A Travellerspoint blog

In my end is my beginning

Packing up, coming home, and moving on.

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There comes a time when even the most transient of souls yearns for a blissfully (if not temporarily) sedentary existence. I wanted my flea-free bed, my unstained clothes, my (relatively) un-stinky shoes, and even the uneventful comfort and order of Tulsa, Oklahoma. But, as I thought about returning to life back home, I was incredibly, though expectedly, sad.

There is something truly intoxicating about a life on the road – a life unbound by most responsibilities, a life dictated by whim and freewill... (until the money runs out, anyway.) But money aside, it is indubitable that exploration touches a deeply passionate and primal part of the human soul – it peaks curiosities, stirs intellect, strengthens the spirit, tickles the senses, and evokes the most incredible emotions. Simultaneously taxing and relaxing…carefree and careful...travel, as eloquently stated by Miriam Beard, is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. Therefore, in my end – the end of my internship, my summer, my journey – is my beginning.

I packed up my things – tucking evil eyes and textiles between one-too-many bottles of Bulgarian wine – crumpled under the weight of my pack, and said goodbye to Sofia. Our love/hate relationship had blossomed into full-on mutual respect, and I was mildly devastated to leave her just as we were becoming truly acquainted. I promised to return, but in my heart I knew it could be years…I think she understood. Sofia, and Bulgaria as a whole, taught me wonderful things: patience in the face of the Cyrillic alphabet, tolerance for bureaucracy and the resulting (ironic) chaos, understanding of the challenges faced by a post-Soviet “almost-Western” country, compassion for victims of the most unimaginable crimes, and admiration for a people unlike any other – quirky, careful, but absolutely gracious. And the wine…oh, the wine! Those Bulgarians certainly know how to drink with style.

My journey through Europe served as a fascinating complement and contrast (an appropriate contradiction) to my journeys through India and Africa. My internship – though certainly maddening at times – helped me to clarify my place in the world of humanitarian work. My summer, though only a speck in the (hopefully) grand timeline of my life – had a tremendous effect on my heart, my soul, and my personal aspirations. Now, having returned to my fairly-flea-free reality, I must decide how to move on with these deeply and permanently changed ideas of living.

So, moving on in the most literal of senses, I’ll be packing off to Washington, DC in about two weeks. Through and incredible stroke of luck, I am starting an extremely (and wonderfully!) demanding internship with the crisis response department of Amnesty International. Simultaneously, I’ll be starting my Masters – with the eventual goal of having a joint JD/MA in international politics/human rights. Yikes. I’m missing the beaches of Europe already. I am excited, completely terrified, but confident I’ve made the right decisions, and that I will, in fact, survive. I will use my patience, my tolerence for bureaucracy, my understanding, and my human compassion to contribute something, anything positive to this world. But for now, and in the near future, when I’m drowning in textbooks and twitching with caffeine, I’ll think fondly of my summer – the chaotic narcotic of bizarre, beautiful, Bulgaria.

Posted by MegMc2003 07:54 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (5)

Ohrid

My whirlwind weekend in Macedonia

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In spite of my absolute happiness to be back in Bulgaria, I decided to take just one more regional excursion before my final departure to reality. I'd wanted to see Romania, but when I realized that the journey required a lengthy train ride (please see the previous entry) I nearly vomited and decided otherwise. A bus to Macedonia sounded quite a lot more tolerable.

Because no 13 hours is complete without a good book, I splurged on the new Harry Potter just because I decided I deserved it. The bus, incredibly hot and crowded, was certainly improved by the presence of Harry and all his friends, however expensive he was. I was just glad to be on a non-train, so I tried to grin-and-bear my way through the heat, the large, sweaty, hairy men, the utterly rank seats and the nauseatingly curvaceous nature of the roads. Luckily, Harry Potter prompted conversation with two non-large, non-hairy gentlemen nearby: a Scot and a Brit, both similar in age and equally as sweaty and mildly miserable as I.

We arrived in Ohrid, Macedonia, thrilled, at approximately 4:45 in the morning. We were joined by a middle-aged Danish man, and the four of us decided to buddy-up and find accommodation. I was not excited about wandering the streets alone, and it so was nice to have english-speaking company. We settled on a wonderful apartment, and slept away the rest of the morning.

Ohrid is a UNESCO world heritage site famous for its large and beautiful lake. Because Macedonia is land-locked, the lake serves as a wonderfully pleasant substitute seaside. Being 2500 years old and all, the town has an incredibly rich history - with architecture, cultural festivals and other diversions to charm virtually any visitor. I was hoping for someplace charming, relaxing, sunny and friendly. I was certainly not disappointed.

We spent our first day together - slightly foggy from the bus ride - enjoying the rocky beach and clear waters of the lake, as well as the charming streets of the town. Ohrid does not look tremendously different from Bulgaria - I will post my pictures as soon as I can. I was particularly pleased to see the town surrounded by densely green mountains, in addition to the lake. The setting was so idyllic, I only wished I'd had more time to truly enjoy it.

