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Tips for Travelling Europe on Fifty Dollars a Day

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If you think you cannot afford to travel think again!!

If I can do it you probably can too.

Choose your travel companion wisely - sharing accommodation costs is a major saving.

We set an intention of an average of Fifty Dollars a day for lodging and food.
Transportation and attraction fees were extra.

You could, in fact, do it for less if you stayed in a dorm in a hostel or used CouchSurfing.

We traveled in Europe between 28 Sept, 2017 and 13 Dec, 2017: 75 days.

1. Travel in low or shoulder season. Hotels will likely be cheaper, the lineups to attractions won’t be as long and the cooler weather will be more energizing.
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2. Take advantage of discount airlines. In 2017 we used Norwegian Air (excellent), Wizz Air (really good deals) and Vueling. In 2012 we used Ryan Air (very strict one bag rule but very reasonable).
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3. Only take carry-on luggage and research the size allowances. Norwegian Air allows two pieces of carry-on (one has to fit under the seat) which is nice and Wizz Air did not strictly enforce its one bag rule but this is no guarantee that they won’t do so in the future!!
4. Use an accommodation booking site. I used Booking.ca a lot in our 2017 trip and we stayed in several apartments, some were fabulous and all of them were decent. I try to stick with a review score over 8 out of 10 and read the reviews carefully.
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5. Pack an immersion heater so you can boil water in hotel rooms without kettles. Not expensive and takes up very little room. Nice to have a hot drink or cup of soup sometimes.
6. The Balkans, Eastern Europe in general, Malta and most of the Iberian Penninsula are affordable.
Note that most of the Balkans are very much cash only, not credit card friendly. There are ATMs everywhere so not a problem and many accept the Euro - if they don’t then money changers are widely available. Of course if the town is quite small take cash in the local currency. We managed in a small village in Albania where there was no ATM as most vendors would take the Euro and do the conversion but we still had a need for Albanian currency, the Albanian Lek.
7. Buy bread, cheese, sliced meat, fruit, etc. at the grocers and make your own simple meal.
8. Lunches in restaurants are typically cheaper than dinners. Food for us was not going to be the highlight of our trip and fine dining was not a priority.
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9. If Norway is on your itinerary check out minipris train fare online - the Man in Seat 61 is a great resource for all train travel.
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10. If, like me, you are a senior remember to inquire about senior’s discounts for transportation and admissions. You could research this online also.
Travel is personal and our itinerary reflects our interests as well as our budget.
We started out in Norway - home of my ancestors. We had never been to Prague, a popular destination. Our stop in Germany was sentimental and practical as we caught a low-cost flight from Nuremberg to Belgrade. We have a friend in Serbia and have been there before but Belgrade and Novi Sad were new to us. Loved it!
We spent 35 days in the Balkans, six were on the Adriatic coastline.
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Kosovo and Sarajevo and, indeed, Skopje were very personal.
Albania is an interesting and beautiful country - blessed with a long coastline and the Albanian Alps.
We stayed one week in Malta which has an enviable climate, The Mediterranean Sea, and a resort vibe. It was ‘on the way’ to Spain.
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We were in Spain from 24 November to 11 December. Five of those days were no cost since we volunteered to teach English and received free room and board. Look into doing this if you go to Spain. Just google ‘volunteer to teach English in Spain’ - the only prerequisite is being a native English speaker - you don’t need a degree or a certificate.

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Shopping
With carry-on luggage the space for souvenirs and gifts is limited. Jewellery is lightweight and compact - Amber, ohrid pearls, and silver filigree tucked neatly nto my bag.
Scarves and pashminas from Bosnia and Malta changed up my look - adding a bit of colour to my black and grey wardrobe.
In Norway we received gifts from our relatives, pillow covers, a Bible, a wee wooden house. When we boarded in Gatwick every pocket of my jacket (4) was stuffed with the overflow and I was dressed in several layers - which worked out well once we landed in winter-y Calgary.
Christmas Markets - since we were in Spain and the UK in December we brought back Christmas ornaments, shortbread and plum pudding.
Best discount airline - Norwegian Air
Best food for low price - Serbia
Best prices for accommodation - Balkans and Malta
Best prices for souvenirs - Malta

Travel is fun and good for the mind. If you think you can’t afford to travel think again.
If I can do it almost anybody can!!

