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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Wrapping up my time in Kosovo

In three days I will be in Vienna, en route to Rochester.  It both feels like I’ve been in Kosovo forever, and like I just got here.

I have lots of pictures and stories to share about my travels (Paralia, Greece, and Sofia, Bulgaria).  But for some reason I haven’t had enough energy to both live my life AND blog about it in the last couple of weeks.

So I’m going to finish up my UNDP work, finish packing and cleaning, fly across the Atlantic, and then catch up on the blog.  Look for some new posts next week. :)



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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.


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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Care Package

On June 29, 2011 Alan spent a small fortune to mail a box to me.  They said it would arrive in seven to ten days. 28 days later, it arrived (today!).

Here’s what was inside:

1. My favorite lotion: Aveeno Baby Soothing Relief Moisture Cream.  It has all sorts of good stuff like oatmeal and milk in it, and it’s super healing.  I even put it on scrapes and scratches at night, and in the morning they’re almost healed.

2. Cough drops: good for sore throats.  Also my favorite candy.

3. A wall charger into which you can plug a USB cable: my Kindle and my iPod touch both charge via USB, and this will be super convenient for weekend trips.  I only have one weekend trip left, but I’ll still use the charger.

4. Body Glide: so helpful for walking 1.9 km to work in a straight skirt without tearing up the skin on the inside of my legs.  Sensitive skin + meaty thighs = crazy mess.  But Body Glide fixes all that.  I brought some with me, but the tube was almost gone.

5. Business cards from I also brought some of these with me, but am almost out.

6. A cover for my Kindle: now I can toss my Kindle in my purse without worrying about the screen getting scuffed.

I felt like a kid in college who gets a care package.  I smiled all the way home from work.  And it was great to get things that I really can’t find here.  Thanks, Alan!


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The second trip we took was to Gjakova, which is in the far west of Kosovo.  It’s funny to me to say that a town that took 90 minutes to reach by car is in the “far west.”  Kosovo is about the size of Delaware, and you can be out of the country very quickly.

This trip was much like the first.  We visited the Legal Aid Office, and went through case files for evaluation.

This time we didn’t have an interpreter, since everyone spoke Albanian and some English.  I worked with one of the Legal Aid Officers, who was not terribly confident with his English skills.  From time to time he would ask my UNDP colleague to help him with some legal terminology.  But I have quite a bit of experience communicating with people with very little shared language, so we ended up doing just fine.

Going through case files

One of the most interesting things I learned at the Gjakova office is that they try to do as much for clients as they can the same day that the client comes.  The Legal Aid Officer told me that many of the people live in the villages, and the 1 Euro that it costs for them to get into the city is a lot of money for them.  So rather than telling them to come back to get their paperwork, they will do it while the client waits.  I thought that was really cool.

While we were in Gjakova we had coffee at a bar named “Le Corbusier.”  Urban Planning people will appreciate that :)

Le Corb restaurant

Looking down on the city at lunch




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The first trip we took as part of the Legal Aid Office assessment was to the Gracanica office.
Gracanica is a small town about twenty minutes south of Pristina.  It’s a Serb enclave, and is home to a Serbian Orthodox monastery which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But we didn’t get to go to the monastery.  We went to the Legal Aid Office.  The office was clean, and the staff was friendly.  We brought along a Serbian-English interpreter, since one of the Legal Aid Officers was Serbian.

I worked with the interpreter and the Serbian employee, and we completed our task.  As it was our first trip, we were unsure of how long it would take to finish the surveys.  It ended up taking a little over an hour, which was much faster than we anticipated.

My group finished before the other group, and I chatted with the interpreter and the employee some.  We talked about private ownership of property versus social ownership, since so many of the case files we had used in our evaluation were property disputes.  The employee was wistful for social ownership, and socialism itself.  He said that “private ownership has no soul.”  I didn’t disagree.  I think it’s important to remember that an unregulated free market economy will really screw over those with the least power and influence.  Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court.* The Legal Aid Offices really do help those who cannot help themselves.  It was really cool to visit first hand.

We left the office in Pristina at 9:45, and were back by 12:30.  It was a good first trip.

*Proverbs 22:22



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