A Detour to Greece

A secret walkway down to a rocky beach

A secret walkway down to a rocky beach

One of the benefits of serving in the Peace Corps is being able to explore places that you might otherwise never have had the opportunity to visit. Prior to moving to Macedonia, the extent of my international travels included a trip to Vancouver, BC and a short study abroad experience in Florence, Italy.  Due to Macedonia’s location, it is (relatively) easy to travel to neighboring countries over the weekend.  This still boggles my mind.  The ease with which my Washington, DC friends and I would plan weekend camping trips in the Shenandoah or Dolly Sods in WV is the same way that my fellow volunteers and I now plan trips to Albania or Kosovo. Actually, it is perhaps even easier as I am not driving my old car, which constantly threatened to deteriorate or spontaneously combust at the slightest provocation – such as steep hills or winding roads.

Last week, one of my friends and I took a bus from Skopje (the capital of Macedonia) to Thessaloniki, Greece.  From there, we caught another bus to the transfer bus station for Halkidiki, which contains the “three fingers”.  My impression is that the first finger, Kassandra, is known as the “party” finger; the middle finger (ahem), Sithonia, is the quieter one known for its natural beauty; the third finger, Athos, is home to a large monastic community in the southern portion, with some towns sprinkled to the north.  We decided to stay on Sithonia in Neos Marmaras, a quiet, family-friendly town located on the western portion of Sithonia.  It should be noted that we did not realize that we would be staying in an area primarily frequented by families on vacation – nothing against vacationing families, but we did appear as anomalies (twenty-something, single women literally floating in a sea of small children and their parents).  I was also struck by the fact that most of the tourists appeared to be from the Balkans – I thought that I heard a good amount of Macedonian and Serbian spoken.

The beautiful sea

The beautiful sea

We were interested in traveling to Mt. Athos to visit the oldest surviving monastic community in the world, one which is a self-governing republic.  After a bit of research, we quickly realized that this would be impossible.  Women are not permitted to visit the monasteries, and there are very strict rules and procedures governing the admittance of male visitors.  For those that are permitted to visit, it seems that they are granted a window into a world that is tied to traditions and an ascetic lifestyle that lie beyond the reach (and perhaps comprehension) of those of us who live in the modern world.

On the beach

On the beach

We enjoyed four days of lazy mornings, days spent on the beach and swimming in the sea (yes, the water is that crystal clear), and evenings spent strolling through town and partaking in delicious Greek food and wine.  We came across retsina wine – I will be honest and say that I did not like it the first time that I tried it. However, after learning from one of our waiters the unique ingredient that contributes to the wine’s flavor (retsina is a white wine made with pine resin), I found myself appreciating the wine more.

As we spent most of our time at the beach, unplugged from the rest of the world, we would not have known about the many momentous events occurring around the world had I not idly turned on the TV one day.  We learned that the U.S. Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage, and also learned of the terrorist attack in Tunisia – an attack that took place at a beach that looked very similar to the one that we were visiting.  It was a surreal combination of news, one an example of a tremendous step forward in recognizing the human right to formalize an expression of love – the other demonstrating a calculated and intentional extinguishment of innocent human life. It did not escape me that only geography separated us from those who were attacked in Tunisia, and it felt strange to be following a pattern that the victims of the attack had likely expected to follow – to relax on the beach, to go for an evening stroll, to enjoy a meal with friends or family.  My heart goes out to the victims,their families and friends.

On Saturday, the day that we left Greece, we saw long lines trailing outside of every ATM. Unintentionally, we happened to visit Greece immediately prior to the expiration of the bailout program that the country has been relying on.  Upon doing a bit of research, I realized that many Greeks were attempting to withdraw as much funds as possible prior to limits being placed upon the amount of withdrawals (as of Sunday, ATM withdrawals were limited to 60 euro a day).  The prime minister of Greece is currently in tense discussions with the European Central Bank, and Macedonia has asked its banks to pull money out of Greece.