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 10:05 Archived in Spain Tagged spain budget serbia europe norway malta Comments (0)

Dubrovnik, Croatia

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We took a bus through the twisting mountain roads south from Sarajevo to Croatia.
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I do not watch Game of Thrones but the setting in Dubrovnik's walled old town has added more tourists to an already popular destination. Even in October the streets of the old town are filled with sightseers, many from the cruise ships docked nearby.
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Our apartment has a balcony and a million dollar view:
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The well appointed apartment seems a bargain at 61 Canadian Dollars per night.
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There are 76 steps from the street to our accommodation and the only shops, such as grocers and coffee shops, are right outside the old town. We walk down - downhill, and catch the number 8 bus back. It is another 500 steps uphill from the bus stop to the base of our apartment building, so Jeff makes the grocery run!
Our thoughts here are not of war and its consequences but of tourists and the impact of too much of a good thing!
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There are 235 km between Sarajevo and Dubrovnik but they seem a world apart. The scars of war are less visible here - happy tourists throng through the narrow streets and busy squares snapping selfies against the castle walls.
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The jewel-toned Adriatic is the backdrop to a fantasy-world old town.


It is one of the top tourist destinations in Europe with an enviable location on the Adriatic Sea.
Dubrovnik’s picture perfect old town that has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.
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Jeff has been here before, but it is my first visit. I know other people who have been here and know even more who have Dubrovnik on their bucket list.
There are a lot of stairs:
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Frankly I am not a fan of crowds and still prefer the fairy tale old town of Tallin Estonia. I guess I like the road less travelled.

We did not pay the approximately twenty-five dollar entrance fee to be jostled along the city walls - the views would be spectacular but it was an overcast day, a bit chilly and there was a crowd on the walls. Instead we roamed the narrow streets and alleys and stopped for coffee a few times along the way.

Croatia, or at least Dubrovnik, is the most expensive area of the Balkans.

Our apartment was very good value even though the landlord was a bit aggressive in trying to sell us side trips. He offered to drive us to our next destination in Montenegro for twice the price of bus fare. We did use his service for ten euros one way to get to and from the bus station as it was so much easier than dealing with transit.

The sheer beauty of this setting is hard to beat. I am glad I came - ‘Yes’, I will say when the topic comes up, ‘yes I have been to Dubrovnik. Magical’.

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Posted by CherylGypsyRose 09:38 Archived in Croatia Tagged architecture city adriatic budget stairs unesco croatia walls dubrovnik Comments (0)

Budva, Montenegro, People of the Black Mountains

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On 26 October we travelled by bus from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Budva, Montenegro.

The road wound through mountains but the Adriatic coast was nearby. A very scenic trip!

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The three hour journey was delayed by a serious accident just past the Montenegrin border. On the two lane highway a car on its roof took up the entire oncoming lane. We only waited about twenty minutes and police directed traffic around the wreck.
It was a sobering event - there is nowhere to swerve off - one side of the road is usually a mountain and the other side is a steep drop off into the sea.
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Most of the passengers got off the bus at Kotor which is a UNESCO World Heritage sight.

Half an hour later we were in Budva.
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Budva, population 14000, hugs the Adriatic coast and has a walled old town.

Budva has been around since the fourth century BC and is one of the Balkan's oldest settlements.

Legend has it that when the Greek god, Cadmus and his wife Harmonia were banned from Thebes, they founded Budva.

Budva, the most popular resort town of Montenegro, is not crowded in October. The 'season' is over. So much so the tourist office is out of maps!!

The city wall was built in the Middle Ages by the Venetians as protection against Ottoman invaders
The Citadela is thought to be built on the site of the Greek Acropolis.
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Budva was hit hard by an earthquake in 1979 and most of the old town was damaged. What we see today, save for 8 buildings, is a restoration.

St John's Catholic Church which has been rebuilt over the years, is suppose to date back to the seventh century and is the oldest church in the region. However, Orthodox Christians outnumber Catholics in Montenegro.
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The old town, Stari Grad, was a ten minute walk from our apartment, an easy, flat terrain walk?.
It sits on a small Penninsula on the Montenegrin 'Riviera'.

Sea Wall:
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It was 22 degrees C and very calm. The beaches were not crowded but people were swimming and enjoying the sunshine.

Mogren Beach:
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The Budva Dancer:
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We love Budva. It is a quiet place this time of year, and still the temperature hovers around 20 degrees C.
We are an easy walk to the mostly deserted beach:
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By 2 pm there were a few more people, but Jeff was first in the water today! I lay on a lounge chair and soaked up some Vitamin D.
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Prices here, along the beach and in the old town, are roughly half the prices in Dubrovnik.
In our neighbourhood the cost of restaurant food is even cheaper. Our one bedroom apartment is 35 dollars per night.

