A Short Trip to Macedonia

The weekend before last three friends and I joined an Albanian tour group that traveled to Lake Ohrid, Macedonia. Randy and I spent time in Skopje, Macedonia last summer but I wanted to return to Macedonia to visit the beautiful lakeside cities of Ohrid, Struga and Pogadrec, Albania. We were not disappointed with the beauty of the area.

IMG_0195

We left Tirana at 6:00 AM just in time to see the sunrise. Randy is not traveling with me because he is in the States for hunting season.

IMG_0198

We arrived at Lake Ohrid after about three hours of driving.

The first thing we did was take a 30 minute boat tour. We saw a church and castle (from a distance) that we would visit later in the day.

IMG_0224

On our walk up to the castle…

Do you see the trellis growing in front of the house on the left? It produces kiwis which you can see in the close up on the right. Kiwis are widely available in Macedonia and Albania. This is the first time I have ever seen how they are grown.

Views from in and around the castle.

ohrid-pearls-ohrid-southwest-region-macedonia-hgjgkn.jpg

IMG_0280After visiting the castle we shopped for some Ohrid Pearls which have been popular (even in the royal family) for the last 80 years. The pearls are made from ground shells formed into the shape of pearls and then painted several times over with layers of emulsion made from the scales of Lake Ohrid fish.

We then got back on the bus and drove to another lakeside village called Struga where we explored the beach, city center and several bridges.

IMG_0328

Dana found a friend on our early morning run the next day.

IMG_0322

IMG_0335IMG_0336IMG_0340

IMG_0366

Another gorgeous monastery, St. Naum.

773cf9e3-06e4-4b14-bf66-84d6d4aa1c764c73086b-65b0-4037-8241-60d2ba8b6ee45d82505a-bbd9-45e3-bd9e-a9da34106312

Headed out on a 30 minute boat ride around the lake.

1f49b609-32fc-4b4d-907d-4eca85ddeda5

Look how crystal clear the water is! The lake had a white sand bottom, no mud, and was full of various green plants. Beautiful!

Can you see the white sand bubbling in this video? The lake is spring fed and the bubbling sand is where fresh water enters the lake.

This was a lovely spot for lunch in Pogradec, Albania on our way back to Tirana. My Albanian assistant from school had her wedding pictures taken here last year.

As always, thanks for reading my blog. Next up is a four day weekend to Bari, Alberobello and Matera. Looking forward to visiting these relatively small towns in southern Italy.

Happy Thanksgiving to family and friends. I am so very grateful to have each of you in my life.

November, 2019

Earthquake #2 was Stronger and Scarier

This morning a bit before 4:00AM my bed started shaking and I could hear breaking glass and a big bang coming from another part of our apartment. I jumped out of bed but it was not easy to stand because of the shaking. 😦  I felt disoriented, partly because of what was happening and partly because I was woken from sleep. Randy is currently in the States for hunting season so this time I was by myself for the earthquake.

46f63b78-e256-4fb7-8c83-91e7e7b43241

I quickly put on my robe and slippers, grabbed my phone and purse and started walking down the seven flights of stairs to get outside. Just like last time there were lots of people gathered on the sidewalks crying, hugging and huddled in small groups to stay warm since it was about 45 degrees. I connected up with a few teacher friends who live in the same building and after an hour or so we went to a coffee shop to sit and wait and figure out what to do next.

a8fa6819-5e63-4d85-bdc0-d9ddae9d5aaeWe all look happy but actually we are really quite freaked out inside. :O

After a couple of hours we returned to our apartments. During the last earthquake our overhead light swung back and forth, the houseplant leaves moved and an empty plastic bottle fell over. This time our water machine fell over (the big bang sound), some glass bottles fell to the ground and several things on some shelves either fell off or were knocked over. Here are a couple of pictures.

I also took this video which is entirely too long.

 

Cracks in the stairwell walls like last time only bigger now.

If you look at the images on TV about the earthquake in Albania, it all looks pretty horrendous.  Those images are coming from other towns that are 30-40 km from here. Please pray for these Albanians who are having much more severe earthquake damage. The streets and city of Tirana look fine. We walked around some today and really noticed very minimal damage.

