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Dubrovnik, Croatia

semi-overcast 14 °C

We took a bus through the twisting mountain roads south from Sarajevo to Croatia.


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.

Our apartment has a balcony and a million dollar view:

The well appointed apartment seems a bargain at 61 Canadian Dollars per night.
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!

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.

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.
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:
Dubrovnikstairs.JPG Dubrovnikmorestairs.JPG

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’.


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

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

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.

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.

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:

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.
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.

Near the highest point, overlooking the lake, is St Clements Church, the most sacred church in Macedonia:
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)

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!


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.
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.
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.

Mother Theresa statue on Macedonia Street, a pedestrian promenade in the city centre:
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.

Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu at about 18 years, before she travelled to Dublin to become a nun:
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.

The Warrior on a Horse, commonly known as Alexander the Great, dominates Macedonia Square:

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.

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:

Tumba Madzari was a matriarchy - on a bridge lined with too many statues, this one stands out, quite elegant:
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:

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.

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.

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

The fortress, Kale:

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:

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 -

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

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.
Why Kosovo - it’s personal.
On the Macedonia side of the border three cows roamed around the parking lot.
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.
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.

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:
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.

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:
On November 11 we walked to the New Born monument - a typographic sculpture and tourist attraction unveiled when Kosovo became a country in 2008.
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:

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.
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:
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.
Water was brought to the sink from an outside well in jugs:
There was a kind of central heat in this house, the owners were wealthy.
Ornate wood carving
Eighteenth century deck overlooking the garden:

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:
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!

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.

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.
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!

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!

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.
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!
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.

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.
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?'

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).
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:

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!!
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.


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:

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.

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.

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)


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.
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.
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!

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.

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

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

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.
The current Romanesque style building of Maltese stone was completed in 1932.

The interior is peaceful:

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:
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.

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.

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!!!
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:
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:


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.
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:

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:
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:

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


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

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.
The Maltese Wall Lizard:
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.

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):

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.

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.

The Co-Cathedral of St John was completed in 1578. The symbol of the Order is the the Maltese Cross:
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.
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:

The tombs of important Knights are under the ornate inlaid marble floor:
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:
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.

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

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:

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

Relic of St Paul:

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):


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.

Then he bent back down, I dipped my fingers in the water, took a picture and left the main part of the church.
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:

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

The chandeliers in bags add another element of creepiness to the experience:
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.

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:

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:

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

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:

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.


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.'
Tap-Għażżenin, the rocky island on the horizon, is where the ship allegedly ran aground:

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.

It was a pleasant, blue sky day on St Paul’s Promenade!!
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)

Barcelona, Zaragoza, San Sebastian and Bilbao, Spain

semi-overcast 11 °C

On November 24 we flew from Malta to Barcelona with Vueling Airlines.
We have both been to Barcelona before but it is worth a second look. I was just here, it seems, less than a year ago. I walked on La Rambla and actually went to an opera.
It is easy to get around Barcelona on the extensive underground system. This is my third visit to Spain and Jeff's fifth! I can't explain why it is our most visited European country. It is large, diverse, the weather is good. We have never seen the Basque country and Barcelona seemed a good starting point. Also we have to be in Madrid on December 2.

The Sagrada Familia, still spectacular, still under construction:
Intricate and fantastical in detail, the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's masterpiece, has been under construction since 1882. It is expected to be finished around 2026. Over 3 million tourists view the progress every year.

There is a Christmas market across the street from the church.
Caga Tió and caganer are two Christmas traditions in Catalonia - both raise eyebrows and take some time to get used to! I found them disgusting last year but this year kind of endearing. Both have to do with 'poop' so if there is a four year old in your life, chances are that kid will enjoy the humour.
Caga Tio is the famous pooping log - just a little stick with a hat and a smiley face - you can find them in all sizes at any Christmas market in Barcelona.
Little kids are given the log to look after for a few weeks and then on Christmas Eve the log will poop presents - supposedly the better you look after him the more candy he poops. If he isn't pooping presents when cajoled, (there is a little song to encourage the log to poop out gifts) then the child can threaten him - 'poop out some presents or I will beat you with a stick.' One way or another the gifts are forthcoming.

The caganer is another poop-centric Christmas tradition - a pooping figurine is placed in nativity scenes. Now, in case this sounds disrespectful, disgusting and downright gross - if you are Catalan the caganer represents good luck. Some of the porcelain poopers depict famous people, Queen Elizabeth, Putin, etc.

The market next to the Sagrada Familia had many booths selling both logs and figurines. When I got home last year I regretted not buying a caganer or Caga Tió as a souvenir - this year I got one of each.

