We flew down to make North Macedonia and Bulgaria our base for 11 days of travelling through countries of south-eastern Europe and the former Yugoslavia. We visited North Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria and Albania. We enjoyed them all, and would definitely return to this area of the world in future travels.
1. City of Skopje, with all it’s countless statues and colorful old bazaar and ecletic mix of architecture.
2. Multi-church going day in Sofia, Bulgaria
3. (3) Hikes in new places
4. (5) New countries to tick off our list
1. Getting car towed in Sofia
2. Following google maps to our doom
(Click below-right for more)
Tuesday October 25: Today was Tera’s 49th birthday. We finally checked into our Airbnb at 2:30am and got to sleep about 3:00am. We woke up around noon and went downstairs to the main square and walked around the city and went to the Macedonian struggle museum (pretty bad). Then we met a tour guide at 3:00 for a free Skopje walking tour, and thereafter visited the main Skopje mosque and the walled fort on the hill. We returned home and left Megan and Jacob with pasta for dinner, and Tera and I went out for a traditional birthday Macedonian dinner and a Hammam Spa massage experience.
Wednesday October 26: We dropped off Megan’s phone for screen repair (60 euro v 100-150 euro) and drove north to the Kosovo border. Our intent was to drive to Prizren, through the Sharr National Forest, see the city and then return by way of Pristina, along the motorway. We drove through the forest, through little Kosovar towns, and stopped at Prevalla, where we saw people out on the green slope taking in the sun. We stopped there for lunch, and then Jacob convinced us to begin Tera’s 50-hike goal with a straight up mountain climb. We reached our goal of 1000 vertical elevation gain, and the kids continued to the unseen summit. We returned to the car after the 2.5 mile 2.5 hour hike at about 4:30pm, and abandoned the goal of Prizren and returned home towards Macedonia. We stopped at a little restaurant overlooking the canyon and enjoyed the sunset and the incredibly cheap and plentiful food, then returned to the apartment for another lymph drainage massage and then a few games of spades and sleep.
Thursday October 27: We drove to Matka Canyon, and took a boat ride up the canyon, then hiked along the canyon trail (5 miles) out to the Vrelo Cave. Unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of the river, so we couldn’t make it across. We returned home and the Tera and the kids went out for a reflexology massage.
Friday October 28: We drove across the northern border into Serbia and visited Nis. We started walking in the park of the Nis fortress, and came upon some missionaries, who we took out to lunch. Then we went to the Red Cross concentration camp museum, then visited the Tower of Skulls, and finally walked up to Bubanj, the hill where 10,000 Jewish and other war prisoners were shot and killed. We returned to Skopje to have dinner with the sister missionaries.
Saturday October 29: We checked out of the Airbnb, and began our drive to Sofia, Bulgaria. (4 hours) We got pulled over to the side of the road for 30 minutes in order to let the President of Bulgaria pass in the opposite direction with his Black SUV entourage. We checked into our new Airbnb, and went out walking to the park, and then took the 6:00pm 2 hour free Sofia walking tour, and met the Sofia missionaries for dinner and came back home. Erik went back out to check on the car to find that it had been towed away. Oh Joy.
Sunday October 30: We walked to church and attended a wonderful meeting of Saints in Sofia. Then I walked to the tow lot to pick up the car, and Tera and the kids walked back towards home. I met them at the Alexander Nevsky cathedral, a magnificent Easter Orthodox church. Then we continued walking around town and visited the St Sofia cathedral as well. We toured the archeological park (roman ruins discovered then they were building the metro) and went into the Muslim mosque. Then we passed through security to enter the Jewish synagogue and round out our day of worship, we went into the Catholic church. 6 churches of 5 different religions in one Sabbath morning.
Monday October 31: We awoke and drove south to the Rila National park and hiked the Rila 7 lakes hike (6 miles). Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that we needed to take the ski lift up to the trailhead, and we took a googlemaps inspired road until we could drive no further and we hiked another 2.5 miles to get to the START of the trail. We modified our hike and only climbed to 3 of the 7 lakes. And felt satisfied.
Tuesday November 1: We checked out of the Airbnb, and bought some KFC to use up our Hungarian lev, and drove 6 hours to Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia. After checking in to our new Airbnb, we walked out to see a the church of St. Sofia basilica and the paper museum, and a wood carving shop and the lakeshore.