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A Day Trip

As I sit at my desk, trying to manage the latest of many bumps in the road as I attempt to bring the youth drama that I have been working on for the past five months to the stage (I keep repeating the old adage “nothing worth doing is easy” to myself), my mind wandered back to a day trip that I took this past weekend.  A family that I am friends with invited me and another volunteer to take a road trip with them to Sveti Naum in Macedonia and two cities in Albania.  I am sharing a few photos from our adventures below:

Sveti Naum

A view inside the courtyard of the monastery at Sveti Naum.

A Sveti Naum selfie!

A Sveti Naum selfie!

A view of the monastery roof and sky.

A view of the monastery roof and sky.

Crystal clear lake water - I can't wait until it is warm enough to go swimming!

Crystal clear lake water – I can’t wait until it is warm enough to go swimming!

This little cafe is perched right on the lake (Albanian side).  What a view!

This little cafe is perched right on the lake in Pogradec (Albanian side). What a view!

This house is where the Albanian film

This house is where the Albanian film “Zonja nga Qyteti” (the woman from the city) was filmed. There is a statue of the protagonist of the film located in front of the house (not pictured). It was mobbed by school children on a school trip!

Tushemisht is a quaint village outside of Pogradec in Albania.  The houses are colorful and gardens and intricate gates abound.

Tushemisht is a quaint village outside of Pogradec in Albania. The houses are colorful and gardens and intricate gates abound.

This is a view from the tower located in the center of the Albanian city of Korca.  You can see the Resurrection Cathedral at the end of the tree lined road.

This is a view from the tower located in the center of the Albanian city of Korca. You can see the Resurrection Cathedral at the end of the tree lined road.

This is Resurrection Cathedral (formerly Saint George Cathedral).  Saint George Cathedral was destroyed by communist authorities in the 1960s.  Resurrection Cathedral was built in the 1990s where St. Cathedral once stood.

This is Resurrection Cathedral (formerly Saint George Cathedral). Saint George Cathedral was destroyed by communist authorities in the 1960s. Resurrection Cathedral was built in the 1990s where St. George Cathedral once stood.

This is a notable Albanian language school, located in Korca. It was founded in 1887 and designed to allow Albanians to be educated in their native language and to push back against the Greek and Ottoman influences in the region.

This is a notable Albanian language school, located in Korca. It was founded in 1887 and designed to allow Albanians to be educated in their native language and to push back against the Greek and Ottoman influences in the region.

An example of some beautiful architecture to be found in Korca.

An example of some of the beautiful architecture that can be found in Korca.

Среќен Бодник и Божиќ (Macedonian Orthodox Christmas Eve and Day)

Среќен Бодник! Среќен Божиќ! Христос се роди!  Orthodox Macedonians celebrate Christmas on January 7th, alongside other Orthodox Christians around the world. It is a very festive period, filled with family, food, tradition, and the spoiling of small children.

I returned to my Macedonian host family to celebrate бодник (Christmas Eve) and божиќ with them as most of my community is composed of Macedonian and Albanian Muslims, who do not celebrate божиќ.  I also realized that this is my last opportunity to celebrate божиќ with my host family, as my service will be over by November of this year – I’m not sure that I can wrap my mind around that fact!

Оn Christmas Eve, I hopped on a minibus for a three hour bus ride to the capital, Skopje, where I paused for a quick lunch, and then caught another bus from Skopje to Kumanovo.  I hoped to get off the bus on the highway near my host family’s village (and avoid going into Kumanovo, walking to the pazar and getting on a kombi to the village).  In my rough Macedonian, I was able to get the idea across and also attracted the attention of the entire bus – all of whom appeared curious about an American traveling to a small village on Christmas Eve.  The bus ride only proceeded to become more interesting when a rather inebriated passenger climbed aboard the bus (someone must have started celebrating early in the day).  My understanding of Macedonian, particularly intoxicated Macedonian is not that strong, but I gathered that he became convinced that I was from Germany and wanted to become Facebook friends.  I could hear a few quiet “леле’s” (kind of like a scolding “oh my god”) coming from other passengers. The bus driver proceeded to spray the air around him with air freshener (to get rid of the smell of alcohol, I suppose?).  Our new passenger also insisted upon giving me an apple and some walnuts.  I have become accustomed to receiving fruit and food from strangers, and refusal is not possible. He stumbled off the bus, and I was safely delivered to the side of the highway, where my host дедо (grandfather) waited for me.

