Monday in Málaga

Today was the day I had to get myself sorted in terms of footwear and a coat. My host in Almería told me about a place called Cudeca, which is a charity shop. There happened to be one right by my flat, so I went there to look for a coat.

They had tons of coats for 15 euros each. Unfortunately, most were way too big or too small for me. I found a camel coloured one that would have been awesome had it been three sizes smaller. As it was, I was wearing every layer I plan to where under a coat and I was swimming in fabric. So pass. I settled on a really lovely charcoal one that was just a smidgen snugger than I would have liked and with slightly too short sleeves, but it was clearly the best I was going to do and I’d spent enough time looking at new stuff to know I was getting a bargain. Four ladies in the shop told me that they were voting for that one, so it must look okay. 🙂

I ambled to my next destination and found the Sherlock Holmes pub. Rather random!

So many churches…

I found myself at Plaza de la Merced.

Where they had a great beer and wine special for breakfast.

My destination was the birthplace of Pablo Picasso and museum about his life, not to be mixed up with the museum where you can see his artwork. So here’s the house where he was born. His family had an apartment within this house, but the museum now encompasses the whole building. Admission is 4 euros, which includes an audio guide in several languages.

Am I glad I came today as they are closed tomorrow and all the other museums I want to see are closed Mondays and open Tuesdays!

Photography is not allowed in the museum, which was small but very interesting. The most memorable part for me was seeing Picasso’s original sketchbooks with his initial ideas for Les demoiselles d’Avignon, arguably his most famous painting, sketched out in ink. I also saw documents and photographs related to Picasso’s life and learned about his passions for bull fighting and flamenco as well as the enormous influence Málaga had on his life, as he spent his formative years here. It was  wonderful little museum and the audio guide was interesting.

Here I am back outside in front of the Picasso statue. By the way, I didn’t get a single guess or even request for a hint yesterday as to the statue I photographed. It was Hans Christian Andersen!

The obelisk that anchors Plaza de la merced, which hasn’t not changed much since its early days.

It was about 12:30 by this point and I hoped to find lunch. So I ambled my way back to the touristy core of the old town. Here’s a neat fountain. Wolves or dogs on this side…

…frolicking ladies on this side. Name of this side is “Diana’s bath.”

I must have a sushi radar or something because I found an all you can eat for 13 euros restaurant! But I went for the 8.50 menú del día as it promised as much food as I really should be eating at one meal. I started off with a beer, then my first miso soup in way too long. Even though it was sunny today, it was still very chilly and this hit the spot! Yum!

I also got fried noodles with veggies (mmm!) and ten pieces of sushi that were very good. For the menú del día, I wasn’t allowed to choose what I would get, so I advised the server about the egg thing so I wouldn’t be brought anything with mayor or, heaven forbid, the omelette sushi (tamago) that featured prominently on their menu! The server was very understanding and I was very happy with the selection.

Their windows were neat as they had barcodes!

Next, I found this hilarious store, the perfect place for those who crave 9-euro bags of Oreos and 10-euro boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal.

Please do not give me this gift basket. I don’t miss American-type food. 😉

The stars have no boyfriend” is the first line of a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca. Like all good poetry, it’s very evocative, but I have no idea what it means. 🙂

This part of Málaga is all very narrow alleyways, but, for some reason, it wasn’t hard to get orientated.

I passed a Chinese bazaar store as I headed towards the El Corte Inglés department store for footwear and decided to pop in to see what clothes they might have as I want a second fleece. I found one I liked a lot at a “nice” store for a reasonable 15 euros and one that I didn’t like quite so much (pull over versus zip up) at a different Chinese bazaar store for 10 euros. I hoped to find a third option to help me make a decision. Well, this store had the exact same 10-euro sweater, but for 8 euros. Decision made! I brought it to the till and the man told me that he could not get rid of that colour (a coral pink) and if I had exactly 5 euros so he would not have to make change, I could have it for that price. SOLD. 🙂

BTW, I am XXXL in Chinese sizes. LOL I’m anywhere from a 38 to a 40 in European sizes (encompassing the variability that is a North American size 8). I was worried I’d have a hard time finding clothes here as there are so many tiny people, but, thankfully, I’m just as average sized here as I am in North America and I can shop in any store that isn’t focused on “plus sizes,” which seems to be 50 and up here. Clerks here also seem to have a better eye for a client’s size. While I’m still mistaken by Canadian and US store clerks for being a much larger size than I am, Spanish clerks have been correct every time. It’s definitely been a lot more pleasant to shop here.

At any rate, with the fleece bought, I was all set to brave the weather I’m heading into… Well, I may add a hat, but with my scarves covering my ears, they may be enough. I’d rather wait. I have “glittens” I brought from home, fingerless gloves with a mitten cover, so I’m set on that end. I will need wool socks at one point, but I haven’t found any here. I can definitely land on Wednesday with what I have and not freeze.

Where was I? Oh, right, on my way to get boots. 🙂

There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts across from the El Corte Inglés department store that made me laugh. Look at the Cookie Monster doughnut!

After checking out many shops, I conceded that if I could afford them, which I could, a pair of Panama Jack boots would be an investment I would never regret. They are handmade of Spanish leather and while not easily found in North America, known enough there for me to have wanted a pair for a long time.

A pair of boots of comparable quality in Canada has set me back over $400 and the pair I bought today were $230… These are not the ones I wanted, but rather their base model. The ones I wanted were more aesthetically pleasing yet functionally identical and $30 more. Part of financial responsibility is conceding that you really don’t need pink soles and laces for traipsing through puddles, snow, and jungle! 🙂 These were phenomenal value in that they come pretreated to be waterproof and you get a cleaning kit with leather protecting wax, extra laces, and a carrying bag. Last time I bought boots in Canada, I had to buy all those things separately.

The shopping experience was good. You have to ask for service in Spain, so I had lots of time to comparison shop and think through my decision. I saw these on Saturday night so I’d already had time to pretty much make up my mind, but it was good to have a moment before making the plunge without having a sales clerk breathing down my neck. When I was finally ready for help, I went to a cash register and asked the lady there if she could help me. She said she could and followed me to the boots. I showed her what I wanted and said that I might be a 39 or 40. She went to the storeroom and came out with several sizes. I think 40 was the biggest pair they had for all models and it felt just a bit snug for me, especially since I was only wearing thin socks. The clerk reminded me that leather stretches and had me walk around a bit. Doing that made me realise the boots were going to be perfect once I’d broken them in  as they were a little loose at the heel and toe. So sold!

