Sunday, November 8, 2020

Serbia, Macedonia ... and Mexico, because why not?

The wardrobe has changed slightly, but the jacket remains the same. Denim. Like my coat of armor accompanying me through life trials, tribulations and international adventure.

If you know me at all you know I am always in my jean jacket. This trip is no exception.

In fact, the only thing that makes this trip exceptional in any way is that it is taking place during a global pandemic.

Terminal B at Newark International Airport was eerily quiet and the meal served on the plane, consisting of cheese and pasta, a side dish of Tillamook and a square of cheesecake for dessert was perplexing and for sure not worth removing my mask, even if I did fuck with cheese.

With 5+ hours to spare once I reached terminal D at the Zurich Airport, for my extended layover, I did little but try to avoid human contact. At first there was nary a soul but soon I found myself in a game of cat and mouse where I, the unsuspecting mouse would choose a seat far away from any impending bustle only to find myself soon surrounded by a herd of travelers mildly adhering to covid protocol. Taking your mask off to have a conversation is not ok, people!

My second Swiss Air flight (the first was divine) smacked me with a reality check as I was wedged between an old Serbian man coughing into the ether and a young strapping buck in nylon joggers; evidence that they make people in this part of the world hearty.

If I weren’t double masked and face shielded I’d have blended right in.

2 short hours later I am descending upon Belgrade, a sentence I never once fantasized about saying but the deep orange lights, the color of farm fresh egg yolks, scattered in the otherwise black abyss is pretty and I’m optimistic.

My flights have been cancelled and rearranged by the airlines more than once so now my landing time is painfully close to the time the modest hotel I’ve selected after hours pouring over, filtering from lowest price of course, no longer allows check ins. There is a moment of anxiety and I have no California kush.

Maybe 10 years after moving to New York a dear friend of mine from college told me I no longer had to prove anything to anyone, that I’d already done so. Though I wasn’t entirely sure of the root of this perspective at the time,  I do think he is one of those people that really sees me and truly loves me as I am. I’ve never thought I was proving anything to anyone, in fact, quite the opposite. I've always fancied myself a bit of an individualist and drew great pride from that.

But as that conversation has popped in and out of my head throughout the years, I think the person I am proving something to - is me.

I was no doubt born with many privileges and a particularly noteworthy one was parents who, generally, allowed me to follow my own path or at least didn't present too much friction once I made my intentions clear. Part of the reason I left home as a teenager never to return was because at some point I was given the tools, or at least the hubris, to believe I could.

Now, 20+ years later, as I touch down in the Balkans with a cacophony of German in my ear, wrapped head to toe in PPE, I’m more grateful than ever for that hubris.

An abrupt and aggressive immigration process and an exorbitant taxi swindle and I arrive at Dominic Hotel in Republic Square which, from the outside looks to house the rebellion, but is deceivingly nice once you mount the five flights of stairs needed to get there.

Setting my bag down in a lobby that smells of Bath and Body Works and consuming 3 of complimentary chocolates at the front desk was all I needed before heading out into a night thick with Serbs. Stari Grad does not disappoint with it's late night book stores and outdoor eateries in the pleasant fall evening. Though only maybe 1/5 of the crowd are wearing masks and even less so correctly, I must admit that the energy of people eating and drinking and partaking in merriment is contagious and I’m excited to be here.

I’m quite certain selecting a restaurant at which to eat your meals shouldn’t be based on it's limited patronage, but mine was. Aurelio Caffe had a menu translated and a table just far enough from my fellow diners that I looked equal parts cautious and disturbed.

My meal was heavy and unsatisfying, but since this entire city smells like Mrs. Avey’s ashtray it didn’t much matter.

