Posted by: Robb Olson | August 6, 2007

Photos from Orizari

Host family house

This is the house we stayed at in Orizari.

Posted by: Robb Olson | May 28, 2007

Macedonian Update #11

I don’t know why (it may be because I was going on no sleep at all, it could be that I hate airports, it could be the waiting in lines, it could be the ridiculous security protocols) but I let myself get bothered at the airport
We arrived before the Alitalia Airlines check-in counter opened, so we had to wait about an hour for the opportunity to wait in line to check in for our flight. When the counter finally opened, we checked in with reasonably no problems, but for whatever reason, my boarding pass for the connecting flight from Milan to Chicago would not print. We checked with the information desk about this, and they told me it was fine, that I would just have to check in at the airport in Milan to get my boarding pass. Minor grr, but nothing big.

We then proceeded through the security check to get to our gate. There was a mild snafu with my gear, and I had to run things through a couple times before I was given the thumbs-up. That taking all of my attention, I didn’t notice Shayne anxiously looking at me from the security counter. They wouldn’t let her carry-on her jar of Ajvar. Fuck! Now, I know that through the years, many innocent passengers of airplanes have lost their lives due to the liberal use of roasted red-pepper spread as weapons on airplanes… so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Shayne couldn’t carry it on… but I was still a little disarmed. This dilemma presented us with two distinct and nasty choices. Either we ditch the Ajvar (not available in the states anywhere, and the final jar that the family had, and especially gave to Shayne so she could enjoy it in the States), or we stand in line again at the check-in counter to check another bag (by now, not so many people had checked in, and there was a hefty line… grr to the grr.) While Shayne was calmly assessing the possibilities, I was acting all grumpy and pissed. We decided to check the bag, and the wait was not nearly as long as my mind made it out to be. Beyond checking the bag and securing safe passage for the Ajvar, I sorted out the boarding pass issue that I mentioned earlier, and eventually (after acting like a total baby for a while) I calmed down. Many many eternal thanks to Shayne for putting up with my tantrum, she didn’t have to, but she did.

The flight from Sofia to Milan was flawless, but then we had to suffer the agony of the flight transfer section of the Milan Airport. Essentially, between touchdown and your new gate, you need to go through a security checkpoint much as you would find in any airport. I think it’s frivolous, mainly because the only way you can get to this point is to have already been on a flight – which implies that the good folk of Milan International don’t trust the good folk of… anywhere else. Back to the point, there are about twelve gates to pass these hundreds of connecting flight passengers, which causes a ridiculous bottleneck effect. The only thing keeping me from strangling someone with my (following security checkpoint standards) recently removed belt was the fact that Shayne and I were loopy from lack of sleep, and we were making up songs about the people waiting in line with us.

Ugh. Our connecting flight was scheduled to depart at 10:40am Milan time (about 3:40am Chicago). There was a mechanical delay, and they didn’t even start the boarding until 11:00. After various rigmaroles, I would estimate that the plane was airborne by 11:30am, headed for my sweet home.

A flight is a flight, and there’s not much to be said (assuming that there was no occasion for anyone to use the emergency exits, oxygen masks, or seat cushions as floatation devices) about a flight. Due to the aforementioned computer glitch witch delayed the printing of my boarding pass for this flight, they didn’t seat Shayne and I together. Furthermore, Both Shayne and I were seated in row E. For those not familiar with the seating layout on a Boeing 767, there are two seats on the left, then an aisle; three center seats, another aisle, and finally two seats on the right. The progression of seating letters (which, in my opinion, defies any and all logic – and illogic for that matter – that could possibly be applied to the process of designating specific numeration for any item) goes, from left to right:

Window, C,A, aisle, G,E,D, aisle K,H, window.

For anyone keeping score, Seat E is the only possible option of the seven that is not adjacent to either a window or an aisle.

Bitches. I got placed in 42E, Shayne got 40E. Total bitches.

The silver lining to that internationally pain-in-the-ass cloud is that, while Shayne and I did not sit together, I had some good travel conversation with the woman to my left, who had spent the entire last month in Italy with her husband and friends. I told her of our travels, and she gave suggestions for where to go, and what travel guides to use. It was a nice distraction from the seating snafu.