I went home for a bit and then headed out to start the breaking in process. I found this rather fancy alley:

And this not so fancy alley:

So many stockings!

Here I am back at the American store. I agree with them that, “Clients don’t expect us to be perfect. They expect us to deal with things when situations arise.”

Sign outside an apartment building: “Your right to smoke ends it impedes the rights of your neighbours to relax. Let’s respect the silence of the night and avoid police presence.”

I walked for a couple of hours in my boots and while they were stiff, they felt very good. They will mean having to drop my Keens, a decision I feel better about now that I found a charity drop off box. I’m sure someone else will get some use out of them. I’m at the point where I’m sick of them and I know I won’t have occasion to wear them again for a long time. So there’s no point trying to find room in my suitcase for them. I will also have to dump a couple of tee-shirts to fit the new fleece. I’ve worn through two of them, so that won’t be any hardship either.

Another thing I found in my travels was a train station my host told me about where I can catch a ride to the airport. She said it’s faster and cheaper than the bus! So that’s where I’m headed Wednesday morning. I just need to solidify the trip from the airport in Amsterdam to my hosts’ place. They gave me instructions, but I’m still not quite sure where to get off on the tram. I guess I should email them. 🙂

It was another good day here. I should have time tomorrow to do a little more exploring!

A Lovely Saturday Morning in Almería

I slept the sleep of the dead (my room is pitch black and dead quiet if the wind isn’t blowing!), waking up at just shy of 10 this morning. Well, there went my plans to get on an “early” (9:30) bus to town! But, hey, this is Spain and things move slowly and I wasn’t going to let myself be rushed by this change of plans. 🙂 I made the 10:30(ish) bus with the plan to get partway to town and then walk along the Malecón.

I keep forgetting to mention that I live near the university, with the presence of a university being another reason I like Almería as a potential Spanish home should I move here.

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I got off at the senior citizens home, which, like in French, is called a “home for those of the third age.”

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It was supposed to be sunny today and good Malecón walking weather. At least, it wasn’t windy and the temperature was comfortable!

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First stop was a shop to see if they had boots and a coat. Yes, but nothing I wanted. I need to shop in earnest for these items before I leave for Amsterdam as they will be much less expensive here, plus I’d rather land there with season appropriate clothes, never mind that I can actually describe to shopkeepers here what I want! There are a few used clothing stores that I am going to make a point to visit for the coat. And, yes, I should have no problem finding what I want here. I’m going to temps hovering above freezing so I’m not even looking for lined boots, just something leather that I can waterproof.

I had had only coffee at home and my tummy was growling when I came out of the store, so I went to the café right next door for sustenance. No complaints about breakfast in this part of Spain! 🙂 It was only 1.90 euros!

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View from breakfast.

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And then off I went towards downtown Almería.

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Here’s an example of how you can make an area look better than it is if you select the right camera angle. So rather ugly with those light posts:

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And rather paradisal without!

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Interesting apartment building.

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This “Indian” restaurant had a really varied menu! They do have Indian (Hindu) food on the right-most part of the menu, but they also have pasta, falafel, pizza, and chicken fingers.

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Love the name of this ice cream parlour/café.

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Looking back the way I came.

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The water was so clear!

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Can you see the lighthouse in the distance?

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How about now?

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Nearly there, I found some lovely flowers.

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At the “nautical club,” I found this interesting subterranean entrance.

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There’s another one.

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And another!

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This bridge leads to the “English Cable” (ore dock).

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On the yellow entrance, I got some answers! They are entrances to parking garages. Quite a lot of instructions for getting to your car between midnight and 7AM. You can only enter at that time through the blue and green entrances.

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I really like that brick bridge.

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Rather sudden stop for the railway line!

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Saddest forest I’ve ever seen… 🙂

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The English Cable from beneath it.

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Here’s the defunct Gran Hotel Almería.

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The name of it tickles my fancy since I’m a fan of the Spanish show “Gran Hotel” and have been frustrated to not find the last season with (Spanish) subtitles. I got through the first two seasons without any issue, but I’m still not at the point where I can handle Spanish-language audio without the aid of subtitles, which can be in Spanish. I’m just more of a visual person. Anyway, this was a reminder to go search again as I was left on a cliff hanger!

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The city was starting to be decorated for the holiday season.

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The art museum was open and I had time to visit the exhibit about fashion at the time of Queen Isabel I (late 15th, early 16th century — the time of Christopher Columbus). Entry was 3 euros.

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Can you believe this was a mere lady-in-waiting’s outfit?

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All the informational placards were in Spanish only and I learned a lot of new vocabulary! My dictionary app got quite a workout. Most of the clothes in the exhibit were made of silk and/or cotton.

This dress belonging to a sultana was my favourite of the entire exhibit. Just love the teal with the purple and lime green (same colour scheme as my Isla casita my last winter there!).

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More Moorish outfits.

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Armour with a magnificent cloak.

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More armour.

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I saw some original 16th century documents signed by Carlos I himself regarding repairs to the fortress of Alcazaba after the earthquake of 1522. And other document that let me see the signatures of the “Catholic kings.”

The next room in the exhibit had clothes related to the court of Isabel I.

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Why don’t we dress so beautifully anymore?!

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I could see myself in this “simple” lady-in-waiting’s dress.

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Queen Isabel’s coronation gown.

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I learned that Queen Isabel like bright colours, stiff fabrics like taffeta, and also favoured brocades.

The final room was about the world of Isabel.

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Love these knitted leggings. They seem to be in what I know as “point de sillon,” which is knit two, purl one.

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Isabel’s mourning (luto) gown.

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The dress she wore for her wedding to Ferdinand of Aragon.

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Her books of prayers (rezos — told you I was learning a lot!).

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I learned that the Catholic kings got control of Almería and forced out Muslims who would not convert.

Here’s Queen Isabel. Rather a shame they didn’t have a portrait of her in one of the dresses on display.

