Thursday June 23rd, 2011
10:30 am alarm going off, and I’m struggling to find my phone to push snooze. After what seemed like an eternity, I found it on the floor next to the empty water bottle and the box of hazelnut wafers I ate the night before. I eventually gathered enough energy to get up and get ready for the day; teeth brushed, clothes on, bag packed… I’m ready. Today we were not heading to the worksite; instead we were going to spend the day in Skopje. With a historical tour and some free time it was looking to be a good day.
We began at the Skopje Fortress up the crest of a hill looking over the city and the Vardar River. The first fortress here was built back around the 6th century BC ad since then has been improved upon and some parts rebuilt, but some original pieces remain. This was another ancient site we were able to learn about during our time here, and like Stobi Archeological site, it was incredible to be in the presence of something so unique and old that has stood the test of time. Unfortunately there was some political and religious fighting along with some destruction of the fortress recently and it was closed so we were only able to walk around it. Apparently even though it is an ancient building there are still harsh feelings about who built what and when…
For more info you can check out the link below:
From the fortress we walked though the alleys and coble stone streets of Old Town Skopje, filled with small shops, snack stands, and tourist stands, it reminded me of walking through one of the themed villages in Disneyland. The whole place had a certain character and look. There were “gypsy” children here and there begging for money, our tour guide held a certain feeling of disgust… for them. She was very adamant about not giving them any attention and making sure we had nothing in our pockets and we were aware of our backpacks. This was a little weird because just a day before we were immersed in a “gypsy” community meeting families and being welcomed and now we were being told to watch out possessions as if Aladdin and the 40 thieves were going to pounce on us as we walked around the corner! I thought this was similar to a certain minority back home and the ethnic majority’s general perception of them. They are looked down upon and not accepted by a large part of society and not even welcome in some areas of town.
We learned a lot about Old Town Skopje and even got a tour of one of the oldest churches in Macedonia, some of the woodwork within the church was hand carved from the inside out; it was some of the most intricate woodworking I had ever seen! Very impressive and expensive today according to our tour guide, so much so the British tried to buy the whole church recently because of its rarity and value… of course the Macedonians declined. We left the church and finished our tour at a coffee shop on the edge of old town. We got some iced coffees, Skopskop and water while enjoying the Air Conditioned seating area. We then headed to meet up with Roberto and our team leader Dave, Roberto had to go get a tetanus shot from the glass that cut him during the backboard incident. After we regrouped we walked over the river on a walkway with several tourist-oriented tables selling small toys, hats and sunglasses. I got a pair of sunglasses and with some bartering skills I managed to talk to seller down 300 dinar (about $8 half of what he was asking!). The walkway ends at a giant statue of Alexander the Great on a horse, a focal point for the city and malls around. We got lunch at a restaurant with menus serves in leather bound books and as long as a chapter out of a Harry Potter book! Haha ok maybe a little exaggeration but it was a large menu with 3 pages of different kinds of pasta and 2 pages of different kinds of pizza. I ended getting a pasta dish with cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic, and olive oil, and a pepperoni, basil, pizza (there was something else on it but I cant remember). This is one of my favorite restaurants so far on the trip, everything was very good and cheap too! This restaurant was playing some smooth jazz, but it was not regular American smooth jazz oh no- it was a playlist of smooth jam remixes to the songs like YMCA… yes a smooth jazz remix of YMCA- only in Macedonia!!
The 3 hours following lunch were given to us as free time to explore the city and shops around the area. I started off with everyone and we bought matching red Macedonia hats, and then went off with Matt to look for a shirt he wanted to get. Near the stand where we bought the hats, was a monument to Mother Theresa and four, gold, L shapes in the pavement signifying where the house Mother Theresa was born in; talk about a historical spot!
We ended up meeting back up with everyone about 2 hours later. Seeing all the shops with different styles and set ups was cool, it was in a way similar to back home but at the same time different; even the manikins here look different… in a creepy “Bride of Chucky” way. Once we al met up we walked 15 minutes into town to a place called the American Corner. The AC is a place within the City library, that is ran by the US embassy in partnership with the library, it’s a place providing American culture and literature to anyone who is interested. You ca become a member cost free and come use and check out any of the materials they offer. We were there for about 30-45 minutes talking with the employees and some of the members ( ages 16-22) who came and meet us. It was an opportunity to share culture with one another and at the same time let us learn a little about how our country is viewed and answer questions about America to these young adults. These people spend their time reading and watching any American material they can get their hands on, it was pretty cool to be on the outside looking in at America… sometimes a new perspective can really open your eyes to what’s always been in front of you.
After almost leaving Joe at the American Corner, we headed an hour drive back to the hotel. We were supposed to have dinner in Skopje, but after a long, hot day of walking around the city, we were already to go back to the hotel and relax. Our new dinner plans once we got back involved, calling a local pizzeria and explaining what delivery pizza was, ordering 10 pizzas, and paying for a taxi for an employee to bring us the pizza. We all ate taxi delivered pizza, salad from the hotel, and other snacks from the local market outside the hotel in the warm summer night; one of our last here in Macedonia. It has gone by so fast!!
Only a few more blogs… wow
#NP Never Know- Jack Johnson