Пловдив // Plovdiv (not in the snow)

I had no idea what to expect from Plovdiv. The name sounds so heavy and gloomy — because of plodding, I’m sure, but it’s one of the oldest cities in the world, so, you know, why not.

And as often happens with places for which I’ve zero expectations, I loved it. Like, so much ancient history, but then it’s also like, okay, how do I get to the H&M to buy a pair of shorts? Oh, just walk past the mall over the Roman Stadium from the 2nd century AD and it’ll be on your left.

I kind of wished I’d paid to go down into the Roman Theater — it’s only like 7 leva/~$4 USD, so it wasn’t the money, only that I still don’t have my stupid debit card and therefore access to my actual cash, so just straight up didn’t have the leva, and didn’t want to change more before I left.

But even from above, it really makes the skin crawl. Especially as events are still held there today, sitting in the exact same seats occupied for shows in the fucking Roman Empire.

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So cool, but as an American, where 500 year old St. Augustine is considered mind-blowingly old, it’s beautifully unsettling.

And Plovdiv, as well, really likes its fountains.

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Huh, I think I thought I (saaaaaw yooou cryyyy) took more pictures, but apparently not. Have some tombs and shadows and rampant greenery.

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Also, the hostel I stayed at was amazing, which always affects the experience of a city; I highly recommend Hostel Old Plovdiv — beautiful interior, huge and amazingly comfortable rooms, and the whole place is kept running smoothly by a cat with an iron paw.

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And making friends with your hostel roommates always makes for a better time. (Not pictured: the other girl named C/Kat (more or less), out of the five people in the dorm.)

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From there I took a night train to Istanbul (because how romantic does that sound?) so hopefully I can get that massive amount of photos sorted and updated soon.

Maybe.

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Софья в снегу // sofia in the snow

Yes, I Google-translated that. Obviously. But at least my toddler-level Russian has helped me out in both Bulgaria and Ukraine so far.

So yeah, it was warm in Skopje when I left, like jeans and tank top weather. And it snowed in Sofia. Twice.

🙂

I am a weather god.

It was very clearly spring, though, and I love juxtapositions like that — the green and the bright flowers under the falling snow; it’s part of the reason why I loved the change of seasons in Milwaukee.

My hostel was a bit out of the way, though, and Sofia was where the death-plague that’s haunted me through four countries and two continents took root, so I really only spent one day wandering around very much downtown, and this is basically just a photodump.

But like. You walk out of the central fucking metro station and it’s like oh, here, have some ruins of 4th century baths right outside, nbd.

Also, Bulgaria in general really loves its fountains.

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macedonia: skopje // city of statues

Skopje was pretty refreshing, really. I had a rough couple weeks and was a bit downhearted, but I really just liked Skopje.

It’s a weird city, no doubt. If you know anything of Skopje, you probably know of the bizarre government initiative in the early 2010s or so to just like… build statues. And monuments. And fountains. Like… a lot of them.

Understandably, a lot of Macedonians were and remain pretty pissed that this is what the government decided to dump money into, instead of, you  know, jobs or infrastructure. But it does make it a unique place to visit, I will give it that. And a lot of them are kinda cool.

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And Skopje is just a cool city. I’d be lying if I didn’t rejoice a little bit in things like huge shopping malls and ordering pizza online. And I loved my hostel, the Shanti Hostel, and it’s amazing how much that in itself can factor into your impression of a city — at least if you’re like me, and tend to spend a fair bit of time (for various reasons) in the hostel.

I am a huge sucker for fountains, though, so even the most over-the-top installations were awesome to me as long as they involved water. Or lots of green space, of which there is a lot in Skopje.

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And the old bazaar is huge, holy shit, and old, dating back until at least the 12th century AD. I wasn’t really expecting how massive and labyrinthine it is, like every corner you turn, there’s another six or seven endless streets spiralling out. I’d guess it’s even bigger than the sprawling souks of Marrakech — though definitely not even in the same stratosphere of intensity.

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And also there’s this, which, well.

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Yeah, I got nothing.

And as a bonus, the Vero Center mall has a ball pit in the play area. Fuck you if you wouldn’t be tempted to jump in. I didn’t, but I definitely thought about it.