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Queen Isabel was very interesting! She was a woman ahead of her time who put forth the interests of women in a world governed by men. She introduced Spain to the Renaissance and to the spread of Christianity through art, politics, and fashion. The sign I’m translating from also says she was the first queen in history to be queen in her own right and not a consort, with all the powers of a male sovereign, but surely they mean that for Spain only.

There were many signs that claimed that she was all for the rights of Native Americans and prevented them from being treated like slaves, proclaiming them humans equal to Europeans, but I took that with a grain of salt…

Familiar looking armour:

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Spain was unified through the wedding of Isabel and Ferdinand, creating the strongest state in Europe at the time and the Spanish hegemony.

And here is Queen Isabel’s will… which spells out her defence of Native Americans. Wow!

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Incredible inventions of the 14th century included the compass (brújula) and the astrolabe.

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Finally in this museum, I saw a painting that made me think of early fall in Quebec when folks go apple picking (“aller aux pommes.”)

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Here’s the coronation gown in the context of the museum. Well placed! I also loved the period appropriate music that played softly.

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Exterior of the museum:

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I next head towards the central market to pick up some produce when I came across this wonderful little street market! It’s that time of year. There were so many lovely things for sale and prices were very reasonable.

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I saw these earrings marked just 2 euro and had to have them! The seller and I chatted for a bit since he was curious to know where I was from because he rarely sees non-Spanish tourists, especially in the off season. When I went to pay, he would only accept 1 euro!

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Since I had dinner out last night, I didn’t need lunch out and so decided to get an ice cream. I went with cappuccino flavour, which, as expected, tasted very similar to a Tim Hortons iced capp.

I continued on to the central market and it was much busier than last time! I wanted a few things to turn a chicken carcass into broth and looked for someone who would sell me only two stalks of celery.

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That was easily done and I also got a few other things from him since he had really nice produce, including grapes. My total was almost 5.50 euros and he would only accent 5, even with my having exact change! Have I mentioned recently just how lovely Almeríans are?!

I walked around a bit and saw something I haven’t seen in a very long time, romanesco, which I had discovered in Yukon of all places.

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I felt a little silly walking around with the end of my celery sticking out of my bag. The seller had offered to cut it off, but it adds so much flavour to broth that I declined. He thought I hadn’t understood him and had held up a knife to mimic doing it. So I told him my plan (yay for knowing “caldo de pollo”) and he went, “Ah! Of course!” But I took him up on his offer to cut the greens off the carrots.

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I popped into the Carrefour Market to get some soup noodles of some sort and stored my purchases in one of their little lockers (1 euro deposit).

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As it turns out, the edible polystyrene is called “prawn bread.” I picked up some Chinese noodles on the same shelf.

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I examined a full wall of “turrón,” which my dictionary informed me is nougat. Hard to resist!

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Especially the marzipan!

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My purchases were a bit heavy (I hadn’t brought the cart) and it was getting close to two, when everything closes, so I headed to a bus stop, where I had to wait 15 minutes. I made the mistake of riding home on a seat facing the wrong direction and got in feeling quite nauseated!

Here’s a map of my route today:

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I couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable Saturday morning off! Back to the grindstone tomorrow. 🙂

El Museo de Almería

I got a niggle last night that told me not to go to bed. The reason for that niggle manifested itself just past midnight, when a chance to take a largeish order for the weekend came in, a chance I would have lost by morning. Good thing I’ve learned to listen to my niggles!

But after a few days at the computer, I was in the mindset to go to town. I worked steadily through the morning to get a sense for how long the job would take and left around 1:20 confident I wouldn’t have an insane day tomorrow. The bus schedule said that buses leave my neighbourhood at –:05 and –:35 on Saturdays and mine is the first stop. So silly me thinking there would be a bus at 1:35! One finally came around 1:55. Ridership was low, so we got to town in record time. I stayed on a couple of extra stops to get closer to the museum.

I wanted a quick lunch, something fast foody that wasn’t a pastry or a tapa, like pizza by the slice or a burger. There is a real dearth of such things in Spain… I walked from the bus stop to the museum along a busy route and almost all restaurants were shut tight despite it being the Spanish lunch hour and there was none of the fast food-type places you see all over Mexico and the Balkans to get you by outside of their regular later meal hours. The few places that were open had small bites for expensive prices. It says a lot that I was almost relieved to find a Burger King!

But, thankfully, I hung on and found a kebab place. I was so happy that I didn’t care that lunch cost me 6.50 euros! I was allowed to mix beef and chicken for the same price, which was a nice treat, and they let me have a bottle of water instead of pop without making me pay the surcharge. Their garlic sauce was the best I’ve had since coming to Europe, and I’ve had quite a bit of doner since coming across the pond! I may have had some on my fries. I may also have had fries. 🙂

Lesson learned: I’m going to take “have lunch” off my Almería to-do list and eat at home before going out unless I’m really in the mood for doner (I would definitely go to this place again). And, again, I’ve been looking during what is the traditional Spanish lunch hour!

I really didn’t need dessert after, but there was an ice cream parlour right next door that was open! *gasps* I ordered a “mini” scoop of Oreo in a cup and the server asked if I wanted to try another flavour at no charge. I expected him to add put a dollop of the strawberry cheesecake, but, no, he gave me almost a full portion! I maintain that free ice cream has no calories… 😉

The museum was easy to find, its entrance not so much. Its exterior is really ugly and looks like a bunker! Notice that the sign says it’s the archaeology museum, but it’s also referred to as the Almería Museum, with the two being used interchangeably.

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Little did I know what would await me inside…

I’d done my research and knew that admission is 1.50 euros for non-residents. So I went up to the welcome desk to pay and the man there asked me where I’m from. I said Canada, but that I’m in the area six weeks. He replied, “I’m going to give you the Spanish-speaking tourist living here for a long time discount” and  told me I didn’t have to pay! LOL He explained the museum layout a bit and told me I could take pictures with flash on all but the third floor. What a nice guy!

