Well, normal for us in Macedonia.
Heinz and Sylvana were coming over the border from Bulgaria, so they suggested we take a bus from Skopje to Kriva Palanka to meet them for dinner. It was a bright sunny day, and they said the weather was lovely and KP was a great place to walk through the old city.
So we blithely set off in shirtsleeves with vests. Getting the bus was amazingly easy–just bought the ticket and the clerk told us Gate 14. So we had half an hour to wait (we weren’t sure how long the taxi would take to the bus station) and we watched the board. But although other buses that left at 3 p.m. were on it, ours wasn’t. Finally, just as we had decided to go out to Gate 14, it popped up. When we got to Gate 14, there was a minibus there, and we were about to sit down and wait for our “real” bus. But the driver stuck his head out and said “Kriva Palanka”, so we got onboard.
After we had gone through the guard at the bus station, half a dozen more people got onboard from various spots along the road. They ranged from farmer-types with bundles of groceries tied up with string to a gaggle of girls (students?) dressed in the latest fashions. We even had several standees (or according to David, leanees). The trip was interesting, going through the countryside and stopping every once in a while in the middle of nowhere to let someone out. We stopped for a while in the major city of Kumanova–obviously a place to buy potatoes because several people did, including our driver. Then a bit further down the road we stopped at a fairly palatial residence, and our driver got out, picked up the sack of potatoes that had been riding on the floor in front of him, and delivered them. Then on we went. Luckily, the tourist magazine we picked up at Mavrovo last week had a country map in the back, so we could figure out where we were – we ended a few kilometers short of the Bulgarian border. . The whole trip took 2 hours, so it was almost sunset (because of the mountains) when we arrived. And it was chilly.
And all the interesting stores closed at 5, just when we arrived. But we had a cup of hot coffee, did a bit of walking, a bit of climbing and finally discovered a “chinese” store in a back street. So we each bought ourselves chinese puffy vests, which improved the temperature quite a bit.
Heinz had said they’d be in around 7:30, so we went back to the square to wait. Then we went for another coffee. (I had Turkish tea–thick enough to chew and delicious). Then we went out to the square to wait and it was freezing. But it’s a good thing we did, because Heinz hadn’t told Silvana they were meeting us. She noticed David’s hat and leapt out of the car. I guess she is now thinking that we will pop up in the most improbable places. So we piled into the warm car and went to a nearby restaurant on a lake. It had a small zoo with ponies, rabbits, peacocks and a llama. It must be a beautiful place to have lunch on a warm day. When we went in, there was music and a dance party going on in one end of the restaurant.
We sat just far enough away to enjoy the music and be able to talk. We had of course the whole meal of salad and just when I couldn’t eat another thing, fish steaks and potatoes came out. As Heinz said, you wouldn’t expect to go to a famous fish restaurant and not eat fish, would you? And of course it was too good not to eat, so we had a very full dinner. Then they drove us back to Skopje and we collapsed.
Well, it wasn’t early because we slept until 9, but while David stayed home and wrote his paper, Silvana took me for a tour of the bazaar on the other side of the river. It was fantastic. They sold everything from sesame seeds to duct tape. First, Silvana told me that there
are four parallel streets between the bridge and the bazaar. So we walked up one and down the other peering into shop fronts and just enjoying the (beautiful and warm) day. And of course we had to stop for tea. Then we headed for the real open tables bazaar for food shopping mostly. Although I got some Turkish cottons and a lovely blue skirt that will be great on summer days. (Here I wear it with footless tights underneath for the warmth.) So I got some rice and tomatoes and onions and stuff. Then I headed home in time to greet David who had just finished a two-hour seminar on The Evolution of Iran. He was hungry and I made quite a good (if I say so myself) dinner out of the ingredients I’d bought and the eggs we had in the fridge. (I (David) say so, too.)
Then David had a talk on the Global Economic Downturn at The American Corner (sort of the equivalent of the old USIS library – an Embassy financed but semi-independent and Macedonian-run gathering and information center), where we’d arranged to meet Heinz and Silvana. Good thing we got there early–the room was full. Interesting talk too and the mostly economics students seemed to both understand and enjoy it. Afterward they didn’t want to let David go! But we finally left and H&S introduced us to a wonderful kabob restaurant just across the street. That’s all they served: beef/lamb kabob, chopped onion, bread, and a selection of drinks. We ate more than I would have believed but because they were so well prepared, we didn’t feel overfull. So now we know another restaurant in Skopje. Then we headed home, where we met Emil from American College .
