
There are frequent traffic jams and it is almost as common for vehicles to be backing down the street as driving forward.
Today someone is parked in the driving lane. Eegads!! Everybody has to back up a block. In the meantime pedestrians are jaywalking to cross as well as walking on the road because cars are parked on the sidewalk. A general free for all. Still we made it to the station on time.

Bus fare for one person from Pristina to Skopje was 5 Euro 50 cents. They don't charge extra for luggage stowed underneath in Albania, Macedonia or Kosovo.

This time we got a big bus, comfortable and less scary than the van!

The first fifty minutes are through a plain, a flat area with mountain views:

Then there are twenty minutes of mountain gorges until we reach the border:

The 'defile' or narrow pass between mountains is breathtaking - the view is often obscured by trees or rocky outcropping. Very colourful this time of year!
defile2.JPG
defile.JPG

It takes about ten minutes at the border.
Everyone has already written down their name and ID number on a clipboard.
A guard collects passports at the Kosovo side, hands them back, then in 200 metres a Macedonian border guard repeats the process.

We have been picking up and dropping off all along the way. I am sitting by the central exit door. Random women in headscarves shake my hand before they exit.

Another twenty minutes in the mountains and we are in the outskirts of Skopje.
We have taken a round trip to Kosovo that thousands of soldiers took during the war. They bumped along the twisty mountain roads preceded by mine sweepers. NATO troops actually lived in Skopje and commuted to the war zone.

Now, when we see the first monuments in Skopje, we smile. Something familiar.
firststatue.jpg

We are back in Skopje and the monuments seem friendly, welcoming.

In a country of two million people, 500,000 live in the capital city.

We are staying in the same large one bedroom apartment we had before, clean, bright, great location on Macedonia Street for about 30 Canadian dollars per night.

After the devastating 1963 earthquake where more than 70 % of the city was demolished and over 1000 people died, England lent Skopje some red double decker buses for four years.
They were such a hit Skopje has acquired ten of its own red double decker buses since 2011.

There has been a concerted effort to manufacture tourist attractions in Skopje.
redbus.JPG
We took the number 7 bus to the large and modern City Mall as we needed a few staples. This was a good bus to take since the mall is at the end of the line so quite straightforward.

We stopped for coffee on our way back and a macchiato and large slice of tiramisu cost four dollars. A bargain and a tasty treat!
tiramisu.JPG

We love the location of our apartment and decided to venture beyond our usual Italian restaurant one night. We started out on the patio of an upscale restaurant right by the main square.
The patios have heaters and are kind of enclosed, still it was damp and chilly. We were offered a seat inside and enjoyed our supper there, warm and cozy!
beetsalad.JPG

We strolled around Macedonia Square and the stone bridge after dinner. It had been an overcast day but not cold.

Skopje looks beautiful after dark. The huge buildings and massive monuments are softened.
skopje3night.JPG
skopjenight2.JPG
Porta Macedonia, Skopje's Arc de Triomphe, was completed in 2012:

It, too, looks better at night, where the impression that it has been randomly dumped in a parking lot is less obvious!
8dc9eaa0-4a66-11e8-a8d1-71ec767e0ac9.JPG
Valentina Stefanovska designed both the Arch and the Warrior on a Horse (Alexander the Great) sculpture.

Macedonia Square is lively even at night and seems a great meeting point, connecting the stone bridge with the main pedestrian promenade.

Most of what we see is new, ten to twenty years old.
8f9ef8c0-4a66-11e8-a8d1-71ec767e0ac9.JPG

Skopje has transformed itself recently and based on the number of cranes, the process is ongoing.

Following the earthquake of 1963 a transformation also took place. The Japanese architect who had redesigned post-war Hiroshima, Kenzo Tang, designed the city centre: modern, brutalist, clean, geometric.
The old train station has been left as it was following the earthquake with the clock fixed on the time the earthquake struck. It houses a kind of museum with information about the aftermath as well as some modern art and (possibly reproduction) pieces of antiquity.
skopjeclock1JPG.JPG
The plain Jane look of most of the centre has now been tarted up!! The 21st century makeover is heavy on baroque and neo-classical.
The makeover has been controversial - 'When I look at this excess,' one local told us, 'I feel so ashamed. I live in a Disneyland city, copy and paste. What next?'
Indeed.

Below, Alexander the Great is just to the right of the massive cross - the Millenium Cross on Vodno Mountain stands 217 feet tall (66 metres). Construction started in 2002 and it was basically completed by 2008.
To put this in perspective, Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro stands 98 feet tall (30 metres).
skopjecross.JPG
You can take a cable car to the top. We were satisfied to view it from afar, it is visible all over Skopje

The Millenium Cross is the fifth tallest cross in the world - Spain has the tallest and - this kind of surprised me - the fourth tallest is in Lebanon.

We have been lucky with the weather but on November 15 it rained all day,. We hid out in a coffee shop for an hour hoping it would ease up but no, now it was pouring!

The street dogs were out and about, accompanying a tour:
tourdogs.JPG
dogs.JPG

We crossed over the Stone Bridge and walked through one of the most statue-dense squares.
The centrepiece statue is 29 metres tall, Philip of Macedon (Alexander the Great's Father) was unveiled in 2012. The sculptor: Valentina Stevanovka - her name keeps popping up. She holds the Macedonian record for publicly commissioned artwork and until that happened nobody had ever heard of her. I am convinced there is more to this story.
None of the fountains are operational this time of year, it must be astounding in the summer!!
skopjebridge.JPG
Just behind the massive statue and fountain is the old town, the old bazaar.

The old bazaar, is a maze of streets and shops. Filigree is a specialty, there are numerous shops selling silver filigree and others specializing in Ohrid pearls as well as all manner of other shops, bakeries and cafes.

We bought a huge container of halvah, and enjoyed a cup of Turkish tea served in a glass with a wedge of lemon.

We stop for lunch and enjoy filling, traditional food including shopska salad, not shown. Price including a shot of spirits and tea was under ten dollars.

skopjetable.JPG

I decided to look for souvenirs while Jeff, not much of a shopper, remained at the restaurant drinking tea.
I made a right and a left turn. Along the way a shopkeeper I had met earlier hailed me down and gave me a pink umbrella. It was pouring, rain was dripping off my hood into my eyes.
I could not find my way back to the restaurant - everything looked the same. Eventually I walked into a small bar and announced 'I'm lost. Does anybody speak English'
The girl behind the counter was dumb-founded.
A dripping wet, wild-eyes, mature ha! tourist was talking gibberish.

A couple of young guys, customers, came to my rescue.
Sit down. Where are you from?
I tried to explain about Jeff being at a nearby cafe, name unknown, and how I had to find him.
Could we call him, text him, email him, no - he is off the grid, sitting there, waiting.

I have a picture of the restaurant - or a small section of it - now a third man takes an interest and, hallelujah, recognizes the restaurant.