Posted by: Shaynee | May 28, 2007

Macedonian Update #11

We jumped into the taxi and drove 200 kilometers and about three hours, which was extremely impressive. We got to the airport way early and had lots of time to observe all of the Bulgarian teenagers who were headed to the Dells for summer work. It was pretty crazy. Sofia has a very impressive airport, and in my opinion, is much nicer than Milan’s. There was a quick ajvar scare, though, which almost lead to me having to throw out my ajvar. I probably would have sobbed the entire plane ride from Sofia back to the states if that had happened. Apparently, ajvar is considered a dangerous substance that can’t be trusted or brought onto a plane because of its liquid-like form. So, when I tried to bring my carry-on through the security check, they found it and told me I’d have to check it in. So, much to Robb’s displeasure, we had to go back down to the check in line and wait in line with all the future Wisconsin Dells employees to check in my bag and save the ajvar. Save the ajvar, save the world. Due to some slight cutting, I was able to check it in pretty quickly, even though we had the most unpleasant airline assistant “helping” us, and we were able to make it to our terminal with plenty of time. I saw a beautiful sunrise over the mountains, which was a perfect ending to an amazing trip.

Posted by: Robb Olson | May 27, 2007

Macedonian Update #10

Sunday started off with a breakfast of biscuits and milk. Sounds weird, huh? Well imagine taking some graham crackers and breaking them up into a cereal bowl, then adding warm milk… warm ‘whole’ milk. Suffice to say, the concoction was very sweet and heavy, but as they say… when in Rome.

We had to go to Kocani to take care of some last minute things in preparation for our flight home. We had to change some money in order to pay the taxi driver, and buy some food for the flight (snacks and things). Despite the fact that nearly everything was closed, we eventually found a place to change some money (coincidentally the place we originally found our mystery cab driver that would take us to Sofia Airport). Money changed, we bought snacks and began our whirlwind tour of goodbyes.
We first hit Vilma’s for an early afternoon visit of conversation and cake. It was Kristijan’s birthday Saturday, and there was a ton of cake left over… it was delightful. We sat and talked for a while, and eventually had to give our sorrowful farewells to the Vilma crew (sans Kristijan who had been awake into the wee hours of the morning, and was unwakable).
For the remainder of the afternoon, we had a date with Emilija and her family to head up to a little resort hotel in the mountains. The place was gorgeous, overlooking a lake that was wedged between some beautiful mountains. As seems to be the routine here in Macedonia, an obscene amount of food was ordered, and Emilija’s husband (via cellular phone) began recruiting some of their friends to join our party.

Eventually, having been the subject of near two weeks of nonstop hospitality that was borderline harassment (for artistic effect, I never actually felt harassed), I had reached my limit of trying to fit into the customs of being a guest in Macedonia… so Shayne and I went down to the lake to “take pictures”, when really I just went down there to be away from everyone. It wasn’t long after we returned to the party that we left. I claimed to be tired when people asked if I was OK, and we were on our winding way back down the mountainside, into the lovely city of Kocani once more. Along this beautiful ride, Emilija surprised us both with parting gifts (not like on Price is Right or anything… just gifts for us because we were going home). She gave Shayne a very nice brown leather purse, and for me, a small zippered leather bag (too big to be a “ballers wallet” but still looking suspiciously like one, leading me to believe that Macedonians must think we’re just hung with money in America… in reality it’s probably not for that purpose at all, but more likely to hold small documents and things for travel.) As soon as we got back to the host family house, I threw my wallet, passport, money and coins into the little love pouch, and added it to my messenger bag. Perfect!
Going back a little, we said our even more tearful goodbyes to Emilija and her family, and made our way home. We got back to the house around six o’clock and spent the rest of the night chillin there, spending quality time before our inevitable (however late) departure.