The hardest thing about the earthquake is the number of aftershocks. There have been two major ones so far, measuring 5.0 and 5.1. Each time they happen I go down the stairs wait for an hour or so and then go back upstairs. I am definitely okay but the whole thing is just plain unsettling and scary. Of course, school was cancelled for today and tomorrow.

Thanks so much for all your texts and calls expressing your concern.  XOXO

 

November, 2019

Croatia, Montenegro and Northern Albania with Friends

Albanian College had a week long break in October. Our lifelong friends, Sarah and Marty, came to visit from Nashville, Tennessee. What a treat it was to have them here! We spent our time visiting Croatia, Montenegro and northern Albania.

Sarah spent time collecting close to a hundred pounds of books to bring to Albania to donate to our school. Wow, how very thoughtful!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

fullsizeoutput_fcea

We rented a car and started driving north on our first full day together. Here we are in Montenegro overlooking the Sveti Stefan which is an islet with a 5 star Aman Resort on it. Elizabeth Taylor, Sofia Loren, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are just some of the celebs who have stayed here. Rooms go for an average of 800 euros a night. Just to go over the narrow causeway cost 20 euros per person so we simply admired it from a distance. 🙂

Next we took a 20 minute ferry ride before leaving Montenegro and heading to Croatia.

Good bye to Montenegro and hello to Croatia. With the two border crossings it took us about 8 hours to drive from our apartment in Tirana to Dubrovnik, Croatia.

IMG_9324

Our first night in Dubrovnik enjoying Italian food in this charming setting.

Then we wandered around Old Town enjoying the beauty of the area at night.

The next day we went on a free walking tour of Dubrovnik. It was given by a retired police officer who also served in the military. He did an excellent job! In addition to telling us about the history of the city he pointed out several spots where Game of Thrones was filmed.

fullsizeoutput_fa15img_9353.jpgfullsizeoutput_fa1cfullsizeoutput_fa14

As part of the tour we heard, once again, about the aggression of the Serbs in the early 1990’s. Montenegro was also part of the aggression which killed 20,000 people and resulted in massive damage to Dubrovnik as shown in the map above. The bottom picture shows shrapnel damage to one of the churches.

After the tour we enjoyed a delicious lunch in another beautiful setting.

That afternoon Marty and I climbed to the top of the wall surrounding Old Town Dubrovnik and took a two hour walk all the way around. Beautiful!

IMG_9462

That evening we did an AirBnB Experience called Eating with Locals. The Croatian couple who welcomed us to their home were featured in National Geographic Traveler a year ago.

 

Our hosts, Zlatko and his lovely wife Marija.

The food and drink was delicious and plentiful!

IMG_9500

The following morning, on a run, I took this picture of the sun rising in Old Town. I feel so very, very fortunate to get the opportunity to see sights like this.

IMG_9497

Look at the sweet little church I came across on the same run.

IMG_9498

Locks on the bridges like almost everywhere else in the world.

IMG_9499

Of course this picture was taken in honor of my firefighting husband.

IMG_9507IMG_9514

Enjoying some fresh fruit for breakfast in one of the city squares on our last morning in Dubrovnik.

fullsizeoutput_fcf4

I took this picture as were leaving this beautiful city. On the day we left 5 cruise ships had just arrived and dumped hundreds (or maybe thousands) of people in Old Town. The people of Dubrovnik are happy to welcome tourists but are concerned with the amount of people the cruises bring to their community.

IMG_9620

We have now headed south from Dubrovnik and re-entered Montenegro. We stayed in the city of Kotor which is another town on the coast of the Adriatic Sea with a population of about 15,000 people. It has a medieval old town full of narrow winding streets, squares and several churches dating back to 900 AD.

Narrow winding streets…

Beautiful churches…

fullsizeoutput_f97f

We enjoyed a delicious meal in one of the many squares with our friend, Jesse, who teaches with me at Albanian College.

The next day at least two cruise ships pulled into the port of Kotor. We did not need to deal with the crowds because we are now headed further south to Shkoder, Albania.

Our first stop when arriving in Shkoder was to visit the Rozafa Castle which dates back to 167 BC. The castle sits on top of a hill providing beautiful views of the Montenegro Mountains and the city of Shkoder.

fullsizeoutput_fa25

Leaving the castle

This monument was built in a Shkoder park to commemorate “the dedication to the persecution, resistance and sacrifices of the people of Shkoder during the communist dictatorship.”

