Balkans – End

The Balkans are a fascinating, very diverse region in Southeast Europe which had to deal with a lot of conflicts in recent history – the Breakup of Yugoslavia and the resulting Yugoslav wars made it almost impossible to travel the region from 1991 to 2001.

A lot has changed since those darker days and most of the countries are back on track, the reconstruction is in its final stages and the tourism is on the rise. Changes can also be seen in the countries which haven’t been affected by the wars – Bulgaria became part of the EU, developed it’s infrastructure and is seeing an economic growth, even though this growth decreased recently.

Learnt so much about the Balkans during the trip. I find it so rewarding knowing that this was a region previously so foreign, so completely unknown to me. But now I know just a little teeny bit better.

Yay! Done with this!

Skopje, Macedonia

When I got off the bus it was 11am; after awhile the time switched to an hour earlier. A couple of clicks later and I realised Macedonia was in a different time zone from Bulgaria. Wow. And why? The bus took only 4 hours.Already, I miss the abundance of wifi in Sofia.

I was due to meet Katy in a couple of hours. I took the chance to walk along the streets in the meantime. 
I walked past a shop. Why were there 2 flags?

A shopkeeper briefly explained the shift in the country’s flag design. 
More at:
3. Average wage of 250-300€ a month
4. Unlike Bulgaria there’s no paternity leave, only maternal
5. ‘Skopje 2014’(
Statues can be seen throughout the city, in a project known as Skopje 2014 
This was very noticeable, and I couldn’t help feeling somewhat amused by the number of statues around the city, almost every 5m you’ll spot one. Also, it was clear they were new structures, that looked like the old ones.
What I felt was more interesting was this tourist map board – these attractions (only top half displayed, bottom half photo not taken so there’s really many more statues not shown)
Firstly, the Jokerman font. Wow, been some time. Secondly, the ‘under construction’ sign – they were building so many things.
‘Identity crisis’? To attract tourists?

Katy drew my attention to the fact that some of these establishments were ‘imitations’ of popular infrastructures in other cities. Do these look familiar to you?

– No proper earthquake resistant structures
– Citizens are complaining that this is a waste of money (according to Katy)

Things I took away with me from Skopje

1. Mother Teresa

Part of Macedonia’s draw for me, admittedly, was the Memorial House of Mother Teresa. She was born in Skopje, Macedonia, it seems. 

Later, after meeting with Katy, I learnt the complexities of geopolitical boundaries and ‘claiming’ of popular figures for each countries’ attempt to boost national identity.

“Albanian politicians say they are angry at a proposal to describe Mother Teresa as Macedonian on the statue’s inscription. They say she was Albanian. 

When Mother Teresa was born in Skopje in 1910, neither Macedonia or Albania existed. 
The streets of the modern capital, Skopje, were part of the Ottoman Empire.
But now that the world’s most famous nun is approaching sainthood an unseemly row has broken out over her identity.
Her ethnicity may have mattered little to her but it has tremendous importance in the Balkans.” 

Is Mother Teresa Albanian or Macedonian? 

2. Flag Dispute between Greece and Macedonia 

– Previously it was related to Alexander the Great, but seems like Greece has been trying to claim that Alexander the Great was Greek, not Macedonia, and so Macedonia changed its flag. There also seems to be some territoriality issue- Greece claims they have a state called Macedonia, and rejects the country’s name. Macedonia hence has the (FYROM) at its name; apparently it’s also Greece that has been hindering its entrance into the EU

Roma community uses horses as a means of transport (supposedly illegal)

A river runs through the city. Apparently a Ferris wheel is due to be constructed along the river, which may affect it. There are people lobbying against its construction, but who knows? I wonder how it’ll go.

Katy and I walked along this part of the park. It was calming and beautiful.

My hostel did not have an electronic radiator. The fire heated the whole place. The hostel owner eagerly showed me the fire, when I asked. I grinned. I was secretly nervous though, and as I lay in bed at night, I wondered if the place might catch fire, and if I would be able to escape. But nope, none of that happened, I’m pleased to say.

Would Skope 2014 work in attracting tourists? Frankly, the night view of Skopje is indeed pretty. I think Papa would like it.
It might, it might grow.