Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday Hike: March 26, 2012

Last night Azita and I went to the Macedonian Kitchen restaurant to have moussaka before going to the opera.  Their moussaka is the best I've every had.  We also ordered Greek salad (called South Macedonian salad in many restaurants), garlic bread and two glasses of Macedonian wine.  We were chatting and enjoying our Greek salad, garlic bread, and the huge glasses of wine and kind of lost track of the time.  The moussaka was served late, and we realized that we were going to be late to the 8:00 performance.  We rushed through the moussaka and hurried out to see Tosca at the Macedonian Opera.  I'm used to getting to this theater early to see the ballet and watching people arrive to take their seats after the performances have begun.  Arriving at the theater at 8:15 we were refused entry.  We weren't even allowed to sit inside the lobby.  We had to sit outside with the other latecomers until the intermission.

While we were sitting on the steps outside, an older woman (older than me) came up the stairs from the parking lot.  She asked us something in Macedonian, and as I don't understand but a few words of Macedonian, I told her I speak English.  She switched to English and asked why I'm in Macedonia if we can't speak Macedonian.  I was speechless.

Finally, at 9:00 pm, Azita and I were allowed in for the second act of Tosca.  It was warm inside and we were tired from the wine and not enough sleep the night before.  The opera is in Italian and the subtitles Macedonian.  The soprano, Opera Diva Vesna Gjinovska-Ilkova as Tosca, had a beautiful, clear voice, but the men's voices sounded muddy.  In this second act, there was an awkward attempted rape and a subsequent murder.  When the second intermission arrived, we couldn't think of any reason to stay for the third act so we went home.

This morning we joined the walking/hiking group of women who belong to the International Women's Association (IWA).  We drove to the village of Gorno Sonya (Горно Соње) located on the south side of Mount Vodno.  There are several villages represented in the photo below, but the near village with the white bell tower is Gorno Sonya.

From Gorno Sonya, we walked up the the Millennium Cross on the top of Mount Vodno.  On the way back down, we ran into an intrepid hiker who agreed to show us where a spring was located.  He took us to the north slope of Vodno and down the mountain a bit, but indeed there was a spring.

Our impromptu guide, now retired, was an engineer in the Serbian Air Force.  He said he came to Macedonia and married a local woman.  He didn't say married, he said he was enslaved by her.  He walks Vodno everyday and knows every trail possibility.  It takes him about 3 months to walk every trail and the total kilometers for all the trails on Vodno total the same height as Mount Everest.  He said now that it takes him 40 minutes to walk from middle Vodno (the half-way point); when he was younger it took him 40 minutes to get to the top of the mountain from city center.  Truly amazing!

Then he told us which way to go to return to Gorno Sonya on the other side of Vodno and he headed down the north slope toward Skopje's city center.

The weather was warm, and it was a great day for a walk on the mountain.

Kate, Lyubov, Azita, and me

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Visiting Matka: March 24, 2012

It has been a busy week.  Dan has an office with two employees, and Friday the internet was connected.  He is no longer working out of our apartment--a good thing.  Our friend, Azita, flew in from Central Asia on Monday to visit us on her way back to the US.  It has been good to take another look at Macedonia through her eyes.  Since she arrived, the weather in Skopje has been glorious.  Azita has fallen in love with all things Macedonian and with the sun out, I don't blame her.  The energy of this city is fabulous when the sun is shining.  The cafes are spilling over with people and there are spring flowers in all the planter boxes.  Even the trees have begun to leaf out.  

Yesterday was a full day.  We began the day visiting monasteries and hiking in Matka Canyon.  Matka Lake, a man-made lake created by the damming of the Treska River, is about 15 kilometers southwest of Skopje.  Now it is a recreational center for hiking, mountain-bike riding, mountain climbing, kayak schools, bird/butterfly watching, and just enjoying the mountains.  Matka is the Macedonian word for womb.  

Our first stop was at the St. Bogorodica Monastery (actually a nunnery). The nunnery accepts overnight guests.  It was very quiet, and we saw no nuns. 

Then the hiking began.  Small spring wildflowers were just beginning to show themselves.

And, birds were singing.  This is one of the stars.  Our guide said it was a nightingale, but the descriptions I read for nightingales do not include any color.  This small bird with the big voice has a lovely peachy brown chest and head.

Our destination was St Nikola Church/Monastery in the small village of Sishevo at an elevation of 1369 meters (4491 feet).  The trail meandered around so our one-hour hike/climb wasn't too steep. Village seems too generous of a term for Sishevo as only the church and two houses were at the top of this mountain.  St. Nikola is thought to have been built in the 14th century.  The interior is completely covered with frescos that were repainted in the 17th century.  Sadly, graffiti purveyors have left their many marks on these frescos.

From this elevation, we were able to look down on Matka Lake and the Church of St. Andrew (14th century)--our next destination.

At Matka Lake we were met by a boatman who took us across the lake to pick up life vests for our trip upriver to Vrelo Cave.

To enter the cave, we had to wear yellow hard hats--colorful accessories rather than a safety item.

