Recap of the Best Year of My Life

If I measure 2016 by the one yardstick that matters to me, how much I travelled, it was the best year of my life. That’s hard to reconcile with how horrible the year was to the world in general, but it’s my truth.

This was a rare year of my life where there was enough money to do what I wanted to do. I prioritised paying for the big stuff, like making sure I had a roof over my head, could get from point A to point B, and that I stayed healthy. I savoured the little stuff I could afford. I refused to be a glass half empty person and bemoan that I couldn’t do X, Y, or Z because of a tight budget and instead celebrated that I was wherever I was at that moment.

I covered so much ground this year that you might have forgotten where I started. So here’s my 2016 travel retrospective.

January started in Mazatlán, Mexico. It was the second year of my life starting there and the novelty hadn’t worn off! I spent many hours cantering on a beautiful tropical beach, a weekly ritual that made me feel like the richest and luckiest woman in the world.

The lagoon at the Isla de la Piedra botanical gardens.

The lagoon in Mazatlán’s Bosque de la Ciudad.

February brought me to Mérida, in the Mexican state of Yucatán, on a scouting mission in anticipation of possibly moving there!

I saw ancient Mayan ruins!

The Mayan ruins at Uxmal.

The Mayan ruins at Uxmal.

March had me discovering the wonderful botanical gardens right in my backyard on Isla de la Piedra.

The lake at the heart of Isla de la Piedra's botanical gardens.

The lake at the heart of Isla de la Piedra’s botanical gardens.

April found me seeing Monument Valley

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

…and exploring Arches National Park

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

…and the town of Moab, Utah.

May took me to Cody, Wyoming

downtown Cody, WY

downtown Cody, WY

…with plenty of time to explore the Center of the West

Sacagawea at Center of the West

Sacagawea at Center of the West

… and a Japanese internment camp

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center

… before going home to Haven…

Sunset at Haven, May, 2016

Sunset at Haven, May, 2016

… before getting on a plane and technically visiting my last Canadian province.


So June took me to London, England (really!)…

London from the St. Paul's Cathedral

London from St. Paul’s Cathedral


… and to Bulgaria!

Malak Izvor, Bulgaria

Malak Izvor, Bulgaria


July took me on two trips to Sofia, Bulgaria.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

August took me to Plovdiv

Plovdiv from Nebet Hill

Plovdiv from Nebet Hill

… and across Bulgaria in a Chevy to Nessebar

Old Nessebar, Bulgaria

Old Nessebar, Bulgaria

…to Soviet ruins



Veliko Tarnovo

Tsaravets Fortress, Veliko Tarnovo

Tsaravets Fortress, Veliko Tarnovo

…the scenic town of Teteven



Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

…the Etropole Waterfall

Etropole Waterfall

Etropole Waterfall

…and a the magnificent 15th century Glozhene Monastery.

inside the Glozhene Monastery

inside the Glozhene Monastery

September saw me quit Bulgaria for Serbia and finish the month in Belgrade.

Zemun, Belgrade, Serbia

Zemun, Belgrade, Serbia

October found me in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo, BiH

Sarajevo, BiH

Kotor, Montenegro

Old Kotor, Montenegro

Old Kotor, Montenegro

…blipping through Albania

an Albanian fortress

an Albanian fortress

…staying out too late in Prizen, Kosovo

Prizren, Kosovo

Prizren, Kosovo

…not being impressed by Skopje, Macedonia

Archaeological Museum, Skopje

Archaeological Museum, Skopje


…ambling through Barcelona, Spain

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona


… then through Alicante

Alicante, Spain

Alicante, Spain

… before settling in Almería for seven weeks.

The port of Almería

The port of Almería

November was spent in lovely Almería learning to live in the real Spain.

Pedestrian street in downtown Almería

Pedestrian street in downtown Almería

December saw me in Málaga for a few days…

Málaga from the top of the itinerant Ferris wheel.


…before jetting off to end the year and ring in 2017 in Amsterdam, Netherlands!

Quintessential Amsterdam scene


What a journey 2016 was, from getting more and more comfortable in Mexico to becoming a seasoned European traveler!

