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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

MACEDONIA, A FRIENDLY NATION

This blog is dedicated to Robert Price who gently reminded me that people want me to write more stuff.  (Disclaimer:  Please note that I only make these when something is happening but in this case, I am moving around a bit...)



FRIENDLY FOLK

I have met pretty much nothing except friendly people here.  I wanted to illustrate that with a story.

Trying to find an apartment to stay in Bitola, I'd gone down to the real estate office.  There was a guy in his thirties with an elderly couple I judged to be his parents.

Because I'm a foreigner, the man working there wanted to know what I needed.

Honestly, this always is a bit awkward.  I really don't mind waiting my turn - but in this case it turned out to be fortuitous.   I explained I was looking for a place to stay long term.  The other customer in his thirties kindly helped translate.

After awhile, the elderly couple took off and the broker discovered he had nothing for me.  I thanked them both and left.

The guy in his thirties (Nikola) caught up with me after I'd gone a block or two and offered to take me to a different real estate agent.  Thinking it would just be a block or two I accepted his generous offer.  It was - to his car.  Then, we drove to the other real estate agent.  Who also didn't have anything.

But this story illustrates just how kind the Macedonian people really are.  Heck, if he'd just tracked me down to give me the name of a different real estate agent and vague directions to it, that would have been really nice of him - but to drive me there?

I offered (repeatedly, just in case any Islamic custom had taken root here) to buy him breakfast but he steadfastly refused as he had other stuff to do.  Stuff he put off doing to try to help me out.  In addition, he even reached out to his contacts.  Though they came up dry, it was extremely friendly and I felt very good about having come to Macedonia.

Whether they know it or not, people like Nikola are ambassadors for their nation - and they are doing a great job of it.

A side note for my American readers:  I'm sure many of you read that I got into a strangers car and went with him through parts unknown.  Yeah.  I do that quite a bit.  Given that I've an excellent sense for people and a pretty decent ability to read faces, my chances of getting hurt doing that are about half what I judge getting run over on the sidewalk.  Regardless, people are generally neutral with more being friendly than out to hurt someone.  Here in Macedonia, they seem to lean heavily toward the friendly side of the scale.  In fact, if you were to say "American people are paranoid" you could say "Macedonian people are friendly" and it would be at least as true.  Turn off the news - you are only hurting yourself by 'trying to keep informed'.



MACEDONIAN CLIMATE

I've lived in at least five different deserts.  Honestly, I've lost count at this point.  But the heat is between 30 and 40 degrees (C.  If stuck on an antiquated system the rest of the world has abandoned, please read as 'damned hot').

Why anyone would choose to come here on vacation during this degree of heat - other than to go to say a beach - is a mystery.

Starting to form the belief that south eastern Europe is best during the 'shoulder seasons' - spring and fall.  You don't want to be here during winter.  Apparently, it use to be much more mild but for no apparent reason (read as 'global warming') the temperatures have plummeted.



COFFEE

Macedonian.  Greek.  Turkish.  They all taste pretty much the same to me.  I asked someone about it and the difference turns out to be the way it is prepared - not the ingredients.  One you heat the coffee first, then add water.  Different  one you heat the water then add the coffee.  Third one you...  I'm not sure.  Blow a squirrel, toss everything into the pot and boil it?  I can't remember but you get the point.



WAITERS

Most people complain they have trouble with waiters, especially in countries where if you don't tip them they don't get paid.

Try being funny, outrageous, shameless and over the top.  I've never had bad service.  Oh, and treating them like humans who are stuck doing a kind of shitty job doesn't hurt either.   But they shall be freed from their shitty jobs when we build small robots to do this work (or trained pigeons) and then they shall have no jobs and rejoice!



BITOLA

Not sure why Bitola has only one decent/affordable hostel.  It's OK, but nothing I'd travel there to stay in.  For tourists, I'd recommend staying in Ohrid and making Bitola a day trip.  You can see all the major sites in a day.