IMG_9666

Look! We were surprised to see advertisements for Kodak products knowing the history of Kodak in Rochester.

img_9691.jpg

This was the view out of our hotel window in Shkoder. The mosque was complete with frequent calls to prayer. Living in a country where there is widespread acceptance of different religions is refreshing.

After spending the night in Shkoder we hired a driver with his 4×4 vehicle to take us two hours to the village of Theth which is in the far north part of Albania. The road is unpaved, very steep, one lane and not suitable for us to drive there with our rental car.  If you have read my previous posts then you know this is my third trip to this gorgeous little village high in the Albanian Alps. Randy and I were so glad we could share this part of Albania with Sarah and Marty.

img_9813-e1574538057541.jpg

The road to Theth is in the process of being paved and widened which will make it lots easier to get to.  At the same time, some of the locals have expressed concern that Theth will be overrun with tourists.

75210683_10162512225465581_9175866722148679680_o

IMG_9729Beautiful Theth!

We loved spending time with our good friends. It was wonderful to experience the countries of Croatia and Montenegro for the first time and to introduce them to Albania. We so appreciate the Karpies effort to come visit.

It has been awhile since I have updated the blog. School has been super busy including two 12 day stretches of work where we were required to do 15 hours of International Baccalaureate training for a weekend in September and then complete another weekend training in October. It is really hard to sit that much and to work for that many consecutive days. 😦 Glad the weekend trainings are complete. It is also the time of the year for parent teacher conferences, end-of-term reports and lots of extra work to prepare for a visit from the IB to Albanian College. I am looking forward to my school life slowing down a bit.

November, 2019

 

A Visit from Randy’s Sisters

We were fortunate to have Randy’s two sisters visit us in Albania the second week in September. Carol lives in Oklahoma City and Ellen lives in Springfield, Missouri. They spent a few days in Rome before heading our direction. We are grateful that they took the time and money to come visit for a week!

IMG_8232

We picked Ellen and Carol up from the airport on a Friday and headed straight for Apollina, a two hour drive south. I have written about Apollina a couple of other times on my blog when we have taken other visitors there. Just as a refresher, Apollina is an ancient Greek city dating back to 600BC. Julius Caesar declared Apollina a “free city” as a reward for supporting him in a civil war that was fought with Pompey. Julius Caesar’s nephew, Octavius (also known as Caesar Augustus) studied in Apollina in the 1st century BC.

More of Apollina…

28b69fd2-eaaf-40f9-889a-a68591392621.jpg

After we finished in Apollina, we drove another hour to Berat. Once again we stayed at Guesthouse Kris. The charm, comfort, delicious breakfast, welcoming host and price has brought us back here several times. Guesthouse Kris is located within the castle walls of Berat Castle which adds to the ambience of the whole experience.

More pics of Guesthouse Kris.

Taking a tour of the Berat Castle grounds.

f92d3fb9-fd2c-4875-ba42-258a76899d81

That evening we left the castle grounds and went down into the town of Berat for dinner. Berat is known for the 1,000 Windows which is shown here. Thanks for sharing this great picture with me, Carol!

5992c1d3-f4b2-4c61-b470-f8a9aa57ac4d

The next morning we drove along the Albanian Rivera towards Himarë.

6D9D7B93-6764-4AEF-A7C0-A280B1D04CC0

Here we have stopped in Vlora at Proper Pizza for lunch. Yum!

fullsizeoutput_f5ee

The big brother and the little sister with our Himarë hotel in the background.

Putting our feet into the Ionian Sea.

IMG_8267fullsizeoutput_f4a7

Sitting on our hotel balcony enjoying a gorgeous sunset.

fullsizeoutput_f4aa

Before we left Himarë we made arrangements to take a two hour boat tour along the coast ending at Pirate’s Cave.

d6cfda1a-29c3-4f03-ab68-32166d073faf.jpg

Waiting for the boat captain so we can get started on our tour.

IMG_8280

…and we are off!

We visited a few isolated beaches where we were the only swimmers. It was amazing and magical! Every time I think I know a lot about what Albania has to offer, another opportunity presents itself. We loved this experience!