But the most amazing thing that happened? I was offered my key to Mexico. So my 2017 is well plotted. But before I return to the blistering tropical heat of the Yucatán, England, Quebec, and Haven beckon. So clichéd as the saying is, the best really is yet to come.

Happy New Year to all of you lovely readers!

Prizren, Kosovo, to Skopje, Macedonia

I went to bed early last night so I’d be up and at ’em this morning, but the bed at the hostel was so hard that I only slept fitfully. 🙁 That meant that, at least, I was able to get up without an alarm clock and was ready to head out at 7:45, with the bus being at 9:00. I hoped for breakfast again so I hung out for a bit to finish some online stuff, but there was no one in the lobby. I left around 8:10 and it was about a 15-minute walk to the bus station.

There was a dearth of signage there, but I finally found the main building where you can buy tickets and a guy who had enough English to understand my questions, but not enough to answer in it. He surprised me by using Serbo-Croatian rather than Albanian. I was able to understand that I had to go to platform six and buy the ticket from the driver, so thank goodness for that!

I bought a snack for the ride and then went to platform six. It was only about 8:30, but the bus was already there and the driver motioned for me to climb aboard. I was happy to have first pick of a seat and a bit of time to have my breakfast and just chill.

The ride out of Prizren was nothing to write about or show off, just a lot of construction and untended properties. We went through a few towns, but don’t ask me their names! This one had an interesting arch over its main bridge.



I love the contrast of the classic architecture of the mosque and all the power lines.


The landscape gradually became rural and more scenic.



The Balkans aren’t really that different from North America when it comes to roadside services…




Garbage is a problem in the Balkans, the way it is in Mexico.





Houses seemed to be neater the closer we got to the border with Macedonia.







The US showed strong support for Kosovo’s independence and is therefore well regarded. There is a Bill Clinton Boulevard in the capital, Prishtina.


This is Ferizaj where we, mercifully, got a pee break before the border!



Interesting boat-shaped building.



We still weren’t at the border and had almost 1.5 hours left to go!










What a beautiful scene, right?


Here’s a hint of the horror around the corner…


Here’s the horror. 🙁








While waiting for the Kosovan exit “interview,” I found a Kosovan entry stamp on the very last page of my passport! I was stupidly pleased, and even more so when I got the exit stamp as well.

The Macedonian portion of the exercise did not go smoothly as they opened up some luggage under the bus and apparently caught a smuggler! We were there for about 30 minutes more than planned. I have been surprisingly relaxed at these crossings and just played Scrabble on my iPad until we were cleared to go. I was happy to find a Macedonian stamp in my passport when I got it back. So I just missed the one for Albania.

Fun fact, it’s MaKedonia, not MaSSedonia. And hurray for being back in a country that uses Cyrillic! I never did learn the pronunciation for all (just some) of the Latin Serbo-Croatian characters, so it’s sometimes been hard to say things as I wasn’t sure how they were pronounced. It’s so funny that the Cyrillic feels less “alien” to me now than do Latin letters with accents I’m not familiar with!


We stopped for fuel after the border. The driver paid with Euro and this guy had to pull out a calculator.


Denari (currency), litres, 1L/denari.



This was my first sight in Skopje!



There is a massive fortress I hope I can explore.



Otherwise, downtown Skopje looks like Las Vegas without all the lights. So kitschy! I will explain why when I do my city tour post.





This is a government building.



We drove around in circles for a bit dropping off people before finally landing at the bus station 45 minutes late. I  found the bathroom before an ATM and asked the attendant if I could pay in Euro. She stared at me for a second, then fished into her pocket and pulled up a 20 cent coin to show me she’d accept that as payment. Thankfully, I had a matching coin handy!

I pulled 2000MKD (just shy of 50CAD) out of an ATM and will try to make that last. I should have tried to pull out about 80CAD worth to make sure I have enough for the taxi ride to the airport on Monday. We shall see. Skopje seems quite cheap and I’ll be working, so I might be able to stretch out the denars that I have.

I took a cab to my apartment (with the driver kindly calling my host to let him know I was running late), where my very gracious host was waiting. My place is lovely and has not only a proper desk and chair for work, but a washing machine! I’ve been at a critical point for laundry since I got to Kotor, but I haven’t had anywhere to dry anything and I did not look forward to washing my fleece or jeans by hand. So what a bonus!

