Some twenty years ago, one of my third grade (or second, can't be too sure) mandatory reading was Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, a Swedish writer and the world's 25th most translated author. I loved Pippi's red hair, her mischievous nature and her friends Tommy and Annika. I'm even thinking about picking it up again.
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:)!!!
After a week of peace and quiet and a general slowdown in the otherwise couchsurfing spring Skopje madness, this week of couchsurfing experiences will be kicked off tomorrow with the arrival of Andrea, a Toronto based chef (how cool is that?). Andrea has a gazilion CS references (Toronto also seems to be one of the most active couchsurfing communities) and Skopje is the 5th stop on her tour around the Balkans. She'll be staying with us for a couple of days and hopefully she'll make it in time tomorrow evening to drop by the city park for the Bob Marley Tribute Day (a Skopje tradition).
The day after we saw Nellie off, we welcomed Fine (pronounced "Feenai") in the middle of an unusual Skopje spring heat, and amidst the ever-present taxi drivers swarming the bus station. Fine, as I mentioned earlier, is German by origin but has been living outside of Germany for the last 8 years. She has moved quite a lot and actually she did try to briefly outline the countries she's stayed in, which made us a bit dizzy. Fine is married to a Brazilian guy and together they are (sort of) currently based in a place called Angra Dos Reis, near Rio de Janeiro (and very close to the Ilha Grande island - which we think looks gorgeous and a photo of which is shown below). They spend quite a bit of time on boats and did the Canto Mediterraneo project last year, sailing from Venice to Istanbul and documenting the music of the Mediterranean lands they visited on the way.
Did you know that the import and sale of chewing gum is forbidden in Singapore? I'm dead serious.
Photo by conarcist (via Flickr)
My expression must have been extremely confused when Nellie was telling me about it last night. Not that I didn't believe her, but I just had to look it up. And yes, there's an actual ban of chewing gum in Singapore, the reason being that people used to stick it on things like chairs and tables and in places like elevators and mailboxes. Having experienced the absolute thrill of having someone's disposed gum stick on to my jeans at school (and other places) I got to say the ban does make (some remote) sense. It is still completely weird to me though. As is traveling from Singapore to Malaysia to get some gum.
With approximately 707km2 in area (and a highest point of barely 164 meters!!!), Singapore, independent since 1965, is one of the smallest countries in the world, and is actually an island city-state. It consists of one main island and many tiny (largely) uninhabited ones. Nellie, Chinese by origin but second generation Singaporean, tells me that because of its history of being a British colony, British English is the official language and the British edu system is being used. Oh, and obviously, they drive on the left.
How do you say cheers in Estonian? Terviseks!!!!... Yeah, I know, it sounds like something else! :)
So, Mirjam and Hanna arrived on Saturday afternoon bringing us some very cute and tasty gifts…. Like this box of Estonian Chocolate Buttons (or Šokolaadinööbid).
So we’ve been maintaining a google map of the locations of all our couchsurfing friends…we typically like to do some research about the countries/cities our guests come from before they show up at the Skopje bus/train station. So as I was looking up Tallinn and Estonia in general, and placing a flag (yellow one, below) on our CS map, I realized that, look at that, Tallinn is in fact the northernmost city we’ll have had visitors from (once our guests arrive).
Another interesting fact we’ve found out prior to our guests’ visit is that Estonia declared its independence the same year Macedonia did (1991). So there it is, our first thing in common with our future friends Mirjam and Hanna.