So while I’m finding the opening hours in Almería to be frustrating, everyone is so nice and makes me feel so welcome. My host says this is not a touristy part of Spain, but it’s a great off the beaten path destination with plenty to do. Almería centro is compact and walkable, the bus system is decent, and the tourist attractions I’ve been to so far have plenty of English. In fact, there is a lot more English signage than I expected based on what my host told me. However, you will be hard pressed to find someone who speaks English so I can understand why getting a housesitter with Spanish skills was important to my host. It’s not always easy to understand people who speak at a much faster cadence than do Mexicans and with an accent I’m not familiar with, but I’m getting by very well and am not feeling particularly challenged by a language barrier. After my four months in the Balkans, I feel like I’m out of survival mode. Aaaah.

The ground floor of the museum has this impressive timeline that goes right to the top of the museum. It lays out key steps in the history of the area from prehistory to today.

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I was about to translate the start of it and just noticed the English! 🙂

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That thing is really tall! The museum has four floors total, but they are numbered like in the UK, where you get ground, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.

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The sides of the column represent a village site. You have to image it lying horizontally.

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I was lucky to be able to see the subaquatic archeology in Almería temporary exhibit that is just about to finish up.

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Here’s a map of this part of Spain. Almería is the capital of the province of the same name. The way Spain is cut up is a bit confusing, but it has a bunch of nations within its borders. Imagine Canada with ten Quebecs. And then, those nations are divided into provinces, the way Quebec is divided into administrative regions, each with a main administrative centre.

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There was a very thick catalogue with all the artifacts.

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The exhibit was very nautical and there was the sound of waves crashing in the background. Very hypnotic!

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I didn’t know what a “moledera” is and Google Translate did not have the answer. I went to a Spanish dictionary and found a definition — it is a grindstone! I submitted that to Google Translate. Wouldn’t it be cool if it’s accepted?

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The Pirate Coast speaks to dangerous times on the high seas!

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Fishing was one of the first industries in the area, especially that of tuna, which is very popular.

Goods were shipped in giant urns that were sometimes repurposed as caskets for children, among other uses.

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I loved the barnacles on some of the objects, speaking to a long time spent at the bottom of the sea.

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This is a lead lingot. Oh, a lingot is an ingot in English. I don’t want to admit how long I’ve been getting that wrong!

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This one has a stamp.

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There was an interesting series of cases showing contemporary Islamic, Roman, and Greek pottery.

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The Islamic, with its bright colours and patterns, was my favourite.

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The Roman was rather boring.

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The Greek is more subdued than the Islamic, but much more interesting than the Roman.

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Next came a few relics from ancient Egypt, including an ostrich egg!

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I then headed upstairs to learn about the Los Millares civilisation.

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But first, I took a look the centre column at that height and realised that it was designed to be examined on each of the levels of the museum. Since each floor is a split level, that’s seven levels. What clever design!

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Reproductions of cave art.

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And artistic representation of what the civilisation might have looked like.

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There were a lot of touch screens all through the museum. Here, I’m scrolling through to get more information on different parts of the diorama.

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This is a description of the diorama. “Inhabitants, visitors, folks, folks that bring, folks that take…” (emphasis mine)

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I was rather impressed by this huge stone wall in the middle of the first floor.

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And that these “primitive” people did what amounts to brain surgery!

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They made arrowheads and there is evidence of warfare on the site.

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This exhibit of funerary practices was creepy as hell. Just after I took this picture, dark shadows came into that green spot of light and I jumped!

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Add in really “Halloweeny” music and the fact that the room was very dark and this was a very disquieting experience.

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This was a rather disquieting piece of art as well.

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Up I went to the second floor to learn about the Argar society, contemporary to the Egypt’s Middle Kingdom.

Again, an impressive artist’s rendering of the society.

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The water reminded me of fruit suspended in gelatine.

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There was an almost maze-like series of exhibits on dietary and funerary practices. The text on the wall sums up the exhibit (hunger, death, fear, metal…).

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The diet was mostly barely, which I learned is a low quality food.

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Half of the population died before the age of six and only a quarter reached adulthood.

There is evidence that food was stockpiled and then distributed.

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There was a random room about Python programming.

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“This is not an exhibit. It is a laboratory. An experiment in progress. A process of dialogue. A toolbox. A message in a bottle. A patch of garden to sow ideas and reap questions….”

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The final floor.

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We finished with the Roman and Islamic societies. The latter is where Almería got its name, from Al-Mariyya (“the Watchtower”).

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I really love mosaic.

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The city of Almería as it is known today appeared in the Middle Ages from a city that was built in the 9th century. It reached its pinnacle in 1147, when it was suddenly conquered and destroyed by the Christian coalition.

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Oil lamps.

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Toys.

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This plaque dates back to the 10th century and is the only thing left marking the official construction of the city.

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Epigraphs from the old mosque of Almería.

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Notice the graffiti.

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A catapult projectile from 1147. Great display for it! Most of the city’s residents were killed or fled.

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Pottery found underwater in the Almería Bay.

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The inside of the museum is a work of art. It’s not beautiful per se, but the way light flows through it and how they use voids and openings to bring things together was inspired, as was how they used all the various levels to present truly massive exhibits.

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They have a series of lockers for stowing personal belongings.

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They cost 1 euro.

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Outside of the museum.

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The entrance. The official address is on Carretera Ronda, but the entrance is on Calle Hermanos Pizón, on the complete opposite side of the block. I walked all the way around before I found it.

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It was past 4:00 by this point, nothing was open, the temps had gone from scorching (30) to BRRR and windy, and I had to get back to work. So I headed to my bus stop. I was happy to pass some Cyrillic on the way. 🙂

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I walked down this lovely pedestrian mall to get to the bus stop.

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It’s a good thing my host had told me where to catch the bus or I would never have found it! The bus route is a bit odd as it does circles in some parts and if I’d tried to catch it where I got off, I would have ended up having to ride the whole route in order to get home. Where my host told me to get on would be the fastest way back even if it meant more walking. I was impressed that this stop had a sign telling us which buses were coming and how soon and not impressed that my bus that was supposed to come every 30 minutes would be arriving in 36!

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But… as I was trying to decide if I was going to walk around the block to see what was what or just hang out and read a book on my phone, my bus pulled up! What great timing!

Off we went. Here’s some proof that it was just a little windy.