I was happy to see Kiro, who carefully guided me across the freeway and the snow-covered fields of Romanovce.  We stopped for a moment to watch Millan, a host cousin, struggling to get his tractor out of the snow pile that it was stuck in while one of Millan’s friends gleefully snapped a few photos of the incident. A few minutes later we were home!  With three kisses cheek to cheek, I greeted my lovely host баба (grandmother), Ruja.  I settled in to catch up on the latest gossip, drink a little rakija (potent Macedonian liquor) and eat a bit of salad.  It was toasty warm with the шпорет (woodstove) running, and I felt right at home.

My host brother Andre came downstairs, having just woken up, and was busily playing video games on his new phone. Kiro ran in and out to take care of the cows and pigs.  It was very cold out, with plenty of snow and ice on the ground, and he and Ruja had to keep hot water prepared for the animals.  The village cats were crowding around the house’s windows, trying to stay warm.

Ruja had prepared a feast for бодник –  fish, salads, bread, pasta, beans, pita, peppers of all varieties, fruit, baklava, wine, soda…yum.  Christmas Eve marks the last day of a 40 day fast, during which no meat other than fish is eaten.  In one of the loves of bread was a coin, the recipient of which was granted good luck in the year ahead.  Ruja and Kiro’s son Zoran arrived home from work along with his wife Irina, which meant that it was time for the Christmas feast to begin!

Ruja set aside three loaves of bread first, one for god, one for the house, and one for the family, then the basket was passed to everyone. Andre was convinced that he knew which loaf contained the coin, suspiciously (in my eyes), he selected the correct loaf…hmm.  At first I misunderstood and thought that we had to stay awake all night, sitting at the table. It turned out that we merely were not supposed to leave the table while eating, and we left the food and dishes out all night (for the dead).  We watched the news and some Christmas specials after.  I learned that early in the morning on Christmas Eve, children go door-to-door singing.  They are welcomed and given fruit – apples, oranges, and nuts – chestnuts, walnuts, etc.  Suddenly the gift I received from my inebriated friend on the bus made a bit of sense, though I am certainly past the age of being considered within the realm of childhood.

Irina and Zoran were meeting with Zoran’s sister and her husband to go into Kumanovo to see the bonfire there and to sample some of the hot rakija that was being given away.  They invited me along and we all bundled into the car and made our way very carefully on the icy roads leading outside of the village.  There are usually bonfires on the day before Christmas Eve and the day of Christmas Eve.  Sadly we arrived at the end of the event, after a few moments of indecision, we decided to go to a cafe and ordered tea and desserts instead.  All-in-all, I preferred this ending to the evening, as it was freezing outside, even if there had been a bonfire and hot rakija.

Christmas morning came, and with it, plenty of na gosti’s (visitors).  First came the next door neighbor, Venka, with meat, sirenje (cheese) and desserts.  She sat down for a bit of breakfast with us, and she and Ruja traded desserts – a great way to increase the breadth of your dessert options. Next arrived Ruja’s daughter Elena, with her husband and one of their sons.  Next came Ruja’s other daughter, Biljana, with her husband and their daughter and son.  The children were presented with money from Ruja and Kiro, as well as bags of candies and treats from their aunts and uncles.  Lest you think me a scrooge, I too had brought gifts!  The rest of the day was spent socializing, eating, and drinking some of Kiro’s homemade wine.  Kiro and Ruja seemed a bit perturbed to see how quickly the wine was disappearing.  I would see Kiro dash outside every 30 minutes or so to fill another bottle for the table. Poor Kiro was exhausted after having woken up early in the morning to milk the cows and having helped Ruja get ready for божиќ, and disappeared for a period of time to sneak in a nap. Gradually the night wound down, and Elena and Biljana and their families made their way home.

