Barely Time to Breathe!

I barely arrived home from France than I had to unpack my bag and then re-pack it for arrival of Steven.  This time he wanted to see some of Macedonia. Wouldn’t you know that it is the hottest time of the year? To say that he doesn’t  do well in the heat is a bit of an understatement. However, we started at  Lake Ohrid

Old Town Ohrid
Old Town Ohrid

and it was cooler than in  Skopje. But make no mistake–it is still mighty warm.  And of course the guest house I selected is not accessible by car. You have to walk up an uneven, cobblestone, steep hill. That is the point at which he decided to buy a back pack and put some clothes in the pack rather than lugging his gi-normous suitcase to the room. That was a good decision on his part. I guess all that education paid off at long last!

We hiked all over town and ate on the waterfront. To say that the food was less than spectacular is an understatement. But when you have what seems like a million tourists in town, quantity will usually be more important than quality.  These people, literally from all over the world, need  to be fed and that does not leave time to make those exceptional dishes one hopes for. Steven indicated the trout was excellent, but not being a big fish eater, I had to take his word for it.  I had a momentary thought I could open a restaurant there and make a fortune with food that is properly seasoned and not over cooked. But I’m sure it is far more work than I want to undertake and I would succumb to the needs of the masses.

So we are done with Ohrid and set out on the road to Bitola. Have I mentioned that roads are not well marked here and maps don’t seem to be very detail oriented. We see a sign that says,”Bitola” and we follow it. Steven decides that this doesn’t seem right–we are headed into the mountains. Since we are close to the border with Greece we re-examine our options and end up headed back to Skopje. Nope! This is isn’t right either. Back to Plan A–follow the sign.  We probaby drove 40 miles before we saw another sign that indicated we were on the right road. When we hit Bitola, we decided to go to Heraclea Lyncestis first since it is about a mile from the center.

Climbing around the ruins
Climbing around the ruins
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Grape vine covered patio

No sense walking in this heat if we don’t have to. I think Steven was suitably impressed with the ruins. Then we explored the city and sat down to have a cold drink. I decided to be brave and order my standard summer fare–a margarita.  Never again!  I think it was nothing but diluted lime juice and tequila. Does not quite make a Margarita.  So we went into the supermarket, picked up some crackers and cheese and a bottle of wine and went back to our guest house and enjoyed it on the covered patio.

Up and away to wine country. I had no idea if they do wine tastings here as they do in the US.  Quick answer–they don’t! It is so much more elegant.  However, before we could taste, we had to find it.  Fortunately we kept seeing signs for Stobi Winery.

Stobi--newest winery in Macedonia
Stobi–newest winery in Macedonia

And find it we did. We got a personal guided tour and tasted some amazing wines.  The local varietal here is Vranec (pronounced Vran-ets) and it turns out to be the local version of Primitivo which is the Italian version of Zinfandel. Made me a very happy girl. Now we are going to Popova Kula–a winery with a hotel and restaurant.

Looking down into the vineyard early morning
Looking down into the vineyard early morning
The  main building--amazing
The main building–amazing

The map was not particularly detailed so we were going blind. I knew it was east of Negotino so we headed that direction three times. Steven, we should be headed east–we are headed west. Turn around and go the other way.  Nope that doesn’t look right, turn around and do it again….and again. Finally I saw a sign for Demir Kapija and I knew then that we were headed the right way.  We got there and settled in for a bit and then went to do a tour of the winery and another wine tasting.  Macedonian wine tastings are an event!  You get very hefty pours, bread and cheese to go with it, and individualized attention–a seat at a table and not just another person standing at the bar. At the moment we were the only ones tasting so we had our own waiter explaining the wines to us and how this region is so perfect for wine. We learned that the stanushina grapes, an ancient varietal, which apparently are unique to this part of the world and winery are exceptionally hardy and well suited to the hot summers in this area. I  really learned a lot from both the people conducting the tour and our waiter.

And now we are back in Skopje and tent city is gone (which was established back in June with the political crisis).  All of this travel did not even use a full tank of gas even with the AC running and some serious mountain climbing!  It’s still hot and will remain this way at least through next weekend. I report to camp on Tuesday and remain there until the 31st. Then I’m putting my feet up and doing nothing until school starts! (I think!)