We had the world's most expensive coffee at a cafe across the street from the church. Two tiny cups cost eight euros. Twelve dollars. Coffee was cheaper in Norway!!

We climbed a hill and many stairs to reach Guell Park:


It is warm, about 17 degrees C at noon. but overcast.

Park Guell, another work by Antoni Gaudi.was built between 1900 and 1914. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Spain has the third highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites: 46. China has the most and Italy is a close second. We have actually seen less than half of the sites in Spain.

The Gaudi House Museum requires an entrance fee but the adjacent park is free for public use. Gaudi actually lived in the house from 1906 until he moved to his workshop at the Sagrada Familia in 1926. He was hit by a streetcar and died in June 1926.

Magenta Bougainvillea cascade on Gaudi's carved palm trees:

We are staying near the Europa Fira Metro Station at the Eurostars Gran Via Fira Hotel. It is out of the centre, more of a business hotel but comfortable and fairly easy to access the city via the metro system. For Barcelona it is very good value for sixty nine dollars Canadian a night.
The lobby:
Breakfast is included, a decent selection of mediocre quality.

We ate in the restaurant/bar on our first evening there - terrible. Terrible service and terrible food. We were the only customers. I wish I had taken a picture - one slice of English ham placed between two slices of white bread on a plate - not cut, no butter, seven dollars. We bought groceries at a gas station later to supplement this forlorn effort. So don’t plan on eating in the bar/restaurant, even though they have printed menus.

There is a pool and sauna also so Jeff went swimming.

We purchased 48 hour bus/metro passes for 15 E each at the airport and broke even. Very convenient to use the card which includes unlimited public transportation.

On 26 November we took the ALSA bus from Barcelona's Nord Station to Zaragoza - 4 hours, includes one 15 minute stop. 16 E for one ticket.

The Nord Station is right by the Arc de Triomphe Metro Stop.

The neo-classical station was built in phases starting in 1861. It was used as the table tennis venue in the 1992 Summer Olympics.

Lots of graffiti in Barcelona. If you close your garage door somebody tags it!!

One hand printed message caught my eye on the long walk from the metro station to Guell Park.

Barcelona hosts a lot of tourists. They drink, party and litter. They jostle in line at museums and clog up the pedestrian streets taking selfies. Rising rent and clogged streets make average residents resent tourists.
Barcelona has been overwhelmed by tourists. It is estimated that over 30 million tourists may have passed some time in Barcelona last year! 16 million stayed in hotels. That is a big number for a city of 1.6 million residents to accommodate.

Some cities, like Skopje, are building monuments to attract tourists. Others, like Barcelona, Prague, Amsterdam and Dubrovnik attract too much of a good thing.
The cities where tourism has thrived were once advertising heavily to attract them. Now the anti tourism sentiment in Barcelona is growing.

Barcelona is a modern, clean, world class city - great Mediterranean climate and many natural and constructed wonders. Tourism contributes 12 % to the GDP.

Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain

We took an ALSA bus from Barcelona to Zaragoza on 26 November - about a four hour journey. The bus was clean and comfortable.
Zaragoza, the capital of Aragon, has a population of 700,000
It is midway between Madrid and Barcelona. It is also kind of midway between Barcelona and San Sebastián, which is why we stopped here, to break up our trip from Barcelona to the Basque Country.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pilar

An apparition of Mary on the pilar appeared to St James (Santiago) in AD 40 while he prayed beside the Ebro River. She seemingly gave him a small statue of herself standing on a Pilar.
He built a small chapel in her honour.
The current baroque style replacement, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pilar, was begun in the seventeenth century.
The interior includes two ceiling paintings by Goya as well as a section of the original pilar and statue.
This is the second most visited pilgrimage spot in Spain after Santiago (Camino).

St James = Santiago, is said to have brought Christianity to Spain.

It is pretty much a miracle that the statue and Pilar were given to St James in the first place and a double miracle that they have survived and are situated in the church today.

The Pilar and statue (only about fifteen inches tall) are located in the smaller of the two altar areas. Behind this altar the wall has been cut away so that about seven inches of the back of the Pilar is exposed. There is a marble step below to kneel on and to the right is a donation box. Several worshippers paid money, knelt and kissed the Pilar during the few minutes I was in the area. The marble kneeling pad is indented from all the knees that have rested there.

I did not take a picture (not allowed) but I did air kiss the Pilar which has worn away in the spot where so many pilgrims have kissed it over the centuries.

The main altar is carved alabaster, quite spectacular but security guards are wandering around amongst us pilgrims and pictures are not allowed. I did sneak a picture or two but it was not easy!!

