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!

Skopje, Macedonia, to Barcelona, Spain

I had to put in a solid morning of work yesterday, so I was glad that Skopje didn’t hold enough interest for me to not be disappointed I couldn’t use the day to do some more exploring. I was flying out at 6:20PM and wanted to leave around 2PM. Work was done by 11AM and I spent a good hour packing and making sure the flat was tidy. I then went out to run a few errands and to see if the city had a different vibe on a week day.

Not really. 🙁 There were more people around, but the city still felt soulless. I wasn’t even tempted to get a coffee or lunch because of both prices and the lack of anything nice to lay my eyes on.

The Skopje 2014 project was supposed to give Macedonia’s capital a more appealing neoclassical look. The project has been pretty much universally panned and deemed a failure. Buildings, statues, and monuments were placed willy-nilly and there was so much financial waste. This is a city that has no sense of self and is the first place I’ve visited where a tour guide was so obviously embarrassed by the things he had to show us.

So yeah, Skopje was definitely one of my least favourite cities I’ve visited.

I forgot to mention something after I did my tour. After the 1963 earthquake, the bus depot ceiling collapsed and all the buses were destroyed. So London loaned a bunch of red double decker buses. Skopje eventually gave those back and ordered some left-hand drive models from China. This is one place where they could have put their own mark on something that didn’t belong to them, by having the buses painted a different colour…

This intersection had a rather interesting mix of buildings, especially with the fortress in the background.




Skopje’s surroundings are breath taking. It’s a bit like Sarajevo in that it’s surrounded by mountains, but Skope hasn’t expanded up the hills yet.


This is a car from a driving school. I’ve seen such cars all over the Balkans and wonder, based on how people drive, how many people actually go to driving school! 😀


I got back to the flat around 1PM and had a message from my host that he couldn’t preschedule a taxi for me, but would call for one at just shy of 2PM and he would send me the company name, car number, and negotiated price. What an awesome host! My flat was an especially good deal because he doesn’t require guests to pay the cleaning fee. But there is a house rule that trash must be taken out by the guest. So at 1:40PM, I dashed down the four flights to the street and then up the street to the nearest dumpster.

Dealing with trash in this manner is something that seems common in the Balkans. Instead of having garbage collection at home, you take your trash to a dumpster or communal garbage cans and it is picked up there. So if you’re renting a flat in, say, Belgrade, get in the habit of bringing down your trash when you go out for the day and putting it in a public garbage can or dumpster.

My taxi showed up at bang on 2PM. My driver spoke excellent English, having spent his formative years in Vancouver, BC! Wow! We had such a great talk where I was able to sum up my trip to the Balkans with some questions. First, we talked about Skopje and he whole-heartedly agreed with my assessment of it being soulless and not having its own identity. He said, and I quote, “If you’re depressed after two days of visiting here, imagine how people feel living here!” Eesh!

There are a lot of gambling cafés all over the Balkans, but there seemed to be even more in Skopje. My driver said said that’s what you get in poor countries run by criminals and boy did he wish his parents had chosen to stay in Canada. LOL

Traffic was bad getting to Alexander the Great Airport and it took almost a full hour to drive the 25KM!

The airport is pretty small, but very modern. I was flying Wizz Air again, so I knew that even though I’d checked in online to save the huge in-person check-in fee, I still had to go to the check-in desk for a pre-document check. Slight hiccup, there was no Wizz Air desk open. I was rather confused as my paperwork had said I should check in “at least” three hours before my flight (so at 3:20 and it was 3:00). An attendant for another airline must have seen my confusion and beckoned me over. She put in my flight info and said that the check-in desk would be open at 4:20 and that the “at least three hours before” was wrong as it’s now “two hours before.” Augh! I had really hoped to check in, get through passport control and security, then have a late lunch and hunker down with a book or something.

Well, lunch was still on the table as there was a café at the entrance. Prices were outrageous, but, really, not worse than anything I’d seen in Skopje. I ordered a pretty decent puff pastry thing with diced chicken and cheese on top and took my time eating since the café had power outlets and so I could use my phone without any discharging the battery. Skopje’s Alexander the Great Airport has good free wifi. It kicks you off after 30 minutes, but you can sign back in immediately.

The check-in counter opened at 4:20 on the dot and I managed to not be anywhere near the head of the queue. When I finally made it to the counter, the attendant weighed my bags. I was shocked that my suitcase weighed 14.5KG when it weighed 9.5KG at home and in London and I’ve got less stuff in it! I’d say their scale is WAY off! But the attendant still gave me approved stickers for both my bags and did not say anything about my purse, the bag I bought in Sarajevo, in which I’d put everything I wanted handy for security.

Next stop was passport control/exit interview. They won’t let you on the plane if they don’t think the destination country will let you in. So I was pretty confident when I cleared that that I wouldn’t have any trouble when I landed. I did have a brain fart and had no idea how long I’d been in Macedonia! I said, “Two or three days,” and the rather dour woman said flatly, “Close enough,” before giving me an exit stamp.