It’s Over

According to our safety and security manager, the poliitical crisis we have lived with for the last four months is over–at least until elections in April or when a transitional government takes over in January.  But for now, the tent city set up by protestors can come down and things can get back to normal if there is such a thing as normal in Macedonia.

For more info read this article in Balkan Insight.  We might see a totally different picture come spring but it is truly nice to see that things are happening and that all of the outside help was able to broker a deal.

Postscript:  The tent city is gone!

Door Knobs, Ochre, Lavender, Popes and more……

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Lavender anyone?

Oh, goodness! Where to begin. So many wonderful sites to see that an average tourist probably would not see.  The name of the tour is Lavendel Blüte which means Lavender Blossom – literal translation for my German speaking child.  And oh do they have blossoms!–that  Provence could be the source of the lavender  of the world is mind boggling! Well, I  came on this tour because I love lavender and wanted to see lots of it. Boy have I seen lots of it. At one point we managed to get out of the bus to go play and picnic in the fields. Just imagine a bus full of 50+ year old people  playing in the lavender! It was wonderful, glorious, awesome, incredible, fantastic…..get the picture?

 

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Artwork on top of the plateau

Do you know what ochre is?  Most artists do and now after a trip to Roussillon I do. imageThis place is a beautiful little city sitting on top of this incredible ochre bluff with views that are amazing. This is an artist community with wonderful little shops selling lavender items and paint supplies cafes, and incredibly friendly people. I know people say the French are so rude but I have yet to encounter one rude person. They are open and welcoming to everyone with whom they deal. And this lovely little town was no exception. The area is known for its olive oil but I really have no use for it in Macedonia so will simply have to enjoy it with my food here.

Another item I’ve discovered here is door handles. The French are incredibly creative when it come to door knobs.

We see you!
We see you!
Knock, knock. Who's there?
Knock, knock. Who’s there?

As you can see from these two examples, whimsy is their middle name.

Additionally back in the 1300’s a pope or two decided to abandon Rome for Avignon. He built himself a humble little abode with a rather large wall around the perimeter of his home and managed to keep the papacy in France for about 75 years. Avignon was/is an incredibly beautiful city with more to see than can be seen in a single visit. This is definitely one place I shall return to. And, oh, yes. The food was good too, even though I opted for Spanish food and not French!

Wall of Avignon
Wall of Avignon
Ummmm-paella!
Ummmm-paella!
Front door!
Front door!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Humble abode
Humble abode

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rice paddy with horse in the distance
Wild horses of the Camargue
Wild horses of the Camargue

Next stop: the Camargue with the wild horses, steers and flamingos. We only saw the flamingos flying over–their long legs flapping in the wind and all the steers were quite a distance away. (Oh I just remembered a story from high school about flamingos, the Caribe Hilton and an elevator–a lifetime ago! Oh the memories things trigger!) The horses were magnificent! Some have been domesticated and we saw a number of people riding them but there were so many just roaming around out there in the rice paddies. The Camargue is the area where the Rhone empties into the Mediterranean. And then there was the Mediterranean!  Oh, my gosh. We went to Les Saintes Marie de-la-mer and there it was.  Wind blowing in off the water and making it quite a beautiful. This little town has a fascinating history. I  actually learned here that the gypsies have their own patron saint–Sainte Sara!

Sainte Sara
Sainte Sara
The Mediterranean
The Mediterranean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arles was next–the place where Vincent Van Gogh painted a number of famous paintings and home of my favorite Gipsy Kings. It is also the home to some pretty magniificent Roman ruins.  It was not hard to see how so many artists could have been inspired by the pure beauty of Provence.

Roman colliseum
Roman colliseum
Arles City Street Scene
Arles City Street Scene

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And did you know there is a Grand Canyon in Europe? Sure enough! And oh, it is magnificent. The entrance of the canyon is in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and you are at first struck by the beauty of this little village hanging on the side of a cliff. We stopped and visited the town and I was thoroughly impressed by the abilty of the people to have built this town so many years ago without the benefit of modern  technology.  From there we went into the canyon area and there just are not words for it.