This is nothing short of a miracle:
soukclue.JPG

One guy says he will take me, I am relieved, ecstatic, but now we have walked almost to the Philip the Great statue and I know we have gone too far.
Not to panic, another of the original trio shows up and says he knows the way so we turn back and yes we got there but Jeff had just left, looking for me, they pointed the way, only two minutes ago. Very shortly I spotted him, called his name and waved my pink umbrella.
He was only mildly surprised to see his bedraggled mother in the company of two smartly dressed twenty somethings, waving a new accessory and quick-stepping towards him through the puddles.
umbrella.JPG

Well, it was an adventure! Jeff fails to see the humour but I have had a good laugh - and I imagine the people I encountered along the way have had one too.
I missed the perfect opportunity to pretend to be American! 'Where are you from?' And I said Canada.

cheers.JPG
Na zdravje!

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 09:36 Archived in Macedonia Tagged mountains the monuments world heritage great budget unesco balkans yugoslavia ohrid alexander skopje macedonia affordable filigree kosovo pearls pristina shopska Comments (0)

Malta

sunny 20 °C

Malta is an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. The two main inhabited Islands are Malta and Gozo.
17000 years ago Malta was connected to mainland Europe. Today it is fifty miles south of Sicily.
History includes Phoenician, Roman, Arab, French and British occupation.
We have been in perpetual autumn but
Malta has a sub tropical climate and is very green on November 17.

We flew with Wizz Air from Skopje, Macedonia.
94e46b30-4755-11e8-8a07-730e5816ab63.jpg
We had been in the Balkans for 35 days!

Malta has an extensive public transportation system.
We purchased seven day bus passes for twenty euros each - unlimited public transportation. Then we took the X1 bus from from The International Airport which is 5 km southwest of Valetta, to the ferry terminal.

They drive on the left side of the road.
Signs are in English, 'Slow Down' and 'Speed kills'
Since these are public buses and traffic in general seems congested the aisles are eventually packed with locals and tourists and we feel lucky to have seats!

The distance between the big island, Malta, and Gozo to the north, is 6 km. It takes 25 minutes on the ferry from Cirkewwa, Malta to Mgarr, Gozo. There is a ferry every 45 minutes. Round trip fare is five Euros.
gozoboat.jpg
Gozo is the second largest island in the Maltese archipelago, five miles wide and ten miles long.

As soon as we got off the ferry we hopped on the bus to Xaghra and careened down the narrow, curving roads past rock fences, and honey coloured baroque buildings, with frequent glimpses of the coastline and the Mediterranean.
We got off at the Xaghra main square. The wind had really whipped up and it started to rain and then pour.
It is easier to walk on the road than the narrow sidewalk dragging a suitcase, but dangerous as there are many blind corners - long story short we eventually arrived at our bed and breakfast, we are the only guests and have the entire house and pool to ourselves!
maltahouse.JPG

November 18 is a bright sunny day. Temperature around 20 C

Breakfast was pleasant - coffee, toast (I was thrilled), fruit. The owners live in the house next door and pop over to prepare breakfast and have a visit. They are British ex-pats, very pleasant, welcome to EllieBoos.

We took the bus to the capital city, Vittorija, and walked around the walled citadel. Spectacular. Not many tourists. Free to walk on the castle walls.
vittorijawalls.JPG

A fortification at this site was in use from 1500 BC until 1868.
vittorijacastle.JPG
vittorijarestaurant.JPG

The obelisk below commemorates the date in 1843 when water was channeled via the aqueduct to the Citadel
obelisk.JPG
gozoaqueduct.JPG

Today the tap water in Malta is desalinated sea water.

Malta is the most picturesque country. Compact, surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, beautiful limestone buildings, numerous historical sites and an average annual temperature of 17 degrees C. with 3000 hours of sunshine.

We are using regular transit as a hop on and off bus. In the early afternoon we went to the pilgrimage site, Ta' Pinu. There has been a chapel at this spot since at least 1534.
tapinu.JPG
The current Romanesque style building of Maltese stone was completed in 1932.
tapinuchurch.JPG

The interior is peaceful:
peaceful.JPG
tapinuinside.JPG

There was a roadside food cart selling date filled pastries - Imqaret, traditional Maltese sweet - these are deep fried and calorie dense - we each had two!!

We changed buses in Vittorija, wending our way back 'home' to Xaghra.

We would have visited one of the most famous sights, the Azure Window, featured in millions of photographs and tourist brochures as well as in The Game of Thrones.
However, worse luck, the limestone arch is no more!! It collapsed during a bad storm in March of 2017!!!
Wow! A major tourist attraction, gone forever!

Diving is a significant tourist activity on Gozo and apparently the divers are loving the remains of the Azure Window now resting on the sea bed.
Our hosts saw the Azure Window on the night of the storm. The winds were so strong some waves were actually looping around the structure which was 92 feet tall. It was believed to be thousands of years old and was breathtaking in its beauty. Nothing remains above sea level, the entire structure collapsed.

The view from the pool deck at our rented house:
view.JPG
This was a really beautiful home. Good value for 67 C per night breakfast included.

We are, quite by accident, staying in a town with a terrific tourist attraction.

The Megalithic Temples of Malta from 3600 BC: Ggantija - Belonging to the Giants

Ggantija is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - 5500 years old, possibly the oldest man-made religious structures in the world.

Older than Stonehenge, Older than the pyramids of Egypt, Really remarkable.
Giantess.jpg

Legend has it that a giantess who only ate broad beans and honey had a half human child.
With the child hanging from her shoulder she got to work and built the temples in about 24 hours.
cartoon2.JPG

The wheel had not yet been discovered and no metal tools were in use in Malta. It is speculated that small spherical stones were used to transport the gigantic rocks. Some of the megaliths weigh over 50 tons!!!
cartoon.JPG
The temples sit on a plateau facing south east and were possibly used in a ceremonial fertility rite in what is believed to have been a matriarchy.

The temples were a tourist destination even in the seventeenth century:
cartoon3.JPG
Artists' renderings of this visit by British tourists in 1648 and other drawings from the seventeenth and eighteenth century have been useful to archaeologists. Over the years various items were taken and the sight deteriorated until the government bought the land from a private owner in 1933 and major research and preservation efforts commenced.
Although there is now a guard on sight when the museum is open and there is no access to the temples other than by paid admission, acts of vandalism (such as engraving names on the ancient rocks) still occur.

Millions of dollars of EU money has recently been spent to restore and preserve the temples and to build an information centre.

We visited Ggantija on November 19.

Below: the oldest, free standing, stone structure in the world:

prehistorictemple.JPG

Constructed in large part from coralline limestone which has persevered for thousands of years, the purpose and actual method of assembly of the unique megaliths of Gozo remain a mystery.

I like the folklore version: the temples were built by a vegetarian giant as she breastfed her half human child.

