a norwegian spring, skipping off to skopje, and loving ljubljana.

and above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.  those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.

— roald dahl —

fresh off my trip to kazakhstan, i was back at it, planning my next adventure.  this time i was off to norway, macedonia, kosovo and slovenia, six days after i landed in boston from astana.  crisscrossing the atlantic like a pro….or an insane person.  full disclosure, i had already been to norway once before, back in 2012 when i went to oslo in mid-december. it was arctic cold and filled with drunkenness, but i did see the scream painting, and almost threw up in henrik ibsen’s house from a massive hangover, but i never really felt like i saw the real norway.  that was about to change, i was off to telemark, 90 miles southwest of oslo.

first and foremost, norway is beautiful.  being there in the spring meant seeing the snow melt, trees turning green, and fires outside while watching the sunset bundled up in blankets.  it was cozy, cuddly, and all-around perfect.  doesn’t hurt having a water view and some wine either.  life goals right there.

scenes from svanvik

because tim wanted to make sure i saw more of norway than i did on my first trip here, we took a day trip to brevik, which is one of the cutest villages i have ever seen.  it reminded me so much of new england but with a scandi twist.  we walked the small cobblestone streets with ice cream in hand (tip: find someone in your life who will eat ice cream with you no matter how cold it is outside, that is the type of person everyone needs in their life) and had a quick beer outside under heaters at an awesome restaurant after (restaurant sjøloftet).  restlessness settled in and we went for a mini hike for some fresh air and more water views.  even though the weather was less than ideal, it was norwegian perfection as far as i was concerned.

after a few relaxing, wonderful days in norway, i was ready for some solo travel.  you know i can’t sit still for too long after all. flying into ‘oslo’s second airport’, sandefjord, has it’s pluses and minuses.  if you check a bag it gets put on the belt before you can scoop up your allotted alcohol in the duty-free shop, a plus (and for all americans, this was such a weird concept to me but alcohol is so expensive in scandinavia that this is one way to offset the expense, and guarantee a drunken night ahead).  trying to find direct flights anywhere outside norway, denmark or poland is definitely a huge minus…….unless you want to fly to skopje, macedonia, that is.  and as chance would have it, i needed to go to macedonia.  what are the odds?? 😂

i got to the sandejord airport about an hour before my international flight (another plus, no lines) and found my gate behind a very small passport control desk.  the guy looked at my passport, my ticket and said, “you’re leaving norway to go to macedonia?”  i laughed and said i would be back and he shook his head, laughed back and said “that’s what they all say.”  i couldn’t agree more (i would be back in four days, four weeks and also three months from then).

an easy direct flight later, i arrived in skopje ready to see what the city had to offer.  my hotel, alexander square boutique hotel, was in a fantastic location and i was able to walk everywhere.  i wandered over to the alexander the great statue, to the memorial house of mother teresa, across the stone bridge, and over to saint clement of ohrid.  a solid day’s worth of sights.

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skopje sunset

after a few hours of enjoying the sunny warm weather, i came across the first microbrewery in macedonia. obviously i had to stop here, for research purposes.  i ordered a few beers and a giant plate of french fries covered in fresh local feta and oregano.  lets just say they were delicious and i ate every single one of them and would have licked the plate clean had i been alone. they had live music playing, people were living life out in the sun and i was in absolute heaven.

after my beer and french fry pit stop, i continued on to the skopje fortress (fun fact, it’s also called kale, which is turkish for fortress).  built in the 6th century (i mean, the 6TH CENTURY?!??!  that’s old.  really, really old), it is the highest point over the city and offers amazing 360 degree views. oh and it’s also free to get in and walk around. what on earth is free in this world?  and what on earth has views like these?  skopje is stunning, the pictures don’t even do it justice.

a sneaky shot of mustafa pasha’s mosque

not wanting to leave macedonia, but needing to cross kosovo off my list, i was up early the next morning to walk to the train station to catch the first bus to pristina for a quick day trip.  as i have mentioned before, do yourself a favor and get up early to go sightseeing.  i was one of the very few people up and out the door this early and i was able to get some great pictures without the crowds of people all up in my grill.

a quick morning photo session later, i made it to the bus station and wandered in hoping someone would speak english to help me get on the right bus to kosovo.  i approached the ticket window and said “bus?  pristina? kosovo?”  the woman looked at me like i was on crack and replied with “pristina?  why do you want to go to kosovo?”  instead of getting into my country conquering, i pointed to the schedule i saved on my phone and shrugged my shoulders.  i bought my ticket (for about $5) and asked no less than ten times which platform it was just to be sure.  the last thing i needed was an eight hour one way trip to albania.  i was the first in line and literally the only person in the area with long, super blonde hair.  a newish looking bus pulled up and i immediately approached the driver to once again confirm this was indeed the bus to pristina.  he also looked at me like i was on crack but said yes, or grunted something in macedonian that sounded like a yes. i excitedly boarded the bus and immediately took a window seat in a row of single seats.  the bus had maybe 30 seats in total and was surprisingly nice.  for $5 it wasn’t too shabby. i texted tim while i waited for my fellow passengers to board, since he thought i was a weirdo for going to kosovo.  i was in the middle of bragging about how modern the bus was and how it was going to be super easy and fun getting there when the bus started getting uncomfortably full.  like, double capacity full.  the space to walk from the front to the back of the bus was crammed with people standing because there clearly were no seats available.  i was going to spend the next 2.5 hours up close and personal with my window because three people were leaning into me the entire way.  guess that’s what you get for $5….but at least the view was nice.