As if it weren’t enough that they gave us free room and board and the promise to come and go as we please for two weeks with no real obligation to spend time with them, as well as tons of free food and drink, Shayne’s host family loaded us up with gifts as a farewell for our journey home. Unless I am forgetting something, we made it out of there with a jar of Ivar, two bottles of Rakia (spelling?) (One of them for Dave), two bags of coffee for making Turkish coffee, a bean salad that is intended to be eaten while drinking their moonshine, and some perfume for Shayne. As Shayne and I have stated before, the hospitality and good will do, and will always, go unmatched.

The taxi driver (who ended up being Emilija’s neighbor… small world), who we suspected was not an actual taxi driver (just some dude doing runs to Bulgaria for money), showed up in true Macedonian style, over an hour late. He was a really nice guy however, and we couldn’t stay mad at him for long. He also promised that we would still arrive at the airport at the designated time of 4am (we were leaving Orizari at 11:30pm and going to Sofia – a drive that is supposed to take 4 hours – plus, there was a time zone change that was against our favor, plus there was the ambiguous border crossing situation, which delayed our bus into Macedonia for almost two hours.)

Anyway, I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
We had our most tearful goodbyes of all as we were loading the Taxi with all of our gear in the driveway of the host family’s house. There were plenty of “have a safe trip” and “come back soon” and any other salutations that would seem appropriate for a Macedonian family to wish upon their adopted international family members as they were departing for parts unknown (well, unknown to them at least).

Shockingly true to his word, the taxi driver delivered us safely to the airport in Sofia, Bulgaria at 3:34am (26 minutes prior to the zero hour that was calculated using a 10:30 departure time). The dude not only knew precisely where he was going, but also how to grease a wheel or two at the border exchange, where we fell under suspicion for not registering with the police that we were staying in Macedonia within the three day period that they require (we didn’t register at all, registering with the police is a loser move). As the topping on the cake, he even went to get us a luggage cart while we were unloading the bags from the back of his car. What a good guy!

Posted by: Shaynee | May 27, 2007

Macedonian Update #10

We woke up on Sunday to one of my favorite meals here: biscuits and milk. It’s basically crushed tea biscuits served with a little bit of sugar with warm milk poured over them. I used to eat it all the time. One of my many guilty pleasures. My poor host dad (who my host sisters said can’t even make coffee) was the only one home and made the gesture to make it for us, but I stopped him before he could. We bummed around the house for a bit and then went to Kocani to see Vilma and Mile one last time. They treated us to cake from Kritijan’s birthday, which was Saturday, and Robb and I chatted with them for about an hour. They are such hard workers and never really take a break or vacation because there’s no one to take care of the shop. They also offer certain types of teas and health foods that can’t be found anywhere else in the Balkans, so they have ads running in Serbia and get calls all the time about it. But, they never complain and are grateful for the fact that they have steady work and that they enjoy what they do. We said our goodbyes to them and instead of waking up Kristijan (who I found out later was out till 7 am for his birthday), we said we’d make sure to make it upto Winnepeg to see him.

It was then time for us to meet up with Emilija, Trajce and their daughter, Nina, and head up to Brana, which is an area up in the mountains about twenty minutes away from Kocani. On a good day, it makes a fantastic hike, but it was a little too hot for that, so we drove. To give a little personal history bout Brana, it was the first place I stayed at in Macedonia. As soon as our Peace Corps group touched down in Skopje, we hopped on a bus and went straight there and stayed for a week before meeting our host families. There’s a beautiful secluded hotel up there called Hotel Gradce (Little City), and it sits right in the mountains on an artificial lake. It was a great first impression of Macedonia and I took tons of pictures and went on some great hikes. It has since become a pretty popular spot where Kocani folk frequent and listen to live music while enjoying quality Macedonian food.

We made it up to Gradce to find it fairly busy, but we still found a table outside on the terrace and ordered some typical Macedonian skara and salads for everyone to share. Coincidentally, some friends of Emilija and Trajce came by and our party of 5 became a party of 11 (us, 2 more couples, each with one child). The food was fantastic and we were able to get down to the lake where Robb took some great pictures. Eventually, we had to go back as we wanted to spend the rest of the night with my host family. This time, though, we were actually able to pay a little, although that was offset by the fact that they gave us parting gifts. Of course, the goodbyes with Emilija and company were very sad, but now I’m even surer than before that we’ll see each other again.