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We got to the university and the driver took a break. It was a little strange since I was the only one left on the bus by this point and he kept looking towards me in the mirror. Just as I was going to ask him if I’d misunderstood the schedule and this was the last stop, we took off again. I got off as soon as we turned into my neighbourhood, even though I was pretty sure there another stop closer, and I’m certain I got home faster than if I’d stayed on till the closer stop.

I got in and fed a very put upon cat (who had been fed before I left…), then got back to work for a few hours before having dinner. I was happy I’d made a big veggie stir fry yesterday since I was hungry but too tired to cook and wouldn’t have had a healthy meal otherwise. I love having access to a full size fridge and freeze again so I can make big quantities of stuff!

I should have a reasonable work day tomorrow and Monday and then I’ve got some code cleanup work on the plate for the rest of the week if no other transcription comes in. I wasn’t even gone four hours today (!) and so I’m going to start looking for other short excursions I can do between bouts of work. Time is going by sooooo fast and I know there’s lots more to see so I need to make a plan to get it all done!

Skopje Walking Tour

I awoke to a downpour. The forecast promised a clearing during the time of my walking tour, but I wasn’t holding my breath and was glad it wasn’t cold. I got up fairly early so I could get a bit of work done before the tour, but actually lost track of time and before I knew it, it was 9:30, with the tour being at 10:00 and a 20-minute walk away!

I managed to get out the door in about five minutes since I was dressed. It’s a good thing I’d scoped out the starting point of the tour yesterday, Memorial House of Mother Teresa, and knew a fairly direct way to get there. I also knew that these tours never start on time so I would be fine. Sure enough, I arrived around 9:48 and found a dry spot to wait for the tour to start.

Mother Teresa is thought of as being Albanian, but she was born in Skopje and lived here till she was 18 before going to Ireland to learn English. More on her later in the tour as this was not our first stop.

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This church is brand new.

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Our guide, Miho of Skopje Walks, was a little early and asked a gal from London and me if we’d mind waiting a bit to see if anyone else turned up. A gal from Poland working in Skopje did and then just as we were ready to set off, two Portuguese gals came running.

Our first bit of information was about the pedestrian street we were standing on, Macedonia Street. It is a fairly new street, about 100 years old, and was built to carry the last Ottoman ruler of Macedonia from the old railway station to the new one. An old housebound lady with a balcony overlooking this street saw her address change four times in ninety years, depending on who was running Macedonia. Even yesterday, when the weather was good, the street was deserted, nothing like the pedestrian zones of Sofia, Plovdiv, Belgrade, or Sarajevo.

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This is the old railway station and now a museum.

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The derelict look is intentional and along with the clocks commemorates the last major earthquake in the city, dating back to 1963. Skopje has had three major earthquakes in its recorded history and it was completely demolished in each one. So there is very little that is truly “old” in Skopje and perhaps this is why it has no identity of its own. Miho calls the problem with Skopje “copy/paste syndrome” in that the city is full of things copied from other cities. I said that it reminds me of Las Vegas and Miho said that it’s 100 times worse because Vegas, where he has been, only has the Strip that is full of kitsch while the whole of Skopje looks like that!

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This clock shows the time of the earthquake, just past 4:30AM.

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Miho pronounced Skopje “Skopie-ya,” rhyming it with Sofia. It is Скопје in Macedonia Cyrillic, which does not have the “backward R” for the “ya” sound (я), which is the last sound in Sofia. I’ve been saying and hearing “Skope-ye.” So I suppose there are different ways of saying it.

Miho was not afraid to express his embarrassment of the city and the mismanagement of funds for the “Skopje 2014” project that saw heaps of money put into statues and monuments when the money could have had better uses. There is no rhyme or reason to where the statues have gone up. Take this bull, for example, a common symbol in front of stock exchanges all over the world. In Skopje, it is in front of a shoe store and a few blocks away from the Skopje stock exchange.

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We headed back to the Memorial House of Mother Teresa and I finally noticed the front of the church. I have to say that this building is really beautiful!

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I really love the “scales” on the domes.

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Miho took us through this door so we could have a laugh. I wasn’t able to get a good shot of the area, but it’s not closed in! That door does absolutely nothing.

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We went inside and the curator gave us some information about Mother Teresa. This is a model of what her childhood home would have looked like. There is plenty of evidence that the family was well off.

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This is a letter she wrote in English, the language of her religious order.

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She officially became a saint last month.

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This is a copy of her Nobel Peace Prize certificate.

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We went upstairs to the chapel with its unfortunately leak roof. The filigree design pays tribute to the artistry of the Ottomans and if you look closely, you can see doves and fish in the design.

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We then headed towards the main square and passed two statues that make Miho angry. One is a monument to the shoeshiners of Skopje.

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The other to beggars. Each cost something like 35,000 Euros! As he said, that money could have been put to much better use.

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This is one of the few truly “old” buildings in Skopje, dating back to… 1920. It was built by a pharmacy baron and is now retail and office space.

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While this is known to be a statue of Alexander the Great, the official title is Warrior on a Horse.

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Just off of it, these markers show the site of where Mother Teresa’s childhood home was located. It was destroyed in the earthquake of ’63. I found these markers well done.

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Here is a good example of copy/paste syndrome, just a random arch of triumph not symbolising anything in particular and in a random location.

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We then got to the river. This pirate ship, too big for the river, embarrasses Miho as well. This was the first time that he actually flat out said rather than implied that he’s embarrassed by something the city has built.

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This is the Museum of Archeology, one of the rare things he got really excited about, so I decided to visit it after the tour if I had time. I agree with him that the mix of neoclassical and modern architecture is stunning. This is one of the few buildings Skopje got right.

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This is the Bridge of Civilisations, built in 2013. So many statues…

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Skopje is running out of place for its statues, so it’s putting them on roofs and ledges. I am not being facetious.

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This is the Stone Bridge and actually very old, dating back to 1451. It has been added to and repaired, but is essentially original.

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This was the only statue that spoke to me. It is of a Paeonian Priestess.

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There is even a statue in the filthy river, commemorating that there was once a beach there.

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Yes, that is a woman in a red bikini. Which reminds me, all the statues in Skopje have clothes.

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This was my least favourite stop. To keep birds from crapping on the fountains in the area and also discourage stray dogs, there is a very high pitch whistle playing constantly. I could hear it clear as a bell and it rattled the fillings in my teeth.