The next morning brought an end to my visit.  Ruja, ever concerned that I am eating enough, packed a jar of ајвар for me, along with a bag of fruit and кифле (homemade pastries).  Zoran, Kiro, Ruja and I packed into his car.  We left Ruja at the graveyard to pay her respects to her brother and mother (as the day after Christmas is a day to visit the graves of family members who have passed), and Zoran dropped off Kiro and I in Skopje on his way to work.  Kiro walked me to the bus station, and made sure I was all set for my trip, before leaving me to go to the bank in the center of town.  How lucky I am to be included in the lives of such a lovely family.

божиќ feast!

божиќ feast!

Trendevski Family

Trendevski Family

Trying to keep up with the bigger napkin folders

Trying to keep up with the bigger napkin folders

Elenora

Leo

Hiking the Tallest Mountain in Macedonia – Mt. Korab

The Peaks of Korab

The Peaks of Korab

Two other volunteers contacted me to go for a camping/hiking adventure at Mt. Korab, the tallest mountain in Macedonia, which also happens to be in my backyard (about thirty kilometers away).  I felt a bit of trepidation about the trip as it would be only three of us wondering into the wilderness, I was just getting over being sick, and the temperature was beginning to drop.  Trepidation, cold and wimpiness aside, I packed my backpack Friday night and awoke the next morning (mostly) ready to hike the 2700 meters to the summit of Korab.  Though the mountain is not far from my town, logistics for getting ourselves to it were a bit complicated.  There are no direct kombis (buses) to the trail head, or even to get to the road leading to the trail-head.
We met in Mavrovo, where one of the free roaming, pony-sized mountain dogs befriended us.  I think he was mostly liked us due to the fresh bread I was carrying for our PB&J sandwiches.  Unfortunately, we had to leave him behind in order to catch a ride to the road leading to Mavrovo.  After about two hours of transportation mishaps, which resulted in us traveling back and forth across the same thirty kilolmeter area a few times, we finally ended up at the correct, unlabled road – thanks to the help of some fellow kombi passengers.
We were now at the right place, but how far did we have to hike to the trail-head?  I had read online that it was 19 kilometers from the base of the road to Pobeda police/border station, where the trail-head could be found.  I sincerely hoped that it was not that far.  Comforted by the fact that we were actually at the right place, we began the trek.  It was quite beautiful to walk alongside the river, Radika, and we had the road to ourselves.  At one point we went up the wrong hill, only to be informed by a baba (Macedonian grandmother) sitting on her front porch that we had gone the wrong way and had to go back down the hill and take the other road.  Once we were on the right road, we encountered another baba in the yard with her chickens.  She was dressed in the traditional dress, with a handkerchief wrapped around her head, knit leggings, and a knit dress with fringe at the bottom.  She waved to us, saying “Aјде да пиеме кафе!”, which was an invitation for conversation and  turkish coffee.  We eagerly accepted – it was cold out and some fresh, hot turkish coffee sounded very appealing.
She motioned us into a small stand-alone room with two beds, a cupboard and a stove.  One bed was occupied by drying beans, so we sat in the other.  She was shocked that we were hiking – three females with no men.  Upon discovering that the volunteers I was with spoke more Albanian than Macedonian, she switched from speaking Macedonian to Albanian, asking “A keni ju vellai, kusheri, shoket?”  She was asking where our brothers, cousins and male friends, etc. were – three women hiking and camping, especially without any men, was a very foreign concept to her.  While we might have disagreed about the need for male protection, we enjoyed our conversation and learning more about our hostess, Sveta.  She invited us to stay, shaking her head at our refusal.  We hit the road again, huffing our way up the mountain for another three hours to reach Pobeda.
We think that we are going the right way!
