As I've mentioned in my previous post, now that I've made the transition from tourist to (temporary) resident I personally find it difficult to write about anything extraordinary as it applies to me. I think my mind is elsewhere, most likely the future, and that does affect the content in a diary-like medium like a blog.
Spring in Ljubljana is a gorgeous time of year. Tumultuous, yes, with it's moody weather swinging from grey and stormy to pleasant and warm within a matter of hours. We've been going on short walks in the city, hunting for medieval houses we read about in our guidebook and sipping coffee at the banks of the Ljubljanica River.
We are fast approaching our departure date. There are few trips I want to take before we leave, though we will always regret not seeing this or visiting that - the common complaint of tourists worldwide - without appreciating what we have seen during our stay. Am I going to miss Ljubljana? Yes. But I also miss my life in Vancouver, which was much longer than my life here. Will I come back? Perhaps, but not for a long time.
In other news, I submitted three poems to a small outfit that wants to publish chapbooks. I'm still waiting for their reply. I also have a project waiting for me back in Canada, but I can't tell anyone a word of it until, well, I don't know really know when. I have to complete three essays and undergo one exam before I leave.
Lisa was kind enough to inform our esteemed readers that we were traveling a few weeks ago. So, here are some of my impressions of our recent Balkan trip. These are written as thumbnail sketches, based on memory and notes, so they may appear too impressionistic and fleeting (or poorly written). During the trip, I was writing poems for publication while riding on trains and in solemn hotel rooms.
We've been to this lovely country before though we stayed longer this time around. This was our first stop and for some reason I was completely exhausted when I stepped off the train. We got a private room in a hostel and stayed for the Easter weekend to gain momentum for the next leg of our trip. Sophia is huge, busy and exciting. We checked out dilapidated Communist monuments and wandered the streets at night looking for booze and food. One thing I'll say about traveling in the Balkans: eat dinner early. Nothing is open at night, expect greasy fast food joints. I can imagine kitchen brigades slipping away at night to tuck into spinach burek and a lager, forgoing the customary meal at home. However, we ate at one of the best Moroccan restaurants I've ever visited, though an odd plastic smell permeated the dining room and it made eating there a tad unpleasant. Oh, well.
To be honest, I don't have much to say about Macedonia and Skopje at the moment. Skopje, rebuilt after an earthquake in 1963, is mostly replaced with plain concrete. The train and bus station is a marvel, though. Very blocky and utilitarian, with much unused space, but the interior is airy. Huge, too.
The Turkish Quarter is lovely. We bought baklava and walked the hilly, cobbled streets. The neighbourhood cafes were inviting and crowded affairs.
Ohrid: Seated at the bank of Europe's supposedly oldest lake, surrounded by craggy mountains, I really enjoyed this town. We visited a tiny monastery situated on a rocky outcrop. We then stumbled upon a massive archeological dig around a cathedral. The workers pointed out the trail as we navigated around the wheelbarrows and pickaxes. We saw the standard ruins left behind by the Romans. Ohrid is worth visiting.
We were there for about 24 hours. I was surprised, after hearing about this newly independent nation in the news for so many years, that it would be so bustling. People were everywhere. The street outside our hotel was a long trench, as were most of the streets in the surrounding area. Turbo-folk was blasted from every angle.
On the highway to Pristina: Olive-coloured military transports rumbling past our packed bus. Checkpoints manned by bored soldiers puffing on American cigarettes. Half-built houses, three times the size of the average family home in Vancouver, were the dominant landmarks. Building supply stores were seen every twenty kilometers. The highway severed a vast grassy plain, and gray mountains cradled the landscape; storm clouds crept towards us from behind them.
For some odd reason, no one was smoking on the sidewalks of Pristina, yet men were selling cigarettes from card tables on the curb. We ate at a Chinese restaurant near the UN headquarters; it was very good, very filling. Children sold lighters and flashlights on the street, shining their wares at customers seated in restaurants and cafes. Route 66, an American restaurant selling burgers, tempted us from afar. I craved onion rings and beer.
We had to walk across the border early one morning to reach Albania from Ohrid. The sign welcoming visitors was dotted with bullet holes, shot from the Albanian side. After one taxi ride we took a long minibus ride through the mountains, driving on winding roads. The driver fed me cigarettes and blared techno from a new radio. He bought a live fish in a plastic bag from a roadside market and threw it into the trunk; we could hear the poor thing flapping listlessly for a portion of the trip.
Albania is one of the most mountainous countries I've ever visited. From my perspective, there is no flat land in that nation, just one mountain rising and falling into another one; villages clung to the sides of those green giants.
Tirana: Cigarettes and passports sold on cardboard boxes. Cars, scooters and trucks racing on roundabouts. Mosques pepper the skyline. Excellent coffee, terrible ice cream.
From Durres we took a ferry, a massive ship with several dining areas and private cabins. We slept in the "common room." Passengers made makeshift beds out of their clothes, though some had blankets. Others slept in the halls. I stepped out to the deck and saw the infinite darkness of the Adriatic Sea at night.
Oh, and Durres is interesting. We checked out the mall (I haven't been in one for two years) and ate decent pasta. To get to the dock we had to walk through a shanty town filled with vendors and kids asking for money. Two guards watched over the gate that lead to customs. For me, that was an odd experience.
I'm of two minds regarding Italy. First, it is beautiful. Don't let anyone tell you different. Rome, for example, has a dream-like quality to its streets and squares. I think a combination of very long streets filled with enticing shops, and the epic fountains majestically rising from the pavement like ornate bouquets, make Rome appear "unreal" to new visitors. I got major food poisoning, which seems to be a common reaction North Americans have when they visit Italy.
Lastly, when I return to Canada I'm going to relocate my online presence. First, I'm withdrawing myself from Blogger. My blogs will remain online but there will be no new posts and the comments will be closed. I'm looking into building my own website that's going to have a dual function: blog and business.
Friday, we're off to Maribor for the day.