As an update to my previous post (ask me for the password if you want to read it), I now have cash and credit cards and a new wallet.
I met up with Papa in Sofia and we spent the week in Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Albania – his 64th, 65th, and 66th countries. Impressive.
In my short time in Romania, I went to visit the ruins of Trajan’s Bridge, ruins of an ancient Roman bridge over the Danube. Much to my chagrin, the tourist center and surrounding city block had fallen into disrepair. I didn’t get the see the ancient ruins since the more modern day ruins blocked it.
Baba Vida in Vidin
I was hungry in the early afternoon and the only place to eat was some dinky mobile home eatery outside the fortress that looked like it served only heavily fried food and beer. I went up to them and they didn’t speak English. I didn’t have Bulgarian currency and asked if they accepted Euros. She said “yes” and gave me thumbs up. But she was shaking her head “no.” I was thinking “hmmm, that’s weird.” I took out the Euros and pushed the money forward. Again, she shook her head and said “yes.” I was so confused but she took it.
I don’t think there are words that quite capture how bad the roads in Bulgaria are.
You can’t really imagine. I mean you actually can’t, unless you’ve been here. You regularly bottom out.
Dirt roads would have been so much better than these potholed asphalt roads. Even the regional highways have huge holes that could blow out a tire. At one point, they just closed the only road between northwest Bulgaria and Sofia, leading to a 3-hour, 100-mile detour through the worst local roads I’ve ever seen.
In the northern city of Vidin, the roads – either under construction or the regular state of the road, not quite sure – looked like they were fit for only military-grade Humvees.
Drivers license update. The Macedonian border patrol didn’t ask to see a license. So far, only one of four crossings has asked for it. There is still hope!
God Bless the USA
On our drive from Skopje to Ohrid, I shuffled my music on the car speaker via Bluetooth. Just as we approached a tollbooth, shuffle came up with “God Bless the USA” and we turned it up and enjoyed our heritage while cruising. I wonder how many people have listened that classic in Macedonia.
When we crossed into Macedonia from Bulgaria, we gained an hour. However, we didn’t know this at the time. We spent an entire day one hour off without even knowing (vacation is great).
Papa woke me up at what turned out to be 8 AM, which wasn’t cool.
Skopje and Mount Vodno + Millennium Cross (biggest cross in the world)
In Ohrid, Macedonia, we have now twice been serenaded in the company of traditional Macedonian quartets.
In the walk up to the St. Naum Monastery, we heard a scream. We couldn’t find its origin, until we did.
Galičica National Park
In Macedonia, the lowest bill is 10 dinars, which is about 18 cents. In Slovenia, the lowest bill was worth about 8 cents. So much better than Switzerland where the lowest bill is worth $10 and everything else is coins. Coins are the worst.
Drivers license update. The Albanian border patrol didn’t ask to see the license either. Only 1 of 5 so far.
I’m still alive
Oh my god. I’ve sweat through so many shirts on study abroad for various reasons like getting detained by border police, but this one takes the cake. The drivers in Tirana are cray cray. There are no rules.
There is just too much going on for the brain to process. There are no lanes so cars just drive wherever in the road that they want – including the other side of the street to try to get ahead of traffic on your own side. Motorcycles, Vespas, and bicycle riders weave in and out of the traffic. Pedestrians don’t walk on crosswalks or wait for traffic to stop. People with strollers or wheelchairs just rolling through the middle of traffic were standard. Some red lights are optional. People honk their horns before the light has changed to green because you are taking too long to accelerate. All vehicles cut people off first, then change lanes second because there is no expectation that someone will ever let someone else in their lane voluntarily. Beggars knock on car windows, stand in front of the car, and start washing the windshield by pouring opaque soup and impeding vision. The main roundabout is FIVE lanes wide because thought it would be smart to end the main highway into a roundabout. There was so much traffic in the roundabout that drivers started going onto the island and the sidewalks. And like Bulgaria, there are potholes everywhere so while all of this is going on, you have to be watching the ground at all times.
Since Donald Lu, the US Ambassador to Albania, is a Princeton grad and is from Huntington Beach, I sent him an email via the alumni database and next thing we know, we are visiting the Tirana Embassy as his guests. Ambassador Lu was an extremely impressive individual and we learned a lot about US-Albania relations. While I’m not sure what I am allowed to share from our visit, I’ll just leave it that even Foreign Service workers in the ambassador’s office are not immune to the DMV inconveniences of being abroad and that Papa and I are perhaps the only American tourists in the entire country. We were given US-Albania friendship pins as parting gifts.
- 19,130– Words written on this blog so far (This blog would now officially qualify as a novella in length)
- 18 – UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Westminster, Tower of London, Kew Gardens, Sintra, Tower of Belem, Stonehenge, Bath, Serra de Tramuntana, Sevilla Cathedral and Alcazar, Toledo, Brú na Bóinne, Swiss Alps Jungfrau, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Skocjan Caves, Rila Monastery, Ohrid)
- 9 – Personal phone numbers that I’ve used as my primary number on study abroad (+44 7598736659 [UK], +44 7404245455 [UK old], +1 310-809-2668 [USA], a +1 (661) number on Skype, +351 915-406-195 [Portugal], +34 602-695-139 [Spain old], +34 611-291-985 [Spain new], + 41 76-735-8909 [Switzerland], +39 3273549533 [Italy])
- 8 – Football matches (Crystal Palace x2, West Ham, Tottenham, Sporting Lisbon, Arsenal, FC Luzern, England National Team)
- 6 – Airlines flown (United, British Airways x5, Ryan Air x3, Air New Zealand x2, airberlin, Easy Jet)
- 10 – Currencies used (British Pound, Euro, US Dollar, Swiss Franc, Croatian Kuna, Serbian dinar, Romanian leu, Bulgarian lev, Macedonian dinar, Albanian lek)
- 15 – Countries (UK, Portugal, USA [it counts], Spain, Ireland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania)
- 24 – Times crossing a national border
- 11 of 20 – Passport pages used
- 43 of 105 – Days of study abroad spent outside the UK (through Apr 21)