Unexpected

Bitola and Ohrid, Macedonia

On my way to Macedonia’s crown jewel, Lake Ohrid, I decided to make a little pit stop in Bitola for a look at the country’s second-largest (though still pretty small) city.  Well, our bus itself took a long pit stop on the way there – there was an accident in front of us on a small road, with not enough room to u-turn.

At least we were stuck in some pleasant scenery.  Being the only non-Macedonian on the bus was a little bit strange at first.  As our bus stood waiting on the road, some of us went in and out to see the accident or just to get some fresh air.  After a long time, a younger looking man, Antonio, struck up a conversation with me, curious as to what I was doing in Macedonia.  He spoke some English – not great, but enough for me to understand kind of what he wanted to say; so we kept our conversation topics pretty basic.  I appreciated the effort but I felt bad that I wasn’t able to reciprocrate in his language (or any of the other ones he speaks better – Albanian and Turkish.  They have to learn a lot of languages in school!  On multiple occasions when he wasn’t certain, he called his girlfriend, who spoke better English and also computer access to Google Translate!  Aww. Continue reading

Identity crisis

Skopje, Macedonia

I’ll admit I knew absolutely nothing about the Republic of Macedonia (Republika Makedonija with a hard “k”, not a soft “c”) before coming.  Well, other than the fact that Greece disputes their name, causing them to be admitted into the UN under the clunky provisional reference name of “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (“FYROM” for short, pronounced like “fee-rom”), over the claim that most of ancient Macedon lies in current Greece.  Oh, and I knew Macedonia’s flag – unique in design, one of my favourites around cause looking at it just makes me happy.

But I came here because of my Schengen area restriction.  As a Canadian, I’m only allowed to travel in the Schengen area (the shared customs zone that encompasses much of Europe, where you can cross borders without having your passport checked) for 90 days within a 180 day period.  There is no option to extend this short of applying for school or residency.  With Sweden now on my itinerary as well as promises to meet people in France and Spain, all of which would use up the rest of my allowance, I needed to stay outside of the Schengen zone for at least a few weeks.  Turkey was supposed to be my remedy for this, but with no desire to stay there, I opted to head to a nearby non-Schengen country.  Back in Israel, Bernhard suggested Macedonia…so here I am! Continue reading