This is a monument to the mother of Alexander the Great, showing him while she was pregnant, he was a newborn, she was breastfeeding him, and when he was a toddler.

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Behind it is another fountain, with horses. This city really has no rhyme or reason to it!

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Here’s another angle on that mother of Alexander the Great fountain.

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We then went into the “Old Bazaar,” which is what passes as the Old Town in Skopje. It was apparently a pretty lively place once upon a time, but now a good amount of it is deserted and what isn’t is full of shops selling tourist tchotchkes. We were advised to have lunch here as it is, surprisingly, the less expensive part of town to eat at. Which reminds me, Miho confirmed that Skopje (not sure about Macedonia in general) is about as expensive as Western Europe, which explains why I feel like I’ve been bleeding money with nothing to show for it.

The flagstones are actually old. I forget how old, but I think they date back to the Middle Ages at least.

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He took us to a little bar/restaurant for a rest. I had to go up and down these steps to use the bathroom. They are very common all over the Balkans and Max had them in the main house.

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The other guests barely touched their complimentary glass of rakia, but I downed the whole thing. This reminded me of one I had in Bulgaria as it was very peaty and Scotch-like.

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We then went into something I should have gotten the spelling of, but let’s go with “Ahn.” Think of it as an Ottoman roadhouse with lodging and food.

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There would have been a fountain in the central courtyard.

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This one has gone through many different lives, including being a jail, hence the bars on the windows. Now, there are a lot of lawyers offices and cafés.

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The Old Bazaar would be easy to get lost in. I am shocked that I had zero desire to wander around in it after my tour, a case of having seen much better Old Towns like these in my travels.

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So much of the area was deserted, just like every other part of Skopje I’ve visited so far.

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I’ve kept meaning to grab a picture of these address number plaques, white on a dark blue background. I have seen them everywhere I’ve been in the Balkans and can’t believe I forgot to ask a guide if they are issued by the government or something.

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When we started the tour, Miho said we would not be able to go up to the fortress because it was storming. The fortress is the highest part of the city and he worries about lightning strikes up there when people are carrying umbrellas. But, thankfully, the rain let up fairly early on in our tour and the sky was clearing by the time we approached the fortress. So we were able to head there. First, though, he explained how there are three levels of walls to the city and that they are more symbolic, to show that people were headed into the administrative part of Skopje, than for fortification purposes.

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This is a football stadium.

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After the first recorded earthquake, Skopje was moved about 5KM from its original location, which is that hill in the distance.

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There is a giant cross on top of this hill, just about twice as tall as the statue of Christ in Rio de Janeiro.

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The fortress is large, but there wasn’t much to access. Having frolicked in a lot of ruins recently, I was not temped to return after the tour.

We then headed to this mosque, which was once one of the most beautiful mosques of the region.

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We went inside and were told we could take photographs.

After the last earthquake, the dome was damaged and had to be rebuilt. We’ve lost the knowledge of how to build a perfect dome so, as you can see in this picture, there is an imperfect joint.

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Getting in and out of our shoes was tricky as we had to step out of them on the stone part while bringing our feet onto the carpeted part.

The imam was not present when we went in and so the dress code wasn’t strict. Miho said the imam is actually pretty laid back and doesn’t make ladies cover their hair or shoulders, just their legs. Because of the weather, we were all covered from the neck to our feet anyway!

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There are high tech bollards that lower for two hours a day to allow delivery vans access to the area.

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This is where we finished our tour, a full hour later than expected. Miho had said the tour would take 2.5 to 3 hours and it ended up being a full 4! We finished by a church he told us to visit, but, frankly, I’ve had my fill of churches. I gave him a 300MKD tip since these “free” tours are tip based and then headed off to find an ATM so I could afford to buy lunch. I cannot believe how fast my money has gone here.

Finding an ATM took ages! The first one I tried was out of money and then I had to go back to the main square and poke around there to find one that was working. I took out another 2000MKD (50CAD) and went back to the Old Bazaar to get lunch. The first place I passed served pizza and that worked for me. I hadn’t eaten since about 8AM and had had that shot of rakia, so I really needed food and wasn’t in the mood to hunt for something else, especially when I saw that this joint had a wood fired oven.

The pizza was very good, just needing maybe one more minute in the oven to crisp up the crust, but the sauce, cheese, and sprinkle of oregano were spot on. I will miss Balkan pizza!

I had this Macedonian beer with it. The price of the pizza, 150MKD or 3.75CAD, was very reasonable for the amount I got and felt pretty close to what I paid in Serbia and Bulgaria for a comparable amount. But the beer was a whopping 3.25CAD! I would never have ordered a beer had I known it would be that expensive.

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I was happier when I paid the ice cream vendor I went to next as the cost was just 0.50CAD for a small ice cream that I would have paid 1.50CAD for in Kotor. I went with straight up hazelnut and it was really yummy!

It was getting really late, so I then hoofed it to the Museum of Archeology, where you are only allowed to take pictures inside the lobby.

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Admission to the museum was 300MKD (7.50CAD), very steep compared to other museums I’ve been to. But holy smokes! I finally found something in Skopje to wholeheartedly recommend! What an incredible collection of artifacts! As a history major, I’ve read so much about this part of the world and how people lived, but to see actual artifacts from here was surreal. The rooms were themed, with coins, jewellery, pottery, glassware, weapons, and more. There were also beautiful paintings depicting scenes of everyday life. There wasn’t quite enough signage in English though. All the artifacts had English labels, but there were large informational panels that did not have a translation, which was a bit frustrating as I could pick out just enough to get an idea of what the panel was about and be curious to know more. I kicked myself for having deleted my Bulgarian dictionary app from my phone.

Which brings me to the unpleasant part of visiting the Skopje Museum of Archeology — I got followed by security guards the whole time. The second I pulled out my phone to look for the dictionary, one rushed me and said I could not “make pictures.” The attention made it very difficult to relax and truly enjoy my visit. But all that aside, this museum is the only part of Skopje I really want to remember besides my flat!

It was starting to spit when I came out of the museum, so I took that as a sign that I should head home. I crossed the Bridge of Civilisations again.

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It would make more of an impact if it wasn’t one of several bridges and was in a more central location. And wasn’t surrounded by 50 billion other statutes, monuments, and fountains.