I awake early as if my body no longer adheres to time zones and simply wants to be ready for the day ahead. While still clothed in cheap sweats and my Kamala tee jammie jams, I have the good fortune of a long conversation with one of my strangest friends, not in who he is but rather in the structure of our relationship. The conversation leaves me feeling optimistic and confident and ready to face my real first day in Belgrade.
The streets are alive and a friendly reminder of life pre covid. An artisan market and a dog park are both respectively filled with a quiet energy and just enough silver haired to sate my palette on this grey hazy day as I make my way to Belgrade Fortress, a sight to see in BG.
During said conversation with friend I relay that who really deserves to be seeing the world is my Dad, not me. Never had someone been more versed in all of the subjects and when I would phone home from a foreign call center he would ask complex questions about history and culture rooted in his knowledge, whereas I almost make it a point to not know what I am walking into. I got to experience, he got to learn.As I traverse Studenski Park (right!) I am met with some statues of  old Balkan dudes who look important but who’s placards use an alphabet I can’t even understand while some kid on a bench streams ‘House of the Rising Sun,' in Serbian on his Samsung I realize this has never been more true. Dad Should be here. 
The walk is pleasant and despite it being dreary, once I start moving I also start sweating, causing me to take off my simple jean jacket eliciting a very noticeable reaction from a group of Muslim men in the park. I pay them no mind and am thankful no literal stones were cast as I meander a fortress quite reminiscent of Fort Washington, wrapping me in warm familiarity.
A fleet of weaponry is on display right by the clock tower and after watching the ebb and flow of the Danube I make my way back to the bustling shopping district.
I know that other humans now represent communicable disease and I should avoid each and every one at all costs but it’s really nice to be in a place that, perhaps misguidedly, is functioning. People are talking and holding hands. Wares are for sale. Life is vibrant - and so am I. So grateful I ended up getting on that plane and traveling a full day to get here. To see something new and different and alive.
Once again I choose an eatery based on its lack of clientele so I shouldn’t be surprised that Taverna serves up Mediterranean dishes for people who have never been to, seen or heard of the Mediterranean.
Pizza is Vietnam was a bad idea. Spaghetti is Serbia is no different.
I don’t just like to learn my lessons. I like to get a masters degrees in them.
About a mile and a half down the main vein in Belgrade, a city filled with endless bookstores and cigarettes, sits St. Sava Temple. The blue and beige facade is magnificent, and I assume the inside is as well though I was told by a friendly priest it was closed to visitors. First in Serbian, then when I was clearly confused, in English. I really do think my ability to blend in to any culture is deeply rooted, not in my mixed heritage, but in my ability to believe it. Anyway - St. Sava church was open and for the price of 30 dinar I was able to light candles, a meaningful tradition I instituted long before I lost my father or child, but one I’m grateful to include them in. Love you, Brie!
The Tesla museum, no, not the Elon Musk brand, wasn’t having a tour in English for another hour so I walked until I came upon St. Mark Orthodox church, which was fantastic because the skies had just opened up and I left my umbrella back at the crib.
I haven’t found pews here in Belgrade but I have found the peace and quiet I luxuriate in whenever I enter these sorts of hallowed halls. With no religious upbringing I am able to love and marvel at the noun church while carrying none of the baggage of the verb.
I sat in one of the high backed wooden chairs that lined the walls and watched worshipers kiss a series of framed saints thinking about what a fake I am sitting here in their home while also shocked that they were making lip to glass contact successively without seemingly so much as a thought to hygiene. 
Church often leaves me feeling spiritual and it is generally the only time I contemplate an afterlife. The only time I believe in the concept of an afterlife is when I want to communicate with my dad. And, of course, when I watch ‘The Good Place.’
With the rain coming down and my back hurting I decided the hotel was close enough by for a respite. And a meditation sesh.
And then I passed our. Hard.