Our final stop was Pirate’s Cave where the boat actually went into a cave and we took these pictures.

fullsizeoutput_f4ad

We are now driving back to Tirana along more curving, twisting roads. Can you see the road up on the mountain as it zigzags back and forth?

As we drove along we watched a paraglider float along beside us, very cool!

The following Monday I went off to work and Randy took his sisters on a walking tour of Tirana…

…followed by lunch at Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC came to Albania about a year ago. Last spring Burger King also came to Albania. There are a limited number of international businesses willing to open stores in Albania because they have a hard time getting clear title. When communism fell almost 30 years ago it caused up to three different groups of people to claim the same piece of land:

  • the people that re-claimed land that the communists had taken away from them
  • the people that were given the land to use during communism time
  • squatters that claimed the land as theirs after communism fell

The government is still working to figure out what land belongs to which people. So when an international company wants to build their business on a piece of land it is very difficult to get clear title so they are hesitant to build.

Randy is becoming very well versed on Kruje because he has taken so many of our family and friends there.

670a6860-5f3f-44d8-9d2a-42b0fd555a4e

We took this picture of Ellen Wilson standing at Wilson Square in Tirana (no relation). You can see a statue of Woodrow Wilson in the background. Wilson (and the United States) are well loved in Albania because after World War I, President Wilson said the borders of Albania would stay the same even though Greece, Yugoslavia and Italy wanted to break Albania into parts and keep the land for themselves. There are a few schools named after Wilson plus it is not uncommon for people to name their sons Wilson.

Of course a visit to Tirana would not be complete without coming to visit Albanian College.

Carol and Ellen (and me too) were intrigued by the traffic lights that lit up all the way down the light pole. These are not common throughout Albania but do show up on a few streets.

Thanks again to Carol and Ellen for making the effort to get over to visit us. We loved hosting you!

No more traveling until October when we have a week off of school. Our good friends, Sarah and Marty, are coming to visit at that time. We will be headed to northern Albania, Montenegro and Croatia. Looking forward to it!

As always, thanks for reading my blog!

September, 2019

Earthquake!!!

Yesterday afternoon Randy and I were sitting in our 7th floor apartment visiting with a friend who had dropped by. Then the whole room started to shake, the overhead light was swinging back and forth, some empty plastic bottles fell over and the leaves on our house plants started moving. Randy said, “I believe we are having an earthquake.” Randy and our friend seemed quite calm but I was not. I said, “what should we do? This is so scary.” etc., etc. We decided to move to the doorway because we had heard that was the safest place to be. It seemed like the earthquake was going on and on but it probably only lasted a minute or so but that seemed like a very looooong time!

When the movement stopped we left the apartment. We took the elevator down which was not the right decision. Usually our apartment elevator is fast and quiet. As we went down the elevator was really slow and made a lot of horrible sounds but we made it down. If you are ever in an earthquake, don’t take the elevator!

When we got outside, the streets and sidewalks were full of people, some of them crying but no one appeared to be hurt. After standing around for 30 minutes or so we went to a nearby coffee shop where we sat with a group of school friends and exchanged earthquake stories. The police were driving up and down our street using a loudspeaker to tell people not to re-enter their buildings.

After a couple of hours we weren’t sure what to do and everyone else appeared to have re-entered their buildings so we all headed back to our apartments. As we walked up the seven flights of stairs we noticed many new cracks in the walls along with broken plaster on the ground but other than that everything seemed okay.

Last night as I was brushing my teeth to go to bed I noticed the towels in the bathroom started swinging. It was one of several aftershocks that continued through the night. None of the aftershocks was as powerful as the initial earthquake, thank goodness!

Here is a link to some coverage of the earthquake on the Weather Channel.

Weather Channel link

Thank you for all the calls, texts and messages of concern. We appreciate it so very much.

