Impressions of Macedonia
In writing this short piece, I was conscious of the need to avoid that question most often asked of travellers, “was it as you expected?” The simple truth is that I came to Macedonia expecting nothing; or rather, hoping to experience everything the country has to offer. So perhaps less an avoidance than a negation. In any case, in the month that I have lived here I have seen and experienced such a wide variety of things that, even had I arrived armed to the teeth with concrete expectations and definite itineraries, they would soon have been so confounded as to be ridiculously inappropriate. From riding in the hills to nights at concerts and ballets, Serbian music in underground clubs, beaming and affectionate children at Avtokomanda and Shutka, endless parties, glorious food, new friendships, impromptu guitar solos with local bands, polyglot discussions of Hayek and Mises: myriad wonderful and totally unpredictable experiences in the space of a few short weeks.
Perhaps the second most-often asked question is, “how do you manage the language barrier?” Here I must confess a slight abnormality: languages, dialects and accents fascinate and enthuse me to a degree and with a passion which in most people are reserved for the birth of a child or their country winning the World Cup. Quite fortuitously, I taught myself to read the Cyrillic alphabet with the intention of learning Russian, but absolutely no foreknowledge of my visit here. The advantage of this has been tremendous. From the day I arrived in Skopje, I have been able to embark on my journey down the winding streams and raging torrents of the Macedonian language – admittedly not always in any particular direction, but with the general hope of arriving at an interesting and unexpected destination. I have not been disappointed. Though my Macedonian is as yet basic, for everyday purposes (and combined with a judicious use of English and German!) it is sufficient that I can feel some satisfaction with my progress, albeit inevitably not as fast as I would like.
So as I pause at this halfway house to take stock of my impressions to date, there can be but one conclusion. Beguiling and infinitely surprising, by turns moving and exhilarating, Skopje has welcomed me with open arms and warm hospitality. The Macedonians whom I have met have been unfailingly courteous, kind, honest and unflagging in their love of fun and entertainment. If my second month matches my first, this will have been an extraordinary and unforgettable trip. Na zdravje!