We made it back home after unsuccessfully trying to burn our leftover denars on snacks for the trip. We then spent our last few hours just hanging and talking with the host fam and eating way too much for the last time. We had some great conversations and during those last hours ended up with the following the pack in our bags:
2 bags of Turkish coffee
1 bottle of perfume
1 jar of vegetable salad to go with the
1 L bottle of rakija for us
½ L bottle rakija for my dad

And the best and most touching…
Their last jar of ajvar

Ajvar is really the Macedonian food. It’s a spread consists of ground up roasted red peppers, eggplant, oil and salt. Every September, every Macedonian family buys hundreds of pounds of peppers, roasts them, grinds them and mixes everything in a huge pot to cook and later be jarred up and used throughout the entire year. It’s a huge 2-4 day undertaking which I’ve happily been a part of many times. The village smells of roasted peppers for weeks and it’s absolutely fantastic. The first thing I asked for when Robb and I arrived at my host parents’ house was ajvar and bread, and I’ve eaten it as often as possible while in Macedonia. My host family is well aware of my love for ajvar, and them giving me their last ajvar when I know they won’t have any more till September is truly overwhelming. Their hospitality has been well, well over what would be expected and the beautiful thing is that’s just how they roll. It’s their status quo.

After waiting for about an hour after when our taxi driver was supposed to come (Makedonska rabota), our time had come to go. My host parents and host sister, Ane, sent us off with lots of well wishes and requests to come back next year for Ane’s graduation. It was pretty sad, but as I said before, I’m even more convinced that we’ll see each other again, sooner rather than later.

Posted by: Robb Olson | May 25, 2007

Macedonian Update #9

Friday was one of the first times that we really started to feel like we were leaving, and we weren’t feeling too good about it. There was a point (sometime in Skopje) where we shifted from being excited to be here, to being sad that we were going to have to leave. Friday, emotions were running a little stronger than usual, and a bunch of factors were muddling our heads. Early in the day, we visited Shayne’s friend Ats, and while she caught up about things that were going on in life, I got a very inexpensive and much needed and appreciated haircut. They exchanged emails and numbers (to make sure their records were current), and then we made plans to meet Ats later at a disco, and headed off.

That afternoon we headed into Kocani to do some business. We needed to post a blog, check emails, change money, call the airline, call hostels, and buy bus tickets. As Shayne has surely attested, she started to freak out a little. Between timing and prices, the end of our journey was becoming a total mess. Eventually we sorted everything out, and landed on a simple and cost effective plan that actually gave us more time in Kocani to spend with friends. All things settled, we set out (by taxi, Shayne and I were too frazzled to navigate hills and things at that moment) to Emilija’s house for a sleepover. The night wrapped up with Emilija insisting that we sleep in their bed. The hospitality we’ve met is always miles beyond what we expect, and it’s sometimes overwhelming.

Posted by: Shaynee | May 25, 2007

Macedonian Update #9

Friday was the Day of Souls, meaning no work was to be done (thank goodness we got our laundry done the night before!). Robb and I went for a walk in the village and ended up at my friend, Ats’s hair salon. He’s probably the most well-known hair stylist in Orizari and gets tons of business. He used to have a small studio in one of the rooms of his parents’ house, but not he has a studio about three times the size of that above his garage. It was great to see how successful he’s become. He was even able to squeeze Robb in for a $2 trim. We made plans to go to a local disco that night, but I later had to cancel due to major stomach issues, probably caused by all the overeating I’ve been doing.

We eventually made our way to Kocani to get some stuff done, including figure out how we were going to get to Sofia for our dreaded 6:30 am flight on Monday. To say it was a pain in the ass is an understatement. Here is the list of our options, in order in which they fell through:

1.) Take a 3 pm bus on Saturday to Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria and then transfer onto a bus headed to Sofija, where we’d stay in a hostel and leave early Monday morning for the airport. Total cost: $90-100. CANCELLED due to the fact that the 3 pm bus doesn’t run on Sundays.