Admission tickets are purchased inside the information centre and a tour of the Xaghra windmill just down the street is included.
windmill.JPG
Ta' Kola Windmill was built during the Knights of St John period in the eighteenth century and was used to grind flour. At that time 75% of the average Gozitan's diet was bread. Bread is still a staple in Gozo.
Maltese cuisine has been influenced by both Britain and Italy.
Pastizzi, the most popular savoury snack food, are flaky pastry pockets stuffed with either ricotta or mushy peas. They are cheap, readily available and kind of satisfying.
The national dish is fenek (rabbit).

In the afternoon we took the bus to Ramla Bay.

Calypso's Cave from Homer's Odyssey is on a cliff overlooking Ramla Bay:
calypsoscave.JPG

Access to the cave is now restricted for safety reasons and we did not climb there. It was quite windy and only a few men were in the water - body surfing the waves.

Gozo's best beach, Ramla Bay, reddish sand leads to the Mediterranean Sea:
redsand.JPG
Jeff eventually went into the water and enjoyed half an hour of body surfing, the water is warm, about 18 degrees C.

Ramla il-Hamra: one of the finest sand beaches on the Mediterranean:
redsandbeach.JPG

The statue of the Virgin Mary, built to commemorate a shipwreck, has been on Ramla Beach since 1881:

beachmadonna.JPG

Prickly Pears grow all over the island. The prickly pear fruit is edible and is made into jams and liqueurs.
pricklypear.JPG

While we were waiting for our bus back to Xaghra I took a picture of this lizard, it was really small, about the size of my pinky finger, a nice example of camouflage in the environment. It is one of the few lizards ? I have seen, although they are quite common here. I am not a fan of reptiles so do my best to avoid them.
a9067340-4900-11e8-aaa8-495226a6b2fa.JPG
The Maltese Wall Lizard:
walllizard.JPG
When I heard Wall at first I was thinking of interior house walls, yuk, lizards crawling up walls, yuk. However they are more apt to be found on the Maltese Rubble Walls which are outside, fencing fields or holding back terraced land. You see them everywhere, a significant characteristic of the Maltese landscape:

The rocks are not held together by mortar and it takes considerable skill to build a long standing dry -stone wall.
dryrockwall.JPG

Malta, the big island, is 16 miles long and 9 miles wide (about half the size of the city of Calgary).

We took the ferry from the smaller island, Gozo, to Malta on November 20.

We are staying in a huge, new two bedroom apartment at St Paul's Bay. Price is 27 Euros per night.

On 21 November we took the bus to the capital city, Valetta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has been named Europe's 'Capital of Culture' for 2018.

Malta’s national dish is rabbit (which we did not have):
NationaldishMalta.jpg

The English speaking population is a legacy of British colonization.

Low costs and year round warm weather make Malta an ex-pat haven.

The Knights of St John of Jerusalem, one of the world's oldest Catholic religious orders, arrived in Malta in 1530.
The Knights had been ejected first from Jerusalem and then Rhodes by the Ottomans.
In the Great Siege of Malta the Knights defeated the Ottomans over the course of a three month battle in 1565.

The Order of St John of Jerusalem established Valetta as the capital following their victory. They ruled Malta until 1798 when Napoleon invaded. The French only lasted for two years and then the British took over until 1964.

Today a memorial to a slain Maltese journalist is set up outside the Co-Cathedral of St John.
memorialvaletta.JPG

Daphne Caruana Galizia was investigating a multi-million euro fuel-smuggling ring with links to Libya, Malta, and organized crime in Sicily.
She also reported on the Panama Papers and local involvement in money laundering. Her blog, Running Commentary, exposed the corruption of Maltese politicians.
She was killed by a car bomb on October 16.

She had received death threats in the past but refused police protection in recent years because she didn’t trust them.
Ms Galicia had a long list of potential suspects in her crosshairs, some in the highest reaches of government.
Her last blog entry, posted at 2:35 pm on Oct 16, 2018cryptically stated, 'There are crooks everywhere you look. The situation is desperate.'
By 3 pm she was dead, strewn around a field only minutes from her home.

Footnote: In April 2018 a group of journalists from around the world launched The Daphne Project to shed light on this very murky case.

Malta has been a member of the European Union since 2004.

The British poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived in Malta in 1804. He was trying to cure his opium addiction at the time.
6a1e8cf0-49b7-11e8-8430-695c667dfb9a.JPG

The Co-Cathedral of St John was completed in 1578. The symbol of the Order is the the Maltese Cross:
maltesecross.JPG
The largest painting Caravaggio ever made and the only one he signed hangs in the Oratory of St John's Co-Cathedral.
It depicts John the Baptist, the patron saint of the Knights of St John, moments after his beheading.
Valetta_Art2.jpg
Caravaggio was accepted and later rejected as a member of the Order in the same room where two of his paintings are displayed.

Carravaggio's St Jerome Writing hangs opposite the Beheading of John the Baptist in the Oratory:
Valetta_Art.jpg

The tombs of important Knights are under the ornate inlaid marble floor:
Valetta_Co-Cathedral3.jpg
The Co-Cathedral of St John was originally an austere house of worship. It was revamped in the seventeenth century and was tarted up to the kaleidoscope of baroque ornamentation we see today:
opulence.JPG
Valetta_Co-Cathedral2.jpg
Admission to the Co Cathedral is ten euros. Unfortunately the museum is closed for renovation. The money from entrance fees defrays the cost of upkeep - an audio guide is included.
Valetta8.jpg

After we toured the opulent cathedral we walked a few blocks to another historic church:
shipwrecksign.JPG

In the year 60 AD St Paul was shipwrecked on Malta. His accompanying physician, Luke (St Luke the Evangilist), recorded the event in Acts 27.
(We are staying in St Paul's Bay, near where the shipwreck allegedly occurred).
St Paul stayed in Malta for three months and was, by all accounts, treated warmly by the Maltese. Paul apparently succeded in converting the governor who became the first Christian in Malta. These were harsh times and Paul's luck ran out a few years later when he was beheaded in Rome by order of Emperor Nero, the same Nero who is rumored to have played the fiddle in 64 AD while Rome burned. Nero blamed the Christians for the fire and shortly after Paul was decapitated and Peter crucified.

The Church of St Paul's Shipwreck was built in 1570 and is one of the oldest churches in Valetta and the only church dedicated to St Paul's shipwreck.

The dimly lit church is almost empty and charges no admission.

In a roped off glass case within St Paul’s Shipwreck Church is a section of the marble pedestal used when St Paul was beheaded:
paulspilar2.JPG
paulspilar.JPG

Strangely enough, St Paul's wrist bone is on display.
wrist2.JPG

Relic of St Paul:
wristrelic.JPG

The lighting gives the whole experience an eerie quality.

