The Scamp in Serbia

I can’t believe that I haven’t finished updating my travels. I have been out of my routine and feeling a bit out of sorts with all of the rain. I was so tired when I wrote about Macedonia that I completely forgot that while I was there I saw where Mother Teresa was born. She was born in the capital city, but eventually made her way to India. I stood on the spot where her childhood home used to be, and we saw the memorial house that has now been constructed in her honor.

Figures that I would be too tired to remember something that important.

From Macedonia we headed to Nis, Serbia. I’m not sure what I expected from Serbia, but Nis was something else. We only stopped for lunch, but I spent that time in a beautiful fortress.

We then moved on to the city of Belgrade. A lot of my friends have been here, and told me how much they loved it. We went on a walking tour with a very very enthusiastic tour guide who gave us the bare bones history as he lived it for his entire 26 (He might have been older, but that is the age in my mind for some reason) years. We walked through the fortress and saw an amazing sunset over the Danube, and the Knez Mihailova, a popular shopping street in the area. We spent the first day having dinner as a group, and it was an unorganized mess. Things got worse when we then went for a ‘pub crawl’ that started an hour late. After being dragged from a nice bar to two places that weren’t open, I made my way back to the hotel with the super cool married couple and let Kelsey have all the fun for me.

She was feeling a bit under the weather the next day so I wandered around the city with some of the people from the tour and ended up having the most amazing burrito. Burrito Madre was everything I didn’t know I ever wanted. By this point in the journey I was tired of only having meat options for dinners, or soggy veg, wilted salads and the like. I was ready to be in clean clothes, sleep in my own bed, or at least have a beach near by. This burrito was heaven. The fresh squeezed strawberry juice was heaven. The churros and chat with Kelsey when she was ready to eat was heaven.

Kelsey and I wandered around a bit once she had the burrito and we had rolled ice cream for dinner. It was nice to be out in the sunshine and walk through the streets looking at the street art. I always thought that Lisbon had the best street art, but Belgrade might take the cake. I even found a book of street art in Belgrade with stories behind some of the more popular art. It was a one of my best purchases of the trip.

Until I got to Bosnia that is.

Belgrade was the most westernized of the all the cities that we visited on this trip, and while that is not necessarily a good or bad thing, I also found this to be one of the easiest cities to navigate without the need for GPS. It also felt really safe, with (mostly) friendly people and a lot of deep rooted history.

I am almost halfway through July and I still do not have any of the things on my list and without an office, I am finding it hard to stay motivated. Tomorrow is another day.

Advertisements

The Scamp in Macedonia

It is with a heavy heart that I write about the passing of my granddad Verle. He wasn’t really my granddad, but just the same, he is someone who deserves to be acknowledged.

2015-07-18 05.44.10

Verle was a spunky one. All of his WWII stories had a happy ending. He met a general….then slept with the general’s daughter. He was in Egypt meeting a prince….the princess slept with him. My mom always wanted him to come to her classroom to talk to her students, but knew she couldn’t because none of his stories were safe for work. He refused to go to the events at the senior centre because he said all the people there were too old. When my dad was having a hard time with the death of my step-brother, Verle told him to bring the ashes to his house so Eric would have a good view of the lake and could be at peace. He had a taste for Scottish vodka, and he was always humming and whistling. He was a great father, brother, granddad, and great granddad, veteran and friend. The world is going to be a little duller without him in it.

For the last five years or so, my dad has been the only person looking after him. My dad went to all the doc appointments, made sure that the cabin was always clean and in good working order, and all but killed himself as a caretaker. He was with my granddad when he died, and told him that it is was okay to go, and to stay out of trouble. I’m really sad that I was not there to see him one more time, but I am really hoping now that this means my dad can work on healing and taking care of himself for a bit.

It makes me wish I could go back to California.

It also makes me think about Lake Ohrid in Macedonia. Verle would have liked it there. It was one of the places we were shortchanged on seeing, but I have a feeling I will be going back there to try and get some writing done before I hand in my thesis.

