Our next destination, Skopje, was also a place we had visited before and again we were interested to see the change that had occurred. As chance would have it, our Slovenian friend, Mišo, who we had met on the Tbilisi–Baku night train 3 years ago, had also moved to the Macedonian capital and we were looking forward to seeing him again after all these years.
Ania, now adorned with ring, and I walked the 2 km or so to the edge of Ohrid, regretting our decision more with each passing step. The heavy food and alcohol we had consumed in the last two days was certainly being prised out the system, I can tell you. Our first lift was with a guy who was working at the Ohrid Summer Festival who had absolutely no space in his car but we both squeezed on the front side regardless. Next up was a really nice, Italian speaking guy who wanted to buy us burgers. After refusing the offer he insisted on giving us cigarettes instead. A lift with a very nice Russian woman, who was a freelance journalist living in the area for a few months, left us just the other side of a toll road on the way to Skopje. After some umming and ahing about whether it was legal or not, a truck stopped and took us on another 30 km or so. A quick food break, and the last hitch-hike with an Albanian-Macedonian truck driver and we were at the shopping centre where Mišo was working in order to collect the keys to his brother-in-law’s flat, where we would be staying whilst he was out of town.
After crossing town we had a little gorge on home comforts (shower, washing machine, fridge & internet) before meeting Mišo and his heavily pregnant wife, Irina, for a walk around the old Muslim side of town. What greeted us was simply shocking. We couldn’t recognise anything of the city we used to know. Where before there was dirt and cobblestones, now there are enormous statues and monumental buildings. The old town has been given a face-lift; the shops are newer, more presentable, less personable. The statue of Alexander the Great on the main plaza is hilariously grandiose as if it wants to stoke the fires of its dispute with Greece about his origin. Even the castle seems somehow newer, less full of decaying memories, more a symbol of Macedonian pride and strength.
I found it interesting to learn about the low level hostility that exists between Macedonians of Albanian descent and the indigenous people. Macedonians seemed to resent what they perceived as positive discrimination in favour of the Albanian communities whilst all the Albanians we spoke to said that there were no problems between the different communities. Watch this space, I would fear to say, to see how this develops.
On our second day we also had the opportunity to the visit the Matka Canyon with Mišo, Irina and some of their friends, walking along the river and generally enjoying the nature.
Unfortunately our time in Macedonia was already at an end but we had packed a lot in. We had got engaged, caught up with a friend, made some new ones and witnessed the dramatic change that mass tourism can have on not only the aspect of a city but also its inhabitants. Next we were going take on the visa nightmare of Kosovo & Serbia, as soon as we had worked out what order to approach them in.
written by: Jon
Follow our 2 month hitch-hiking trip across the north of Italy and the Balkan Peninsula:‘The Balkan Peninsula by Thumb 2013′. It’s happening now!
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