Spooky baby reminds me of Chucky: (I know that sounds terrible, but this church just gave me that vibe). I did pay money to light a candle just in case):

spookybaby.JPG

The Collegiate Church of St Paul's Shipwreck is worth a visit.
It could be under renovation it was really too dark to tell and we only heard a single workman - and I briefly glimpsed his upper torso when he stood up for a minute - otherwise he was stooped or maybe kneeling inside a kind of wood framed enclosure. When he stood up he was holding a three foot tall wood cross, I am serious. I was right beside him, heading over to the Holy Water, and he startled me.
9340c2c0-49c5-11e8-9caf-29d259e520eb.JPG

Then he bent back down, I dipped my fingers in the water, took a picture and left the main part of the church.
holywater.JPG
You can see the workman's head, just beside the statue's shoulder:

Near the exit an arrow points, 'To the Crypt.'

These stairs lead down to the crypt, spooky:
crypt.JPG

Right across from the stairwell solid silver altar decorations are displayed behind glass:
solidsilver.JPG

The chandeliers in bags add another element of creepiness to the experience:
chandelierbags.JPG
Paul stayed in Malta for about three months. He lived in a cave near Rabat. St Paul's Grotto.

It has become overcast and there is some rain. The main streets are full of tourists but the side streets are empty. Valetta really is a fabulous walled city:

We stopped at a sidewalk cafe before heading 'home.' Our waiter was a young guy from Serbia. 'We love Serbia.' we tell him.
He wrote down his address and contact info and invited us to visit him - just east of the Bosnian border, in the mountains.
Well the Serbs were very friendly and here we met another one!!
He suggested we read a book by the only author from Serbia to ever win the Nobel Prize in literature. Ivo Andrić. The Bridge on the Drina.

Our two bedroom apartment in St Paul’s Bay is huge and modern with a great heating system and a washer and dryer. Very good value for 108 Euros for four nights!!

The walled city of Mdina was the capital of Malta from antiquity until medieval times. The Knights of St John of Jerusalem moved the capital to Birgu and then to Valetta.
Just outside the old city walls are the 'suburbs', the city of Rabat.

Palazzo Santa Sofia is believed to be the oldest surviving building. It was originally one story, the upper level was added in the twentieth century. The ground floor with the arched doorways dates to 1233.
Mdina.JPG

St Paul's Cathedral is set where the governor of Malta met with St Paul in AD 60. A church was built here in the 12th century but was badly damaged in an earthquake in 1693. The current building was completed in 1705 in the baroque style of the day:
churchmdina.JPG

We had coffee at the Palazzo de Piro - a restored seventeenth century villa within the old city - I tried the National orange soft drink, Kinnie - verdict, ok but one was enough. It has a bittersweet orange flavour.

The old city gate has been featured on the Game of Thrones:
mdinagate.JPG

Bougainvillea - thriving vine with an abundance of magenta blooms in late November:
mdninavine.JPG

The Dingli Cliffs are the highest point on the Island of Malta, 250 metres above the sea.

These hikers are brave to walk near the side of the cliff:
Dingliedge.JPG

We took a series of buses back to St Paul's Bay. The seven day bus pass has been convenient - and worked out to be a bit cheaper than buying individual tickets.

We spent 23 November, our last full day in Malta, in the town of St Paul's Bay.
In 60 AD there was a Shipwreck here. Everyone survived.

A narrow lane, only a few blocks from our apartment, leads to St Paul's Bonfire Chapel on the waterfront.

bonfirechurch2JPG.JPG
bonfirechurch.JPG

Built in the seventeenth century, the church is situated on the spot where the local people made a bonfire to warm the passengers and crew from St Paul's Shipwreck. The passengers, including Paul, were prisoners, and the crew was Roman.

Luke the Evangilist recorded the event in the Acts of the Apostles, 27 and 28:

'And so it was that they all escaped safely to land.
Now when they had escaped, they then found out the island was called Malta.

And the natives showed us unusual kindness; for they kindled a fire and made us all welcome.'
bonfiresign.JPG
Tap-Għażżenin, the rocky island on the horizon, is where the ship allegedly ran aground:
paulsisland.JPG

In 1942 Malta was the most heavily bombed place on earth. The Siege of Malta included 154 consecutive days and nights of bombing, more than London experiences during the Blitz!!

When Italy surrendered in 1943, 76 ships from the Italian fleet were docked in St Paul's Bay.
paulsbay.JPG

It was a pleasant, blue sky day on St Paul’s Promenade!!
paulsboardwalk.JPG
We walked the boardwalk looking for a good swimming spot - we were hoping for sand but settled for limestone. The beach looks like sand, but it is limestone.

Jeff was the only person swimming in the Bay. I sat on a limestone ledge soaking my feet in the Mediterranean:

20 degrees C, no wind, 23 November, 2017. A beautiful blue sky day.

Once a sleepy fishing village, St Paul's Bay is crowded with high rise apartments, densely populated, and swarming with tourists in the summer.

Malta has two official languages, Maltese and English. About 88 percent of the people are bilingual. A sizeable proportion also speak Italian.
Maltese is a Semitic Arabic language that has been heavily influenced by Italian and, to a lesser extent, English.
Half of their vocabulary is Italian and another twenty percent is English. It is written in Latin script.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 16:19 Archived in Malta Tagged beaches churches architecture diving unesco rabat knights medina baroque megalith prickly gozo caravaggio mdina pear xaghra valetta megaliths ggantija vittorija tap-għażżenin Comments (0)

Nuremberg, Germany

sunny 13 °C

The Bavarian city of Nuremberg has been around since the eleventh century. Today it is known for its fabulous Christmas Market and medieval fortress.
Over the centuries it has been famous for a variety of reasons.

It has been making toys since the twelfth century - and has a world famous toy museum.
In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it was renowned for clockmaking.
Nuremberg produced the first pocketwatch and invented the clarinet.

In the 1930s huge Nazi rallies were held here, and the history of the Second World War defined Nuremberg for many years.
Located in the southeast corner of Germany Nuremberg would be an easy day trip from the larger Bavarian city of Munich.
We took a double decker bus from Prague Central Station to Nuremberg where we stayed two days before catching a flight to Belgrade.

The famous gingerbread, lebkuchen, is a feature of the Nuremberg Christmas Market. The Nuremberg
Christkindlesmarkt draws over a million visitors a year.
a389a7e0-4755-11e8-8a07-730e5816ab63.jpg

The Frauenkirche is located on the east side of Market Square. It was built in the fourteenth century.
nuremberg.jpg

The Beautiful Fountain, the 14th-century Schöner Brunnen on Market Square, is built in the style of a Gothic church spire.
Twist the golden rings on the railing and you will have good fortune:
f821db80-4695-11e8-acad-21de9c36e8a0.jpg

90 % of Nuremberg’s medieval city centre was destroyed in the Second World War and has been carefully restored. It seems the quintessential German city today:
9f61a910-4755-11e8-8a07-730e5816ab63.jpg
Half timber buildings, a gothic old town, stalls selling bratwurst and hot wine, all within view of the castle on the hill, yes, a lovely city, well worth a visit!
Bratwurst originated in Nuremberg - wurst means sausage. It was first mentioned in the fourteenth century although was likely part of the cuisine for much longer. Traditionally grilled and served on a crusty roll with mustard, sauerkraut and potato salad are typical side dishes.