My shut eye thus far has been dark, intense exhaustion Serbian Slumber like out of a some sort of Jordan Peele joint where I’m the star and life story the tragedy.
My dreams have been painful and awful and fitful and I’m so glad I’m awake now.
Belgrade in the rain smells like damp grandparent. And I am ok with that,
Hoping Milhailo will offer a more satisfying midnight snack (it’s 9pm), the waiter offers a menu with pictures and another lets me know I did not, in fact, need a side of mashed potatoes (which yes, I always do). They were kind and hospitable and I’m terrified of what is about to come out on this plate purchased on blind trust.
Luckily some unshaven singer songwriter accompanied the slick streets and flickering fire light in such a pleasing way it will be ok no matter what.
A peppery potato and chicken soup, which I would later learn is paprikash, is served with a bowl of cabbage drenched in vinegar called salad, which I am not mad at, and a basket, I repeat an entire basked of warm bread is brought to me on blue and white pretty dishes on a drizzly patio and I am happy. Life is good.
Chamomile brought me warmth on a chilly, grey evening as well as straight back to North Beach, early 2000's at my favorite cafe on Columbus, often times seated across from my favorite person sharing the beauty and silence of the city I believe to be both of our first loves.
The hotel wasn’t far and I did a quick workout before shower and bed where my neighbors near by were clearly doing a workout of their own. What I first thought was eastern block arguing turned out to be, if you listened long enough, one hell of a rigorous lovemaking session.
Sleep did not come easy and so when I finally wake at 10:15 am, I have no time for the run by the waterfront I’d planned. Instead, I have to rise and shine and get my ass to the bus station. 
Today I am heading to Novi Sad.
What, according to Google, is an 18 minute walk takes me just over an hour as I circle my destination more than once, growing weary and frustrated with every wrong turn.
Finally I arrive at BAS and am tolerated by a bus station attendant that explains sure, I bought a ticket but now I must pay a station fee as well. The attendants pass me around, not wanting to have to deal with a person who doesn’t speak their language, which of course I understand. But in my defense - this is an international bus station.
When I finally arrive at gate 36 I dig into the baked good I purchased on my way in hoping that it doesn’t contain anything I disdain.
It’s buttery and inoffensive and as I masticate this log of puff pastry and Land O' Kaes, making Paula Deen proud with every bite. I look around and realize there is not a fat person in sight - not even the olds are fat.
What’s up America? When I visit my mother in Sacramento, California I’m basically a pin up but here I’m for sure the tubbo in the room - and that’s fine - but if I am seeing packaged foods here too... Though I am lacking a discerning palette, I can taste the the pound of butter in this biscuit, then why are we the fattest of them all?
Moving on.
My bus never comes so 20 minutes later when another Laska bus arrives with a backwards N and Sad written with pen and paper in the front window approaches I give it a try. At first I am reprimanded for being late. Then for not having printed a ticket. As the KGB congregates to discuss feverishly in rapid Serbian what an idiot I am. They ask how they could even take a ticket on my phone while staring directly at the QR code emblazoned in my PDF.
I am sent with a tall drink of Cold War water who has shades of The Russian from Homeland, only sexless, to the office where he wants me to email my ticket to him - but I don’t have internet.
We go down the hall to where a busty redhead resembling stripper Lilly is trying her best to help me, but it takes nearly 20 minutes for her to get her internet and printer working properly.
I am rushed back through security and practically shoved on the bus that has been so kind as to wait for me but I can bet you something.
I can bet a busy full of Belgradians aren’t thrilled their trip has now been delayed because of one foolish American in pigtails.
I quickly take a seat and hope a mutiny doesn’t arise.
The ride was quick enough and passing over the Danube was mystical, with me thinking perhaps my dad was in the waters rushing past the golden leaves cloaked in dense fog, as I’d deposited him upstream in Slovenia not all that long ago.
I unceremoniously deboard and start my path down the Bulevar Osteoporosis which runs straight from the bus station to the water.
When I saw a Christmas decoration/trash fashion store blaring Bieber’s ‘Yummy Yum,’ I couldn’t help but pop in. I was transported back to 181st immediately only with more fur and cold shoulder blouse options. Somehow I resisted the fuzz and lycra and exit without any unneeded wardrobe additions.
Scratch that this bitch has 3 floors of dollar store gems and Panda Robna Kucam , or 
Further down the road you enter city center with all the sights to see. One thing about small town not America is that Sunday is actually sacred and shit is shut down. Novi Sad is no exception. Though I can easily imagine the charm of a bustling sunny day here a rainy Sunday leaves one with many closed store fronts and limited activity.
I sat and had a tea on a side street before making my way through Danube Park, still dripping with fresh rain drops and autumnal color.
I traverse the Liberty Bridge and though I can see the clock tower in the distance, I don’t want to tempt fate with my very specific bus ticket. I see many restaurants along the way and not having yet eaten a meal I thought it would be easy breezy, but I was wrong. Wrong and hungry. A sharp left down a darkened street and I come upon the back end of Kobenhat which offers outdoor seating, a table in the corner, a server that speaks English and a menu that is Mexican/Asian/Eastern European health food. I’m not thrilled but I’m starving, tired and pressed for time.
Just when I thought I’d found the right balance of cold and cordial in this culture, boarding the 7:10 bus to Belgrade was quite upsetting, even more so due to this little thing called Corona. Cutting in line seems to be commonplace  here and I am starting to think some light pushing seems par for the course. Needless to say I was not pleased with the eat or be eaten approach to public transportation.
After taking the local bus back to Belgrade I was nauseous and exhausted - a quick stop by The Dominic to take a break and I went right back to my restaurant from last night. Same table. Same server. Same order, except he suggested I try a pea stew instead and let me tell you - it did not disappoint. I would have this $12 delicacy 3 times a week for all the live long day if possible.
It had grown cold so I made sure to grab some gelato for the 19 foot walk home. A late night Microsoft Meeting with my fellow editors for the 1998 Decamhian and I was off to another night of fitful slumber and big plans to make the following day.

