From the Archives: Sofia

Here’s another overdue post!

Sofia, Bulgaria was my final trip of the summer.  I went there on the UNMIK bus, as usual.  That particular weekend was a three-day weekend, since Monday marked the start of Ramadan.

Below are photos from the day I walked around the city by myself, and from a English-language walking tour I took.  The tour was called the Free Sofia Tour, which I think sounds like some sort of political statement.  But actually it just means that the tour is free.  The tour is highly recommended on tourist websites, and I really enjoyed it.  So if you find yourself in Sofia, check it out!

 

 

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Paralia, Greece

I visited Paralia, Greece as the fourth of my five weekend trips this summer.  I traveled with my friend Emily, whom I met on my first weekend trip.  She and I were looking forward to a relaxing weekend at the beach.

Paralia is pretty much just a resort town.  The town is comprised nearly entirely of hotels, souvenir shops, and restaurants.  The beaches in front of the hotels are jam-packed.  So Emily and I walked a few km down the beach to a more secluded spot.

We rented chaise lounges—three Euros for the whole day!  Plus, that price included a cold drink delivered in an ice bucket.  It was a great deal :)

We arrived at the beach around 10, and spent the next six hours in a loop of: swim, sun, shade, read, sip cold drink.  It was delightful.  The weather was warm, the water was refreshing but not too cool, the sun was cozy, the shade was always available.  I am a convert to the beach bum vacation!

We spent both Saturday and Sunday in this fashion.  Saturday evening we went to a seafood restaurant.  I guess there is another industry in Paralia: fishing.

The dinner was nice, although the service was a little slow.

Overall, Paralia was the most expensive place I visited all summer.  The hotel was a full 55 Euros a night, which at the time seemed super-expensive.  But after I returned, when I was telling people about my trip, I realized that 55 Euros (roughly $75) is far less than you can get a decent hotel for in the U.S.  The cheapest decent hotel is $100 a night, if you can get a good deal.  If you can afford the airfare, traveling around the Balkans is delightful and affordable!

 

 

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back in the swing of things

Well, I (Eliza) have been back in the US for a whole month now, and I’m just back in the swing of things!  Law school and grad school classes started a few weeks ago, and everything needs to get started for my academic journal (the Buffalo Human Rights Law Review).

Today is Alan’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Alan!), and I’m going to cook some steaks for dinner.  I pretty much only cook steak once a year, on Alan’s birthday.  I guess I sometimes cook it on Valentine’s Day, too.  Can you see the pattern?

My goal is to get back into blogging regularly, although probably closer to once a week.  I will post photos that never made it to the blog this summer (trip to Greece!  and Sofia!), and other updates on our lives (we’re residing the house this fall!).

It’s good to be back :)

 

 

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Ohrid, Macedonia — Saturday and Sunday

Saturday I had breakfast at the hotel, and then inquired at the reception desk if there was a place I could rent a bicycle for the day.  The receptionist pointed me to the Duck Kaffe, about 500 meters down the road.  So I rented a bike!


Bikes lined up, waiting to be rented

The bike was 500 Macedonian Denars for the day, which is about $11.  I rode around the boardwalk for a while, and then back to the hotel to get my swimming gear.  The bike came with a lock, so I locked the bike outside the hotel.  After gathering my towel and changing into my swimsuit, I got my bike, and rode back into town to pick up some lunch.  Then I biked past the boardwalk, down and along the coastline to the beach area, where people were swimming.


Bike loaded with swimming gear, lunch

I set up my lunch on my towel, and got set up on the beach.

I ate my lunch and read some of my Kindle.  After I got warm, I decided to go in the water.  The rocks were mossy and slippery.  The mud was practically quicksand—upon stepping onto it, my leg slipped down as far as my knee.  I finally got in the deeper water, and swam around for a while.  It water was cool and refreshing.

The walk back to the beach was equally difficult.  It really hurt my feet.  I felt silly, since there were little children playing in the water with no difficulty.  Apparently walking barefoot on big, round, slippery rocks is a skill that I have not acquired.