Nuremberg is small enough, population of about 520,000. It was founded in the eleventh century.

Nuremberg Castle:
efbe2ed0-4695-11e8-9757-c5d2c92cfbe0.jpg

The Pegnitz River flows through the city:
f1eea360-4695-11e8-9757-c5d2c92cfbe0.jpg
The Danube River is fifteen minutes from the city.
We are getting around on the underground.
The underground is straightforward and we made our way to the courthouse where the Nuremberg Trials were held after the Second World War:
9ec19880-4755-11e8-8a07-730e5816ab63.jpg

9364a900-4755-11e8-8a07-730e5816ab63.jpg
f5058050-4695-11e8-acad-21de9c36e8a0.jpg
The International Military Tribunal for War Crimes took place in the Palace of Justice between November 1945 and October 1946. The courtroom, 600, is still in use but happened to be closed on the day we visited.

We are staying outside of the centre, a five block walk from the tube. Our room is large, clean and quiet. It is on the third floor, no lift, and has a private bath. There is no coffee maker in the room but we have an immersion heater so can boil up water and make an instant coffee so we are comfy for 78 Dollars per night.
We have now been six nights in Norway, six nights in the Czech Republic and two nights in Germany. From here we fly to Belgrade Serbia and costs will come down substantially.
We feel we are on track and on budget which will average fifty five dollars per day for food and lodging over the course of our 75 day trip. The Canadian dollar is not as good as it was in 2012 when our budget was fifty dollars a day.
Costs could be lower if we didn’t need two beds and I want a private bathroom and a rating over 8 whenever possible.

We travelled by subway to the airport - easy.
We flew Wizz Air from Nuremberg to Belgrade Serbia.
94e46b30-4755-11e8-8a07-730e5816ab63.jpg

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 16:10 Archived in Germany Tagged market bavaria nuremberg bratwurst Comments (0)

Oslo, Bergen and Alesund Norway

semi-overcast

My ancestors came to the great plains from the fjords and rugged coastline of western Norway.
806d8610-474f-11e8-a183-13925468d4c7.jpg
In 2017 my son and I travelled to the old country - to the Art Nouveau city of Alesund where my grandmother, Olivie Ostrem, managed the knitting store in 1898 - she emigrated to America in 1904, shortly after the devastating fire that destroyed the town.
She never saw the fanciful rebuild.
My grandparents grew up near the spectacular Geiranger Fjord, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

They came from small mountainside farms, just a short drive from Alesund. Walking distance to the village of Emblem.
The sign, below, points to the farm where my grandmother grew up:
78461f10-474f-11e8-90cb-d339658a1717.jpg

My great-great grandfather died at sea. The widow, my grandma's grandmother, smartly remarried and her second husband eventually died from leprosy.
Leprosy used to be called Hanson's disease for a Norwegian Doctor by that name. There is a leprosy Museum in Bergen.

Our journey started out in Oslo - we arrived by Norwegian Air on 28 Sept about 6 pm local time. The airport is a distance from the city. We took a one hour bus ride from the airport to the city centre and then walked to our hotel.
For one hundred and sixty dollars per night we stayed in a small but clean room with a bunkbed and a sink - shared bathroom down the hall.
Norway is an expensive country and I chose the Saga Poshhotel for its central location and nice lobby with a luggage storage room.

On Sept 29 we saw The Storting, the Norwegian Parliament Building:
oslo.JPG

We walked along the Main Street, Karl Johan’s Gate, to the royal palace.

Oslo is an old enough city founded by King Harald Hard-Ruler in 1049. It fell into obscurity in the thirteenth century when half the population died from the bubonic plague. Then around 1624 it burned to the ground and King Christian the Fourth rebuilt the city and renamed it Christiana. The name reverted back to Oslo in 1928.

The Norwegian Royal Palace
norwegianroyalpalace.JPG

Looking down Karl Johan’s Gate from the Palace:
oslomainstreet.JPG
We wanted to see the changing of the guard, which was a pretty simple affair
d3e73e20-47ff-11e8-9143-ebea1b0228c6.JPG
The changing of the guard at the Norwegian Royal Palace takes place daily at 1 pm:

Next stop the Nobel Peace Centre:
nobel.JPG
Lobby of the Nobel building:
nobelbuildinginside.JPG

Alfred Nobel, (1833 - 1896), was a Swedish chemist and the inventor of dynamite. His handwritten will left the bulk of his vast fortune to the Nobel prizes, four of which are awarded in Sweden. At the time of his death Norway and Sweden shared a loose union as well as the same king.
His will, written in 1895, did not give a reason for his desire that Norway would choose the winner of the Peace Prize. The prizes for chemistry, physics, medicine and literature are awarded in Stockholm.

It is a pleasant, overcast day, about 12 degrees C

Down by the water, the catch of the day
catchoftheday.JPG
The Harbour is very clean - and not one whiff of fish!!
Oslofish.JPG

Akerhus Fortress overlooks the Harbour Promenade:
oslofortress.JPG

As we approached the distinctive, glacier-like Operahouse we could see people strolling and cycling on the roof.
5b098950-4808-11e8-b7c6-5b7d8fae4d05.JPG

Soaring ceilings, the lobby of the Operahouse, elegant in its simplicity:
insideoperahouseoslo.JPG

The windows are 49 feet tall and afford stunning views as well as natural light.
Norwegian boatbuilders designed the golden oak wave wall, a warm contrast to the marble exterior and walls of glass.
The lobby is open to the public, free, there is a restaurant, and the exterior is a plaza and walkway, affording spectacular views of the city and fjord.

From an international competition with a pool of 300 entries the Norwegian architect, Snøhetta, won. His original, organic design was awarded the European Union’s Prize for Contemporary Architecture in 2009.

The opera house, built in 2008,
has musical rods on the roof and a few at the entrance. It was a pleasant fall day so we joined locals and sightseers and strolled around on the roof - a big, sloping, public square along the Harbour Promenade.

‘She Lies’ in Oslo Fjord in front of the Operahouse is a stunning sculpture of stainless steel and reflective glass - created following another international contest by the Italian sculptor Monica Bonviconi, who was born in Venice and lives in Berlin:
ebb69c20-474c-11e8-a3cb-2dba01e79674.jpg

Although it is suppose to represent an iceberg, to me (and likely countless others), it looks like a magical ship with sails, floating on
Bjørvika Fjord, perfect, I loved it!!
bd65a720-4694-11e8-acad-21de9c36e8a0.jpg

When I think of Oslo I think of this gorgeous monument to a seafaring people.
It is said to depict change, longing and hope and it does all of this and more as it glistens and turns on its own axis at the whim of the winds and the tides, seeming to float although it is anchored in a concrete foundation.