One odd thing they have is a kilometer or two (or more?) of nothing but restaurants and cafes.  No clue why it is set up like that but they're all along the same street, pretty much in a straight line.

Skip the 'bazaar'.  It's not.  Nothing but a bunch of small huts selling stuff, closed on Sundays.  None of the wonder, romance and chaos of an actual bazaar.

It's a nice town but not really that noteworthy to tourists.



OHRID

Though I was told there would be 'lots', there was only one woman waiting around at the bus station hoping to rent out a room in her house to tourists.  She was kind enough to point out I'd left my plastic bag with my water behind.

If you're wanting a 'home' experience, go with one of these women but as always make sure to first take a look at the place then find out what is actually included.  If they have noisy pets and noisy kids, find that out.  Food may or may not be included.  Haggle!

After lying to the nice lady and telling her I already had a reservation, I walked the kilometer to the place I'm staying.  It's called "Valentin Hostel".  It's extremely basic and not all that clean.

The owner is one of those 'really happy to help you initially' kind of people but by my fourth request he was losing steam fast.

He strongly cautioned me to turn off the boiler before having a shower so that I don't die.  Really.  I missed seeing his copy of "So your hostel's a death trap" book lying around but got the hint anyway.  Since I'm use to some element of danger (though usually self inflicted) this doesn't bother me overly much.



GOOD MACEDONIAN QUOTE

"You are a vegetarian?  What the hell are you doing in the Balkans?" - unknown.

Good food here begins and ends with meat.



LOGAN EXCHANGES

Personally, I think a lot of them are funnier than the stuff in "An Idiot Abroad", but I don't have famous friends who make movies.

Logan:  "The chicken ceasar salad please."
Waiter:  (pause)  "That is all?"
Logan:  "Your salads here are big, right?"
Waiter:  (eyeing me dubiously) "For one person."
Logan:  (patting belly) "I know I am two people but..."


Logan:  "Cheeseburger, please."
Waitress:  "You should try the double cheeseburger - it's very big!"
Logan:  "I don't need very big - besides, I just woke up!"
Waitress:  (looking pointedly at Logan's huge belly)  "For you, I think it's OK."

I managed to resist.  Doing the 'just eat when you're hungry' crap doesn't work when you've been raised to 'clean your plate!'.  Fucking starving children in China.  Later, having the "Eat fast, we may be attacked at any second!" training from the military doesn't help.  Parents, if you want your kid to be chubby (ie fat) remind them to always 'clean your plate, there are starving children in China!'  Of course, you could have said "There are starving children down the street" but that might give the kids ideas about just bringing them the unwanted portion and we don't want that kind of social responsibility cropping up.



TRAVEL SKILL

It would be nice to say that after several years of travel, I've gotten slick at it.  The truth, however, is that I am still fumbling around letting luck sort out several important details.

A friend of mine (the evil TJ) put up this video of Indian Jones explaining how Logan thinks he is (Marcus Brody) vs reality.

Fortunately, the truth is somewhere in the middle.  Probably way toward the last part of the video, but still.



QUEEN'S PUB

I ate breakfast (well, OK a shitty cheeseburger) at 'The Queen's Pub'.  This brought up images of the Queen of England.  Then, my friend Matt Lunn, who is British.  Then, Matt Lunn dressed as the Queen.  Then, Matt dressed as the Queen being forced by his nation to knight me.

Then, my brain put him into this video.  Matt is the guy in gold wings, and calls me 'Gordon'.

For those that know both Matt and I, that is fucking hilarious.  If I had 'big money', I'd do a video of it.  Which a couple dozen people would think is great.  Everyone else would be confused.



PRICES

'Deniro' salad (fucking big) and two Turkish coffees, 220d

Cheap meal (generally, with a couple beers), 300-500d

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PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia - Michigan - Illinois - Colorado | England: Slough - Lancaster

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