We reached the police station, and the police,curious about three Americans, invited us in for tea and helped us to build a fire outside.  We placed our tent in the shelter that they had for their wood kindling, as it helped to block some of the strong wind blowing around us.  When Kelly (one of the other volunteers) could not get her camp stove to light due to the wind, they let us use their kitchen.  Upon seeing that we were eating packaged ramen, they set about making sure that we had a more nutritious meal.  One policeman, big and smiley, made us a shredded beet salad from the biggest beet that I had ever seen.  The smaller, skinny one offered us bread.  In a poor exchange, we gave them one of our ramen packets.  Two other policemen joined the others – they had been outside and had gathered a bunch of bright yellow mushrooms.  The policemen were all excited to cook them and insisted that we try some as well.  Against my better judgement and fear of mushroom poisoning, I did.  It was delicious!  The small, skinny policeman regaled us with stories of his service twenty years earlier – when there had not been any electricity, this meant no phones and no light in a very isolated place subject to cold, snowy winters.  He also warned us to be careful of bears in the area.  Just what you want to hear whilst camping and hiking!
We bid them goodnight, promising that we would find them if we had any problems.  We proceeded to squeeze into Kelly’s two person tent. Alarms were set for 5 am the next morning, and snugly squished together, we fell asleep.  When we woke the next morning, the sky was still dark.  We filtered water, made our PB&Js and waited for the sun to rise.  At 6 am, we hit the trail.  Out of shape, I wheezed along for the first hour, and eagerly sat down for our breakfast of granola bars an hour later.
 Breakfast Break
The road split, with one way appearing to peter out by an abandoned house, and the other continuing in the opposite direction.  We chose to head in the direction away from the house. After walking for about two hours, we noticed that the road seemed to be one of the most indirect hiking trails that we had ever taken.  It would dip down and then rise back up, challenging our mostly unused hiking muscles.
Kelly happened to notice a footprint in one of the muddy sections of the road, and called us over.  It appeared to be a bear footprint.  The sight set us on edge, but as the print was pointing in the direction from which we had come, it seemed that the bear must have heard us and run back into the forest below.  We continued walking, passing a pile of fresh bear scat on the way.  Britt bravely temperature tested the scat, and told us that it had residual warmth.  Not the words that you want to hear about predator scat.  After a quick powow, we decided to continue on – as the bear had been going in the opposite direction – and reassess if we passed any additional signs of bears.  The next hour passed without incident.
The views along our walk were gorgeous, and the landscape was like nothing I had seen before.  Above the treeline, only golden grass was visible, and occasional mountain streams. The only other sign of human life came in the form of a small homestead type structure that we passed on the way.
The Climb
We finally came up amidst the peaks after two more hours of hiking.  Our trailed ended at the site of an old foundation – perhaps for a shelter.  Kelly was determined to find the summit, but we were all uncertain of where exactly the summit was, or whether we had already reached it.  We pressed on for another thirty minutes or so, until the foot trail that we stumbled upon disappeared.  We sat down to eat our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and decided that it was time to turn back.  It was ten o’clock and we had a good 8-10 more hours of hiking ahead of us, and buses to catch back to our homes.
We were pretty well exhausted already, and trekked in silence back the way that we had come.  When we arrived at the police station, we were greeted by a new group of policemen – the day before the policemen had been Macedonian.  This day they were Albanian.  They complimented us on our Albanian and we chatted for a little while.  We pulled down our tent and grabbed our bags, and waving goodbye to our new friends, we began the rest of the journey back to the main road.  On our return we called out to Sveta as we passed her house to let her know that we had safely made it back down from the mountain.  She must have been inside, as we weren’t able to find her.  At the bottom of the road, we said our goodbyes – I left for Debar, while Britt and Kelly walked to the nearby Communist monument to wait for their kombi.  We hugged, and agreed to meet again for another hiking adventure soon.