We had put in a good first day, lots of walking and fresh air!

Norwegians enjoy a good standard of living and score high on the contentment index. Education and health care are free. Not only is a University education no cost, students receive a cost of living allowance to encourage them to pursue higher learning.

We hung out in the lobby of our hotel at the end of our day. Jeff is showing off his miniature four dollar cup of coffee:
f9a64470-474c-11e8-a3cb-2dba01e79674.jpg
We had finished a long walk and were jet lagged from our twenty plus hours of travel the previous day.
We had time to kill before our train to Bergen left at 10 pm!! The sofas were comfortable so I had a little nap.
Eventually we walked to the train station and bought fast food for a late supper.

The all night train to Bergen:
nighttrip.JPG
Fare was about 64 Dollars. I booked months in advance so got a deal, a miniprice - we were on one of the most scenic train journeys in the world but didn’t see a thing!

The train is clean and on each seat is a sealed bag with a blanket, eyemask, inflateable pillow and earplugs. Nice touch, you don't get that on the economy flight on WestJet.

It was not a restful journey, I didn’t really sleep but I relaxed until we had to switch from the train to a bus at Voss at 5 am - we arrived in Bergen at 630 am, not an auspicious time to hang out but at least there was an indoor waiting room with benches and there was a coffee shop that was suppose to open at 7 am.
Across the street was a kind of tourist information office which would open at 9 am. As it turned out the girl who worked at the coffee shop was over an hour late, and when she did show up was fairly nonchalant about setting up, but by and by we got a coffee and a sweet roll.
We managed to get a map and some verbal instructions at the tourist office and walked to the Hurtigruten Cruise office where we stashed our luggage in a locker and set out to see the town.
hurtigrutenterminal.JPG
bergen.JPG

Some observations about Norway: clean, quiet and expensive. We won’t get cheap seats at the Opera here!! Expensive for us, but the Norwegians can afford it!

By ten am we were walking around the hilly area and having coffee on an outdoor patio even though it was raining today, Oct 1.

Bergen gets 240 days of rain per year - some call it the rainiest city on Earth!!

Bergen is a popular destination, very picturesque with seven mountains and the sea, colourful wooden buildings brighten up the landscape of this very rainy area!! The city was part of the Hanseatic League.
Bryggen.JPG
Bryggen, the old town by the water, is colourful, picturesque, touristy and has shop after shop of expensive souvenirs. Toques were fifty dollars!!

Bryggen - the waterfront, is chilly.
A long wool dress, a bunad, would be a comfy layer in this town.
bergen2.JPGb36f2100-c1a5-11e9-bc3b-9f81fae8aec0.JPGbeautifulbergen.JPG
There was a big market nearby, lots of food stalls and I bought cured venison, sliced paper thin, bread and cheese.
By 430 we were back at the Hurtigruten and amazingly we got to board!! Our cabin would be ready at 6. Now our good times began!!!
It was wonderful to sit on comfy chairs onboard. We had to watch a mandatory safety video, it showed where the lifeboats were and how to put on the thermal suits. A bit sobering.
Our cabin was wonderful with two portholes.
cabin.JPG

I never ventured out again til breakfast but Jeff was out and about and did a load of laundry (free).

I had a very long shower and then we had supper - the bread, cheese and venison hit the spot! These simple groceries had cost over twenty dollars but it was much cheaper to dine in our room than to eat in the restaurant. A big buffet breakfast was included in our fare.

We had chosen the extended tour of Hjorunfjord - the ship let passengers off in Alesund in the morning but for the same fare you can stay on board and sail down Hjorungfjord til evening.
fromthehurtigruten2.JPGfromthehurtigruten.JPG
It was a fabulous restful day, stunning scenery, comfy chairs, nice enough to spend time on the deck.

Hjorunfjord through the Sunnmøre Alps:
f552aa30-467a-11e8-877d-136859fbef34.jpg
Dining room on the Hurtigruten:
drhurtigruten.JPG

The ship docked in Alesund at 5 pm. As I picked my way down the Gangplank an Asian tourist in front of me said ‘Cheryl and Jeff.’
Naturally I looked up and to my profound amazement saw the signs, the Norwegian flags, the little blonde kids, over a dozen smiling strangers, our relatives:
ed390a90-4695-11e8-acad-21de9c36e8a0.jpg
Tears sprang to my eyes, it was so unexpected! Months later I still tear up thinking about it!!
As we posed for a group photo after the introductions, I noticed a few Asian tourists snapping our picture also! ‘We felt like a famous family,’ my (third) cousin Hilde remarked.

Across from Alesund is Godoya - Gods Island, where my great grandfather was born on the Wild West side:
797eed30-474f-11e8-8574-a7201dbadbec.jpg
The world’s best breakfast buffet is served at the Scandic Parken Hotel in Alesund!! Our room was nice, very modern, private bath, breakfast included, about 150 per night.
The world’s best coffee is served in Norway. Flavourful, robust, strong and hot.
Breakfastbuffet.JPG
Waffles, omelettes, various breads, sausage, bacon, yogurt, cereal, sweet breads, cured lamb, smoked and pickled fish, cheeses including brown and blue, crackers, cakes, boiled eggs, at least four massive tables loaded with food, crisply dressed waitresses and chefs, shots of fresh juice, fresh fruit and veggies, all manner of good things - I don’t usually eat breakfast but I tried to do it justice!!

The Aksla viewpoint was quite close to the hotel, 418 steps up from the town park, we walked to the top with some of our cousins:
4dd52bb0-474d-11e8-861b-8309f8934560.jpg
Alesund is built on a series of islands, an archipelago, the Venice of the North:
0a79abc0-474d-11e8-861b-8309f8934560.jpg

Lunch was served at my third cousin's coffee roasting business. Pots and pots of strong, flavourful coffee accompanied the breads, cheeses, meats, fruits, jams - there was even a tube of caviar as well as sparkling water and juice.

Hard boiled egg and caviar. And of course, butter.
73ef2530-49b9-11e8-bd1f-5d9fda0f372c.JPG
grapesncheese.JPG
A good combination, grapes with cheese. Another good combo is brown cheese and jelly.

After lunch we drove via undersea tunnel to Alnes, on the west coast of Godoya Island:
fd36e540-474c-11e8-92ee-e729c8a3bab9.jpg
The yellow house is where my great great grandparents lived:
38f7d4e0-474d-11e8-861b-8309f8934560.jpg
The lighthouse at Alnes was built in 1876:
febff640-474c-11e8-92ee-e729c8a3bab9.jpg
View from Alnes - looking out to the sea:
f9224760-474c-11e8-92ee-e729c8a3bab9.jpg
Our cousins had prepared supper, delicious lamb stew with apple cake for dessert. We dined in a charming summer house overlooking the sea.
0d66e0a0-474d-11e8-861b-8309f8934560.jpg
My grandfather and great grandfather were fishermen - they rowed from their boathouse near Alesund to the fishing village of Alnes on Godoya.