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But I really do like her a lot. There was more about her in the museum, including the actual artifacts she’s holding… and her skull.

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There have been a lot of “revolutions” in Skopje, with people protesting the government. The latest one had folks filling balloons with paint and then throwing the balloons at monuments built for Skopje 2014. So all that paint over the monuments isn’t artistic expression, it’s a tantrum. What a waste. Miho had stronger words to say on this subject.

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Here’s that “old” building in full.

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I am really glad I did the walking tour today as I got a lot of context about Skopje and Macedonia. Miho was a fantastic guide! But unlike with other walking tours I’ve done that left me itchy to explore on my own, I’d had my fill of Skopje by the end of this one. This is not a city I would recommend. There is no point to it, it’s filthy, and it’s expensive. It’s fine for a day or two if you’re flying in and out of Macedonia, but I really wish I’d had time to go to Ohrid instead.

As it turns out, I’m flying out at 6PM tomorrow, not 16:00 (4PM) and have the apartment till 2PM. I’ll have some work to do in the morning, then we’ll see if I feel like venturing out to see more of Skopje… It is surreal to think that I’ll be in Barcelona tomorrow night. I’ll be there in just about 26 hours.

Sarajevo City Hall, Downtown, and Brewery

I awoke to a super cold, grey, foggy, damp day. Yuck. Last thing I wanted to do was go exploring and I was so grateful I had heaps of work to do! By 12:30, I’d put in a full day of work, could call off with only one hour more to do in the evening, and the sun had come out! Talk about timing!

It was only 10C outside (brr!), so I pulled out my jeans for the first time and paired them with a long-sleeved top, fleece hoodie, and my cosy Tiek flats, my expected “fall weather” attire.

My first thought as I headed out was lunch and I wanted to try burek, “Bosnian pie.” I’d had no interest in it, but so many people told me I was nuts for not having had it and also pointed me to Buregdzinica Sac that I decided to try the experience today. I made a few wrong turns but eventually found the restaurant. The server spoke English and told me she had meat or potato, cheese, and spinach. So heads up, my vegetarian readers, there’s a burek for you!

I went with the meat and accepted sour cream, which was unfortunate since she drowned my pie. I ended up scraping it all off and only having what had soaked in. But you can’t really ever have too much sour cream, so my complaint is only that you didn’t get to see this pretty thing in all its glory. 🙂 It’s basically phyllo pastry that is assembled in a spiral and has filling mixed in.

My meat burek tasted like the  Bosnian answer to tourtière, with heaps of savoury and perfectly seasoned meat mixed in with caramelised onions. Absolutely amazing. I might not have been a fan of Bulgarian and Serbian food, but Bosnian is great!

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Then, I went back to the Baklava Shop to try their Nutella baklava and have the coffee I’d been craving all morning. The interior of the shop is so pretty. (pauses to listen to the adhan)

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Love the alarm clock collection.

Next stop was Sarajevo City Hall as I was told the interior is impressive. It was devastated during the war and was rebuilt in stages.

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Outside, there is a cable car and information on the plan to rebuild the cable car system to Trebević, the mountain I went up yesterday. Both of my tour guides are skeptical that it will happen and my guide yesterday reminisced fondly of taking the old cable car up the mountain with her family.

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I was a bit surprised by the 5KM fee to enter city hall so I could take pictures, but figured that’s how they’re funding the reconstruction and, really, it’s a token amount. What I didn’t know is that city hall doubles as a museum and there are heaps of exhibits. So you get a lot of bang for your mark!

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Austria-Hungary built the original city hall and felt it was their duty to help with the reconstruction. I’m trying to remember why Spain got involved, which I know one of my guides told me.

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The ceiling mosaic. Wow!

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One thing that I finally get after my two tours is why Sarajevans are so open to talking about the war and hold no punches. This is because they see themselves as victims, not as an equal culprits in the aggression. So when they talk about horrible events, they are not owning up to things that they did to themselves, but are pointing the finger at things that were done to them. That is my interpretation only and should not be taken as a judgement of the validity or not of this interpretation if it is accurate. But it makes a lot of sense and further helps me understand what happened here and why the impacts are so long-lasting.

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City hall was the national library before becoming city hall again. It was the national library when it was bombed in the war. My guide yesterday said that this was an incomprehensible action by the Serbs because they were destroying their own heritage. Neno, from the walking tour, said that his grandmother still talks about seeing the ashes from all the books floating in the air.

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This picture is of two soldiers on opposite sides of the war post-war at Srebrenica, site of the massacre of 8,000 Bosniak Muslims. I wonder what thoughts are going through their heads.

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I was surprised by how much of city hall was open to visitors. Cordons and closed doors served as gentle guides telling us what areas were off limits.

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This was a thorough exhibit about the history of city hall and Sarajevo in general. City hall was completed and opened in 1896. It was built in a pseudo-Moorish style, seen as a “cultural misunderstanding… regarded as a retarded form of foreign culture.”

Pardon the glare in these, but there’s too much information to just summarise it:

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I saw video of the shelling in full colour. Tragic.

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They began to rebuild almost immediately, just as it was one of the first major buildings to be destroyed.

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There was an interesting section about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. The building that was a café and is now a museum has not changed much!

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I was surprised that his marriage to Sophie Chotek was one of love and very controversial. She could not accompany him on official functions and their children could not inherit his title. To add a further sense of destiny to the assassination, it was the first time Sophie accompanied Franz Ferdinand on an official outing.

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This photo of the lady running reminds me of something I forgot to share after the walk with Neno. He mentioned that his mother went to work in full makeup and heels even though her children begged her not to as she would not be able to outrun snipers. She said that she did so because she would be beautiful if she was left wounded on the street and also because there were reporters…

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I learned yesterday, but forgot, that the peace accord was hammered out in Dayton, Ohio, of all places!

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Those exhibits were essentially in the basement. I then went back to the main level and up to the first floor.

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What am impressive building. I can understand how rebuilding it was important to Sarajevans and very likely boosted morale.