I set up on my towel with my book to dry out.  I had sunscreen on, and laid out for a while.  After fifteen minutes laying on my front, my back was starting to feel hot.  I couldn’t reach all the spots with sunscreen, so I figured it was time to get out of the sun.  When I got up to gather my things, I saw my right foot—my big toe was all bloody.

It did hurt, but I figured that the pain was just from slipping around on the rocks.  I had to get back to the hotel one way or the other, so I decided to just ignore it for the time being.  I packed my stuff back into the bike basket, and pedaled back to the hotel.

In my room, I rinsed my foot carefully, and discovered a small gash.

It had bled a lot, but it wasn’t too bad.  I bandaged it up, and went back outside.

That evening I met my friends for dinner.  They had gone on a boat trip for the day.  Since they had been to Ohrid before, the boat trip to a small town on the other side of the lake with a monastery was new and cool.  And they said the trip was great—they really enjoyed it.

We ate dinner at another small restaurant.  The food was nice, and the company was pleasant.


Me at the restaurant

My foot was sore, so I went home after dinner and went to bed.

Ohrid at night

Sunday I had a lazy morning in bed, and then checked out of the hotel at 11.  I brought my Kindle to the boardwalk and set up a little place on the grass to read.

Around 3 I made my way back to the bus.  Ohrid was as lovely and enjoyable as everyone had said.

 

 

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Ohrid, Macedonia — Friday

The weekend of July 9-10 I went on the UN trip to Ohrid, Macedonia.  Ohrid is the name of a lake, and also a town on that  lake.  Lake Ohrid is one of a few lakes in the Balkans, and is the deepest of the Balkan lakes.  Ohrid is spelled Охрид in Macedonian, and the “x” doesn’t have a good English equivalent.  It’s kind of a guttural “huh”.  If you say “oh-rid”, people won’t really know what you mean.

In my short time in Kosovo, many people have told me about visiting Ohrid.  It is universally praised as being beautiful, and a great place for vacation.  Often times when something is that built up, the reputation is better than reality.  But Ohrid delivered!

The trip down was about four hours.  The first half was nice and smooth, the second half was winding as we made our way through the mountains, and down to the lake.  I prepared myself with Dramamine, soda, an audio-book, and my head resting on the seatback.  It wasn’t the smoothest ride, but I didn’t get violently ill.  Phew.

We arrived around 8:30, and the sun was just setting.  The sky was a gorgeous purple, the air was cool, the water was enchanting, the town was charming.  It was great.  I checked into my hotel (lakeview room!), and the had dinner with some ladies I met on the UN bus.  They had been to Ohrid many times before, and were just as effusive with their praise as everyone else I’d met.


View from my hotel room

On our way to dinner, one of my companions stopped in a shop that sold wood carvings.  The local churches are all decorated with ornately carved wood.  She purchased a small plaque that she was really happy with.


Woodcarvings


Woodcarving tools


Carving in process

We had dinner at a little outdoor restaurant.  I ordered a pasta al forno, which was supposed to come in a lovely cheese sauce.  I was hoping for something rich and vaguely Italian.  Instead, the cheese in question was a pungent goat cheese.  It was all right, just not what I had hoped for.

I then went back to my hotel to rest up for Saturday explorations!

 

 

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Sandanski, Bulgaria. Sunday: marginal redemption

Sunday morning I made sure to get to breakfast before it turned into lunch (which was had happened on Saturday).  My stomach was still off, so I didn’t eat much.  But at least it was free this time!

I packed my stuff up, since check-out was at noon and my massage was at 11. I decided to check out the town around the hotel a little, since I hadn’t been outside since Friday.  There was a nice pedestrian area with shops and cafes, so I set off on a walk.  The town was much more lively on a Sunday morning than Belgrade was, which I thought was interesting.