 

European Vacation!

Hungarian Parliament

Hungarian Parliament

 

Unlike the squirm-inducing hilarity of the Griswalds European Vacation, my European vacation was like an amazing dream. Fate manifested a sign of things to come in the form of not one but two “good luck” bird dropping  incidents on the date of my departure, August 9th.  Lucky me!  Seriously.

I shall have to plant myself under heavily bird-trafficked areas in the future, if I owe the loveliness of my vacation to these two “gifts.”  I will not go into too much detail, except to say that I had a wonderful time with three of my best friends in some pretty awesome places – Budapest – where we danced with a caveman to the Bloody Beetroots, a show which did, as our new French acquaintances promised, “rip our faces off”; bathed in the largest medicinal bath in Europe (and got our mint sauna on); and joined the other young tourists to explore the city’s ruin bars – Vienna – where we walked off our significant sacher tort, coffee, dumpling and beer intake while enjoying the beautiful architecture and history of Austria’s capital – and, Prague – a city filled with interesting, ancient urban legends of a golem, a pagan fire that could not be extinguished, a princess prophet, statues coming life to catch those seeking to steal from the church (I am kicking myself for not buying a book highlighting these, plus 74 other fascinating tales, at the Strahov Monastery); and a city that is also home to the beautiful astronomical clock and is the capital of a country with one of the largest atheist populations in Europe (and perhaps the world, depending on your source).

These are three amazing cities, and I do them a disservice with my short descriptions.  I hope that you will have the opportunity to visit them yourself, or that you have already had the chance to do so.

I also visited Italy to attend the wedding of my friend, Bridie, to her Italian fiancee (now husband), Francesco.  They are a lovely couple, and the wedding could not have been more beautiful.  I was fortunate to have chosen, rather randomly *ok, actually because the hotel was a bit cheaper than others and I have a small budget* to stay in Certaldo Alto, which is the ancient part of the city.  It was well worth the extra walk or funicular ride, for the amazing view and ambiance.  The ceremony was held in a church dating from the 12th century (imagine how many people have been married in it!) in the Tuscan countryside.  The officiating priest was excellent and warm, and managed to maintain a perfect balance of seriousness with humor for the ceremony.  I also loved the sprinkling of references to philosophy and Bruce Springsteen he added to his comments.  I also had the opportunity to spend time with some of Bridie’s co-workers (old and new) and friends from Northside Social, one of my favorite coffee shops, which is also home / place of work for some very awesome people.

I also ran around Rome a bit on my own, picking up new friends as I went, and also getting my first Dottor Fish pedicure.  Wow.  What an amazing trip.

Maturant

Last Friday was maturant (high school graduation) in town, which signals the beginning of summer.  I was in Skopje for a Peace Corps training, and was rushing to catch the last bus home to see my host sister in the traditional maturant parade.  I know most of the bus drivers by now, and decided to put my language skills to the test and request the bus driver pick me up by the Peace Corps office rather than the bus station.  I was fortunate and was scooped up – the bus driver indicated that I should sit in the fold-up exit seat.  I interpreted this as a sign of favor (the bus drivers usually have those that they like sit closer to the front), but also was wondered how this would work logistically, since I would have to get up anytime anyone would need to get off the bus or on the bus during the three hour trek home.  At the earliest opportunity, I covertly switched seats and ended up making a new friend with my fellow passenger – a freshly graduated university student who had traveled around the U.S. quite a bit.   He ensured that I got off at the correct place, and I dashed home to meet up with my host family.

Maturant itself was much like watching the Oscars, including the fashion commentary, but rather than watching it on the TV, you are just a foot or so away from the stars.  The entire town comes out to watch the graduates and their partners (dates) parade down the main street.  I had never seen so many people in town before.  The graduates looked very glamorous – the families spend a tremendous amount of money on designer clothes, jewelry, shoes, etc. to make sure that their son or daughter is beautifully outfitted.  Each pair is carefully evaluated by the crowd. I could here hushed conversations in admiration of one graduate’s beauty, or in criticism of another’s hair.  My host sister was absolutely beautiful – I tried to imagine how I would feel in her shoes, and I knew that I would have been a ball of anxiety if I had to walk in front of the entire town, and to hear them critique my appearance.