 

 

Starting Year Two at Albanian College

My second year of international teaching started on September 3rd with a precious group of 10 grade one children. I was scheduled to have 16 children but as happened last year, they did not all show up. This discrepancy seems to happen primarily in grade one. There is more consistency in the higher grades between the expected number of children and the actual number of children that show up on the first day of school. Anyways, here are my grade one students this year:

fullsizeoutput_f423

Ana Bela

fullsizeoutput_f425

Darius

fullsizeoutput_f59f

Emili

fullsizeoutput_f427

Amela

fullsizeoutput_f42f

Klesti

IMG_8163

Isabella

IMG_8166

Elena

fullsizeoutput_f42d

Donat

fullsizeoutput_f429

Eden

fullsizeoutput_f42b

Blin

Aren’t they adorable?!?! This year I only have two non-English speakers. Most of the rest of the students have been at Albanian College for up to 3 years, ever since they were three years old. Since many of them have been at the school for so long they have had plenty of time to become fairly proficient in English.

The children are arriving at school and getting their folders and water bottles to bring into the classroom. It is not safe to drink the water in Tirana so there are no water fountains at the school. Instead the children bring water bottles of drinking water from home each day. The school also has water coolers full of bottled water for the children to refill their water bottles as needed.

The children are checking out the toys in their new classroom. Just like my students in the States, the children LOVE playing with the Magna-tiles.

Each day we spend 10-15 minutes using a program called Jolly Phonics to teach the children the letter sounds. Jolly Phonics is a British program that includes songs, hand motions, puppets, rhymes and a book to learn how to write the letters.

Books, books, books, these children love books! Some of the children are already reading and some are on the cusp of learning this skill while some will probably not be reading independently for a couple months. Regardless, they all enjoy our classroom library. You may recognize some of these books as ones that were donated by Dudley School in Fairport, NY.  🙂

c40cbd9a-cca8-4e56-b475-07d45d74288d

Here, the children and I are discussing how to make a chart to show when the classroom birthdays will be celebrated. This would be a difference between how I teach in the States versus using an inquiry approach that is encouraged at ACT. In the USA I would have the birthdays already posted before school started using some type of visual that I purchased from a teacher supply website. Here the chart is made by the children using their ideas of how to note when they have birthdays. I love this way of giving the kids so much ownership over how the classroom looks and is run.

My birthday was during the second week of school so here are the kids singing happy birthday to me in Albanian.

Here the children are working in small groups to sort pictures as we start our first transdisciplinary theme called Who We Are. At grade one this theme teaches the children about the physical, social and emotional characteristics of ourselves and others. After they sorted the pictures they explained to their peers how they sorted and why.

The children are playing a math game called Collect 20 which is part of the math program adopted by Albanian College. The program is called TERC or Investigations, the same program I used in Fairport a few years ago.

Over the past summer all of our administration resigned and one was fired. 😦 I found out through various emails over the course of the summer. Needless to say, the whole thing was depressing. I had such a good year last year and was looking forward to one more year of teaching and living abroad. Randy and I had many discussions in July and early August as to whether I wanted to return to Albanian College. The deciding factor was that I have grown to love Albania, my students, their parents and the Albanian Assistants I work with. I wanted to try to give it one more year and hopefully have at least a small positive impact on the lives of the people I have met here. Another reason I wanted to return is that I love international teaching and the  way it stretches me to think about my teaching in new ways. We decided we would return to Tirana and if I was miserable in my teaching position we would simply come home to Fairport.

I am happy to report that so far school has gone well. We have an entirely new administration who are working hard to make the best of a difficult situation. As you know from previous posts, I have become friends with many of the other foreign teachers since living here so that helps with the transitions. All the teachers have been very supportive of one another which has gotten school off to a good start. Glad to be here for another year.

Next weekend 17 of the teachers (including me) will be attending all day trainings on Saturday and Sunday (a total of 15 hours). The training is being given by a trainer from the International Baccalaureate community who is flying in. Although I am looking forward to receiving the training, I am not looking forward to teaching for 5 days, training all weekend and then teaching for 5 more days. Ugh!!!!!

Hiking from Valbona to Theth

The weekend before school started Randy and I and our friends, Edlira and Aldo, took a big hike in northern Albania. This part of the country is often referred to as the Albanian Alps. We hiked between the small villages of Valbona and Theth. We had heard about this hike for a year and were anxious to try it but the whole trip takes three full days so we could not do it as a weekend trip. Also the hike can only be completed between June and October because of all the snow in the mountains during the rest of the year. We were so glad we had the time to go before school started!