Security was super easy. I just had to throw my computer, iPad, and phone into one bin with my purse and liquids, then send my two bags through without getting a tray for them. Nothing was questioned, not even the jar of peanut butter I’m convinced would have been confiscated in the Canada and US.

I was glad I’d had lunch since the only food on the other side of security was a bakery with premade sandwiches that were even more absurdly priced or Burger King. I had about 10CAD worth of denars left and thought that would be enough to get me some food for the plane. Nope, because I had to buy a bottle of water because the sign in the bathroom said the water was not potable. So I hoped that the sandwiches on the plane would be cheaper than in the café.

By this point, it was already just past 5Pm, with boarding commencing around 5:50. I thought I would have so much time at the airport, but it flew by! I had paid for priority boarding so I could have both my bags in the cabin and it was hilarious to watch everyone line up in the regular ticket queue while I was by lonesome in the priority boarding queue when I knew full well that we’d have to wait to board and I really wouldn’t gain anything speed of boarding wise. Sure enough, our tickets were checked and then we were shoehorned into a waiting area until we could get on the plane.

By some miracle, I’d been assigned a window seat, which made up for the absolute lack of legroom and the really big (not obese, just tall and muscular) guy crammed into the seat next to me.

I started to choke up as we took off. I hadn’t planned to leave the Balkans so quickly and I felt like I wasn’t quite done with them. I will have to go back!

Thankfully, it was a short flight (2.5 hours). And even more thankfully, sandwiches were quite a bit cheaper than at the airport. I got one with ham, cheese, dijon, and onion chutney, which was very tasty and nourishing. I really don’t think it’s worth buying food at most airports that only have sandwiches and the like and then trying to juggle it with all your luggage when prices and quality on the plane are comparable. And I never know what’s going to get through security so bringing my own snacks is so hit or miss. Might as well just pay the 5-7CAD for a very decent airline sandwich.

Before I knew it, we began our descent into Barcelona! I could not believe how fast the flight went.

We landed at terminal two of Barcelona El Prat Airport. There was a huge lineup for passport control, but it moved very quickly. I was greeted by the customs officer with a “Hola,” to which I replied, “Hola.” He had a glance through my passport, stamped it, handed it back, and said, “Bienvenidos.” That was it! Wow! He didn’t ask how long I’m staying or anything. I wish I had asked him to confirm my exit date, but I believe it is the 12th of January. I’ll have to double check that.

Next, I wanted to take out some cash to make sure I could pay for my transport in case they didn’t take credit cards. I knew that I could get a cheap train or bus into town, but my flight had been so inexpensive (60CAD) and I was coming in so late that I’d decided I would take a taxi (50CAD) to the apartment since I had originally budgeted 200CAD to get to Spain. I would never have paid that if I’d arrived in the afternoon, but I knew my host was staying up late to wait for me and I just wanted to get there. Well…

Terminal two of Barcelona El Prat is by far the worst airport I have ever flown into. There was nothing after passport control. No ATMs, no information, and while the bathrooms were open, they had no lights! And there was no internet. I vaguely remembered reading something about taxis being a bit cheaper from terminal one and looked around for information on transport there, to finally find a sign for a free shuttle being thataway. I headed there and found some Scottish tourists trying to get information out of the driver, but failing since he didn’t speak English and they had no Spanish. I asked the driver if there was an information desk they could go to and he said they’d have to go to terminal one. Another woman who spoke, I believe, Catalan (more on that in a bit), was trying to figure out where to catch her flight. I have no idea how she got to terminal two, but I was able to coax out of the shuttle driver that she probably had to go to terminal one as well. So I “wasted” quite a bit of time translating for people at terminal two!

I finally got on the shuttle to terminal one and it was a surprisingly long drive. But I knew I’d save about 10CAD on my taxi ride so it would be worth it. Terminal one was busier. I was beyond done by this point, so I went to the information kiosk and asked for an ATM (cajero). I followed the directions and found a row of ATMs. I had to try two to get one that would give me money. That will be my last time for a bit paying the steep $5 withdrawal fee since the Deutsche Bank in Spain is a member of the Global ATM Alliance. It was just unfortunate there wasn’t one at the airport.

Armed with cash, I went out to look for a taxi and when I approached one I was rudely told I had to “go downstairs.” I was really regretting by this point not having gotten on a bus marked “Centro” at terminal two! I could have just done that and gotten a taxi from downtown. I went “downstairs” and followed the signs to the taxi stands. There, I was assigned a taxi. I showed the driver the address and gave my neighbourhood. He said that it would be about 30 Euro, the usual rate to go downtown, and would I be paying cash or card? We had a bit of a chat on the way in, the usual question of where are you from, where are you coming from, what are you doing here, etc. Oh, it was so good to be back in a country where I can communicate with people!


Barcelona is part of Catalonia, which is basically like the Quebec of Spain, a nation within a nation with its own language, Catalan. Spanish is not the language of business here and all the signage has to be prominently in Catalan first. So while just about everyone speaks Castellano (European Spanish) and I will have not trouble communicating orally with people, I can’t fluently read the signage! Catalan seems to be the love child of French and Spanish and so it’s fairly legible to me, but it’s still definitely a foreign language. So I’m still not quite somewhere that I can communicate easily. It’s still “better” than the Balkans, though!