My host took the time to explain the apartment for me, including showing me a few basic groceries he’d bought for me! There’s coffee, milk, cereal, fruit, and a few other things. Fresh milk for my coffee will be a treat! He also helped me orientate myself and told me that a nearby bakery was my best bet for a fast lunch. So once he left, I headed there.

The bakery was hopping. If it had been four months ago, it would have been too much for me. But the lineup was long enough for me to have time to read all the labels and pick out a roasted chicken and cheese sandwich on a croissant that seemed like the most hearty thing there. I pointed to what I wanted and said “chicken croissant,” as that’s what I could read quickly off the label. I added, “Not here,” in Bulgarian (Ne tuk) and the woman held up a bag to make sure she’d understood me that I wanted takeaway. So it does seem that Macedonian is similar to Bulgarian.

I then popped into a little grocery store to get a few things I was missing for breakfast and also a small quantity of laundry detergent. I found sachets good for two loads that looked promising and was happy to find Romanian on the back that confirmed I was holding detergent and not fabric softener. Spain is going to be so linguistically easy after this that my brain is going to turn to mush! 😀

I need to wrap my brain around the currency. I basically have to divide by forty, which shouldn’t be too difficult…

By the time I got in, I conceded that I needed a nap! I put on the laundry, crawled into the rather comfy bed, and was out like the proverbial light. I woke up after about an hour feeling a bit better and actually went to work. It was payday for one of my clients and I got a job in under the wire that was worth a whopping 40CAD for a mere hour of work (I don’t get these often!). So that meant a nice little paycheque came in a few minutes ago, making it a little less scary to look for accommodation in Barcelona. But not by much… I’ll be glad to stop the financial bleed for seven weeks but, really, the last three weeks or so of gallivanting have been incredibly affordable and I have managed to earn decent income to offset the expenditures. I crunched some numbers the other day and was happy with what I saw. I’ll share some of those numbers when I get to Spain.

The plan for the weekend is to work tomorrow and try to get all my projects done so that I can take a three-hour walking tour on Sunday. Worst case scenario, I don’t need to leave till noonish on Monday (flight is at four), so I can keep an early job for the morning. This is the reality of being a digital nomad — balancing work and tourism!

It’s now 8PM and, of course, I’m not sleepy (which is why I hate napping). I just made a rather good dinner on my single burner hot plate and am thinking of venturing out to the bar around the corner for a nightcap. Oh, wait. My clothes are still wet. Scratch that. 🙂 So I guess it’ll be a movie and a night in. I might even have a soak in the tub! It feels so nice to be in my own place for a few nights. I had fantastic stays at the hostels, but I’ll probably have to hostel it in Spain, so it’s good to get some solo time in between.

I don’t think I’m mentally ready for Skopje to be my last stop in the Balkans. What an amazing nearly four months it’s been out here…

A Stopover in Lovely Prizren, Kosovo

Kosovo is another area that was recently under major conflict and that has negative connotations overseas. It is also a disputed territory in that while it declared its independence in 2008 and is recognised as a nation by many, it is seen as still part of Serbia by Serbia, Russia, and others. I wanted to travel here to see what it’s like and how it differs from Serbia, but I did not want it to be another “conflict tour.”

I picked Prizren, a small and ancient town that is considered an underrated gem, because it is en route between Kotor and Skopje and also because a day here would be sufficient. So today was all about enjoying the sites and sounds of Prizren without delving into any bloody history. There aren’t any museums to speak of or many attractions besides many mosques and a fortress high above the city. So what a perfect place to spend a day after a very, very late night. 🙂

I was up by about 9:30 this morning, tired but thankfully not hung over. I went down to the lobby area hoping to get a map of town or at least some basic directions and pointers, but there was no one at the desk. I chose to wait a bit since there was a nice book about Prizren for me to leaf through.

One of the staff came in after a few minutes and asked if I wanted breakfast. Yes, breakfast was included. OMG! He brought me a coffee, a basket of lightly toasted bread, and a plate with a lutenitsa-type spicy red pepper spread, a small dish of sour cream, a wedge of cheese, a few slices of sausage, and a dish of a hazelnut-chocolate spread (not like Nutella, the two flavours are separate). It might not sound like much, but it was quite the spread! I loved the pepper spread mixed with the sour cream.