We are living above a green grocer and dine often at a nice restaurant across the street:
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We are glad we came to Budva! It is the poor man's Dubrovnik and much more suited to stiff joints!
All through the Balkans food has been influenced by the Ottoman Empire. Baklava type desserts are common:
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Montenegro split from Serbia in 2006.

Montenegro has a population of just under 700,000. They speak a Serbian dialect. Not yet an EU member, their currency is the Euro.
Tourism is an important industry - and it is growing!! Come, before it is overtaken by too many tourists.

Even Lord Byron, the English poet, said 'the most beautiful merging of land and sea' was the Montenegrin coastline.

Just before the border I snapped a decent picture of wildlife as the bus careened past. We are going to Shkroda Albania.

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Posted by CherylGypsyRose 09:37 Archived in Montenegro Tagged beach coastline adriatic budget cheap balkans yugoslavia montenegro budva Comments (0)

Lake Ohrid and Skopje, Macedonia and Pristina, Kosovo

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Lake Ohrid is over three million years old and Ohrid town is one of Europe's oldest settlements
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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.
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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.
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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:
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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.
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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.
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Near the highest point, overlooking the lake, is St Clements Church, the most sacred church in Macedonia:
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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)
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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!

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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.
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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.
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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.
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Mother Theresa statue on Macedonia Street, a pedestrian promenade in the city centre:
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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.
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Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu at about 18 years, before she travelled to Dublin to become a nun:
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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.
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The Warrior on a Horse, commonly known as Alexander the Great, dominates Macedonia Square:
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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.
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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:
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Tumba Madzari was a matriarchy - on a bridge lined with too many statues, this one stands out, quite elegant:
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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:
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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.
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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.
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The Old Bazaar in Skopje is the largest Bazaar in the Balkans outside of Istanbul.
Turkish style restaurant in the old bazaar:
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The fortress, Kale:
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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:
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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 -
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I like the Chelsea Girl statue across the street from the bull, life-size, not gigantic, whimsical.
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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.
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Why Kosovo - it’s personal.
On the Macedonia side of the border three cows roamed around the parking lot.
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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.
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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.
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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:
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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.
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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:
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On November 11 we walked to the New Born monument - a typographic sculpture and tourist attraction unveiled when Kosovo became a country in 2008.
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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:
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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.
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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:
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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.
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Water was brought to the sink from an outside well in jugs:
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There was a kind of central heat in this house, the owners were wealthy.
Ornate wood carving
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Eighteenth century deck overlooking the garden:
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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:
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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!
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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.
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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).
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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:
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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!!
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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.

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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:
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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.
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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.

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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)

Oslo, Bergen and Alesund Norway

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My ancestors came to the great plains from the fjords and rugged coastline of western Norway.
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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:
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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:
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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
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Looking down Karl Johan’s Gate from the Palace:
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We wanted to see the changing of the guard, which was a pretty simple affair
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The changing of the guard at the Norwegian Royal Palace takes place daily at 1 pm:

Next stop the Nobel Peace Centre:
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Lobby of the Nobel building:
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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
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The Harbour is very clean - and not one whiff of fish!!
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Akerhus Fortress overlooks the Harbour Promenade:
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As we approached the distinctive, glacier-like Operahouse we could see people strolling and cycling on the roof.
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Soaring ceilings, the lobby of the Operahouse, elegant in its simplicity:
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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:
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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!!
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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:
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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:
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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It was a fabulous restful day, stunning scenery, comfy chairs, nice enough to spend time on the deck.

Hjorunfjord through the Sunnmøre Alps:
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Dining room on the Hurtigruten:
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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:
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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:
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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.
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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:
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Alesund is built on a series of islands, an archipelago, the Venice of the North:
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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.
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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:
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The yellow house is where my great great grandparents lived:
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The lighthouse at Alnes was built in 1876:
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View from Alnes - looking out to the sea:
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Our cousins had prepared supper, delicious lamb stew with apple cake for dessert. We dined in a charming summer house overlooking the sea.
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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:
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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.
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Dessert: sponge cake layered with meringue and whipped cream, the world’s best cake, Norway’s National Cake since 2002 - Kvæfjordkake:
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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.
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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.
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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!!
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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)

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