I woke up far too early for how late I’d gone to bed and proceeded to sit and ponder my existence in early morning light in a rented bed.
Once shaking off the fog of sleep and the inevitable jet lag associated with traveling over 30, I made tentative arrangements to rent a car and hit the beautifully sunny streets of Belgrade. I knew that the coming days were going to offer sunny skies thanks to my excellent sleuthing in and Mother Nature did not disappoint.
With a potential foiling of my earlier plans this just made it all the more ok that I’d be in Belgrade another day.
I circuitously make my way to a post office where I was helped by a less cheery version of my childhood babysitter (this woman helped raise me and still doesn’t hug me  for context). Gestures and grunts allowed me to get a couple of postcards in the mail and I selected a street at random to walk down.
Skadarska was cobblestoned and yellow leaf strewn and occupied by old men in hats smoking cigars and fist bumping as they cheersed to ‘Corona!’ while wearing their blue medical masks as chin straps.
I meandered in circles until I grew too weary with hunger and chose Visnjiceva Street, a side street fraught with bustling outdoor eateries, lacking any tourist vibe. I picked up a pastry for good measure and when all options seemed ill suited for my needs I saw, in the distance Che. I’ve always had a thing for Che. A thing to such a degree that I had a fantastically weird and satisfying brief romance with a man in London who, looking back I’m pretty sure had a glass eye, largely based on his wearing a shirt emblazoned with the famous revolutionary’s face. That and his beautiful carpenter hands. Sigh...
I was served a tea that tasted slightly of dish soap and consumed my rugulah type backed good underneath a tree so ripe with autumn multicolored leaves fell in preordained sequences on my table and book as I sat at a small cafe, reading, alone. It has and continues to be one of my all time favorite pastimes.
For a moment I thought perhaps a man was looking at me because he was drawn to such a beauty - but no, it’s because I’m sitting alone wearing a black mask. My caution, not my beauty drew stares and with that harsh bitch slap of reality I was woken from my peaceful corner contentment and had to head back to Republic Square to make plans for the next steps in my journey.
The delightful front desk at the Dominic help me get back into my old room, which I immediately wipe down myself and assisted me in securing a vehicle for tomorrow morning so I can sneak in country 49, leaving me with enough time to spend more money than I realized (conversion is hard y’all) on presents and mediocre food.
As I ate a young girl came by asking for money. Not from me, but an adjacent table. She was dark haired and looked a bit dirty. My guess is she was a gypsy. I’ve seen a handful of people since my arrival that fit that description and it never ceases to amaze me that the brownest people in any community have to pay the largest toll for their existence. How is that a universal law? How are the women in Vietnam covered head to toe on the beach as not to get dark and laborers in Eastern Europe largely Indian or middle eastern? How it is possible every culture signed on to this unwritten rule that the darker the berry the less deserving of a decent wage or basic human rights the juice? It makes no sense.
I picked up a couple of expensive Serbian chocolates (is that a thing?) a had very long FaceTime. It was a no brainer, at this point to go to my local joint and get my new favorite meal. I swear I almost heard Norm exclaimed in chorus when I walked onto the heated patio. Belly full of warm, delicious food and I was off to bed. I can’t risk being too sleepy for my long drive across the border tomorrow - wish me luck!