Hotel (Interhotel Sandanski)


Town of Sandanski


Pedestrian mall

While I was out I walked by a few shoe stores, and one was selling flip-flops!  I bought some for 8 Lev (about 4 Euros).  I also bought a coke for the trip back to Prishtina.  I made sure to get back to the hotel in time for my massage.

I arrived at the spa desk at 10:55, and a girl lead me into the spa area.  We walked into a hallway, and there was a man standing in the hallway, wearing only a towel around his waist.  I thought he was another patron, waiting for his massage.  Nope.  He was my masseuse.  Oh.


Massage table

He led me into a small room with a waist-high mosaic table.  It was warmed, and had a few drains in the center of the table.  He told me to undress.  I asked if I could have a towel or something (his English was minimal, my Bulgarian is non-existent), and he handed me one.  Then he left for a few minutes.  I undressed, laid down on the table, and draped the towel over myself.  The table was nice and warm.

Soon the masseuse came back, and said something in Bulgarian.  I understood that I was laying the wrong way.  I went to flip from my stomach to my back, but he said something else, and I figured that I was in the wrong direction.  So I awkwardly switched my head and feet to the other sides of the table, still on my stomach.  Then he took my towel off completely.  I was naked.  He was wearing a towel.  It was awkward.

He used a small shower head to spray my legs and back, and then put a smaller towel covering my torso.  The first part of the massage was exfoliation.  At first I thought he was using a soap scrub, but there was no scratchy residue.  He was using exfoliating mitts.  He scrubbed my legs, my back, and my arms, and then told me to flip over.  Then he scrubbed the front of my legs, my torso, and my arms.  It was a combination of a massage and a body scrub, and it did feel really nice.  That took about fifteen minutes.

Then he ran some water into a basin, and swished a bar of soap around for quite a while until it became all sudsy.  Starting at my legs again, he used a small bowl to pour the soap water on me, and then massaged again, this time with no scrub mitts.  The washing massage was a little longer, although it was the same process as scrub massage.  And I realized why the masseuse was only wearing a towel: it was a really wet massage!  All that water and spray—he would have gotten soaked.  Still, I think I would have preferred for him to wear swim trunks or something.


Basin with soapy water

After the massage he left, and I took a shower in the back of the room to rinse off all the suds.  Then I dressed, and headed back out.  I ran into the masseuse in the hallway, and he was fully dressed, wearing white scrubs.  Less awkward.

Now that I had flip-flops I decided to go swimming.  The water was warm, and I just really like floating around.  I swam for a half hour or so outside, and then laid on a chaise lounge and dried off.  The sun started to feel hot on my skin, and I left so I wouldn’t get sunburned.


Requisite flip-flops (and awesome forced perspective—how huge does my knee look?!)

I was then able to get my check-out delayed until 3:30, which was really nice.  Even though I was packed up, I went upstairs and took a nap.  Then I wandered downstairs, payed my bill, and headed towards the bus home.  Waiting to board the bus I finally met some fellow travelers.  I was so sick on Friday that I hadn’t really talked to anyone.

Fortunately the ride home was better.  I took a dose of dramamine in the morning on Sunday, and one right before the trip.  I had a soda to sip on.  I rested my head on the seat, which minimized how much my head bobbed around.  Also we didn’t get lost, so the trip was a manageable 5 hours.

Well, so much for a relaxing spa weekend…

 

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Sandanski, Bulgaria. Saturday: miscommunications and confusion

I woke up around 11, and was still feeling nauseous and woozy.  I decided to catch the tail end of the complementary breakfast.  It was more of a brunch, and I ate some mashed potatoes and a piece of bread so as to not trouble my tummy.  The waiter didn’t speak English, and pantomimed that the meal cost 18 Bulgarian Lev, which is about 9 Euro.  He asked for my room number, and charged the meal to my room.  I paid 9 Euro for mashed potatoes and bread?  Ugh, again.

I then wandered around the first floor of the hotel a little to try to find the spa and swimming pool.  There were no signs, and I didn’t find anything.  So I went back upstairs and relaxed, since I was still feeling off.