We toured the area around Alesund on our second full day and saw the farms where my grandparents grew up. Three of their children were born in Norway and took their first steps on a hillside above the Hjorungfjord - we ate lunch and supper that day in a house within a stones throw from where they once lived, 114 years ago.

Taken from the very spot where our ancestors lived, looking out to sea:
34ebe990-474d-11e8-861b-8309f8934560.jpg

Imagine the tremendous hospitality of these distant Norwegian ‘cousins’ - the first meeting in over a century! Imagine that somewhere in Asia there is a picture in somebody’s travel album, recording the historic moment when we all met for the first time in Alesund Harbour!!

A supper of venison stew, tender, mild, delicious.
venison.JPG
Dessert: sponge cake layered with meringue and whipped cream, the world’s best cake, Norway’s National Cake since 2002 - Kvæfjordkake:
nationalcake.JPG

Alesund has a decent climate even though it is the furthest north I have ever been. On 4 October it is 14 degrees C. Winters do not get too bitter, the coldest recorded temperature was minus 11 degrees C - January, the coldest month typically hovers around 2 degrees C. (36 degrees F).

The town park below the Aksla viewing point has a statue of Rolo, ancestor of William the Conquerer, donated by the city of Rouen, France in Normandy.
Ganger Hrôlf, the first Duke of Normandy, commonly known as Rolo the Viking is believed to have been born on the Island of Giske near Alesund in 845 AD. I doubt he was my ancestor but some shirttail relatives could well have been part of his crew.

A not very big city with a harbour, Alesund is a gateway to the Geirangerfjord, the most spectacular Fjord in Norway. Hjoringfjord is also in close proximity.
The Hurtigruten, a cruise company that plies the west coast, docks twice a day in Alesund's harbour. We came on the Finn from Bergen, taking the long scenic route along the Hjorundfjord.
The name Alesund depicts the shape of an eel - a narrow twisting inlet snakes through the town which is built on islands.
The 1904 fire started on the island nearest the harbour but quickly jumped to the adjacent island. Only one person died, a seamstress, who wasted too much time trying to save her sewing machine.
Some boats were saved by purposefully drowning them.
The German Kaiser, Wilhelm was a fan of Alesund and sent help and supplies to rebuild the formerly wooden frame town. For three years there was lots of work.
The city was rebuilt in the 'Jugendstil' Art Nouveau - so there is no shortage of spires and turrets.
0084d7c0-474d-11e8-861b-8309f8934560.jpg
A whimsical little city grew up from the ashes. The knitting store is gone - only the jail and Church and the one single house, below, remained standing.
90_2017-10-02_14_21_05.jpg
The largest cod fishing enterprise in Norway is in Alesund.

We had to make our way to the airport on 4 October in the early afternoon. We had planned to take a bus but our relatives looked after us - they gave us a send off on Vigra - a packed lunch, candies and chocolate - six were there to see us off - hey, we hit the jackpot on relatives in Norway!!
Our memories are our most treasured souvenirs of the land of our ancestors. Still we carried back gifts from our relative, cushion covers, a Bible, a wood ornament. Gee I gave them a bottle of gin, and suspect they don’t drink! Never assume.

We flew from Alesund to Prague on Norwegian Air (changed planes in Oslo):

Yes we ❤️ Norway!! Love the area around Alesund. This leg of our journey was special and personal - never to be duplicated - cherished memories!!
93A765FA-D..8D7F259780B.jpeg
We left home on 27 September and travelled through Europe for 75 days with carry on luggage and a tight budget - and had a fabulous time. Norway, Czech Republic, Germany, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Malta, Spain and UK. 13 countries.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 15:52 Archived in Norway Tagged bergen oslo cod fjords budget vikings genealogy nobel sandwiches ancestry bryggen alesund open-faced storting vigra alnes godoya archipilego rollo Comments (0)

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovinia

semi-overcast

The war is over but never forgotten, bullet holes on buildings are testimonials, the Dayton Accord is a bitter remedy - welcome to Bosnia.

The Siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege in modern history, occurred between April 6, 1992 and February 29, 1996.

We took a mini bus, a twenty passenger van, from Belgrade to Sarajevo. Travel time was about six hours, there were two rest stops along the way. A lot of the trip was through mountains, or rather, twisting roads around mountains, climbing upwards.
The distance between these two points is about 300 km but the going is slow along stomach turning narrow mountain roads.

Since the bus originated in Serbia we were taken to the Serbian 'side' of the city. Hey, where are we? Ten Euros for a taxi from the autonomous Serb Republic to the Bosnia side. We had no idea Sarajevo is a 'divided' city.

I had never heard of Republika Srpska, east Sarajevo.

Our one bedroom apartment is near the Latin Bridge, across the river and uphill from the old town.
df9dcb20-4756-11e8-be5c-ffaeab357273.jpg
We have a little terrace and the bathroom has a washer and dryer. A dryer!! This is a first!! They have natural gas. Wow. 54 Euros for three nights!! But there is no water - at all, between 11 pm and 6 am!! This has been going on for awhile - months.

The Latin Bridge over the shallow Miljacka River connects us to the old town and main sights of the city centre.

Cevapi - Bosnian meatballs, are the national dish. In fact cevapi is something of a national dish in Serbia as well and are served throughout the Balkans.
Like burek, (pastry filled with meat and/or cheese) these sausage-like meatballs are descendants of Turkish food, Kofta, from the hundreds of years of Ottoman rule.

We have eaten versions of cevapi and Burek all over the Balkans and in Turkey. Here cevapi is served in a pita-like pocket with a large side of onions and a hot pepper:
0af246d0-4800-11e8-9143-ebea1b0228c6.JPG

The old town is a big bazaar, numerous shops selling hammered copper and all manner of souvenirs - a warren of narrow streets lined with cafes and shops.
520c8a60-482a-11e8-9fb7-5b2a61de20dc.JPG
Older men play giant chess in a Square near the old town every day:
22872850-4757-11e8-8a07-730e5816ab63.jpg
The Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque is on our side of the river, close to the brewery.
ea203920-4756-11e8-be5c-ffaeab357273.jpg

There are names of the dead engraved on the bricks of this building:
16d9cee0-4757-11e8-8a07-730e5816ab63.jpg

Sarajevo is a hilly city:
95e45990-4756-11e8-8a07-730e5816ab63.jpg

We were too late for the free walking tour on our first morning in Sarajevo. We wandered around the old town and decided to go into a museum.
signstebenica.JPG
The fact that the Srebrenica Museum had been in the running for best museum in Europe in 2016 was a factor when we decided to take a look. The photos, audio and documentaries in the fairly small space pack a powerful punch.
Little did I expect to leave two and one half hours later with eyes almost swollen shut with tears.
At first as I looked at the photos I was thinking, wow, I am glad I'm not Dutch. The atrocities at Srebrenica happened during their watch, after all.
By the time I finished viewing the three documentaries it was personal. It became, for awhile, all about me.
I was transported back 23 years to a time blurry in my memory. 1994.

