The summer madness is catching up with us. Our couchsurfing schedule has been more than hectic and here we are, behind on documenting our experiences. I didn't get the chance to finish reading and writing about Sweden and Malmo and we already welcomed 2 other guests this past weekend - Wojtek and Anna from the south and north Poland (more on them and their country coming up this week)...
As I am writing this, Thess is probably on a train to Malmö from Copenhagen, where she arrived on a plane from Skopje via Zagreb. We had the pleasure to host her twice over the past week - her first two days in Skopje and then (after a weekend in Ohrid) she came back for one more short day before catching her flight at dawn this morning. It's really nice to be able to do this; have people arrive at the beginning of their stay in Macedonia and then back again right before they leave (Abi did the same last week). It's also nice to see the change in them and how this region slowly leaves its mark on them; with Thess this was in her sunburnt skin, her self-declared love for local cheese and the stories she had from her weekend in Ohrid. Much to our surprise and delight, Thess found a way to get to Galichnik on Sunday and catch a glimps of the annual Galichnik wedding one of the most famous Macedonian traditions that must be a very special experience for foreigners.
During her afternoon in Shutka, Abi wandered into a local sweets shop and saw a big pitcher of icy cold chocolate-colored liquid, that she initially thought was Ice Coffee. When she asked the person that worked there if it is indeed coffee, he said "No, no, no! Not coffee!". So she left the shop in somewhat of a shock and went on wandering around Shutka. Few hours later, she comes back home and in her stories about what she saw, she mentions this mysterious looking "Not Coffee!!" liquid. I laugh and in between laughing a funny thought goes through my mind: it's been almost a year of hosting couchsurfers and not one of them has ran into this before? How strange.
9:15 am on a Sunday morning. I am staring at the sleepy and hostile face of the guy working at the information desk at the Skopje train station, who, for the 3rd time tells me "5 more minutes, it is coming, I told you." I overdo it really; the Thessaloniki-Skopje train is barely half a hour late which is not that uncommon and not even that late. Just as I head to the nearby newspaper stand to kill some more time looking at magazines, I hear the unmistakable earth-shattering noise of the arriving train overhead. As I head to the foot of the staircase which all arriving passengers descend from, a pack of local taxi drivers rush up the stairs and prepare themselves to pounce on tired and confused foreigners, offering taxi rides at dizzying rates and choosing their prey by the size of their backpacks and the fairness of their hair.
I may owe some people an apology. There's probably not many of them, but still. The thing is, I distinctly remember using the word Holland for the country with Amsterdam as its capital. But in reading stuff after Stephanie and Sarah left, I ran into this. So apparently, "Holland" and "the Netherlands" are not interchangeable terms. Holland is merely a province (nowadays 2 provinces, South and North) of the Netherlands. Oh and to think that here in the Balkans we just about kill each other over names... [Shudder].
Guess what? Our couch finally did move a little:) Well not our couch per se, but we did. These past 5 days we've been at our 100yr old house in the mountains just up from Bitola, in the village called Magarevo which is just at the edge of one of Macedonia's (if not the) most beautiful national parks - Pelister. We come here once in a while in the wintertime and quite more often in the summertime, always with visions of absolute laziness, sun-soaking and long uphill hikes. In practice, our stays here are a mix of really hardcore garden work, the occasional home improvement project and (really towards the end of our days) a couple of lazy morning hours, book gulping and rakija-induced afternoon naps. Despite the blisters on our hands and the really embarrassing tan lines that reek of fieldwork, and no matter how short our stay in this little getaway, we openly daydream about moving to the countryside where we'll blend in with the local folks that live beyond 90, wake up to the sound of birds, eat from our vegetable garden, and perhaps even get used to the idea of sketchy TV reception, no neighbors to steal wireless from and the ever-present village gossip.
Right in the middle of last week, a very refreshing multicultural wind blew through our house, temporarily alleviating the heat horror that was Skopje. While we were melting at temperatures dangerously approaching 40C and tried limiting our need to step out of the house to a minimum, 2 extremely ambitious souls were making their way around the Balkans with trains and buses (I shudder at the thought of being in a bus in that weather). The heat was so unbearable that for the first time in our CS hosting history we couldn't muster up the strength to go and wait for our guests at the bus station. As I wrote an sms to them explaining which bus to take, into which direction and how to ask the driver for help with getting off at the right stop, I kept thinking "oh, this is a bad idea". If you know me you know that I have issues with control and the public bus system in Skopje completely throws me off.
On their second day in Skopje, Elena and Maja successfully navigated the complicated public transport system towards Matka alone (which makes me go into another nail-biting frenzy when I think about the possibility that they get lost somewhere along the way) and we then meet downtown after work. My day is hectic; I have tons to do at work, I still haven't shaken off my sinus thing from last week AND my brother and dad are leaving for the World Cup in South Africa (which is a terribly exciting thing that leaves me quite envious too). But Skopje is hectic in June as well, and when we meet downtown and after a quick bite in the Old Bazaar (ќебапи at Destan) we visit Kale (the Skopje fortress) where the girls take note of the gazillion Macedonian flags waving in the city (no, we're not celebrating anything, we just seem to have a thing for flags).
Yes, in almost a year of hosting couchsurfers, and close to 30 guests from over 12 countries, this week and for the first time ever we hosted guests from another ex Yugoslav republic. You'd think we'd get more of them - after all, we're all in the neighborhood, the culture is familiar, the region is not that expensive to travel around but no, so far, we hadn't had anyone from any of the other 5 (or 6, depending on how you look at it) ex republics of old Yugoslavia.
All that changed Tuesday with the arrival of Maja and Elena from Croatia (Istria and Rijeka region respectively, both stuyding in Rijeka). We got excited from the moment we received their CS request and in the excitement at some point I exclaimed "That's the closest destination we've ever had guests from!!!" But silly me, I didn't think that Istanbul (yes, the city at the edge of the continent) is, by a straight air line at least, closer than Rijeka. Oh well,
closest Balkan destination then! And oh, did I mention, first ex-Yugoslav:)!!!