Unexpected is always the best. And, exactly the same I could tell about my last trip to a new country. And, that was Macedonia. This land surprised me in a lot of ways, and really lightened up a fire to explore the Balkan region better in the nearest future too.
From absolutely new and modern Skopje international airport, carrying with pride the name of Alexander the Great, to the old-school cars in the streets, counting not less than 20 years of life. From dull rural parts to splendid Skopje center, with all its cells breathing the greatness. From the Millennium Cross on the mountain and cable cars, bringing up there, to the cup of tea on top which costs literally cents. From red-lightened mystical bars with a special selection of people to dinner with a beer for a few Euros. Macedonia is a very contrasting country. You see the immensity of Skopje, especially underlined in the hours of darkness, you enjoy the beauty of nature, but then later you speak with locals who claim that medium salary there is jus 150 Eur per month. It is simply hard to imagine. I had many different conversations with Macedonians and all of them were speaking about tough life. When I’ve proudly shown my new skirt, which I bought with a huge discount just for 20 Eur, young Macedonian woman replied: “But that’s a lot. I could never afford this to myself…” I must admit that this sounds surreal. I didn’t check the relevance of such stories, which speaking frankly have some artificial smell, I prefer leave them like that, as an open question, like the painting which locals painted about themselves.
However, as a visitor there, I had really amazing time. Balkan atmosphere, Skopje city center, even if it’s so frequently called kitschy, friendly people and low prices in general made my heart beating faster. As a stranger in so many countries I’ve experienced that locals very often try to cheat with you and to make better money for themselves. In Macedonia, seems that was an opposite. On my arrival day in the middle of the night I caught a taxi to my sleeping place. It is always a good idea to agree the price with the driver at the beginning of your journey, so I’ve done that very naturally. At the end I’ve got more than surprised when he asked even less amount than we agreed at the beginning. More of kindness? When you are eating and the waiter brings you extra drink, saying “That’s on me”. When you get into your hostel and first of all you are being asked to sit down and enjoy a complimentary glass of wine. When they serve breakfast from 9, but due to your need to get them way much earlier, administrator agrees to wake up two hours before and especially for you to go to the local shop to buy a fresh bread. When a souvenir seller decides to accompany you to the museum, which is 15 minutes away, because she wants to be sure that you really reach the place, and suggests buying postcards not in her kiosk in the Old Bazaar, but in the city center, where they’re cheaper. When you ask the stranger for a street and she voluntarily lets you know all the best about the city. When you are allowed to enter the Kale Fortress, which is closed due to renovation. When even the stray dog decides to show you around the Matka Canyon area, always turning back to check if you are still following him. And, when probably the main phrase, which locals love repeating most of all appears as “No worries, no problem!” Small things, but they definitely add up positive bonuses for the general experience with the country.
Some places are just nice to visit, others – let you feel like at home. Exactly in Macedonia I was having this homey feeling. I am sure that this country has many more faces, which differ depending on seasons, depending on companions you are travelling with and depending on people who you meet on your way. My Macedonia was extremely cozy, but at the same time I am not sure if I will ever come back there again. Are you familiar with this feeling when you don’t want to repeat the experience just because you don’t want to destroy by any accidental circumstances the great impression, which you already formed?
by Gintarė Adamonytė