Next, I wanted to walk to New Sarajevo (across downtown down “Sniper Alley“) to photograph some of the things I saw on my tour yesterday. Sarajevo downtown is long and narrow as it is sandwiched by the mountains. There is a main thoroughfare that splits at the start of Old Town (Baščaršija), with traffic heading east passing south of Baščaršija along the river and traffic from the west passing to the north. Trolley cars go around Baščaršija in a loop. This map also happens to show the location of the brewery (pivara) across the river that I would visit later.

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There are so many churches and mosques in this city that Sarajevo is known as Little Jerusalem.

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Vicki, there are TONS of bakeries in Sarajevo. Look for signs that say “pekara”! 🙂

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At the market I saw my first day, there is a memorial to the many dead in the war.

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Loved the market!

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Next up was the memorial to all the children killed in the war.

 

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There’s a fountain but I just discovered I forgot to take a picture of it! There were fresh flowers all around it, with heartbreaking notes.

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There was a row of these lists of names, births, and deaths. This is very much  my generation.

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I noticed this subtle bit of art on the sidewalk by the memorial.

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The iconic (former) Holiday Inn. I remember seeing pictures of it after it was shelled because its yellow façade is so memorable. It was never a direct target.

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A museum and I’m pretty sure something else even more important…

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Our guide yesterday mentioned a building owned by a media magnate and I believe this is it. I stupidly stopped to take this picture in front of the huge US Embassy, but the guard who saw me do that did not speak up, so he must have realised I was not photographing the building.

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I finally got to the building that so impressed me yesterday. Can you see the impact crater? This is just one of many.

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Here’s another.

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Without embiggening this picture, I can see at least three impact craters. How can the structure still be solid?! There’s a Costa Coffee on the ground floor, a major chain, so they must trust the building…

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There was more I wanted to photograph, but I was getting tired and still had to walk back. I’d walked 3.5KM since city hall and had to walk it back. I could have taken the trolley, of course, but there was more I wanted to photograph on the return trip.

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This is where the road splits as we come into Old Town.

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This Courtyard Marriott is brand new.

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This is the brand of coffee I bought the other day. There are billboards for it all over the city, so it must be popular. I don’t like it nearly as much as my usual brands, but it is very satisfactory, especially for the price.

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By this point, I wanted a cold beer and decided to head to the Sarajevo Brewery, which for some reason wasn’t on my tourist map. I had a vague idea of where it was, but with the streets being as nonsensically laid out as they are, I knew I could wander around in circles for hours without getting to it. A half dozen, “Molim, pivo muzej?”s and pointing to passersby got me there. That’s, “Please, beer museum?” 😀

Entrance to the beer museum is 3KM, 5KM with a beer at the attached pub, or 25KM for lunch at the pub. I went with option two.

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The museum was really tiny and was only about the history of the brewery, with no opportunity to actually visit its operations. I was rather disappointed.

Sarajevans boast about having the first café in Europe, but beer was slow to come.

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Barrels were the most popular container for beer as for equal volume compared to bottles, the price was about 30% cheaper.

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What a great painting of the brewery! Still looks like that.

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This is the main newspaper in Sarajevo. We passed its building yesterday, but I didn’t get that far on foot.

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The brewery had major operations until the start of the ’70s and then went into a steady decline. It continued with a token production during the war and was fully reconstructed and modernised after the war. There was a three-year contract with Coca-Cola to produce soft drinks, then a new contract was signed with PepsiCo.

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The pub was dead, but pretty cosy.

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It was rather a small beer and I wonder if I got taken as I have a hard time believing this was 2KM worth of beer (plus maybe a few sips as I think I’d tasted it by this time). This was a rather bitter lager, but tasty!

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😀

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I cut through the market to get home and made a purchase! My travel purse has been both a blessing and a curse. I love all the pockets in it and its generous size, but the overly padded straps tend to fall down my shoulders. I also miss not having a bag that I can wear cross-body, keeping my hands free, and in which I can stuff purchases. So it was inevitable that I would end up replacing the bag on my travels and decided I’d start shopping when my sewing job on the handles started to give way, which was here in Sarajevo. Now, this isn’t really a location to look for the kind of bag I wanted so there wasn’t a huge amount of choice. But as you know, I know what I like. 🙂

I’d seen this bag several times over the last few days and when I came upon it on the way across the market, I decided to ask about the price. I’d seen similar bags marked 30KM, which was way more than I was willing to pay. My budget was 20KM (about 15CAD). The storeowner came out of her shop almost the second I started prodding the bag and brought it down for me.

I loved the beading.

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And the colour scheme.

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She quickly showed me the pocket in the strap, which is brilliant. Shame it’s not just a tad wider so my phone could fit in it.

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A zippered top is a must. I had to pass on a bag I loved even more because it didn’t have a zipper.

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There’s also an interior pocket for things I need to keep handy. I will miss not having more pockets, but one is better than none.

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The price was 25KM. but I noticed a slight imperfection in the stitching on the front, so I wasn’t willing to stretch my budget because I will need to fix it as the whole beaded panel could unravel. The clerk showed me other bags in the same style, but I found them hideous. After I passed on two or three of those, she pointed to the bag I liked, crossed out the 25 she’d written down and wrote, “20?” Yes, perfect! We were both very happy. 🙂

I bought dinner stuff and then headed up the hill, which felt about twice as steep as it did the other days. Boy was I tired!

For dinner, I put together a quick pasta that was the best pasta and sauce combo I’ve had since I got to the Balkans! I found these fresh Bosnian noodles and tossed them with a sauce that’s meant to be used as a dip that had much more complex flavours than any of the Italian jarred sauces I’ve tried.

Tomorrow was supposed to be my last day in Sarajevo, but a large work order came in, so I am staying till Saturday! This is a blessing because my next destination is expensive and will be difficult to get to, so I can travel there over a couple of days if I want to and then not feel like I have to take a private room with shared bathroom to save some money. I have to say that my last two weeks in the Balkans are growing murkier rather than clearer and that I’m no closer to knowing from where I’ll be flying to Madrid!

I think I’m done with tourism in Sarajevo because I have three solid days of work to do. I will venture out tomorrow to get groceries (and possibly a coffee if I go early enough), but the plan is to stay in all of Thursday with the hope of being able to finish early enough on Friday to hit a few museums. Somewhere in all of that, I will find time for another slice of Bosnian pie. I’d love to find the one with butternut squash!