Exploring & Escapades

bits & pieces of my travels

Month: April, 2018

Cambridge Spring

Sunny, hot, summer-springtime, April in Cambridge. I had forgotten what it felt like to be warm, to walk freely sans rain coat or weighed down by boots and layers. 

So rare, and so wonderful. We had cocktails on the Varsity roof deck to celebrate. 

Skopje

Skopje, Macedonia, is known as Europe’s “capital of kitsch,” recognizable by it’s overwhelming and apparently random assortment of statues scattered across all streets in the city. There’s the giant “Man on a Horse” in the square (obviously, though not publicly for political reasons, Alexander the Great); there’s the small man with oversized shoes in the alley, a stone swimmer frozen in a forever dive in the river. I’ve read that there’s no conclusive number on how many statues there are or even any conclusive record of where they all are. It’s truly bizarre – bizarre, but also mesmerizing. As if, upon waking one day, you found yourself but a small character in a larger-than-life movie set or some alternate reality Disney World. It was quirky; it was fun. It’s all part of the very controversial “Skopje 2014” project, which saw the government spend hundreds of millions of dollars on urban embellishments in an effort to boost nationalism and tourism. That’s hundreds of millions of dollars of development dollars spent this way in one of the poorest countries in Europe. 

White tiles and white marble gleam in flashing lights, swanky cocktails and juices are served in the cafés nearby. The square is lined with partially constructed buildings; it’s as if we’ve arrived a bit early before the official opening of a theme park. The geographic epitome of “fake it until you make it.”

And the plan seems to work, at least, in the tourism aspect – I loved our day-to-day life in the small, eccentric town. I would love to go back. 

 

Mavrovo

Macedonia, getting here was an adventure in and of itself. Renting the car, crossing the border, having no cash, no phone, no knowledge of the language. And yet, we made it here. First to Skopje to settle and then out here to really explore the next day. 

Here, Mavrovo, a national park on the western border, about 1.5 hours away from Skopje. By all accounts we had read online, it seemed to be a populated place, a place with something to do. We arrived, though, to isolation. Seeming abandonment, though I’m sure it was just the season itself. Abandoned, that is, by all except a dog.

And that’s how we came to befriend Mac, the Macedonian stray dog, who so kindly accompanied us on our adventures for the day. She was covered with fleas (we made sure not to touch her directly), but oh so sweet and loyal. She climbed steep hills with us. She posed for photos. She waited patiently for us when we paused to take in the view. 

A true friend, who left us at her own accord at the end of our hike to venture off into the abandoned town, which made goodbye much easier. I’m not sure I could have left her otherwise. I am sure that I’ll never forget her. 

Rila Monastery

One hour and forty minutes outside of Sofia, Rila Monastery. A gem in the mountains. The pictures online are beautiful. I’m not sure what word to use to describe the reality, because it was more than that. 

Driving to Rila, first of all, transports you to another world completely. It’s not that the nature itself is so impressive, but rather, the sheer isolation of the space. Fields, mountains, forests, and then – suddenly – a wall appears, and there it is! On the side of the road, seemingly in the middle of nothing. Upon exiting the car, the sweetness of the mountain air overwhelms the senses. It’s completely silent, save for the natural sounds of the mountain – the birds, the stream. 

And then entering the gates – wow. It’s everything like the pictures and nothing like it at all. It engulfs. The color, the intricate detailing, the snow-capped backdrop, the church walls of solid gold.

I’ve truly never seen anything like it. 

 

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