2.) Take the midnight bus to Sofija on Saturday night, arrive at 6 am on Sunday, walk around Sofija all day, crash in a hostel on Sunday night and leave early Monday morning for the airport. Total cost: $90-100. CANCELLED due to the fact that when we went to buy the bus tickets on Friday, we found that the midnight bus doesn’t run on Saturdays.

Now, at this point, I was beginning to inwardly freak out and worry about how we were going to get to Sofija. I knew it’d probably have to be a taxi, and I knew it’d be expensive.

3.) While finding all of this out at the travel agency, a guy hanging out there said that he’s driving someone to the airport on Saturday night for €50 and would get us to Sofija around 3 am. To those of you who have never been to Macedonia, this may seem odd that some guy just hanging out at the place would be able to help us, but things always seem to work out like this. We’d crash for the rest of the night/morning at a hostel, walk around Sofija Sunday day, crash again at a hostel and get to the airport early Sunday morning. Total cost: $180-200.

Did I think about all of these costs? Of course not.

4.) This guy also offered to take us by ourselves straight to the airport on Sunday night, arriving around 4 am Monday morning, just in time to check in our flight. Total cost: $100

Now, to the calm and steady eye, it would seem like option #4 was the best, as it would allow us one more day and get us straight to the airport without any fuss in Sofija. Makes sense, right? But to the freaking out Shayne who only head “$100 for a taxi ride” and wasn’t thinking straight in the least, #3 seemed like the best. So, I set out to find hostels for us to stay at, using my limited knowledge of Sofija from the one trip I made there. I started frantically calling these hostels to figure where we’d stay, not even realizing how much extra it’d cost us to stay two nights in Sofija. After finding out that the first-choice hostel was booked and the second choice hostel checking its availability and asking me to call back, calm and relaxed Robb mentioned the fact that while the taxi ride in option #3 was cheaper, we’d be paying much more in the end to stay in Sofija (most hostels cost around €10-15 a night) and that option #4 was really the perfect solution. Thank goodness I hadn’t taken this trip alone and had my reasonable partner with me to actually think things through while I was spazzing out.

With everything figured out, we went to Emilija’s with a new sense of calm. OK, I had a new sense of calm and Robb was as calm as he was before because he was never freaking out in the first place. We planned to spend the night there in order to spend some quality time with Emilija and her family, which of course we did. After a lovely dinner and fantastic cake, we all headed out to a café and took in the Kocani weekend night life. Once again, money was not allowed to be spend on our side and we headed back to sleep at Emilija’s, where, under our extreme protest, they gave us their huge bed while Emilija slept with their daughter and her husband slept with her son.

We woke Saturday morning and enjoyed some рибанки (fried bread similar to French Toast, but eaten with cheese instead of syrup or jam) and headed back to Orizari with plans to see Emilija and Co. on Sunday. My host mother let us know that she heard from Bage, who arrived safely in New Jersey after a 12-hour flight from Milan, where she said she threw up “100 times”. Poor thing. I know she’ll be fine once she gets used to everything, but I’m sure the first few weeks will be tough. I can’t wait to get back home where I can call her regularly and make sure she’s doing ok. I am her older sister, after all. We spent the rest of Saturday just chilling with the family and watched a movie. Eventually RObb and I made it out to Kocani for some major blog posting, followed by dinner at my second favorite restaurant in Kocani, El Pida. I made a pretty good recommendation to Robb to try the Greek Patty, which is basically a burger with cheese inside, and he seemed to like it. We headed to a cafe for a quick pick-me-up and then made it an early night and headed home.

Posted by: Robb Olson | May 24, 2007

Macedonian Update #8

That night was Bage’s last night here before embarking on a four month work adventure in southern New Jersey. It was an emotional night, with a stream of guests coming and going. Toasts were made, and everyone was sobbingly assuring each other that she was going to be fine and that she would be home soon. There was a natural separation of adults and youth, and Shayne and I eventually sided with the youth. Everybody was talking about what Bage would be doing, and how she would have tons of money when she came home. Occasionally Shayne and I would drop some advice or give her some information that would make life easier.