I’d awoken in a blind panic in the middle of the night causing me an uneasy feeling and physical symptoms. The sun rose sooner than expected but this was it. This was Macedonia day. This was 49.
Zimi Car Rental wasn’t too hard to find. Sadly, none of my favorite receptionists were there to beid me adieu but my short if awkward walk to the car rental place during a perfect fall day went well.  A nice Serbian man helped me settle in to my beat up black family sedan for the weekend and made some small talk. He said business had been slow and was emphatic I was brave for traveling here. my retort was perhaps stupid but he insisted.  And then,  I was on my way.
It took me mere minutes before my antiquated GPS and my naïveté lead me a astray To a dead end causing a bit of a traffic jam with exasperation being communicated both in a language and gesturesI did not understand. Having never had a car in New York, the San Franciscan in me came out. Luckily, Lady Gaga serenaded me through it via the radio - so things worked out.
I debated on whether or not to incur the expense of a rental car. Though much longer, a bus seems like a cost effective way to travel. That being said, is soon occurred to me, once behind the wheel of my shiny black 4 door, the fringe benefit was not having to wear a mask.
Traversing the Serbian countryside brought me back to rural Pennsylvania en route to a homegirl's wedding many years ago. The beauty is the same big swaths of color with a little Lego houses nestled in to remote corners. It’s beautiful. A few things i LEARNED ALONG THE WAY: both reggae and Reggaetón are PRODUCEDin Serbian as well, you can say fuck On the radio, and when left alone in a car for over four hours your mind will explore unique and dangerous recesses.
About an hour out of Skopje I stopped at a petrol station largely just to stand up. Here, I was not only greeted by a man who had to show me how to pump gas and thought I was Greek (so not a total loss) but also by the cutest goddamn puppy I’ve maybe ever seen. Buster, (yes, I named him) was a little worse for wear but wagged his tail and just wanted kisses and love. Don't we all, Buster  I seriously contemplated bathing him in the gas station sink and bringing him home with me but thought that might cause some immigration issues.
If I am still thinking about him on my way back to Belgrade in a few days I might have to make a stop.
Not even 20 km down the road I received my 49th passport stamp and what appears to be two flea bites on my right arm. Buster...
I am in Macedonia! My experience with said country is, when I was interning I worked with a woman who was from there and I clearly remember saying - isn't that a thing of the past, like Mesopotamia. I said it jokingly - but now, stanind here, I can arssure you it is not.
This is rad.
As you pull into Skopje you think one thing to yourself.: Wow, I thought Belgrade was not particularly beautiful but now I’m here. Traffic is bumper to bumper, people are driving like assholes like I’ve never seen anywhere on the planet, and there’s a smell of smoke in the air as if constant embers burn at the cities edge.
It’s colder in Skopje, both literally and figuratively.
As Vladimir, the front desk clerk at Alexander Hotel II, helped me with my arduous check in, he gave me a glimpses into life here. Monitored with limited opportunities. He hopes to get out as soon as possible. By his generous bald spot I’m guessing he is older than me, but having lived here his whole life, maybe just more worn out.
The energy here shifts mine and I take a minute in room 101 before heading out into the darkness of night.
I head to Macedonia Square and patronize Pelister per Vladi’s suggestion (he lets me call him Vladi) and dine alone on an extraordinarily mediocre meal as melancholy sets in. A slow downed version of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ begins to play in the large, spacious dining room as I dig in.
I was singing this in an attempt to self soothe just the other day. I wonder about this sentiment from time to time. I certainly do not have what I want - but is Mick right in that perhaps then, I don’t need it?
This remains to be seen.
For now I revel in locating my first Burger King since coming to the Balkans, BK is not on the menu this evening, but don’t worry - I see eating my foreign feelings on the horizon.
A little workout in my hotel room and it is off to bed. I’ve consistently been waking up at 4:30 and again at 7:30. And I’ve been exhausted. In an attempt to stay healthy I’ve been trying to sleep and when they clock reads quarter after 7 I thought, another 30 minutes won’t hurt. Then it was nearly 10.'