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So yeah. I like Macedonia. 😀

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kosovo: prizren // goodbye toe

I really wanted to go to Ohrid in Macedonia, since it’s supposed to be astonishing, but with my back fucked up six ways from Sunday, I decided to just head to Prizren. I had to stay in Tirana an extra day because I literally couldn’t fucking move, at least until a hostel volunteer gave me some painkillers which dulled the spasms enough that I could get out of bed, but fortunately the hostel in Tirana (Trip n’ House, which is a dumbfuck name but a decent hostel) could accommodate me another day, and City Hostel in Prizren let me change my reservation without a fee, which was also very nice.

Unfortunately, like immediately upon arrival in Prizren (or at least that night), I stubbed my toe on the bathroom doorjamb (admittedly, rooftop beer and rakia probably didn’t help). Which wouldn’t have been a big deal, except because my back’s so fucked, I couldn’t reflexively jerk my foot back, and instead just pitched forward, landing on my knees on the tile floor, and ripping a solid layer of skin off my toe.

Which made things like “shoes” a bit of a problem, which made things like “leaving the hostel” also a bit of a problem. So I spent the next day wallowing in justifiable but also really pathetic self-pity. I might have cried in the lobby. A little. I vented my feelings by appropriating the spare pair of flip-flops in the hallway so I could shuffle around a little before I left.

Though I admit there’s something perversely satisfying about being unable to go do travel-y things and explore because you’re physically unable, and so you can sit in bed all day without feeling bad — except for, you know, feeling really bad.

Prizren really is lovely, though, aside from the creepy mannequins. I ended up skipping Pristina, so I can’t confirm or deny the general opinion that it’s kind of worth skipping, but Prizren is beautiful, even if you’re like me and only limp down the streets a few times.

I actually have some slightly more substantial updates from Skopje, Macedonia, which I really loved — I didn’t really know what to expect (which is generally a good thing), but it was a surprisingly awesome place. Despite/because of all the ridiculously ornate statues. So hopefully that will be more interesting than these recent photodumps.

 

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albania: shkoder & tirana // i forgot to photograph tirana

Wait, no, I did not forget to photograph Tirana. I left my camera in Tirana, and with it, all my photographs. Sigh.

I’m in Bulgaria now, traveling from Sofia to Plovdiv tomorrow and then heading to Istanbul, and I might try to see if I can find an inexpensive point-and-shoot, because like, Istanbul, I don’t want my only photos to be from this godawful replacement phone. We’ll see.

Anyway, Albania was interesting, and fairly different than most places I’ve been. I mean, not really, but I think it only opened its borders in the mid-’90s, and it’s still got a bit of an insular feel. But a lot of travel/tourism websites and blogs talk about how Albania is going to be the next big destination, and I definitely got that impression. Especially in Shkoder, moreso than Tirana.

To be fair to Tirana, I managed to throw my back out really badly when I was there, because I’m apparently like 90 years old. It’s been nearly two weeks, and I still can barely touch my toes, or crack my lower spine, which normally I have to do like every ten minutes, so that’s great fun.

Also, the street dogs of Albania are a lot sadder than the street kitties of Croatia and Montenegro. They don’t appear to be starving or abused or even particularly dirty, but just — lonely. I want to pet them all.

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montenegro: ulcinj // photodump, photodumb // still catching up

Honestly I don’t have much to say about Ulcinj. I had a shitty time there. Which sucks, because I loved my hostel (Hostel Pirate), and the city is beautiful, I just finally landed on ill luck. So I’m pretty much just photodumping here, mostly from my hostel host Dijana offering me to come along with her dog to a lighthouse on the coast, which was a really damn cool thing. So I’m just going to document this shit and attempt to catch up to a place where I can blog before I forget everything.

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montenegro: kotor // mostly photodump

My dudes, if you do nothing else in Eastern Europe, take this bus ride down the Adriatic coast.

I mean that’s probably not true, but it is kind of amazing, and also I love the word Adriatic.

Yeah, I have a bit of a lexical obsession; blame my linguistics training.

But it’s a really lovely trip, and I made a new friend on the bus (hi Yvonne!) and another acquaintance I ran into in Albania, because of course.

In Kotor, the Thing To Do is to climb up the old old pathways up to the fortress. I wish I could say I did this, which I did not, but I got about halfway up before I’d almost sprained an ankle like three times, and decided the views I’d got were worth not ending up in the hospital.

Also, the cats of Kotor are apparently a thing. Like with gift shops, and a museum, which sadly was still closed, but lots of adorableness. I apparently did not get many pictures of them, but let me assure you: excellent cats.

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