IMG_7665

We took the trip with a tour group of 13 people, 10 Albanians, a man from Dubai and Randy and I. We met the bus in Tirana at 5:00AM and drove north for three hours where we walked through this tunnel to Komani Lake to board a ferry.img_7669.jpg

img_7671.jpg

Trying to figure out which ferry is ours…

We were on the ferry for not quite 3 hours and the whole time we were treated to one beautiful scene after another, an absolutely gorgeous ride!

fullsizeoutput_f446

After getting off the ferry we took a two hour bus ride to Valbona where we ate lunch at this charming farm. All the food was either grown or made here.

IMG_7716

After lunch we took an hour long walk to our guesthouse.

IMG_7707

We even walked with some cows at times, loved it! Do you see the backpack I am carrying? We each carried everything we would need for three days because after we got off the bus for the ferry there would be no cars or buses available until after we made the hike to Theth.

IMG_7721

Look at this charming old mill we passed by during our walk.

Putting our feet in the VERY cold, clear, beautiful mountain water.

f76a2ede-b364-4928-86d4-d31ef463cd42

Randy and Aldo kept us well supplied with fresh wild berries during our trip, yum!

1526d3d3-fb8d-4524-b3bb-6ca2e3b94391

Even though there does not appear to be much going on with recycling in Albania we were glad to at least see they are making an attempt.

On the final road to, and then arriving at our guesthouse.

e465b67c-d051-4385-ba92-b729a72ecb37

After we settled into our guesthouse, the four of us went for coffee (or Lemon Soda for Randy and I).

fullsizeoutput_f447

The next morning we were provided with all of this food which we used to pack ourselves a lunch for the hike.

fullsizeoutput_f2be

We are at the trailhead and ready to hike!

737ca999-5f0b-420b-9f66-5d7fb93793fa

IMG_7759

fullsizeoutput_f548

IMG_7758

If you know Randy, you know he NEVER wears shorts no matter how hot it gets. Here he is showing us that he broke down and wore shorts on our hike because of the heat. 🙂

IMG_7780IMG_7778

We are headed over the pass you can see in the distance.

96ca671e-2927-4ba1-ae77-c10b37963cd1

e451c218-0da9-4448-bb62-ce38f481dce2

Can you see the permanent snow in the distance?

fullsizeoutput_f452fullsizeoutput_f4501e19dc17-ee9a-47a2-b515-706816cf9540

Yay, we made it to the top of the pass!!!

fullsizeoutput_f541d7594cc4-63fe-4b91-814c-57ec90e0e968

On our way back down the other side of the pass.

IMG_7806IMG_7810

Believe it or not there were three coffee shops along the hiking trail!

Remember when I said you had to carry everything you needed with you for three days for this hike? If you did not want to carry your things or if you had too much stuff, you could hire a horse or mule to carry your things for a cost of 50 euros. I was really intrigued with the horses so the man leading the horse let me hold the horse’s lead. 🙂

IMG_7828

fullsizeoutput_f248

Continuing down the mountain…

fullsizeoutput_f247085f918f-1afc-4e1f-9002-9f5f9f6c5a3d

These are some of the people we hiked with, such delightful people! The young man in the foreground is our guide, Endri. He is 18 years old and headed to the University of Tirana to study civil engineering starting this month. Endri leads hiking groups on weekends as a part time job and seemed super responsible considering his age.

IMG_7847

Look what we came across near the end of the hike.

IMG_7848

Almost to Theth…

448cd9c4-bb16-407a-8cd3-31f8413132a5

One of the people we hiked with sent this screenshot of our trip. We were exhausted by the end of the hike but so glad we made it!

def56b21-d284-4e9e-99e7-2a3df0c0ca99

That evening we hiked outside of the village of Theth for about an hour to the Grunas Waterfall.

IMG_7860

On the way back from the waterfall we stopped at the Defense Tower and heard this man tell us about the history of northern Albania including blood feuds, the Kanun and his family’s ownership of the Defense Tower.

Before we left he played this tune using a simple green leaf from a tree. The tune is one of the very first traditional Albanian songs.

7ea574a0-c4ed-46bc-9b1a-ccc99a816ee1

The next day we took a very bumpy, twisty-turny ride from Theth as we headed for Tirana. One more stunning picture of the four of us overlooking the Albanian Alps. This trip was tiring but so very worth it especially since we could travel with two of our very good friends!

September, 2019