As soon as I hit the streets of Skopje in denim on denim and running shoes I realize A) I’ve clearly given up and life is just a slow roll downhill until eventual lipstick outside of the lip lines, lucite kitten heels and eventual death and B) it’s cold.
The temperature is the same as New York and Belgrade but the chill cuts to the bone.
The haze in the air is thick. You cannot make out a landmark or the source of the flat bright morning. This is mask season regardless of covid because, as Vladimir describes it, people burn trash to stay warm and pollute the air.
America is imploding, an empire on the precipice of doom - to the point Macedonians no longer want to escape to the USA. And without question our sitting president is trash. That being said, America does have some fringe benefits. Regardless of me working or traveling alone or dressing provocatively or having premarital sex (don’t tell my mom), the ridiculous task of having purchased property. Alone. As a woman. Really brings the benefits to light.
Thanks, RGB.
Macedonian Square is reminiscent of Vegas,or maybe vice versa, and reminds me a great deal of the dudes who cruise the streets of LA in $500,000 cars. Whoevers idea this was must have had a very very small penis, and knew it.
The vast swatch of vanilla colored marble is dotted with large, and I mean LARGE, imposing statues that. I cannot read the signs they but they seem to represent war and virility, though I’m sure strength and resilience was more the vibe they were going for.
Old Stone Bridge carries you over the Vadar River. A few beggars, seemingly Gypsy, have set up there for the day before 10am.
The city is definitely not awake yet and I feel grateful to stumble upon Bratstvo serving food in the Old Bazaar. You’d think I'd be a big fan or at least indifferent at this point, but I hate not knowing how things work. I enter the eatery and immediately have to ask if they speak English. The proprietor offers up soup and tea which I gladly accept and then go sit outside to wait - but is that how they do things here? Or should I wait inside? Do I pay cafeteria style or after like a restaurant? Not wanting to awkwardly stand about I go to the terrace and grab a table far away from the only male patrons who are at least looking in curiosity at this point.
Breakfast this morning will be chicken soup served with sweet and sour peppers and peppermint tea. Not exactly my standard peanut butter toast and tangerine juice, but it will do.
My soup was good, not great but I did get the sneaking suspicion that Mr. Campbell was somewhere in the recipe. When it came time to pay I had not yet acquired any Macedonian Denar and they did not take card so they pointed me to the nearest cash machine and I waited for the business that had the ATM nestled in their store front to fire it up.
This allowed just enough time for an old Muslim man to aggressively talk shit to my face, leaving the young men to my right in stitches. I was curious to ask what he had said but, ultimately, it didn’t matter.
The sun has come out and the very strongly middle eastern influenced market was coming to life.
It seemed all too appropriate that I’d somehow stumbled into a Muslim country with catholic influences - or vice versa - on my dads 70th birthday. My trip to Morocco with my dad was one for the books and having less education and intellect and time on the planet than him but being much more travel savvy I loved watching him work his way through another tangible world like a toddler finding their gate.
The call to prayer was just as beautiful today in Skopje as I remember it being in Marrakech as we sipped mint tea and looked over the market square.
The church bells rang out just as I mounted Skopje fortress and I knew the fact that I ended up in Macedonia was no coincidence, but an act of divinity. 
Once it became late enough in the day for the fortress to attract visitors I made my way out. The seclusion of morning had attracted a Muslim couple that was quite amorous once I’d past. Made me wonder what the ‘rules’ are.
The opulence of the Old Bazaar ,lined with windows of 14k gold and wedding dresses that look as though they belong on top of a cake, is quite a contrast to the barrage of beggars around ever corner. They both seem to serve the locals so it’s hard to determine how the economy became so divergent.
Ohrid Caffe seemed open air enough and I figured afternoon tea and baklava couldn’t hurt - except for my blood sugar and waistline of course.
A long leisurely walk by the river, dotted with ancient fisherman and a quick stop to Burger King, tp pay my respects and nosh on fries was a must before I exhaustedly dragged my ass back to Alexander for a bit of a siesta.
When I finally pulled the down comforter back it was nearly 9 and I wanted to just continue eating salted nuts in the dark alone, but Vladimir had promised to give me the 411 on Macedonian food.
At the front desk he made me a reservation and called a cab. I was not looking forward to the 20 minute walk back after 10, but while in Rome...
5 minutes and 120 MK denar later and I find myself at the upscale eatery Skopski Merek where I see knuckles and baby beef mentioned on the menu far too often for my liking and I realize as much as I want to experience the local cuisine I don’t tend to dig local cuisine in this  heavy meat loving part of the world.
I list off several small dishes in an attempt to be healthy and Macedonian and when I ask ‘Is that enough?’ The waiter, like a day player in the Princess Diaries franchise says ‘More than enough’ from behind his crisp white mask.
Baked white kidney beans, which I didn’t know came in that color, a baked potato, served in this country sliced and seasoned, and a salad consisting of no lettuce but lots of cabbage and beets were served promptly on a clean white linen accompanied by spring water in a wine glass. This is the life. Didd ain't got nothing on me.
The walk home was clean and dark in the loveliest of ways and I stayed up far too late watching a series I'd started in Vancouver many years ago and, just now realize doesn’t air on Netflix in the US.

