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.
You know, Tal was not our first Israeli CS guest. As a matter of fact, when we first discovered CS (almost 2 years ago), we were originally thinking of traveling to Tel Aviv - I think it was around the time that Israel abolished visas for us Macedonians...We even sent out a couple of CS requests...And even though that trip never materialized, about a year later, our first CS guests turned out to in fact be Miriam and Tamar from Jerusalem.
On her second day of staying with us, Tal went downtown to meet a girl from Israel who is married to a Macedonian man and lives in Skopje. Our day was hectic with work and errands, but thankfully Tal easily found her way downtown and back in the evening. I was a bit tired (and coming down a sinus infection that's been my constant companion for the past 5 days) so Ivica cooked for us.
Yes, it's been a while, but we were CS-less for 2 weeks! During this time, we traveled a bit ourselves (not too far, just to our house in the mountains and for a weekend visiting old friends and colleagues in Thessaloniki). While in Thessaloniki, I managed to catch up with Linn and Daan, a Dutch couchsurfing couple spending a student exchange year in Thessaloniki. When they stayed with us in Skopje during the winter, they came on the absolutely most disgusting day of all winter - there was muddy slush all over the city and they were wearing very summery shoes. The sight still gives me shivers dispite them saying that they're used to that kind of weather.
Sunday evening and once again, I'm at the train station. I swear, the people working at the Skopje train station must think that I am involved in some sort of human trafficking as they repeatedly see me collect strange foreign people and wizz them away and to our home.
Alberto and Nuria walk down the train station stairs with their huge backpacks and even bigger smiles. They've travelled for the last 8+ months, mostly through India and Nepal but have also visited other regional places including Singapore, Malaysia and the UAE. They are now making the trip back home to Mallorca, and actually have a plane to catch from Bratislava to Palma in about 10 days. During these 10 days they are planning to see Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Serbia, Hungary and Slovakia. That sounds like a very ambitious plan and one that does no justice to many countries in the region...but it is what it is...so, fingers crossed for Alberto and Nuria:)
...That same afternoon, after a short walk around Skopje's center, we go to (surprise surprise) Kaj Marsalot as Andrea has read about it in Lonely Planet's guidebook, which is funny. It is there that we find out the third thing that Andrea doesn't like - the liver that Ivica ordered and that many locals go crazy for. This makes us dive into even more food related discussions. Over plates of baked beans, stuffed grapevine leaves and both Macedonian and Greek salads:), we talk about the relative disconnect between ingredients and ready food in today's world.
Andrea left yesterday morning but we are still working through our impressions of her and digesting (yes, I haven't deviated from the food theme) all our discussions. On her second day in Skopje (and wearing an awesome Couchsurfing Toronto shirt), she went solo to see Matka. Now, I'll talk about something that is really frustrating to us. Sometimes, we get couchsurfers during the week and due to work we can't shadow them the whole time (and god forbid if we did, that would be freaky) even to places we really like in our city. Matka Canyon is one of those as it is a gorgeous place. But...
To my great delight Andrea is an excellent walker. I typically walk about 8km at least 3-4 times a week (that's the distance between my office and our home) but sometimes when we have couchsurfers around and our schedules switch from routine to more hectic, I miss out on my walking. Well, I didn't have to with Andrea, because - what a sport - we walked (backpack and all) to the City Park as soon as she arrived to catch the drunken end of the Bob Marley tribute day. It was there, amidst all the popcorn stands and parked bicycles that we found out that Andrea does not like beer! Ah, to not be able to share the delicious
bitterness of Skopsko with a CS guest..this is a first, I think. Hungry as we were, we stopped by a pastry shop on our way home to get some cheese+spinach Burek. Now I don't know if she was just being nice, but Andrea later tells me that it was better than the Burek she had in Turkey...anyway...
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.