When I was done, he had me settle up my bill (13 euro per night!) and then pulled out a map with all the highlights on it. I decided to start by going up to the fortress so I could walk off some of my breakfast.

Prizen’s touristy core is small and is divided by a river. You can see the fortress in the background at the top of the shorter mountain.



Like Sarajevo, this is a city of mosques.




This is where we had dinner last night. The TripAdvisor reviews are pretty negative, but I had a great time and good meal. I think it’s because I ate what the local people eat.




I found the road up to the fortress and was amused that someone had graffitied some directional signage.






It was a very steep climb! This man didn’t seem to break a sweat, just taking tiny steps until he got there.











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This was the first really sunny day I’ve had since my first morning in Sarajevo and I was so happy to pull out my sunglasses!
























It was so much fun to poke around the old ruins! There were workers on site doing restoration, so I suspect that there will be a lot more to this place in a few years.







It was a very steep walk back down!



Someone had a fire recently.


This is the ubiquitous skip you see all over the Balkans, but this was the first time I’ve seen one painted!




This is what I mean about Albanian obviously having some Romance language roots. In Mexico, this sign would read Restaurante Familiar Verona…




This is what Google Translate has to say about this: “I am here for you are free struggled and sacrificed to live among you at the forefront of the freedom of the motherland!”


I stopped for a coffee by the river at a place with no English speakers or menu for me to point to. Do I know how to pick ’em or what? I guessed, correctly, that coffee would be “kah-fay” in Albanian and the server said, “Espresso?” Yay for Italian, the universal language of coffee. 🙂



I then walked across the river and found a little temporary artisan market. Lots of pretty things! Thank goodness I’m committed to traveling light.




I continued walking and met Mr. Zanzi, a shoeshiner who wanted me to tell you about him! He spoke very good English and knows many other languages, including Spanish! He told me to put a foot up onto his shoeshine stand. I was wearing my Keens and so curious as to what he wanted to do with them. Well…


Over the course of about 15 minutes, he talked my ear off about the people he’s met over the years (including a Mountie who came to have his shoes shined daily!), and how he lost everything in the war and now has to shine shoes to support his diabetic wife. While he was telling me all this, he was brushing my shoes and applying what I’m assuming is polish to the rubber part before spraying a sealant over everything.

I could not believe what he did to my sandals! Look at how new they look!


I’ve covered a lot of miles in these and so the rubber was dulled and the fabric was dingy. I am absurdly pleased with Mr. Zanzi’s ministration to my Keens. The price was what I was willing to pay. I had 3 Euro in change and I know that was a lot based on how grateful he was and what 3 Euro can buy here, but that’s what his work was worth to me and I was happy to pass on some of the generosity I have received.

I then wandered into the non-touristy part of town and was fascinated by the mix of new and old construction and the narrow streets. Like Sarajevo, the size of Prizren makes it very walkable, but there are few sidewalks.




The license plates here have RKS on them, further separating Kosovo from Serbia, which has SRB on the plate.





My host keeps referring to this one as the Stone Bridge.


Turns out that is its name, not just a description.



This church is a UNESCO protected site and appears to be undergoing renovations.







This is a clocktower.



The amount of overheard wiring in the Balkans astounds me.






Look at the odd little bubbles on the domes.




I made my way back to the area of the Stone Bridge to find a light lunch, ideally a burger.





This is the bar where we went out last night. And I didn’t notice when I took this picture that the guy in the background, right at the window, is one of the guys I met there!


I don’t think I’ve ever caught two minarets in one shot before.


I found a burger joint! It wasn’t a fantastic burger like I had in Belgrade, but it hit the spot. I liked that it had sweet bread and butter pickles in it, a flavour I’ve missed! The cost was only 1.80 Euro (2.75CAD).

This is a traditional house style:



I went back to the hostel for the rest of the afternoon to rest, work on the blog post for yesterday, and find my accommodation in Skopje. Around 5:00, I went downstairs to get a recommendation for dinner and then headed out again.