as we approached the boarder between macedonia and kosovo, we made a short stop right before we got to the guard station.  all the standing passengers got off, thank god.  i didn’t know what to make of this other than they didn’t want to go to kosovo and were from a town nearby, but honestly, i really didn’t care, i could finally breathe again and stretch my legs for the next hour of the trip.  a few minutes later a guard came on and took all of our passports and ID cards. they were returned quickly (must faster than going between canada and the usa, i was surprised) and a random guy was in charge of handing them back to all the passengers.  he got to my american passport, looked at it, looked at me and gave me a skeptical look.  that definitely was not the first time on this trip that that had happened.

we crossed into kosovo and made an immediate stop. much to my dismay, all the standing passengers were put back on the bus. beyond bizarre.  at this point i just wanted to get the hell off this hot, sweaty inferno, get to kosovo, get something to eat and get back on the bus to macedonia to enjoy the last night i had in skopje. we pulled into a bus station that was a little bit of a hike from the center of pristina, but i was more than happy to get my walk on after that bus ride from hell.  i should also note that no one spoke the entire time on the journey and the only words muttered were by a teenage girl to me when we reached the pristina bus station and she said “is this it?”. i shrugged my shoulders, really wanting to say, fuck if i know.

the only thing i knew to see in pristina was a library covered in metal, whatever that meant (a travel friend of mine told me about it, and speaking of him, he is one country away from visiting all 51 in europe!!  lucky devil).  i found the library quickly, an old abandoned church in the field nearby and also a newer looking church across the street.  other than that, there wasn’t much byway of history here so i wasn’t really sure how to spend my day.  i wandered up to the newer church and found out you could go up the church tower for 1€. a deal of a lifetime if you ask me. i was the only one on top of the tower and i was not disappointed with the view.  this may have been the best money i have ever spent.

come here for a million euro view for just one euro

i spent more time than necessary at the church because quite honestly, i didn’t have anything else to do.  i debated about walking around for a few more hours but my longing to get back to skopje got the better of me and i returned to the bus station two hours after i arrived. i hopped on a bus back to macedonia with minutes to spare.  thankfully there were only five people on this bus, two of which were on the same bus as me to pristina (how random, right??), one was a canadian, another was a random guy and the last was me.  we approached the border and i was waiting for 10,000 people to board the bus to ruin my life again, but the only thing that happened was a guard came on to return our passports. when he handed me mine and the canadian guy his, he made the comment that it was amusing that an american was on one side of the bus and the canadian on the other.  i laughed because all americans know canada is, well canada, but the canadian didn’t find this as funny as we did and barely cracked a smile.  and they say canadians have no sense of humor 😏

i spent my last few hours in skopje wandering around the old bazaar, trying to get money from an atm (it took me six tries at six different atms, one of which i had a conversation with a police officer who said this happens all the time, whatever that means), visiting a bunch of other large, strange macedonian statues, and finding the cutest card and paper shop in the city (preplet).  to say that i loved skopje is an understatement.  it was amazing and one of my favorite places i have visited so far.

the next day i was off to ljubljana, the capital of slovenia. i landed and was immediately greeted with the longest line i have ever seen at passport control. odd considering some of the places i have been to already. i waited, and waited some more, switched lines twice feeling like michael bolton driving in office space. two people away, finally!!! the gentleman in front of me was called over and swiftly interrogated. how long was he staying for? why was he there? where was he staying? when he held up his hands to indicate the number of days he was staying, it was not what the officers wanted to see. not really understanding the line of questioning that was being done in english, he proceeded to procure several documents to show where he was staying but they had had enough and he was taken back to a room to be questioned privately. oh shit, now it’s my turn. i hope to god there isn’t some secret azerbaijani territory dispute with slovenia that was going to get me in trouble again. i approached the desk, the officer looked at my american passport and said, “how long are you staying?”. i replied two days. he then said, “that’s it?” stamped my passport and i was off. being american does have it’s benefits sometimes. 😝

besides the absolutely gorgeous mountain scenery, the first thing i noticed outside the airport was how amazingly maintained the roads were.  fancy fancy slovenia.  i approve. as i approached the city i was in awe.  it was beautiful, magical really.  something out of a fairytale. i was in sLOVEnia.  i went shopping on the picture perfect cobblestone streets (i bought some amazing handmade local crafts and watercolors that are now hanging on my wall in my apartment), i saw the sunset above the city from ljubljana castle, visited the dragons guarding the aptly named dragon bridge, and finished my night having dinner outside along the river at one of the many restaurants and cafes that flanked both sides of the river.  i felt like i was in a dream, how can a city like this really exist?  ljubljana was really something special.  i loved every second i spent here and this has become the city i recommend people to visit the most.  it’s fantastic in every sense of the word.

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slovenian night lights

after a quick whirlwind trip to three new countries, i was on my way back to sandefjord before i knew it.  it was like i never left, a perfect home away from home.  my last days in europe were filled with a flight around the area with captain tim and captain kenneth, fishing of tim’s dock while drinking norwegian beer, and just enjoying the beauty that is norway.  i was hooked, and would be back four short weeks later to celebrate my birthday.  funny how things work out, huh?

keep reading… keep checking in.  i promise it gets better.

UP NEXT: 37 is the new 27.

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