The five of us proceeded to finish Elizabeth’s birthday cake and coffee, the Emil set up an internet splitter. He had noticed that we had only one cable, so that whenever Elizabeth was on I had to be off, so bought a splitter for the school and decided its first location would be in our apartment, Very nice to both be on at the same time, even if it means more equipment and cables cluttering up the apartment (which is beginning to feel smaller as we fill it. We resisted Emil’s suggestion of rakia (Macedonian white lightning) as celebration, and collapsed again. Thank you, Emil.
David had a seminar from ten to noon on The Obama Phenomenon. A good turn-out of both teachers and students. I (David) gave a fairly straightforward presentation of how a guaranteed loser ended up winning, and what he had indicated that he would try to do, and got a goodly number of (unexplained) titters from the young women. Turns out they were hearing in my presentation a commentary of the current election in Macedonia, which I know nothing about and so couldn’t have intended to say. All I know is that the current President was re-elected, with a low turnout and a peaceful election. I (Elizabeth) stayed home and published last week’s blog.
Here are some photos of the apartment:
And then I (David) had a class in the evening. This was the first day I had made the students primarily responsible for content. They were slow to start, then got very involved. I had one of those days so pleasing to a teacher where all I had to do was act as moderator. A very slow day for me (Elizabeth) at least. Got an email from H&S apologizing for walking me too much, but I felt fine. Just had to catch up on the blog or it will get away from me like the TSS one did.
In the morning we met with American Ambassador Reeker. He appeared very pleased to have a Fulbrighter in Skopje, and pleased to have some experienced FSOs to talk to. He asked a lot about University American College, saying that he was scheduled to speak there later. We spent a pleasant time trading Foreign Service stories and learning about Macedonia. He had been Public Affars Officer here 10 years ago, when the Embassy was taken over in a mob attack, and was obviously pleased to be back. The Embassy was in something of a mess – they are all moving to a brand new (and more secure) Embassy starting this weekend. it is hard to accomplish many things while simultaneously moving, but everyone was ready to try.
Then David had to rush off to UACS to be on TV again. For this interview, they for some reason focused on economic questions, and wanted to know about implications for Macedonia. I answered as best I could, but had to admit ignorance of Macedonia. We are promised a tape–since we don’t seem to be home for when it is actually on, I hope they come through with the tapes. Several people (including a taxi driver) have seen me on TV – at least in snippets. Not my voice – just me with a Macedonian voice dubbing what I said (or, at least, I hope it is reasonably close to what I said.)
Between that and the evening class we met H&S for lunch at Dal Fufo (which we call the pizza place, but actually we only had pizza one time that we went there). Don’t have to say it was great, do I? Then Heinz said he wanted to drop by for ten minutes, so we trooped off to the apartment. Heinz then reached into Silvana’s magic purse and produced – a wireless network! His tidy soul had been offended by the clutter, so he decided to neaten us up. In even less than 10 minutes, he plugged it in and turned on both computers. Elizabeth’s opened immediately to the Internet – mine said “no networks found.” Heinz muttered and fiddled. I sat to one side and prepared my evening class, and Heinz muttered. Elizabeth and Silvana exchanged recipes, and Heinz muttered. I finally had to leave for my evening class, and Heinz hardly looked up, except to phone someone and say he would be late. Apparently, they stayed until the sunset, and while they admired the colors, the network hiccupped and recognized my computer, and they left. Since then, my computer works great. (But we’re temporarily keeping the cables and clutter til we know we can trust it.) Thank you, Heinz.
David had to catch up on some writing in the morning, so Silvana and I went to the market on this side of the city–again full of interesting things and good food. If you know how I feel about tomatoes, you will understand my delight at finding bright red perfectly ripe tomatoes in every bazaar. We are eating very well. Then we called David and Heinz and they joined us for lunch at Destan (kabob place). It was funny, after we called them, Silvana saw a shoe store on the second level of the mall, so we went upstairs and I got a great pair of dress shoes. Then we came down and Heinz showed up. But no David. I’d told him it was across from the library (American Corner) so I knew he could find it. Finally, my phone rang and David said “I’m here, where are you?” It turned out that there had been a bank robbery (a first in the city) on his route, so the taxi had to go a back way. So instead of showing up in front of the mall, he’d come into the parking lot and directly to the restaurant. Oh, well, the food was, as usual, delicious.