This is the hammam (Turkish baths), but they are not functioning.










I loved this display of rubber stamps in a shop literally attached to the hammam.



My host recommended the Fish House restaurant, especially the trout, which sounded good. I love trout, but rarely have occasion to have it.


They only had a half litre of wine, not just a glass. It was very good!

imgp7314 imgp7315

I ordered the Greek salad because I knew that the trout would be just trout. I wish they had crumbled the cheese over it, but otherwise, yum! I am going to miss the produce out here so much.


And here’s dinner. I bet Croft and Contessa are drooling. 🙂 It was so good! I haven’t yet mastered how to eat a whole fish, though, and how to deal with the bones so I must have looked like a savage. I had a bite of the potatoes, but they were cold and not to my liking (I’m really starting to give up on potatoes in my advancing age) and instead had some of that bread. I actually ate some of the fish skin, something I’ve never done before!


As I was finishing up, I heard, “Hello, my friend from Canada!” I looked up and it was Mr. Zanzi waving at me as he walked by!

Now the bill. Y’all might want to sit down for this one.


Yeah. That’s just under 11CAD!!!

I was initially put off by the price of accommodation in Prizren (there wasn’t a single hotel that was less than what I’d pay in Canada, hence why I went with the hostel) and almost didn’t come because I thought everything would be expensive. Nope!

I have to be out the door early tomorrow for a 9:00 AM bus, so I decided to call it a night, pausing to listen to the adhan from this minaret and to watch the sunset.


Kotor, Montenegro to Prizren, Kosovo (by way of Albania)

It was a late start yesterday since I didn’t have to take the bus till noon. My host brought me coffee and treats for a final breakfast on the deck and I had a note prepared thanking her for her hospitality that I think said what I hoped it said… I had her call me a taxi around 11:15 and was correct in thinking that she’d get one not driven by a scammer. I actually gave her a hug before getting into the car!

There was a cruise ship right in town. I could not believe how huge this thing was and that it was practically parked on main street! Not a single one of these was taken with a zoom!






I didn’t know how to pronounced Ulcinj, so I had it written down. The ticket seller look at my paper, then up at me and said slowly and kindly, “Ool-seen.” So there you have it! The bus showed up a bit late, enough that those waiting for it were starting to look concerned enough for the guy manning the gate onto the platform to call the driver to make sure he was incoming. I think we ended up leaving five minutes late, at most.

There is so much traffic coming into Kotor, not very practical for busses trying to leave town! Here we are stuck trying to make the left-hand turn.


I was sent off with a giant bag of mandarins and I promptly tucked into it. This was the best one yet. Some have been super tart.


It was lovely to do the return drive to Budva in daylight!












I kept seeing this graffiti in several towns and it made me laugh every time. It says “PFK,” which is KFC (the chicken place) in Quebec. I have no idea what the letters mean in Montenegro, though. All I could find was the Maritime Faculty in Kotor or a Russian sports team.


We arrived in Ulcinj around 3:00. At this point, I had no confirmation that there really was a 4:00 o’clock bus to Prizren, but there was. Woohoo! But I was disappointed that there was nowhere nearby to grab a quick lunch and that the convenience store was useless, having only junk food, nothing with which to put together a picnic. I didn’t fare any better at the grocery store next door as there was nothing in individual-sized portions.


As I sat down to have a small snack in lieu of lunch, a stray cat jumped into my lap, burrowed in, and started purring. I was shocked… but not as much as when a second cat did the same thing! Do I reek of cat pheromones or something?! I named them Watson (the one with white) and Holmes. 🙂


My layover went by really quickly and before I knew it, the bus to Prizren was boarding. I was a little disconcerted when I was asked for my passport by a kid without any sort of ID and it wasn’t returned to me by the time we pulled out. But everyone else had handed over their documents, so I figured it was okay.

We headed into the mountains again.



The road was twisty and narrow. We frequently had to pull over to let cars pass.


Before I knew it, we were at the Albanian border.