Subdued. Bowed but not beaten. A bit of the Sarajevo melancholy had seeped into our bones.
d65da120-4756-11e8-be5c-ffaeab357273.jpg
048AD9A6-F..632DB1C9862.jpeg

We met up with the free walking tour the next day. It starts at 10 am from the National Theatre.
Although the siege of Sarajevo lasted almost four years, the Theatre never closed. People scurried to performances and maintained a semblance of normalcy.

The square where the theatre is located has been named Susan Sontag Square - Susan Sontag, the American writer, directed 'Waiting for Godot' at this theatre in 1993. The play was advertised by word of mouth, the performance lit by candlelight.

She is held in high esteem by Bosnians who consider themselves, like Godot, waiting endlessly during the long siege for the west to intervene.

2cdf7910-4757-11e8-8a07-730e5816ab63.jpg
23c3ee10-4757-11e8-8a07-730e5816ab63.jpg

Across the street from the Venetian architecture along the river is the colourful building above, designed for Sarajevo's Winter Olympics in 1984. Then it was Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. In 1988 Calgary hosted the games of winter. Four years later Sarajevo was under siege.

The First World War started in Sarajevo. A Bosnian-Serb freedom fighter assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in June, 1914.

Assassin, freedom fighter, terrorist.

Princip, the guy who successfully assassinated the Archduke and then killed the pregnant Duchess, Sophie, fired the shots from the side of the pink building across the street from the Latin Bridge.
pinkbuilding.jpg

The Bridge used to be called Princip Bridge and Princip was a national hero for awhile, but not at the moment.

There is a sign, well below eye level, on the side of the pink building. I would not have noticed it, did not notice it, until the tour guide pointed it out.

You have to bend down to read the inscription, 'From this place on 28 June 1914 Gavril Princip assassinated the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia'

There used to be footprints in the sidewalk to show exactly where Princip stood. The sign used to be higher, at eye level.
A young lad of 18 started a war that resulted in the death of more than ten million soldiers.
There were six would-be assassins in the crowd that day, four of this group received the death penalty. Princip was too young for the death sentence, but he died in jail from tuberculosis in 1918.

The Franciscan Monastary and the Church of St Anthony are across the street from the brewery. They hold an ecumenical service on Friday afternoons.
Although damaged during the war repairs to the century old buildings are complete. The monks preserved many important historical documents.
18DFF28D-A..99B23FFCAC6.jpeg

The statue above, reminiscent of Michelangelo's Pieta, is in the courtyard of St Anthony’s Catholic Church where real candles burn.

Light a candle for Sarajevo, I want to say, let go, let go.

The brewery dates back to 1864, to Ottoman times. The beer is made from spring water. Yes, many of the Muslims in Sarajevo drink beer.
738671f0-c1ab-11e9-8b1d-753828644eb2.JPG
During the siege of Sarajevo people got their drinking water here - there were other sources - but this one was pretty safe. 'Only' six people were gunned down by Serbian snipers at this location.

Sarajevo is in a kind of Valley, the shallow river bisects the city core, the Bosniaks lived mostly in the valley, the Serbs were all around, higher up, in the hills.

City Hall - rebuilt and reopened in 2014 - two million books and document were destroyed during the siege.

sarajevocityhall.JPG
sarajevocityhallsign.JPG

We stayed three nights at the apartment near the brewery and then moved to another suite across the river and uphill, for our final night.

Ah Magic Gueshouse was cozy and a bargain at 13.50 Euros!
ec0f37e0-4756-11e8-be5c-ffaeab357273.jpg

On a hill above the old town - a memorial - a cemetary - a wall of the names of the dead - Kovaci:
cemetary.JPG
cevapi.JPG
sarajevowallofthedead.JPG
8074d6e0-c1ab-11e9-8b1d-753828644eb2.JPG
As we wandered downhill from the cemetery I passed a man sitting on the wall. 'Sorry' he said, I am not sure why.
Random 'I'm sorries ' are a very Canadian thing.
'What part of Bosnia are you from?' I asked. 'Ireland' he responded dryly and I continued on my way, picking my footsteps carefully on the sloping, cobbled street.
There was a bit of a traffic jam at the curve in the road, a car had stalled, so there was honking, of course. I was directing Jeff to help push to get the car out of the way when the Irishman ambled up.
We now spent 2.5 hours with this guy, mostly at the side of the road, talking. I think we came together, us three, as we were all eager to chat with another native English speaker.
His name was Martin and he said he was in Sarajevo writing a novel about heartbreak. The perfect place to get in a melancholy mood - where heartbreak is, as he said, palpable. It hangs in the dust in the air.
7e8080f0-c1ab-11e9-8b1d-753828644eb2.JPG
Sarajevo, population 400,000, capital city of Bosnia Herzegovina is worth a visit. Diverse, east meets west vibe, lots of history, scenic - affordable....depressing.
Unemployment is over forty percent.
The government must include Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian leaders - three leaders who must all agree before a decision can
be made - Serbian is Orthodox, Croatian is Catholic and Bosnian is Muslim.
No wonder some citizens when polled identified ethnically as Jedi or metal head - they were all southern Slavs once, now their ethnicity is their religion!!

I guess I am surprised about the bitterness towards the west in general and the UN in particular. The UN did not protect Srebrenica, the UN did not stop the siege of Sarajevo for 1,425 days, the UN did not send in drinking water which caused the murder by snipers of innocent civilians going with their jugs to get water, the UN sent old food, rice with dead worms, spam (canned food - a kind of meat in jelly), world war 2 rations - old, crappy leftovers were dumped on starving people.
They had no running water, no electricity, no phones, they were packed like rats in their basements for almost four years, thousands were killed and the UN and the west allowed this to happen.

I had no idea the UN mission had failed so miserably!!
I wondered if all of the aid money that flowed toward the country actually reached the citizens. What happened to the good food?

We did not see the ICAR canned beef monument, a 'tribute' to the humanitarian aid, dedicated to the international community by the grateful people of Sarajevo in 2006.

While the blame is handed out the Serbs, (and the Dutch) together with the west and the UN figure prominently.

40,000 Canadian peacekeepers spent time in Bosnia between 1991 and 2010. All of their efforts had less impact on the population than Susan Sontag.
Sarajevo is 8,506 km from Calgary.
We are a long, long way from home.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 15:50 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Tagged mountains museums history budget balkans yugoslavia sarajevo affordable brewery cevapi Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 13) « Page 1 [2] 3 »