Standing Still in Skopje

There is a fun story behind that title, but I’ll get to that later. Quite a few interesting occurrences have presented themselves recently, but I guess I will also get to that later. I may or may not be going back to Greece for a week, but again I will get to that (much) later.

I’ll try to start from the end of the last post. I believe I was still in Ohrid. I didn’t enjoy my time there as much as I could have, mostly because all the hostels were booked and I was relegated to the outside patio as a “bedroom.” Not only that, but the hostel was so full that people were sleeping in the common room both nights. Both of these circumstances made it difficult to actually meet people there. Ohrid is such a touristy town, too. It seems that a veritable “perfect storm” of events presented me with a dismal experience in the town. Don’t get me wrong; it was beautiful. I would like to go back someday and give it another chance, weather permitting.

I packed up my things on Monday morning and headed to the bus station. Before I was able to get a ticket a man approached me offering a cab ride. I was hesitant at first, mostly because of the fare for driving almost three hours. But he was heading back to Skopje anyway, and just charged me the same as the bus would have (about 500 Dinar). We waited for about 15 minutes for him to find another passenger, this time an older Macedonian Muslim woman with her two children. The driver spoke English very well, but the other riders did not. We tried to have a conversation with the man as our translator. As we approached the bus stop he handed me a business card for a local hostel. I’m not sure if he got a kickback, but the price and location were acceptable, so I took the card and walked the half kilometer to Hostel Kalonis.

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The hostel is clean, to be sure, but not very occupied. Also, they also run a hotel a block away, so the hostel is run more like a hotel – meaning payment up front and strict check-out times. Most hostels are very lenient on these issues, even allowing you to pay for your entire stay on your last day. Plus they don’t offer change. I was going to pay one more night earlier in the day, but the attendant couldn’t break 1000 Dinars. A few hours later (oh, I’ll have to relate my laundry story) he said “my manager needs you to pay for tonight.” Okay, but he STILL couldn’t offer me change. I had to find a corner store and buy a bottle of water (a 30-Dinar purchase) to break my larger bill. The do offer free breakfast (located at the hotel), which is actually pretty tasty. Not too much of a selection, but the ham and cheese sandwich with tomato and cucumber was delicious.

This morning after breakfast I decided it was time to do laundry – the last time was in Sarande. The attendant informed me that it would cost 5 Euro to wash my clothes. And also 5 Euro to dry them. That is an incredibly high price for one load of laundry. So I told him to wash them and let me know when they were done so I could hang them outside. I couldn’t really leave the hostel for very long, lest my clothes sit in a bunched-up wad of dampness while I was gone. So I stayed in hostel, for SIX hours, waiting for my clothes to be washed. To top it off, while hanging them I only counted 7 socks. Having an odd number of socks is never appropriate.

So, back to Skopje. Before leaving Ohrid I made a public travel notice on Couchsurfing that I would be in the area for several days, just to see if anyone would reply. In addition, I decided to try a little advice someone gave me a few weeks ago: Tinder. Yes, the application most people in the United States use for casual sex. But I figured it was worth a try to make some new friends. I downloaded it, made a quick profile, and swiped right a couple times to see what would happen. Quite a bit happened, actually.

First, there is Gorjan, a Macedonian that found me on Couchsurfing and offered to show me around town a bit. I took him up on his offer, of course. We set up a time for Wednesday at 1700 by the Alexander the Great Statue. Then I started getting replies on Tinder. The first was a girl…I can’t really remember her name…that was leaving for holiday in Greece soon. We met up at the city mall and chatted for about an hour over ice cream. I took a cab back into town to meet Gorjan. He showed me the old bazaar, which is really quite impressive, as well the the fortress and the clock building that was destroyed. Apparently in the 1960’s there was a pretty powerful earthquake that damaged a good portion of Skopje. They have recently embarked on a massive infrastructure and construction project called “Skopje 2014,” which makes little sense when you consider that the project started in 2010 and still continues to this day. The town center has been entirely redesigned, and most of the buildings close to the center are very new. And then there are the statues. Statues EVERYWHERE. The largest one is in the center on top of a large fountain. It portrays Alexander of Macedonia riding a horse. There are also statues of King Phillip II and Olympia. Some of the statues depict more recent state figures, but they are smaller in size. The Alexander statue is used as a meeting place for locals and tourists alike, since there is really no way to miss it. One of the locals told me a joke they’ve recently adopted here: Be sure not to stand still too long in Skopje, everyone will assume you are just another statue. Seriously, statues everywhere.

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After Gorjan and I parted ways I returned to the hostel simply so I could use the wifi. I don’t think it’s accurate for Google Fi to claim they have coverage in Macedonia; they clearly do not. Anyway, I needed to get confirmation on my next meeting from a Tinder contact, Ilina (or Ilie for short). We met, of course, at the Alexander statue and worked our way outside the center a bit. I have been told repeatedly, but I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the section of town we visited. Regardless, we found a bar and sat down for a few drinks. We spent probably three hours chatting about just about everything that came to mind. It was really an enjoyable experience. We hit it off and had quite a few laughs together. I got back to the hostel a little bit after midnight and called it an evening.

That brings us to today. After the laundry task was sorted I had kebab lunch at a nearby restaurant. Kebab I guess is a Turkish creation, and shops selling them are everywhere in Eastern Europe. There is a veritable plethora of kebab in the Balkans. Upon returning to the hostel I noticed I had received a message from yet another Tinder contact. This one was from a girl name Lola. L-O-L-A Lola. Lo-Lo-Lo-Lo-Lola. Yeah, I just did that. So we met up around 1930 by – where else – the statue. First we had salad and ice cream at a cafe in the city center, then walked through the old bazaar. We stopped for about an hour to enjoy hookah and Turkish tea at one of the small shops there. She later walked me through more of the streets in the bazaar, and it is much bigger than I realized previously. I will have to return their during the daylight to have a look at all the shops. After hookah we found the famous microbrewery a short walk away. They have live music every night after 2300, so we ordered a few beers and waited for the show to start. It turned out to be two guys with guitars, but the performance was still enjoyable. We left the brewery around midnight and walked through the city for about half an hour before sharing a cab. I got dropped off about half a kilometer away from Kalonis, collected and folded my (mostly) dry laundry, and decided it would be a good time to update my blog. Now that it is almost 0300 I am slightly regretting the commitment.

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Tomorrow I am going to try to make it to Matka, a canyon just outside of town with a lake that is supposedly gorgeous. If I have time I would like to take the ski lift up Vodno Mountain to the Millennium Cross as well. I heard the views from the summit are a necessary sight. I am also meeting up tomorrow with yet another connection from Tinder, Marija. I have been here three days and I’ve already made five friends. I guess I would like to elaborate more on the beauty of the city (especially at night), but sleep is calling me and I need to answer. I’m just kidding – I don’t have any service in Macedonia!

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