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Europe » Macedonia » Bitola
June 29th 2012
Published: September 30th 2017
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Where Was This Yesterday? ...Where Was This Yesterday? ...Where Was This Yesterday? ...

... Aleksandar suggested I have dinner in Kavadarci's park, but though it's a small town, I could not find it last night. Finding it today was no problem, after Gary gave me some directions. The plan was to have left Kavadarci before lunch, but the bus schedule is a bit wonky here - there were three buses that left before 9 AM, and the 12:30 bus for some reason didn't run today, leaving me stranded until the late afternoon. Not a bad thing though, having an afternoon to spend in the park.
Geo: 41.04, 21.34

"How's your wifey?" Huh? Is he talking to me?

"How's your wifey?" He must be, no one else is in the hotel's breakfast room. But who the hell is my wifey? Oh, wait ... how's my wi-fi!!! Pretty good!

So began the conversation with Gary, a tourist from Sweden, but not the typical tourist, as I would soon learn while he conversed fluently in Macedonian with the waitress. Though he hasn't lived here in decades, he still comes back yearly for vacations with his son, and was curious as to why I was traveling through Macedonia.

Not overly popular with foreign tourists, and probably not popular at all with others of my yellow-Asian-ass ilk, it was a legitimate question, with Gary first assuming I was here on business. I suppose I am here on business, if my business is to keep drinking this fine-ass Macedonian wine!!!

As usual, the Balkan hospitality shone through brightly during our conversation, with Gary offering up all manner of tips for my travels through his homeland. It's always something that's been refreshing traveling through the less-touristed Balkan nations, with people being genuinely happy that you are actually here by choice, that you actually want to see
their country. It's almost as if they can't believe that anybody wants to come here, especially not with all the negative press and stereotypes associated with some of these "sketchy" Eastern European countries.

Stories of crime, corruption, and the mafia that are associated with many of these newborn nations should be enough to scare anyone away. There is no doubting the veracity of these stories; it's happened many times in Central and Eastern Europe when a country rapidly disintegrates after the fall of a government - a power vacuum forms, allowing those that are organized, quick to react, and smart, to seize a great deal of power. Organized crime existed in those countries during Communism, but they managed to consolidate and expand their spheres of influence after the chaos.

So yes, terrible things do happen in these countries, as they do in any other in the world. But what are the chances that a tourist would get caught up in any of that? The chances are almost nil that you would stumble upon organized crime, unless you were looking for trouble. Is that enough reason to avoid traveling to a certain country?

Gary and I blame Hollywood for all these fears and stereotypes - we joked about how movie villains have changed over the years, from the Soviets, to Middle-Eastern terrorists, and now to the Eastern European mafia. "Those poor Serbians, everybody thinks they're all evil now!", Gary chuckled. And if that's not enough to scare you, let's not forget about those horrible hostels in Eastern Europe, where guests are tortured and hacked to bits. I kid you not - before the trip I was warned about Albania, and the danger of me being kidnapped and having my organs removed, and sold on the black market. If that happens, hopefully it's just a kidney, because I have two, and can spare one!

But in all seriousness, in many countries, travelers are seen only as dollar signs, nothing more - quite often, those are the worst places to travel, never knowing if locals striking up conversations with you are just in it for the hustle, or if they genuinely care to know you. In other countries, we are seen merely as nuisances, those annoying tourists who get in the way and drive up prices for the locals. But in many of the Balkan states, we are treated as guests - who wouldn't want to come for that?

Nowhere was this more evident than after arriving in Bitola at the Tokin House, the place I'll be resting my head for the next two nights. It's family-run, by some truly kind people - within seconds of walking through the door, I was warmly greeted and offered a cup of coffee, which I initially declined, as nature was calling. But after unpacking and heading out the door for dinner, I was once again offered a cup of coffee - though starving and wanting to eat as quickly as possible, I would've felt bad turning down two offers.

So we sat for a while and chatted ... it's always fascinating hearing a local's perspective, in a country with such a complicated history as Macedonia. Though much of the history has been bloody and sad, it's what makes this region so fascinating, and what makes it such an enjoyable place to visit - the people here have the mentality of living for the moment, because nobody knows what tomorrow will hold. Though the origins of this mentality are somewhat depressing, such courage in the face of adversity and uncertainty is admirable, and is something to respect.

There are always two sides
Sirok Sokak, Bustling Pedestrian Street ...Sirok Sokak, Bustling Pedestrian Street ...Sirok Sokak, Bustling Pedestrian Street ...

... the mosque minarets found in this part of the World are always an interesting punctuation in the skyline.
to every story, and each country has their own - truth can be subjective, so there is no right or wrong, only perspective. He brought up something once said by Winston Churchill, which is the most fitting quote summing up the Balkans: "The Balkans produce more history than they can consume." Isn't that the truth ...



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Restaurant Brioni ...Restaurant Brioni ...
Restaurant Brioni ...

... recommended by Gary. A typically-delicious shopska salad with grilled fish - nothing special about the meal, but it was good enough.
Dinner in Bitola ...Dinner in Bitola ...
Dinner in Bitola ...

... at Restaurant Korzo, recommended by staff at my hotel. A huge restaurant that was packed this evening, which may have explained the mediocre food - trying something different tonight, I went with the Macedonian salad, which is chunks of roasted peppers, tomatoes, and onions. Lacking dressing, I wondered if they just didn't put enough on, or forgot to give me a bottle of olive oil and vinegar to put on? Surprising that they left all the seeds inside the roasted peppers - not so tasty ... service was also incredibly slow tonight, with the entree arriving over an hour after my salad was finished.
Sounded Good On the Menu, But Disappointing ...Sounded Good On the Menu, But Disappointing ...
Sounded Good On the Menu, But Disappointing ...

... pork stuffed with cheese and chunks of ham, all wrapped in bacon, and then grilled. The bacon was tough and chewy like leather, acting like a suit of armour that was nearly impossible to cut with the crappy knife I was given. The pork was dry, and the exterior of the pork wasn't nicely caramelized, but chewy like beef jerky. The lone highlight of the dish was the yummy potatoes - had I realized they were included, I would've skipped the bread, which I only ordered after the waiter told me no sides were included with the pork. The mediocre bread made me long for some of the excellent bread I had last year in Bulgaria: http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/pwong/14/1312408145/tpod.html#pbrowser/pwong/14/1312408145/filename=zd.jpg
Stupidity ...Stupidity ...
Stupidity ...

... a backpacker should know better than to carry excess weight, let alone three regular bottles, and one half bottle of wine. But in my defence, the bottle of chardonnay on the left was a gift from Hotel Pamela, and it didn't survive Bitola.


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