Once the parade ends, the graduates all go to a large restaurant for their celebration; they stay out all night, returning home in the early morning to change and to pick up their luggage.  They all take a bus together to Durres,a beach town in Albania, for a three day vacation – which sounds like a good way to wind down from stress of tests and maturant itself!

 

Accidental Easter

Ohrid Church     Ohrid Lake View    


ImageOhrid Old SchoolOhrid Traditional Dancing

My Easter was a bit off kilter this year, but enjoyable nonetheless.  Orthodox Easter and Non-Orthodox Easter fell on the same date, leaving plenty of options for celebratory activities.  While I do not consider myself a Christian, I grew up celebrating Easter (more as a tradition than a religious occasion), and didn’t want to let the day pass by without defining it from every other Sunday.

Ohrid, a beautiful resort town. is only about 45 minutes away from where I live and has a Catholic Church.  As my parents were both Catholic, I decided that I would travel to Ohrid to attend the service there.  I had reached out to another volunteer who lives in Ohrid and persuaded her to join me to attend the 11 am service on Sunday.  I caught the 10 o’clock bus to Ohrid, but found out that on Sunday the bus only travels to Struga – a town which is about 15 minutes from Ohrid. The bus traveled at an agonizingly slow pace, stopping at every village between my point of origin and destination.  One of the best and worst things about the buses in Macedonia is that they will stop (mostly) wherever they are asked.  It is wonderful when you have to stop in a strange and random location, but you are less inclined to be happy when your fellow passengers are making the requests.

By the time we arrived in Struga, it was already 11 am.  In my haste, I hopped into a taxi rather than waiting for the local bus.  The taxi was crammed with other travelers making the journey to Ohrid, and upon hearing that I traveled to Ohrid merely to attend a service at the Catholic Church, the passengers were all concerned that I did not know that there were beautiful churches right in my town (I did know, but I had wanted to attend a Catholic service).  They were quite sweet, and my taxi driver, who I learned was Muslim and had a Christian mother and Muslim father, wished me a “среќен Велигден” (Happy Easter) and dropped me off right in front of the Catholic Church at 11:20.

The church was cool and smelled the way I would expect – clean with a touch of incense.  I scanned the room and saw about about 15 to 20 other people in attendance, none of whom were my friend.  I settled in for the remaining 30 minutes of the service, pretending that I knew the prayers that were being expressed by my fellow parishioners in Macedonian.  I did feel more relaxed and peaceful after the service, though this was perhaps was partially due to the fact that I was no longer rushing to get to the service.  I tried to call my friend to see where she was, but there was no answer.  I thought that perhaps her phone was not charged, so I made my way to the lakeside  to hunt down a kafe with WiFi.

I am quite good at identifying a good, WiFi enabled kafe, and was soon comfortably seated by the lake with a cappuccino in one hand and my iPod touch in the other.  There were no messages from my friend.  Perplexed, I decided that I would just enjoy having the day to myself and wander around Ohrid, which is exactly what I did.  I watched traditional Macedonian dancers and listened to the chanting of Orthodox monks – which was beautiful.

By 4:30 pm, I was ready to go home and began to walk to the local bus stop.  As I was walking I heard my name being called, and turning around, I saw two girls running toward me…daughters of one of the English teachers from my town.  I was so surprised, that at first I did not recognize them.  They invited me to join their family for a stroll and dessert – how could I refuse?  We chatted, ate and then journeyed home together – a much speedier and more pleasant journey than my morning bus trip.

I later spoke with my friend, who had been unable to meet up due to extenuating circumstances – for those who were concerned : )