IMG_20170528_132238_989

Macedonia is a beautiful place. I realized how dumb I was when the trip started and I thought Macedonia was a part of Greece. It is a city in Greece, but it there is also a country (and a very contentious legal battle for the use of the name). I could have stayed by the lake for a week. Unfortunately we got half an evening there.

We then went to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. This is one of the most unique places I have ever been. It’s like Disneyland for adults (or at least, that is what Busabout says). There are more statures in the city than people.  Every time you turn around you see another statue.

IMG_2119IMG_2124IMG_2126IMG_2128

I feel really bad, but to be honest, I cannot really say a whole lot about Macedonia because I do not think I really got to spend enough time there. I would like to go back and really spend some time there, and I would tell people to go there, but this one was a bit of a blur in the trip for me.

The Scamp and Latvia

I made a mistake when I was in Helsinki….I didn’t have a plan. I thought I was part of a tour group, when really the tour company provided an hour long tour around the city and then dropped us off in the shopping district for 8 hours. I did not have a map or really any direction, and while I had a Lonely Planet guidebook, it was not much help.

I decided that my time in Riga would not be like that. I spent the four hour bus ride reading about some of the things that I wanted to see, and booked a hotel in the center of the action. I grabbed a good map from the front desk and used Google maps to make a list of how to get to each of the places. I got into Riga around dinner time, and was absolutely knackered from the whirlwind few days, so after a quick bite to eat, I took advantage of the really nice hotel bathtub and my copy of the Bell Jar. I was asleep pretty early and woke up the next morning excited to start the day.

DSC_3469

There was really only one thing that was on my list of place to see in Riga: the only synagogue in the city. After Riga was occupied by the Nazis, all the synagogues in the city were burnt down on July 4, 1941. The Peitav Shul was the only synagogue in Riga to escape the common fate because it was located in the Old Town and there was a risk that the fire would spread to nearby buildings. During the war the synagogue was used as a warehouse. After the war it was learned that the eastern wall of the synagogue, where the bookcase with Torah scrolls (Aron Kodesh) was located, had been concealed. The synagogue did not disappoint. It was absolutely breathtaking. The rabbi let me in and allowed me 30 minutes alone in the majestic space.

DSC_3471

DSC_3546

DSC_3545

DSC_3540

DSC_3539

In all honesty, I could devote an entire post to it. I felt peaceful in there, and felt a small connection with family who I will never get to meet, but may have gone there. Latvia was never on my radar as a place to visit, but when my aunt told us that that was where our family was from, it became a place of interest for me.

In addition to the synagogue, I saw all of the tourist attractions. By far my favorite was the Cat House. The legend has it that the wealthy tradesman who commissioned the building was refused membership of the Riga Tradesmen’s Guild, mostly just called the Great Guild. The central element of both versions is the anecdote that seeking retribution the tradesman had two copper statues of angry-looking cats with arched backs and raised tails placed on the turret rooftops with their tails turned towards the house of the Great Guild, situated across the street.

DSC_3478

I could live in a house like that. The Riga Cat is also somewhat famous.

DSC_3530

I also visited the oldest set of houses in Riga, as well as the Freedom Monument and a beautiful Russian Orthodox cathedral.

3brali

DSC_3495 DSC_3500

DSC_3472

I took a hundred pictures. I walked around for hours admiring the views, and because I had a tourist friendly map and a plan, fell in love with the city. It reminded me a lot of my first few days in Scotland. I had a map, and my ipod. I wasn’t worried about getting lost, and I was happy to be on an adventure. I put on some of my favorite playlists and allowed myself to really get a feel for the city. I ended the day with pelmeni, only the most delicious dumplings ever, and then a Skype chat with some of my favorite ladies from Scotland. All in all, it was a great little excursion and just what I needed to curb my wanderlust for a bit.