Thoughts from Skopje

For those of you who are geographically challenged, Skopje is the capital city of the Republic of Macedonia. It's located in the north of the country on the river Vardar, and it has about 700,000 inhabitants, or about a third of the entire population of the country -- which itself is in South Europe, bordering Serbia and Kosovo, Bulgaria, Greece and Albania.

I spent about 4 days in Skopje last week. The city has about twice as many people as Cluj-Napoca but only a quarter of the density, which translates into lots of air, nice open spaces, incredibly fluid traffic and a general healthy decongestion.

Skopje Airport is small; about as small as the one in my hometown of Tîrgu Mureș. However it is functional and far enough from the city (about 20 km). I flew in on a twin-propeller DeHavilland Bombardier operated by Malev. On the way to downtown I noticed a funny anachronism: public buses from the 60s crawling among modern cars... with a Web address painted on their backs. In my mind and memories, these concepts just don't mix :) but then I still remember a world without Internet.

I am not a gourmet -- in fact I like to say that I am more of an Emile than a Remy -- but you can eat very well in Skopje. The traditional dishes are excellent and there are tons of restaurants and cafés all over town.

For example, I've eaten in a place called "Macedonian House" ("Македонска куќа") and also in an original inside-out restaurant, whose interior was decorated with exterior architectural elements (street lamp post, street lights, house number, iron portals etc.) and whose name escapes me now.

Downtown Skopje is modern, generally clean and pleasant. There are many interesting things to be seen and I obviously didn't have time for all. Here are some commented photos (as usual I take photos with my phone, and the entire album is here).

Women ignore me just as much in Macedonia as they do everywhere.

There are a lot of Romanian Dacia Logan cars, and I've also managed to spot a SuperNova and an ancient Berlina.

Kosovo is only 30 km away, on the other side of the Skopska Crna Gora mountains.

I use Google Reader in my breaks.

The government buildings are either modern and glossy with some 3000 years old statues thrown in front...

...or Socialist butt-ugly, like the post-office that looks like Tina Turner. (She's not necessarily ugly, just not the right model for a post-office.)

Notice the PraiseTheLord v2.0 Church with a Prayer Control tower. Here on evening neon...

...and here during daylight.

A government campaign for youth. The sign says: "When did you last TALK to your children?"

A popular grafitti saying "Freedom for Johan!". Johan Tarčulovski is a former Macedonian Police officer who had been convicted by the Hague court to 12 years in prison for war crimes. When I asked one of my Macedonian friends what those crimes were, he said that JT shot 3 Albanian people in retaliation for a previous attack of those Albanians on a Macedonian government facility which saw the death of 8 Macedonian soldiers (BBC story).

Do you know how hospitals have names like "St. This or That", "Mercy", "Holy Trinity" etc? Well, some Macedonians decided to go the other way and opened a clinic named no more, no less than the "Pain Clinic". Dialogue: "Mom, I've just had a car accident!" "Where are you?" "I'm in Pain!" "I know, but where are you?" Oh, and this is also a good name for a rock band.

The "Workers' Karate Club" makes you reconsider the idea of union trouble. I wonder if their union leader is a sensei.

And finally, in this spy shot, I've found one of the former executives of the Lehman Brothers Bank. (He's the one sitting.)

I wish I could've visited Kosovo, but unfortunately there was no time. Perhaps on another occasion. I generally liked Skopje a lot and would advise anyone to travel and see it. It's probably better than you expect.

Oh, here's an airport official with crooked duck legs. (At least they are in the photo.)

Am probleme la tradus

"O man dor tuliel le?" mă întrebă el privindu-mă în ochi, cu pixul pregătit ca să-și noteze ce-i răspund.

L-am privit concentrat preț de cîteva secunde, apoi m-am încruntat și m-am uitat la hîrtii... apoi la ecran... dar răspunsul nu era nicăieri.

"Hmm", am zis. No, amu' ce mă fac, am gîndit. Nu pot să-l pun să repete chiar fiecare frază, că mă fac de toată mîndra de minune. Da' oare ce m-o fi întrebat indianu' ăsta?!

"Hmmm", am zis din nou.

Am mai mimat concentrarea preț de cîteva secunde, după care mi-a venit ideea salvatoare. M-am întors spre colegul său macedonean, a cărui engleză era excelentă, și l-am întrebat:

"What do you think about that?"

Spre rușinea mea, a răspuns imediat, semn că el pricepuse.

În aceeași seară, după cina la un restaurant, contextul fiind mai neoficial, l-am întrebat dacă și el a avut dificultăți în a pricepe engleza vorbită de colegul său indian, sau e ceva în neregulă cu mine. Răspunsul său a fost rapid și edificator: "Mi-a luat vreo 6 luni, timp în care preferam să-i scriu mailuri..."