We knew the night life was booming - as we'd walked through town around 5 am to find accommodation, all the kids were still roaming the streets, looking snazzy even after a long night out. Sure enough, we found ourselves a live concert somewhere along the main street. The place was pulsing with life, and we ended up at the front of the crowd, rocking out to Grease's "Summer Loving" and Elvis's "Suspicious Minds" - the rest of the songs, mostly of the alternative rock persuasion - have melted away in my memory. We danced and sang, loving every bit of the evening.

After the concert, a little singing in the street, a marriage proposal from a mildly creepy Macedonian man, caramel popcorn and a variety of other night-life antics - we collapsed into bed...summer days, drifting away...but oh! those summer nights!!!

The next day was a bit of a slow start - those summer nights can drain the days of energy - we had a strange breakfast/lunch of italian food. Duncan, the Scot, ordered the strangest pizza I've ever seen: the 'Istanbul' had ham, fresh yogurt, and eggs. blek! I was happy with my chicken parmesan.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the back streets, snapping photos and exploring the local castle/fortress. My time was up long before I was ready, and I left to catch my bus back to Sofia at seven pm. I was sad to leave the beautiful lake, and sad to leave my new companions. Macedonia, you certainly deserve more than even the most exciting of weekends.

Posted by MegMc2003 11:51 Archived in Macedonia Comments (1)

Train Disdain

My unfortunate journey from Athens to Bulgaria

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I wanted to take a bus to Bulgaria, but somehow - this continues to mystify me - I ended up gawking at the Athens train station instead. Damn. My previous experiences with trains - particularly those involving Bulgaria - have been tremendously unpleasant. Cross my fingers and hope (not) to die? Or be stranded somewhere completely random? or miss my stop? or lose all my possessions? or find myself victim of a cigarette raid??? I wanted out of sprawling, stressful Athens, so I took my chances.

Indian-style, I fought my way onto my car as a throng of over-eagers mobbed the doors. The hot outdoor athens air was suddenly cool - I'd just boarded a big aluminum baked potato. Within the first twenty minutes, I was soaked completely and suffering from prickly-heat. Luckily, I only had 15 more hours to go.

The air - aside from being impossibly oppressive - was ripe with body odor and mutiny. We were packed solid, and no one was happy about it, so the unfortunate steward was accosted by a slew of old women and macho men regarding the non-functional air-con. When he appeared to admit his impotence, arguments erupted between passengers - babies were screaming, teenagers teasing, old ladies hollering at their seatmates. I tossed a toy at some children to keep them from pestering me. Instead, i was sighted as a sucker and they swooped down upon me...a baby nearby even slobbered all over my newly-purchased Greek worry beads. To keep from looking revolted (I'm no good with children!!), I watched the teenagers next to me downing rakia and whiskey. They were irritatingly good-natured, but I had to laugh as they belted out boy-band tunes...NSYNC's "Bye Bye Bye", and Backstreet Boys' "I want it that way" really never sounded so good. As a complement, a Tanzanian nearby taught them a little bit of Sinatra. At least, I thought, there's entertainment in hell.

My seatmate was somehow intrigued by me, and we began to chat about my work. "Not many people are willing to do what you do," he said, "you are performing the work of God - have you been saved?" Oh dear. I was sitting next to a Greek Jehovah's Witness. No joke. We chatted for a while about why I'm going to hell for being unsaved - though he was much kinder than I thought he would be - until I decided to feign sleep instead of screaming.

My fake slumber seemed to dull him, as he disappeared when the train broke down shortly after. I had two hours to suck in fresh air while we waited...by some merciful miracle, the air conditioning worked when we re-boarded. The cool air enlivened the car, and a middle-aged albanian (capable of the most noxious odors) even took to groping my leg. (but not before spilling his whiskey all over my lap.) I nearly cried in relief when we arrived in Thessaloniki - three hours late. Then, I nearly cried again when I found I missed my connection to Bulgaria and had to sleep in the station until the next train in the morning. And then, I did manage to squeeze out a tear when the station guards tried to kick us stranded few to the street. "You can't sleep here! Station closed!" It was two in the morning. "But where are we supposed to go! We can't just wander the streets!" We said, it was if the last fiber of our patience and stamina had been swiftly severed. "It is not our problem!" they retorted. But it was a big problem for a solo American female.

In the end, they allowed us to be locked in a small downstairs waiting room. "Eat, bathroom now. We open door at 6 am." They didn't want us to steal anything. Steal what? I don't know. I probably would have done it though, out of spite. I squeezed in a few hours of sleep before being herded back to the surface of the world and catching my train to Bulgaria. I'd decided to stay in Sandanski - a city close to the border - and find a bus from there. Due to complete exhaustion, I stayed the night - arriving in Sofia three days after leaving Athens. I was filthy and smelly enough rival the albanian, but completely thrilled to be back to the familiar. Oh Bulgaria, how I missed you. Oh Bulgaria, I'll never take a train to/from/around or near you ever, ever again.