During the Spanish Civil War three bombs were dropped on the church but none of them exploded. One bomb ripped through the right hand side of Goya's painting:

Two of the bombs are displayed in the church:

Napoleon bombed the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pilar in 1808 and the marks of the cannonballs have been left on the exterior wall.

The Church of San Juan de los Panetes from 1725, is built on the same site where there once was a church of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem. The tower is leaning slightly due to uneven drying of the cement during construction:
It was heavily damaged during the Spanish Civil War
Caesar Augustus founded Zaragoza in 24 BC. The statue below was a gift to the city by Mussolini in 1940:

One of eleven bridges over the Ebro River:
In 1971 a bus crashed through the Roman bridge and 9 bodies disappeared (forever) into a sinkhole.

The oldest church in Zaragoza was converted from a mosque in the twelfth century. La Seo Cathedral is also on Plaza del Pilar Square.

It is considered the finest example of Mudéjar architecture in Aragon and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A feature found throughout the city centre is the covered arcade:

We are staying at the Inca Hotel, walking distance to all of the sights, a very nice small hotel, attractive, clean and comfortable.

Very good value at fifty dollar a night.

Lobby - they printed our train tickets for us and an adorable little girl sat across from me as I waited.
Yes there are blondes in Spain.

We travelled by Renfe train from Zaragoza north to San Sebastián on the Bay of Biscay on 28 November. In Basque it is known as Donastia.

Aqueduct from 1790 on the Berrioplano brought drinking water to Pamplona, Navarre:

North of Iza we passed suddenly through thick fog
Shortly the fog cleared and we could see the backdrop of hills again.

We are now in the Basque Country, in the province of Gipuzkoa, heading north to the capital city, the resort town, San Sebastian.

The Basque Country straddles the western Pyranees Mountains of France and Spain along the Bay of Biscay.
The Basque people predate agriculture on the Iberian Penninsula.

We have seen a lot of beautiful scenery travelling by bus and train!!

Located just 12 km from France San Sebastián/Donastia faces the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Guernica - the original Picasso painting is in the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid. It was produced in response to the bombing of the Basque village of Guernica in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. The mural, considered a definitive work of the twentieth century uses only 3 flat paint colours: black, grey and white.

There is a provocative temporary exhibit called The Laughter of Space at the San Treno Museum in San Sebastián - it is a tribute to the 80th anniversary of Picasso's iconic masterpiece.

The museum is in a Dominican convent from the sixteenth century attached to a modern extension and is free on Tuesdays.

San Treno Museum is in the old town near the waterfront and includes fine art, archaeology and history.

The Basques were shipbuilders, whalers and fishermen. They may have been been to North America before Columbus - half of Columbus' crew were Basques. A famous Basque, Ignatius of Loyola, founded the Jesuits in 1540.

The Uramea River flows through San Sebastian into the Cantabrian Sea in the Bay of Biscay.

We are across the river from the old town, in the city centre.

We had coffee at the neighbourhood pub across the street, raining now on 29 November. We are doing laundry - seems expensive at eight euros for one smallish load but it is the only time we have needed this service - we have rented a lot of apartments with washing machines in the past two months. Also the laundromat is only half a block from our Pension Aida - we just hung it up to dry - we are here for two more nights.

By 1230 it had stopped raining so we headed over to the old town. The sky was an ominous shade of grey - too bad we did not bring the umbrella.

We poked around and stopped for coffee and toast.

It was pouring rain, now we stopped for hot chocolate and churros.

Basilica of Santa Maria in the old town, baroque style Catholic Church built in the eighteenth century:

I thought we could pass some time in the shelter of the church but it was locked so we slogged our way home and were wet to the skin. Gee, we hardly have any dry clothes to wear now, with our laundry drying - no heat coming from the pipes either - could be a long wait drying a few things with the hair dryer. Or I guess run down the street and pay the five euro minimum to use the clothes dryer!!

Eventually I figured out the heat and got the bathroom towel warmer involved - soon things got pretty toasty if a little humid with all the clothes drying.

30 November - pouring at 9 am but sunny by 1030 so we walked along the beach - very fine sand - and watched surfers enjoy the crashing waves.

Neo-Gothic architecture, San Ignacio Church - closed or we would have gone in - close to our pension - built in late 1800s - there are numerous beautiful buildings in San Sebastián, many built of limestone.
San Sebastián has several (9) Michelin Star restaurants. To put this in perspective Canada has none.
To further put this in perspective, restaurant food here is not budget friendly.
There are three 3 star Michelin restaurants in this coastal Basque city, population 186,000.
We actually cannot afford to eat here - we have coffee and toast or churros or buy bread, cheese and Iberian ham at the grocers.
If I was going to dine in a three star Michelin restaurant I would like to dress up a little. My hair is ratty from all the rain and my Sketchers have seen better days.
At the moment they are sitting on the register, drying out.
We stayed at Pension Aida - well located and clean, private bath, free lipgloss. 137 Euros for three nights or about 60 Canadian per night.