I looked in my room for a map of the hotel, or a list of spa services.  But I couldn’t find anything.  The only thing was a list of phone numbers for the front desk, hairdresser, manicurist, and medical consultant at the baleonology center (pool).  I called the manicurist and scheduled a pedicure.  It was around 2:20 when I called, and she said to come at 3:30.  I asked what floor they were on, and she said the first floor.  So I read a book for an hour, and then gathered my things and headed downstairs.

But here’s the thing: in Kosovo the first floor is what I call the second floor, because they call the first floor the ground floor.  It was the same in China.  So I didn’t know whether I should go to the first floor or the second floor.  I went to the first floor and wandered down some long hallway that looked promising.  I could smell the chemicals of the hairdresser, and saw this window:


It’s a good thing I read Cyrillic.   

м = “M”                          п = “P”
а = “A”                         
е = “ye”
н = “N”                          д = “D”
и = “I”                           и = “I”
к = “C”                          к = “C”
ю = “U”                         ю = “U”
р = “R”                          р = “R”

I sort of wandered into the waiting area there, and in a minute or so a lady came up to me.  I said “Hello” right away (it’s my subtle way of letting them know I don’t speak Bulgarian), and then said that I had a pedicure at 3:30 and pointed to my watch.  She said, “no, 4:30.”  I’m sure that the lady on the phone said 3:30, but I was okay with waiting for another hour.  I read my book for a few minutes, and then the lady came back.  She said 4:30 again, and pointed to a clock on the wall.  It was 4:30.  There was a time change I didn’t know about.  That one’s my fault, but it was still annoying.

So I got a nice pedicure.  I asked if I could charge it to my room, because I hadn’t been to an ATM yet and didn’t have any Lev.  She said no, that the manicurist isn’t part of the hotel.  So I paid in Euros, which she thankfully accepted.

I decided to continue down this hall, in hopes of finding the spa and pool.  And I did!  There was a desk with a few teenagers sitting behind it.  I asked if I could schedule a massage.  They put me down for 11:00 on Sunday, and asked what kind of massage I wanted.  I looked at the list, a little overwhelmed by the choices (and the prices!), and just pointed to the first option: “full body massage with foam and peel,” whatever that means.  The girl at the desk said, “that massage is with man.”  I said OK, gave her my name and room number, and then continued past the desk in search of the pool.  It smelled like chlorine, so I knew I was on the right path.

I found the pool, but for the first time, there was a sign.  The sign said that you must wear flip-flops in the pool area: no bare feet, no shoes.  I didn’t bring flip-flops to Sandanski.  I didn’t bring flip-flops to Kosovo!  I looked around to see if they had some I could borrow, or if they sold them for a few Euros.  Nope.  Nothing.  I couldn’t even go swimming.

Tired, and still feeling sick, I went upstairs to my room and read a book for a while.  I fell asleep early, and slept through.

 

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Sandanski, Bulgaria. Friday: getting there

So two weekends ago (July 1-3), I went to Sandanski, Bulgaria.  My co-worker said that it’s a rather well know spa town in the Balkans, and that I should definitely go.  I’ve never really gone to a spa before (I had a few massages in China, and there was a shop where I would get facials from time to time, but it wasn’t really spa-like), and it sounded kind of cool.  So I signed up for the trip!

The day before I left I found the phone number for the hotel and called to see if I needed to schedule any spa treatments ahead of time.  When Alan and I were in Gersfeld, we wandered up to a big hotel to inquire about massages, but you needed to call ahead and they were all booked up.  I didn’t want the same thing to happen in Sandanski.  When I called, after a little language difficulty, the clerk informed me that I could make all of the arrangements when I arrived.

I packed my bag, and went to work (to DRR training, actually).  At 3:00 I changed out of my suit and into a dress and leggings.  Then I called a taxi.  The UN trips leave from the UNMIK complex, which is outside of the city.  The traffic was horrible.  It took 45 minutes to go 3.2 km.  I really could have walked in that amount of time.