I lackadaisically rose and dressed. Peaced out to my homie Vladi and plotted my next point. Millennium Cross was the plan but last minute, realizing I had the luxury of a vehicle I decided to get outside of Skopje and take a hike at Canyon Matka.
The drive was fairly simple onwide paved roads and before I knew it I was at the canyon. It was still morning and quiet as I ascended I noticed a couple of old men setting up shops at the entrance, but saw not a tourist in sight.
The beauty of this place is something hard to describe when you take the winding path cut into the side of the solid stone mountain the sun sparkles off the water musically and if you stop for a moment and just listen it’s so quiet you can hear the turning leaves fall to the ground, awaiting winter.
The path takes you in and out of sunlight, and as you enter the shady bits the earth is damp and fresh and smells like a jack-o-lantern being cut for Halloween. I waited until I found a sunny spot to have my moment with my dad alone in the canyon in the sun not a soul in sight just me, and dad, and Neil.
I wish I could’ve stayed all day but my car was due back in Belgrade by 5 and therefore, like everything else, my time here had to end.
The long drive back to Belgrade gave me ample time to ponder and be all in my feelings - did I mention in addition to a global pandemic, an economic downturn, travel exhaustion and my dad’s 70th birthday I’m PMSing hard body? Good times!
Back in my old stomping grounds I somehow seem to have booked two hotels, proof positive of my recent scatterbrained tendencies, but end up on the 5th floor of Five Points Hotel right on Republic Square with a kick ass view. I return to my favorite eatery and when both of my soups are unavailable I go for the third, some frank and beans euro style dish I greedily consume as I have not had a meal all day. Top of off with some gelato and now my stomach ache pairs nicely with my feelings, After some chatter and hydration it’s ‘You, Me and Her,’ which is certainly not good but also somehow irresistible for my last evening in Serbia
The sun was still warming the other side of the world when I rose, dressed and exited the hotel. I climbed in the back of a taxi with a gentleman who charged me a proper amount but seemed to be having some sort of Tourette’s episode during our short time together.
I checked in, begrudgingly checked a bag I’ve never had to before and started my long journey back to New York.
Goodbye Balkans.
Happy 70th Birthday, Dad.
I always say done is better than perfect. And now, this trip is done.

... and then I went to Mexico, because why not...

I .