Moustiers - Sainte - Marie
Moustiers – Sainte – Marie
There is a small church up there
There is a small church up there
Looking down into the canyon--yes the water is THAT blueu
Looking down into the canyon–yes the water is THAT blue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there were more lavender fields and more and more and……..

Lavender as  far as the eye can  see!
Lavender as far as the eye can see!

Words cannot begin to describe this trip and how incredible it was–even though I speak very limited German, I understood what was being said and I never made the bus wait for me because I didn’t know what time to be back! The other people on the bus were very accepting of the crazy American. “How did you end up on a tour with all Germans?”  Oh–it is a long story for another day.

Provence

We have an ambitious schedule here  in France. It is also an incredible learning experience for me since the tour is conducted completely in German! I can get the guide to give me some of the info in English if I need clarification on something but I am finding I understand a lot of what she says. I don’t speak it very well but certainly ich verstehe enough to show up for meals and buses so I must be doing something right. The WC on the bus is non-functional  and they sell beverages so we do make stops every so often. Pictures often tell the stories of our lives and I do get the opportunity to take pictures along the way. I use my phone  and iPad to take most of them because there just isn’t time to check my lens, focus, re-focus and then still end up with a so-so shot or no shot at all. So let me bore you with my version of “my vacation slide show”! There are so many I did not get to take but I hope you enjoy them! Up first  is what I thought was a cute ad for beer that I saw in Nürnberg.

Photo Bombing his minute with his beer
Photo Bombing his minute with his beer

 

This particular beer company makes a lot of ads like this but this was just one that I managed to capture as we stopped to pick up some more people in our group.

Shortly after we crossed into France we picked up our tour guide at a roadside rest stop. Her name is Heidi. Next to bus were these enormous butterfly bushes. I have never seen so many nor so big.

Butterfly bushes--no  butterflies in evidence.
Butterfly bushes–no butterflies in evidence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next stop Dijon. Beautiful city with many winding streets. Beautiful parks, beautiful statutes, beautiful arcs. But what do I focus on?

My heart's desire!
My heart’s desire!

 

 

 

 

 

 

And it was everything you would expect it  to be. A place just packed with stamps and albums and very little room to move around.  It did not appear that he did a very brisk business but at least he was following his heart.

Our first night in France was spent in a little inn outside of Dijon. When I awoke the next morning and started to explore I found this beautiful little park like atmosphere. The French just seem to do everything beautifully.

The "garden" in my first night's hotel
The “garden” in my first night’s hotel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So now we are onto Lyon. This is the city where you will find the confluence of the Rhone and the Soane. It is a city of beautiful sidewalk cafes, churches, patisseries, wine bars and many, many bridges.

The Soane
The Soane

 

 

 

 

 

St. Jean Fourviere-Lyon
St. Jean Fourviere-Lyon

 

 

 

 

 

St.  Paul's front
St. Paul’s front
Back of St. Paul's
Back of St. Paul’s
Street Cafe scene
Street Cafe scene
A statue of a saint protectigng the building
A statue of a saint protecting the building–probably St. Paul Since this is in the same block with the cathedral.

 

 

Energy conservation seems to be big here. Also saw a  couple of solar farms.
Energy conservation seems to be big here. Also saw a couple of solar farms.

 

I saw so many beautiful things and didn’t really get the opportunity to capture them photographically.  There were herds of Charolais cattle which I remember seeing in CA as we would make the turn off US 101 into San Juan Bautista. I was so excited when our tour guide confirmed that was what we were seeing and how they were such good beef. There were fields upon fields of sunflowers–made me think of “Under the Tuscan Sun” and want to run out and buy a little place to live–oops you need money to do that. Nice to  dream anyhow. And I saw lavender fields. The purple just jumps out at you. There were beautiful fields with newly bound bales of hay. Everything was so idyllic. It truly is the relaxing holiday that I so envisioned this to be.  No students to worry about, no camp to think about it, no reports to submit, no one asking me to make decisions. Just me,  relaxing. And for those of you that have made it this far, have fun translating the schedule that I embedded up in the first paragraph. Today (5 July) is Tage 3.

Tschuss!