Soon enough, the van that would take them to the airport in Sofia arrived, and a very tearful goodbye sent her on her way. It is worth stating that families operate differently here, and going overseas for a few months Is a huge deal. Aside from the fact that Visas are tough to come by, and it’s rather expensive to travel, families seem to be much closer than in the states. Someone leaving for a large chunk of time can be difficult to accept. Especially knowing that a place like America is a very tempting place to decide to stick around and get lost in the cracks forever. I can understand why her parents were so sad, and a little fearful. We did everything we could to comfort them, after Bage’s van faded into the darkness, we stayed up with the parents for a couple hours, drinking wine and talking about life.

Posted by: Shaynee | May 24, 2007

Macedonian Update #8

Thursday was my host sister, Bage’s, last day here as she was headed for America (Wildwood, New Jersey, to be exact) to work for the summer. So, we spent the rest of the day hanging out with the host family, playing cards with my Ane (my other host sister) and Bage while friends and family came in and out, wishing Bage safe travels. It was a day full of tears as my host mother worried asked us tons of questions about America. Bage, however, stayed pretty calm, which was surprising. She’ll be working at an amusement park and is going with four other friends from her college. They got the job through an agency, but there are a lot of unknown factors, such as what their schedules will be like, where they’ll live, if someone will be waiting for them, etc. They’re expected to fly into Newark and somehow make their way to the bus station and get on a bus to take them to Wildwood, which is way down in southern New Jersey.

Families are valued much more here than in the States. Most kids go home almost every weekend in college and their parents take complete care of them, paying for everything. Very few teens and college students have jobs. Children live with their parents until they’re married, often never having to cook or clean for themselves. Then, when a couple gets married, the wife moves in with the husband at his parents’ house and they usually live above the parents in a separate, but connected apartment (most Macedonian houses are at least two, usually three floors because of this). So, needless to say, four months no your own, thousands of miles and six time zones away from your family in a foreign country is a very scary thing. There’s also the ever-present chance of someone staying past their given visa time and working illegally. Many Macedonians do this, which means that as long as they work in the States, they can’t go back home. Bage promises that she’s coming back so that she can finish college, and I believe her.

A van came to pick her up with the rest of her friends around 10:30 that night, and there were tears all around. She has all of my numbers, as well as Robb’s, and I told her to cal whenever she wanted, regardless of the time, and promised my host mother we’d take care of her, even though we’d be far away. I hope to get to visit her there some time before she heads back in September, and hopefully she’ll have some time to get out to Chicago as well.

Posted by: Robb Olson | May 23, 2007

Macedonian Update #7

Wednesday was an endurance contest (for me) of meetings. At ten that morning, we were set to meet Dejan, a friend of Shayne’s, for coffee. We sat and talked for a little beyond two hours. They naturally caught up a little about what’s going on with each other, and the conversation turned a little more general. We talked everything from politics to pop culture. Dejan is an interesting character. He seems to have well established opinions about things, yet is open to discussion about almost anything. He is very natural in conversation, and was a load of fun to talk to and hang out with. He informed us (for future trips, this information will be very useful) that there’s a great “underground” club scene for people who want to escape the pop music and fancy fashions. Very good to know.

After meeting with Dejan, we son had a lunch date with Michael. He’s another Peace Corps person from Shayne’s group. We met up at a restaurant that’s popular with the foreigners, boasting a huge menu and a seemingly endless supply of waitresses in very tight, very small uniforms. Ugh. Michael is… a politician. He was very energetic and pleasant and polite. While Shayne and him had plenty of things to catch up on, I found myself a little disinterested in the conversation. There were a few times where we engaged in political conversations, and as much as I knew he was presenting an opposing view, he did it n a way that made my feel like he wasn’t disagreeing with me. Michael is obviously a good guy, and I’m sure that if I were to spend more than a fleeting lunch date getting to know him, I’d really like him.