The Weekend. Heinz free all day so we got into the car and headed out into the countryside. Our first stop was a hilltop church which
had been maintained for 40 years by one couple. As a child, their only son was very sick, and they vowed that if he recovered, they would maintain the church. Well, he’s a 41-year-old doctor in Skopje now, and they are still keeping the church clean. They used to live on the grounds, but the government decided they needed to assign a policeman instead, so they live elsewhere and walk the 8 kilometers to the church.
Then we went to a fish restaurant in Nezhilovo that H&S hadn’t been to in a while. Apparently, it was originally a fish farm and Heinz persuaded the owner to barbecue a little fish for visitors. Well,
it had morphed into a huge white balcony over the river where a dozen guests were eating to the sound of loud music unsuccessfully trying to cover the noise of a rock breaker that was laying the groundwork for a yet greater expansion. Aside from the immediate neighborhood, though, the river was just as it had been–merrily running over the rocks. The various water mills were no longer working, but they were still interesting to see. We decided to eat outside in the garden where it was a little quieter, and the food was still up to standard (salad, whole trout from the fish farm and flavorful potatoes). When I went into the building to use the facilities, I was amazed to see a fawn
sitting on the dining room rug (no one was eating inside) looking at me as curiously as I was looking at him. After the lovely dinner, Silvana went to the car and returned with a banana-walnut cake for dessert. We are really living on this trip, I have to say.
We went to see a stone bridge from Roman times on the road to Bogomila. As we walk around admiring and photographing it, the owner of the land came up to us. When he found that Heinz spoke German, he had to show us his “German machine”. It was a sewing machine that his nephew had brought for him when he returned from Germany to do his required military service (apparently your land may be forfeit if you don’t). So this sewing machine had turned the uncle into the town tailor for the next 40 years and both are still going strong. Wish I’d taken a photo, but we were too busy talking.
As we were driving away to Orieshi, we saw a magnificent train station next to the tracks across the river. Apparently, it was built without any road connections to anywhere, so it isn’t used much. Then we saw a new (1968) orthodox church with wonderful paintings–somewhere there is a truly talented artist working in the old style. The saints looked as though they were about to speak. Then we climbed through the town up to yet another large monastery on top of the hill. It was fascinating to see the chickens–and roosters with 4 inch feather ruffs. One yard was filled with sheep and goats and lambs and kids.
But we couldn’t find any eggs for sale and the honey season is over until later in the spring.
The monastery had a well-preserved medallion of St. George on the front wall. It looks as though they are set up for wedding parties or groups of visitors, but there was no one there this early in the season.
I should say something about the weather, David says. Every morning we check the forecast from The Weather Channel that has proved to be devastatingly, accurate although everyone tells us the weather is “never” like that. When we arrived, we were the only ones in the city who expected snow. On Sunday, the forecast called for intermittent light rain, and that’s what we had. Apparently, this is most unusual weather for April, but how would we know?
Only of course it was only Easter for us–Orthodox Easter is next Sunday. We started out late–10 o’clock–to go for a brief trip to a lake on the opposite end of the country. It was a day of stork’s
nests on poles, chimneys, and every high flat place. We went the full distance (20 km) of the Skopje beltway and got off on a major exit…which immediately became a good 1-lane dirt road
that led to the church of St. Petka, one of several shown with eyes on a plate. The church includes a well that is supposed to cure people who drink the water. I believe it if they are anemic, since the well edges were bright red with iron deposits from the water. After exploring the side roads of that village to find an alternate route, we went back to a slightly larger track which eventually took us off to a well-hidden, but crowded restaurant. Apparently, it has the only place for people to stable their horses, so all the foreigners with horses know it. And there were beautiful horses and people riding them on the field in front of where we ate. It was a perfect day to sit and watch the children climbing on the carriages and the horses and the flowers. Good food, of course.
Curiously, the stable was within a 1/4 mile of the highway, but there was no direct access. It was a 10 km. trip in and another when we left.
And then home in time to get to the 5 p.m. Mass in English. The side chapel of Sacred Heart was filled with Americans and other English speakers. David was drafted to read the Gospel (much to the priest’s relief–it’s a long one). And it’s amazingly wonderful to hear the Mass in English, even though it’s easy enough to follow in Macedonian. And so another week ends. Our time here is getting short and there must be dozens of beautiful villages that we haven’t seen. Everyone say “when you come the next time . . .” Who knows?