Then I got on the bus, which retraced the path back towards Pristina: another frustratingly slow journey.  We were finally on our way!  The trip to Belgrade had been remarkably smooth for a bus journey.  I get car sick pretty easily, and was wary of the whole bus travel thing that seems to be standard for the Balkans.  But like I said, the first trip was no problem.

This trip was not so good.  The road to Sandanski is mountainous: bumpy and winding.  I felt sick almost immediately, especially after the 45 minutes taxi ride.  I listened to podcasts to try to keep my mind off of my belly, and looked out the window.  But it wasn’t enough.  Eventually (after five hours or so), I threw up in the bus bathroom (which is totally disgusting, I hope to never do that again).  I got a can of soda and sipped on it to try to settle my stomach (it didn’t work).  And the worst part of it is that the bus got lost.  So what should have been a five hour trip was a 7 and a half hour trip.  Ugh.

Getting totally car-sick was a really bad way to start the weekend.  We arrived at the hotel around midnight, and I just went to bed.  I decided to sleep in as much as possible, to see if I would feel better when I woke up.

 

 

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Upcoming Travels

I took a taxi out to UNMIK to pay for the bus for the next two weekends.  Next weekend I’m going to Sandanski, Bulgaria for a relaxing spa weekend.

The weekend after I’m headed to Ohrid, Macedonia for a relaxing weekend by the lake.

I love travels that involve relaxing :)

 

 

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Nikola Tesla Museum

While I could pack Saturday full of activities, Sunday was a travel day.  I slept in, ate breakfast at the hotel with my friends at 9:45, and had to be at the other hotel to catch the UN bus by 3:30.  I decided to check out the Nikola Tesla Museum with what remained of the day.

According to my guidebook, the museum was actually on the same block as my hotel!


What my guide book said (map from google.com)

So I walked around the block, past a bunch of embassies, and no museum.  I ended up back at the hotel.  I double checked the map, and walked again, more carefully this time.  Another loop, no museum.

It was Sunday morning, and there weren’t many people on the streets.  There were some men doing road work, and they had already seen me walk by twice.  I didn’t really want to wander through again.  I triple checked the map, and then decided to look at the entry for the museum.  It gave an address: 51 Kruska.  I had only gone as far as 10 Kruska.  So I needed to walk further down the street (and the map was wrong).  But I didn’t want to walk by the road workers again, so I weaved my way along different streets for a few blocks, and then walked waaaaaay down Kruska to number 51.


Actual location of museum (map from google.com)

I found it!

I paid 300 dinars for my ticket, and then waited in the lobby for the next tour to start.  As I was waiting, more people also came in and bought tickets.  Eventually the tour guide came over and asked people if they spoke English or Serbian.  We had a mixed group, so the tour would be given in both languages.


Sculpture


Suit


Power plant on Niagara Falls

The first part of the tour was a 20 minute video.  It was both informative and a little funny.  The production quality seemed like a middle school project (still pictures flashing quickly with stilted narration that didn’t always match the pictures), and the way things were phrased was a little odd.  I think the English narration was probably not written by a native English speaker.  It was also extremely complimentary of Tesla, in a way that made me a little uncomfortable.  I can’t quite put my finger on why, though!  I mean, it is a museum in his honor…

Anyway, after the video the tour started.  The tour guide talked us through many of Tesla’s inventions, and actually turned them on, which was cool.


Spinning egg (Egg of Columbus)


Tesla Coil wirelessly (the wire there is grounding only) illuminating the neon sign on the wall


Tesla Coil wirelessly illuminating the florescent lightbulbs


Tesla’s radio controlled boat (the tour guide said people were so incredulous when he demonstrated this invention that they preferred to believe that he was moving it with telekinesis)


Urn with Tesla’s ashes

The tour was a full hour, and at that point I needed to head back to the hotel to check out.

 

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