Posted by MegMc2003 11:00 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (0)

The Golden Fleas of Greece

My adventure through islands, insects, and artifacts.

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"ACK!! I've got so many bites!" I was scratching feverishly as my mom and sister looked on disgustedly..."where did they all come from!? WHERE?! Where are YOUR bites!? AHHH!" I maniacally counted each annoying little red welt, unconvinced that mosquitoes could be so ambitious. We were in Athens, slick with sweat, and generally unsatisfied with hostel life. The room was cramped with six saggy beds, the only alternative to frigidly freezing water was $0.75, the suffocatingly hot and heavy air wasn't remedied by even the smallest fan...and I had a bad case of the fleas. (I suppose I eenie-meenie-minie-mo'd my way to the worst choice of bed). As I was making cheesy jokes relating my infestation to the odyssey (the golden fleas...haha, get it?), my mom and sister were careful to quarantine me at a safe distance. I abandoned my pillow, but that was the best I could do. Ah, shoe string travel can be such an adventure.

We'd made it to Athens after a week of island hopping. In Santorini, we'd braved the mule ride from the port...an exhilerating, hair-raising 45 degree slope experience. We'd sunbathed on the black sand beach, clambered over the caldera, admired the white-washed, blue-doored buildings and swam in an eggily pungent hot springs. Our hostel, the worst in history, was fortunately flea-free. Instead, we battled two-inch-long cockroaches in a bathroom thick with stagnant urine. Hostel Anna anyone? don't do it! Santorini as an island, however, was breathtaking. Greece is just as you would imagine it, only a smidge more expensive and remarkably more beautiful.

Naxos and Samos were also absolutely lovely - we spent much of our time beach bumming, wandering the charming backstreets, downing gyros pita and Greek salad, and simply relaxing. Life was blissfully sunny and uneventful. When the time came to make it to the mainland - we found our place on the overcrowded ferry - with a lack of seats we bedded down in a hallway - and awaited our next big adventure.

We arrived, found a hostel (the infamous above afleamentioned), and spent one feverishly hot day exploring the Acropolis and the other ancient sites of Athens. I have to admit, after a life of hype regarding this legendary location - we were all a little disappointed to see the Parthenon covered in scaffolding. I suppose, however, that it will be worth it if the place is still standing in another thousand years or so. Maybe the fleas were simply making me a bit cranky. :) Hungry for even more history and ancient ruins, we decided to consult the Oracle of Delphi.

She didn't have much to say (it was too hot to prophesize, I think), but the site was absolutely incredible. Delphi is only three short three hours from Athens...but seemingly a world away. We were utterly charmed by the quiet cobblestone streets carved into the mediterranean Mount Parnassus, the friendly locals, and the unmistakable air of antiquity. It is always quite strange to realize that the history of the USA is merely a blip on the grand timeline of the world...the foundation of Delphi can be traced to 1600 BC!! Absolutely mind-boggling. We spent hours climbing about the ancient ruins - ogling the Temple of Apollo, the Treasury of Athens, the Stadium and the Theatre. Kelsey, with better knees and a sharper sense of ruin-curiosity, even explored a few dark and mysterious passageways carved into the mountain.

As a fascinating complement to the ruins, the museum housed some of the most remarkable artifacts I've ever seen. I've posted a number of photographs on my Picasa site, if you're interested. Frescoes, enormous statues, intricate carvings, jewelery, idols, ceremonial what-nots and mythological arts and crafts truly enlivened the experience. Once has to wonder - with all our plastic, steel and glass - what will remain of our culture a thousand years from now?

The nearby town of Arachova was next - quiet, very much local and utterly scenic, we were glad to spend our last days in Greece lazing around in a nice, (flea-free) hotel room, wandering the streets and breathing in the fresh mountain air.

Finally, we returned to Athens and I sent away my companions to the airport. I was heading back to Bulgaria - and, in truth, I'd missed it very much. I was tan, tired, enchanted by the many wonderful things I'd seen, and potentially rid of most insects. (I plan on bug-bombing my existence upon my return to the states, just to make sure my relief isn't...fleating. haha!) I was ready to go "home" before I went home.

Greece: ancient, a titch too expensive...but beautiful, enchanting, and well-worth the welts. :)

Posted by MegMc2003 10:50 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

New Pictures Posted...finally!

Greece, Turkey and a bit more Bulgaria!

For those of you who are curious...I made it home from Greece after approximately three days of travel - tired, filthy, and completely thrilled to be back in familiar territory (yay for Bulgaria!). My journey - just those threeish days - will be a blog entry all its own (as soon as I have the energy!)

If you've been waiting with baited breath for pictures, check out the new albums "Turkey", "Greece", "Koprivshtitsa", as well as the updated old album "Bulgaria". Enjoy!

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccune.megan

Posted by MegMc2003 15:04 Comments (0)

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