St. Andrew Church was built in the 14th century.  Its frescos also date to the 14th century, but time has not been kind.  This area is quite busy in good weather because the church it is surrounded by a restaurant and visitors only need to walk a short distance from a parking lot on the other side of the dam.

Matka (womb) is the perfect name for this jewel-colored body of water completely surrounded by stark, rugged mountains.

Last night we saw Kings of Strings in concert. Kings of Strings is three musicians (Tommy Emmanuel, Stochelo Rozenburg, and Macedonian Vlatko Stefanovski) who make magic with their guitars.  The concert was amazing.  Even the President of Macedonia showed up for it.  We had a little confusion about the start time for the concert.  All the posters and the internet said it was to begin at 8:00 pm.  Dan, Azita, and I showed up at 7:45 pm, but the guys in black outside the concert hall looked at us like we were crazy.  So we went across the street to get something fast to eat returning about 8:05 pm.  Still no one was there and the guys at the doors looked at us like we each had 3 heads.  We returned to the fast food place to hang out a little longer. This time we waited until there were people standing around outside the concert hall and then went back.  They let us in about 8:45 pm and when I sat down, I noticed the tickets said "21" meaning 9:00 pm.  I guess that is why the other 997 concert goers knew to show up at 9:00 pm.  

The time changed this morning meaning that we lost one hour from the night.  After the concert, Dan had just enough time to get about one hour of sleep before he had to leave at 3:00 a.m. to catch his flight to Vienna/Washington DC.  

Tonight, Azita and I are going to the Macedonian Opera to see Tosca.  My Macedonian social life is definitely looking up. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Venice for the Weekend!: March 15-18, 2012

Warm, sunny weather was just around the corner, but as the weather became lovely in Skopje, Dan and I made plans to go to Venice--for the weekend.  I never thought I'd be able to say, "Let's go to Venice for the weekend," but Venice is one of the few destinations we can get to on a nonstop flight out of Skopje.  The flight, via Wizz Air, takes only 1-1/2 hours and was less than $200 round trip total for the two of us.

For travel tips/advice I turned to the Lonely Planet site and found this "advice" about flying to Venice:

 "Low-cost airlines are a benefit to travellers, but a burden on the environment and Venice’s air quality; to travel with a cleaner conscience, consider a carbon-offset program."

What arrogance!

Hotel Palazzo Abadessa
Thursday evening, March 15, we took the new airport shuttle bus to Skopje's Alexander the Great Airport, and disregarding Lonely Planet's new-found elitism, we flew with clean consciences directly from Skopje to Venice's Treviso airport.  In Treviso, we took the ATVO airport shuttle bus to Venice.  In Venice, we took a boat to the stop nearest our hotel (Ca d'Oro) and walked through the narrow streets to the Hotel Palazzo Abadessa.
Friday morning we prepared ourselves to visit museums and sights we hadn't seen before.  But as we began walking around, it felt more important to just be in Venice than to visit museums.  We walked and walked.  The weather was beautiful and the city even more beautiful.  We did visit the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and beautiful St. Mark's Basilica
View from the Peggy Guggenheim Museum

Sculpture (boy with frog) at the tip of La Guidecca

Beginning Saturday, we explored Venice from the water with our 36-hour boat pass.  While we were waiting for our boat, we watched some young boys learning to be gondoliers emerge from the fog.

First we went to the cemetery island in search of centuries old tombstones--we didn't find any. The island has been used for a cemetery only since the early 1800s.   Ezra Pound is buried in the Protestant section while Sergei Diaghilev and Igor Stravinsky are found in the Orthodox section of the cemetery.

 St. Michele Island--The Cemetery

From there we went on to Murano and the Glass Museum.  I most enjoyed the exhibit of Murano made beads through the ages which fueled my desire to acquire some vintage Murano beads.  Lunch was at an outdoor cafe.

Scenes from Murano Island

As we strolled the walkways and canals of Murano Island, we didn't see many tourists.  I did find a wonderful shop selling vintage Murano beads--I am now the owner of several necklaces and loose beads.

 A small shrine on Murano Island

The Bridge of Sighs and a corner detail from the Doge's Palace

Sunday we did a last walk around the streets of Venice before we caught our boat to catch the bus to take us to our discount airline.

 A great mail slot


 Good food, great weather, and a beautiful city. I love, we love Venice.

We ate at two wonderful Venetian restaurants near our hotel in the Ca d'Oro area during our long weekend.  Friday night we ate at Vini da Gigio and Saturday we were ate at another small restaurant, A La Vecia Cavana, recommended by our hotel.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Reflections on a Gray Day: March 12, 2012

The gray is disappearing and the clouds are lifting.  One of my favorite times here is at sunset when thousands of crows return to the city for the night.  They swoop and caw glancing past my windows looking for a night time roost.

On Sunday, Dan and I revisited the City Park.  It was gray and drizzly, but the reflections were nice.

The weather is definitely changing.   Warm, sunny days are just around the corner.