Tummies full, Shayne and I headed out to find MASSO. MASSO is the organization that I had set out to find and do a story on for my paper. It’s the only openly gay organization in the country, and I was determined to break my teeth as an international news correspondent covering the LGBT issues in
Macedonia by doing a story on them. After some crazy confusion about where the place was (addresses in Skopje – not so good,) we decided to just call the office and have someone come down to show us where to go. We spent a couple of hours talking to the staff there (regrettably, the president could not be there), while I jotted down some furious notes in my notebook (interrupting the continuity of this, our travel memoirs). MASSO is a young organization, and it is obvious that different people hold different opinions as to what is the most important things that they need to be doing for the GLBT community in Macedonia. Igor, who lived in Chicago for five years, and is openly gay had a very different idea than most as to what needs to be focused on in order for gays to be treated equally in Macedonia. He’s surely influenced by the way that things are in the west, and seems frustrated that here, things are so much worse.

Not done yet! After MASSO, we had a meeting with Victoria. Victoria is one of the girls that participated in Camp GLOW, something Shayne organized as a PC volunteer. She’s college aged and obviously very intelligent. We went to a café called New Age, the closest that you can probably find to a hippy hang out in a place like Skopje. Regrettably I was insanely tired, and so I didn’t participate nearly as much as I would have liked to in the conversation, but from time to time I did drop a gem about politics or how things are in America. One interesting side effect of speaking a language that is not your primary language is that you’re going to eventually say something wrong. It’s inevitable. During our conversation when Victoria was talking about school, she said (in English) “the teachers need to molest us more”. This error is very forgivable considering she’s studying many languages and in most of them saying that would be grammatically correct.

We (me being exhausted and grumpy) headed back to Rachel’s place to die. Shayne and I were feeling very funky, and I knew I would feel much better after just doing nothing for a while, allowing my head to reset. Soon after hitting the couch, Rachel got back from doing Rachel things, and we decided on dinner. Shayne and I ran out for food, stopping at the veggie stand she grew to love when in Skopje. A minor running in with a diminutive Roma kid later and we were bus bound to eats at our crash pad.

We left Rachel’s early on Thursday, checked our bag at the bus station and bought our tickets for the trip back to Kocani. From there, we had a few hours to kill around town. We first headed toward BROZ CAFÉ, the remarkably copyright infringing coffee shop that is the nearest to some American espresso that you can find in the entire country. We had some drinks and chatted a little with the staff (and I might have bought some goodies there too), and then we were off to do some photography about town. Shayne got some good shots of a church that she hadn’t previously gotten, and I got some good graffiti (my favorite: *in English* FUCK AUTHORITY), finishing with a labor protest that was taking place across the street from the Parliament building in a park.

We headed to the bus station, and hit the internet café for some quick email checking before we hit the road. Finally after grabbing a quick snack and paying to use the public restroom (ugh, Europe), we got on the bus.

The bus… was awful. I can say with a clear conscience that I have not liked a single bus that we have been on since touching down in Sofia nearly two weeks ago. I would gladly take all of the previous hours spent in those buses again, if it meant not having to endure the hell that was our bus ride to Kocani. We were lucky enough during boarding to find two adjacent seats, as the bus was sold out, and filled to capacity. I was ready, as I climbed inside, to elbow some old ladies if that was necessary to sit next to the love of my life. As the bus traveled along its path, it made regular stops to drop off and pick up passengers (note, the dropping off was nothing in comparison to the picking up). Before we left the city limits, there were already people standing in the aisle.

After the second city stop, the nightmare was going full bore, as the 55 person capacity bus was operating almost double that, and due to their frightful fear of a gentle and cool breeze, every window in the bus was locked tight on this 70 plus degree day. Every nerve I possessed was tensed as the bus (which, as you may have guessed, operates much slower when jammed with sweaty flesh) trundled along. I was ready for a full scale freak out.

After what must have been an eternity, the steamy stink of a bus lurched into the station in Kocani, and after briefly contemplating having them take us on to Orizari (a plan hastily abandoned when we saw the sea of new people waiting to fight their way on board), we opted for a nice, small, and thankfully empty taxi as our chariot for the finish line photo.

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