Wednesday November 2: We drove north around the lake to Struga, then crossed the border into Albania where we first went to the Golik bridge, a rather underwhelming bridge from a few centuries ago. Then we continued on to the south side of the lake, but did so along a terrible dirt road that stretched for some 20km. I kept hoping it would get better, and once it finally did turn onto a wonderful 4 lane highway, we realized that highway was still under construction, with large gaps between the bridge and the road which we literally flew over in the car. We finally found someone who we could follow, to take us the rest of the way down the dirt road to Pogradec, another lovely Lake Ohrid seaside town. We had a fish lunch from the local tavern, and had a completely useless stop at the Drilon national park, crossed the border back into Macedonia, and stopped at the St. Naum monastery tourist trap, and then the bay of bones museum (which was already closed) and finally made it home.
Thursday November 3: We drove to the Galicica National park and hiked to the Magaro Peak, (8 km round trip, 2250 elevation gain) with a beautiful view of Lake Prespa and Lake Ohrid, looking into three countries, North Macedonia, Greece and Albania. We also stopped at the Bay of Bones museum, a re-creation of a 1000 BC over-the-water settlement on the shores of the Lake. After returning to the apartment, we went to dinner with the Ohrid missionaries.
1. City of Skopje, with all it’s countless statues and colorful old bazaar and eclectic mix of architecture – This is an extremely cool city. It was basically leveled by an earthquake back in the 1960’s, and has been rebuilt since then. Much of that rebuilding was in communist-era “brutalism”, but then in the early 2010’s the city began a major façade upgrade and so the entire downtown is a mix of old and classic and modern. They steal from the arch in Paris, and the monuments of Berlin, and the buses of London. The walking center of the city is full of people at all hours, living their lives as best they can. And the prices here were dirt cheap (compare 2.5 euro per scoop in France to 40 cents per scoop in Skopje). I really enjoyed it here.
2. Multi-church going day in Sofia, Bulgaria – while in Sofia, we spent a Sunday going to an Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meeting, then wandered the town in the afternoon, visiting 5 more churchs in 4 more religions; Eastern Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic. It was definitely a day of worship amongst other believers. And I am so impressed by the history and tradition and deep symbolism of the buildings of other faiths. I know the building doesn’t provide salvation, but there is something intensely satifysing and awe-inspiring about walking into the Alexander Nevsky cathedral built in the late 1800’s, or some other Catholic basilica from the 1200’s that the sterile rented office space LDS church building simply doesn’t provide.
3. (4) Hikes in new places – We’re well on our way to walking alongside Tera to start her goal of 100 hikes in her 50th year. We ticked off four different hikes in our 11 days, the first an improvised hill climb in Prevalla, Kosovo led by Jacob. The 2nd was a hike along the boardwalk and path of the beautiful Matka canyon in Skopje. The 3rd was a trip to the Rila Lakes of the Rila National park in Bulgaria. These were beautiful alpin lakes set within a massive cirque of the mountains that formed the boundary between the north and south water drainage basins of southern Europe. In our somewhat improvised hike, we made it to 3 of the 7 lakes on trail. The last was hiking to Magaro peak in the Galicica national park near Lake Ohrid, where we had a view of Macedonia, Greece and Albania, with two lakes to boot.
4. (5) New countries to tick off our list – My goal of visiting 100 countries before my 50th birthday also continues, and this part of the trip was a boon for country collecting. We decided our happy place for new country visits is a day-trip to the country, which includes some activity, and some meal within the borders. North Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Albania all received at-least this level of attention. Tera has determined that a new standard for visiting primary cities could also include a 4-5 night stay, including two full days for exploring where we are, and 2 full days for day trips. Skopje fit this bill perfectly.
1. Getting car towed in Sofia – Our car got towed in Sofia, which is always unpleasant. Luckily, the two lot was easy to find online, the distance was walkable from church, they spoke English, and it only cost me $60 to retrieve the car. All in all, not too terribly inconvenient.
2. Following google maps to our doom – in two instances, we following google maps without doing the supplementary research required to confirm their suggestion. In the first place, our trip to Rila lakes SHOULD have been to the bottom of the ski lift, which would have taken us up to the start of the trailhead. Instead, we typed “Rila Lakes” into googlemaps, and it took us to a dirt road from which we eventually ditched the car 2 ½ miles from the trailhead. Thus our missing of the full 7 lakes experience. Later, we followed google maps in Albania, in what I thought would be paved roads through little villages, but what actually ended up being terrible, awful dirt roads amongst the mountains and hills. It was a long, unpleasant ride.
Fall Semester 2022
Here we go again! Our 8 Suitcases have been whittled down to 4 suitcases as we take a four month world trip with our two youngest kids, Megan and Jacob. From Canada to Europe to islands in the Indian Ocean and finally to South Africa, from Sep to Dec 2022, here are our travels and experiences.