Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Romania - Part One

Our last two weeks were spent in Romania and after a very early bus to Ruse, Bulgaria and a very long layover at the Ruse bus station, we arrived in Bucharest.  After an evening wandering around Old Town and we caught the train the next day for Suceava in northern Romania.  We spent three days touring Bucovina and Maramures  - this was the only part of the trip that was a structured tour. Andre was our wonderful guide/driver and because we stayed at one of the tour company's apartments, he picked us up at the train station (getting from train or bus stations to hotels is not always easy so this was a real treat).

Bucovina is famous for its painted monasteries, each distinguished by a representative color. We visited four and they were incredible. The frescoes were painted to teach bible stories to the illiterate peasants and Andre was a wonderful guide - by the time we left, we could interpret the frescoes all by ourselves.

Sucevita Monastery - representative color is green

Voronet Monastery - detail from the Last Judgement

Voronet Monastery - look carefully and you will see 
a soul leaving the body. Representative color is blue.

Moldovita Monastery - look carefully and
 you will see Moses receiving the Ten
 Commandments. I am in the picture too. 
Representative color is yellow.
We had a wonderful two days in Maramures which is known for its wooden churches and according to Lonely Planet, this part of Romania is the home of the last peasant culture in Europe. We arrived towards the end of the peak fall color season and the scenery was amazing.





Making palinka (brandy)

Wooden church

Washing a rug in a river with a stick
We also visited

The Merry Cemetery - famous for colorful tombstones with
illustrated life stories of the deceased, Sapanta


Home of  Elie Wiesel, which has been
turned into a museum of
Jewish culture, Sighetu Marmatiei


Things I Learned:
  • This dessert is really good


Chestnut puree from Cafe Bulgakov, Cluj-Napoca
  • This dessert is really good
Papanasi- fried pastry with sweetened cheese and cherries

  • This is an idea for my tombstone




Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Bulgaria

Bulgaria won my 2015 award for most surprisingly wonderful country and I couldn't wait to return. The first stop was Sophia and we immediately went to H&M to buy some warmer clothes. We visited the major attractions and went on the very interesting and very, very, very long Communist walking tour. The next day we took a trip to Rila Monastery, which was one of the highlights of my previous visit  - it was just as wonderful the second time. There was enough time before the bus ride to Plovdiv to visit the Museum of Communist Art - all of Sophia's statutes from the Communist era and a big red star have been relocated to a sculpture park in the suburbs and there is a small museum showing propaganda films.

Sophia Synagogue


Rila Monestary



Figure it Out



Plovdiv is the perfect place to just walk around and the weather was wonderful. We happened to be there on the first Thursday of the month which meant we could take advantage of "old people admitted to (almost) everything  free" day.  This allowed us to see the 3D (more like 2.5D) movie about Plovdiv's Roman stadium and walk around the inside of the Roman ampitheater. On our last morning we visited a church with beautiful Old Testament frescos.

Example of Bulgarian National Revival mansion



Sveta Marina Church frescos




Our final stop in Bulgaria was Veliko Tarnovo, one of Bulgaria's s oldest cities. Unfortunately, it rained all day and we had to hang out in our hotel. We were able to do some shopping and take short walks but we missed seeing the fortress. Luckily, we had a beautiful room at a wonderful hotel with a nice lobby for sitting and reading.

View from the Junior Suite, Hotel-Mehana Gurko


Things I Learned

  • Sophia has really great food. We had three wonderful meals, including burgers (veggie for me) at this place.




  • There is always a line at Alex's in Plovdiv. Awesome chicken shawarma - two locations!


  • I want to move to Sophia or Plovdiv or maybe to a small village outside of Veliko Tarnovo.
  • There are always new things to see and do in a place you have previously visited.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Macedonia and Kosovo

There is no direct route to Lake Ohrid, Macedonia from Tirana so we took a bus to a town just over the border and got a taxi to the lake - turned out to be easier than I thought. After our challenging hotel experience in Tirana it was nice to stay at a wonderful guest house complete with a terrace overlooking an 11th century church and the lake. The weather wasn't great so we skipped the boat ride and explored the town. Lots of interesting streets and churches to explore and a great dinner of freshly caught fish - a beautiful place to spend a couple of days.
Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo - everybody takes this picture

 View from Jovanovic Guesthouse
Then it was off to Skopje, which thanks to the Skopje 2014 project, has tons of over-the-top statues, plazas, fountains, newly constructed building facades, etc. It is difficult to explain or show in photographs. We had to do the very long but very fun walking tour in order to begin to understand it all.

The official name of this statue is "Warrior on a Horse"

"Father of Warrior on a Horse"
Kosovo was always on our itinerary but after reading this article  https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/18/travel/the-medieval-monasteries-of-kosovo.html
we decided to visit both monasteries and skip the day trip to Prizren. We were able to take a taxi to Gracanica and we took two buses (and walked a total of two miles) to get to Visoki Decani. Both monasteries lived up to expectations. The frescos were amazing (no pictures allowed inside) and the settings were spectacular.

Gracanica

Visoki Decani
Visoki Decani

We spent our last morning in Kosovo at the Jewish Cemetery and then caught a bus back to Skopje for one more night and one more delicious meal.

Things I Learned:
  • It is pronounced "Sko-pee-a"
  • The official name of Macedonia is  the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
  • The unofficial names of "Warrior on a Horse" and "Father of Warrior on a Horse".
  • I want to move to Peja, Kosovo.
  • Another term for sequins is sparkling elements (I actually learned that in Albania.)
  • Ajvar is really good.

Peppers for making ajvar


Random Thoughts and Summing Up

Buses Sometimes a bus, sometimes a minivan. Each bus has stickers on the back window showing which amenities are on the bus - televisi...