My driver found my flat in the Poble Sec neighbourhood without any trouble. I had a really hard time finding affordable accommodation in Barcelona on my “vacation” budget of 50CAD per night — a private room in a hostel started around 80CAD! But by being flexible, I found a private room in someone’s flat on Airbnb at a price I was willing to pay (about 43CAD a night). Poble Sec is about a 20-minute walk from just about anything I’d want to see in Barcelona so I knew I’d found a bargain. I did the private room in someone’s residence when I was in London, but the setup was more like a boarding house. Here, I would essentially be a flatmate and I thought it might be awkward, but the reviews said the gal is easygoing and almost never home anyway.

The flat is at the top of the building, five flights up, and what a climb it was up a very narrow and dark staircase! It reminded me of the climb to the flat in the movie “Barefoot in the Park.” But I finally made it and was happy to find a neat little room with a comfy bed waiting for me as well as a very relaxed host who was in no hurry to get to bed. We gabbed for about an hour and she just about convinced me to go to Morocco after Spain… 😀 She put me at ease and made me feel a bit less weird about living with a total stranger for four days. When she excused herself to go to bed, I asked if she’d mind if I took a shower (trying to be mindful of the noise) and she said to absolutely go ahead.

By the time I’d showed and was wound down enough to go to sleep, it was almost 2AM. Holy smokes, what a long day!

But I had made it to Spain! One adventure might have come to an end, but a whole new one is starting. Story of my life these days. 😀

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.



This church is brand new.




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.


This is the old railway station and now a museum.


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!


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


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.


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!


I really love the “scales” on the domes.


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.


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.


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


She officially became a saint last month.


This is a copy of her Nobel Peace Prize certificate.


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.


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


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


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.


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


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.




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.



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.


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.



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


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


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



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


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


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





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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


There would have been a fountain in the central courtyard.


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.



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.



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


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.


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.








This is a football stadium.


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


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




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.


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.









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!


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


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.



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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


Here’s that “old” building in full.


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.

Skopje Fails To Make Much of an Impression

I wish that my deadlines this weekend would have allowed me to take the tour of Skopje rather than tomorrow because this city feels like a hard nut to crack.

I slept quite well last night thanks to the really comfy bed and woke up realising that I’m reaching travel burnout in that all I wanted to do was spend the day working in my jammies. I had zero desire to go out and explore. By about 1:30, I’d done the pressing work for today and forced myself to dress and head out.

My flat is located in a neighbourhood about 1KM from the centre of Skopje. The neighbourhood feels very liveable, being quite well kept and full of restaurants and shops. I decided to head to the centre to orientate myself ahead of tomorrow’s proper sightseeing.

This is the bakery where I stopped for lunch yesterday, Silbo.


Across from it is this structure, which is a bit of a landmark for me. You can see it is quite run down.


As a stationary and office supplies nut, a store devoted to Staedtler and 3M products made me drool!


Yet another church. I’ve seen so many churches and mosques since I got to the Balkans!


The city felt dead. There was very little open. I wanted a cheap fast food joint, like a pizza place, for a late lunch but I met one shut door after another. This is the first city I’ve been in that appears to shut down on the weekends. I hope tomorrow won’t be a wash… I finally found a hamburger joint that was open. The owner quickly switched to English and apologised for not having an English menu. He was delighted that I was able to handle the Macedonian menu without needing help. I asked for onion rings inside of fries and he upgraded me for free! I’m sad to report that was the highlight of my day. *wry grin* Lunch was very expensive, on par with what a fast food burger combo is in Canada, 8CAD, and I wish I’d noticed the prices before committing, even though my meal was very tasty. But it ended up being the only non sit down type restaurant I found in two whole hours of ambling, not counting bakeries, and I’m rather sick of puff pastry. So, really, it was that or my leftover pasta from last night and then I would have had to find dinner food…

There are some nice buildings in Skopje, but I have yet to see anything that I know is genuinely old.


I thought that the colours add a lot of panache and visual appeal to an otherwise ugly building.



The red double decker buses really made me laugh.


Some of Skopje’s MANY statues. I will explain about that after my walking tour tomorrow. If said tour doesn’t happen, I’ll cobble together something from my internet research. 🙂


*squints at label* This is Hristo Uzunov, a Bulgarian revolutionary.


Some of the nicer graffiti I’ve seen in my lifetime.


Or maybe the building was designed that way? A question to ask a guide.



Here’s Skopje’s famous Alexander the Great statue.


That’s all I saw of note today after two whole hours of walking. Skopje is really gritty to the point of looking and feeling absolutely filthy. I didn’t enjoy the bit of the downtown pedestrian zone I encountered and was not tempted to stop for a beer or coffee. I really hope that the tour happens tomorrow and that it will leave me wishing I had more time to give this city. As things stand right now, I don’t feel that I would have missed much by not coming. However, I do want to stress that everyone I’ve encountered has been welcoming and friendly and done their best to serve me as well as they could despite the language barrier.

I’m off to get some more work done so that I can focus on exploring tomorrow!

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…