We were at the Albanian border for a long time. The kid who had taken my passport kept coming to ask people to follow him into the customs building and the people returned looking a little harried so it was a bit disconcerting. But we were finally cleared and got our documents back. It ended up being just one stop, so it probably wasn’t really as long as it felt. I was really disappointed that I did not get an Albanian stamp in my passport. 🙁

I hope to come back to Albanian properly one day. Because I’m heading to Spain a little early, I had to choose Tirana or Prizren and going to Kosovo felt more pressing.


I liked the coloured houses we passed in Albania. Here’s a bright yellow one.


Another land of mosques.


A Pepto-Bismol pink house.


Another mosque.


And another. I never get tired of these, the way I never get tired of beautiful churches.


There was a fortress on top of this mountain.






Yet another mosque.


Yet another pink house.




We eventually got onto a proper motorway and then what I noticed was the number of gas stations. It was just one after another after another. And then, it got too dark to see anything. 🙁

The boy passed out candy at one point and when I saw that they were coffee-flavoured, I accepted. Yum!


He also passed out Coca-Cola, but I refused that.

We finally reached the Kosovan border and a very surly officer came on board to get our passports, then promptly returned them. It was a super fast crossing! I didn’t get a stamp again, but this time it made more sense, because having a Kosovo stamp can cause problems with entering in countries that don’t recognise Kosovo’s independence, such as Serbia and Russia.

Prizren was right over the border, so my journey was almost done. But when we got to the bus station, I didn’t know if I was really there because there was no signage. As I looked around trying to figure out if I was at the bus station or just at a bus stop the gal in the seat across from me said we were in Prizren, so I got off.

I was immediately accosted by taxi drivers. I told them no because I had seen food coming into the bus station and I was really hungry, but once I realised how cold it was, I just wanted to get to my hostel to find more layers before going to search for food. So I finally got in a cab and did not get scammed! 🙂 It was only a 1KM ride, but it was late and dark, so there was no way I was walking.

The owner of the hostel, a fairly young guy, immediately came out to get my luggage and take it up to my room while he had another guy get me a beer. WOW. Welcome to Kosovo!

They let me drink most of my beer while we chatted and then invited me to join them for dinner. Oh, awesome! I assured them that I eat meat and off we went to a nearby restaurant that serves typical Kosovan food.

The official language of Kosovo is Albanian and I’d been warned about how different it is from the other Balkan languages and unlike any other language on Earth. Well, that’s complete horse hockey. Visually, I can see a lot of French, Italian, and even Spanish influence to the language. The menu at the restaurant made more sense to me than most Serbo-Croatian or Bulgarian menus ever did. But I had my host order for me as this was my first time going out for dinner with locals and I wanted to see how they do it.

First, a giant salad came. It had two kind of marinated cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, potatoes, and more. The guys (five of them) told me to help myself and that they would just eat off the plate together.

Then, French fries topped with shredded cheese came. I had a few of those.

Then, our mains came. Mine was a huge steak stuffed with ham and cheese and topped with a creamy sauce with a side of carrots and broccoli! Wow! I hadn’t had a nice piece of meat like that in ages and dang was it good! The meat was marinated so it was flavourful. There was a basket of flatbread as well for mopping up the sauce.

We were there for a long time, which explained to me why people in the Balkans eat their food tepid to cold — they linger over it so long. I would never have thought I could get through that steak, but I found my second wind. 🙂 I had a nice glass of white wine with dinner as well.

The guys then decided we were going to move on to a bar for more drinks. I wondered how the bill would be split and the guys told me I just had to pay 5 Euros for my steak and part of the tip and they were covering the rest. WOW!

We went to a nice little bar not too far away and I had a few beers and shooters. We gabbed, mostly about Canada and my travels, and it was a very nice time. But as we got close to 2:00, I knew I had to get in. I only have the one day in Prizren and didn’t want to spend all of it in bed!

Prizren is small and, like the rest of the Balkans, safe, so I had no issue with the thought of getting back to the hostel on my own without an escort. My host gave me the most foolproof directions back to the hostel, not the most direct, and made me repeat them to make sure I’d get back okay. Sure did! And, get this, the guys said they would cover my bar tab!!!

I got in, had a shower, and lost consciousness. 🙂

This is the artwork in my room. I get such a giggle out of it as this is from a show, La Linea, that I used to watch as a kid. It is really good and the link takes you to a compilation of segments.