Bilbao, Spain

On Dec 01, 2017 we took the ALSA bus from San Sebastián to Bilbao. It was the first time we have seen snow this autumn. It pretty much melted when it hit the ground but had a little more staying power in the mountains.
The going was slow, the oncoming lane was moving along well but we were in a long line up for about an hour, a bit of a rock slide into our lane, equipment was clearing it up. This made our trip one hour longer.
We passed through spectacular scenery in the mountains and also along the north coast but I was nauseous the entire trip so spent my time with eyes closed, counting breaths.
We had cafe con lache before the bus came - I may never have another one because I threw it up 20 minutes later.

It cleared up for a few hours so we walked along the river to the Guggenheim.

The Bilbao Gugenheim opened twenty years ago and it put Bilbao on the map as a tourist destination.
One building redefined the city. It attracts one million visitors a year.

The Maman, a huge spider ? sculpture in front of the Gugenheim, was designed by Louise Bourgeois - huge, thirty feet high, 33 feet wide.
Bourgeois designed spiders for years - her mother was a weaver, Maman. The spider-mother analogy is interesting - complicated.

The building that made both an architect and a city famous - the Guggenheim of Bilbao - Canadian born, American architect, Frank Gehry designed the building which turned an industrial based port city into a tourist hot spot - the Guggenheim effect or the Bilbao effect.
Today is not my lucky day as my camera battery died before I got the perfect picture - look it up - shimmering gold in the sun, undulating curves, a masterpiece of titanium, glass and limestone. Cost, one hundred million euros. And came in under budget.
I am glad I saw it in real life!!!
This is a branch of the New York Guggenheim but we came for the architecture, not for the art. 'If you build it, they will come' really worked for Bilbao.

It generates 400 million Euros annually.

The Zubizuri Footbridge (white bridge) which spans the Nervion River near the Gugenheim was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava (he designed the controversial Peace Bridge in Calgary).
Bilbao, population 500,000, has 8 Michelin star restaurants. Spain has 182 Michelin starred restaurants!! France has 616! Canada 0.
Pintxo are equivalent to tapas in Basque Country. We had some today, tortilla (potato and egg omelette) and a sandwich layered with salt fish. Good. Can a Canadian's undeveloped palate be trusted though?
We stayed at the Begona, 75 Dollars for one night, we were underwhelmed but it was walking distance to the Gugenheim and the main train station.
On December 2 we took the train from Bilbao to Madrid, 323 km.
The train was clean, comfortable and relaxing. There was quite a lot of snow north of Madrid:
We stayed one night at the Tribeca Hotel:
This was a really lovely hotel with a great lobby.
We now went for a five day excursion teaching English as volunteers. If you like to talk and are a native English speaker, look into this gig. You get free room and board at an upscale resort style hotel.
We enjoyed it immensely and met lots of interesting people. The day starts at 9 am with mandatory breakfast, lunch is served at 2 pm and dinner is at 9 - there is a two hour siesta break in the afternoon. The meals are substantial and a nice change of pace from our typical diet when in Spain (tapas).
Wine was included at both lunch and dinner and there was a bar available to purchase late night drinks or mid-day coffee.
There is a busy week in Spain that includes two major religious holidays - Dec 1 to 10 would be a good time not to be in Spain as much of the country is on holiday and sightseeing. Hotels are at a premium.
We were hosted by a young couple for one night in Madrid as the city was almost booked solid on Dec 8. I had made a reservation months in advance for Dec 10 but we were scrambling to get a last minute hotel during this busy time as we still needed a place for Dec 9. I think the Marriott Auditorium Hotel was a highlight. Our room was fabulous and the service impeccable.
Expensive for us budget tourists at 150 Dollars, but they do have a free airport shuttle that leaves every thirty minutes.
The Madrid Airport seemed very confusing but likely less so for the Spanish.
We flew Norwegian Air to Gatwick on Dec 11.
Our entire trip was 75 days and we covered 25000 km.
We visited some roads less traveled but also spent three weeks in Spain, the world’s second most popular tourist destination.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 15:41 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona spain surfing catalonia gaudi budget unesco backpacking mediterranean zaragoza tapas bilbao basque guggenheim aragon biscay pixtos gugenheim Comments (0)

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