Thursday, 10 September 2015

17th - 19th August: nearly to Albania

Hospitality here in Macedonia is interesting. I experienced mostly the hearty, intense welcome I had met in Serbia, only sometimes the blank-faced distant reception I found in Bulgaria in the past (though this time friendliness there had improved drastically compared to my last visit 5 years ago). I have come across several people who tried ripping me off, would charge overly high prices, or give wrong information as they couldn’t be bothered, but more often the people I met showed genuine care and were really lovely and helpful; thus I received free bus and taxi rides and extra-free vegetables at the market. I think my attempts to speak in Macedonian (or rather a very basic Serbian) impressed and opened doors.

My furthest venture this time took me to Radožda, the last village before the Albanian border. Curiosity did tickle me to pop over and explore just a little bit on the other side of the border to this exotic country, of which I don’t know any language or anything else apart from one song. However, complicated border controls, and a different currency yet again made me go no further. I only watched the lonely Albanian seagull, which had probably illegally flown over into Macedonian waters.

Radožda is a small fishing village, a very pretty, non-touristic place - on first impression one would think only men live there, they gathered in various corners and alleyways for tee and chat. Only after looking very closely, I did see one woman inside the house, working, and then another one with her kid…

Automatically I became again the opposite of a tourist attraction, an exotic walking statue for the ‘sightseeing’ of the residents.

The only spot which was occasionally sought out by visitors is the St Archangel Michel cave church, a little chapel built into the rock, unfortunately locked all the time it seems, so nobody I met ever saw the inside. The day finished on one of the lonely beautiful beaches…

And my trip ends there as well. I do not look forward to the cold and damp, and London’s capitalistic attitude, neither giving up the freedom of travelling, and exploring new places.

I’m however, very much looking forward to work through my newly collected music, indulge into listening, figuring out how to translate the intricate Macedonian brass embellishments to my violin, and bringing some great Macedonians tunes back to London, which are not known there yet…  

Monday, 7 September 2015

15th - 16th August: trying for some boring holidays...

The first full day of my main-stream holiday began - with a breakfast of bran flakes shared, or mis-used as a dance floor by some happy worms for a lively jig - brrrrrrrrrrrrrr, did I feel like running away? yes, I did !!! 

However, from there, my new hosts made all efforts to offer me good hospitality, the cleanliness improved noticeably and the breakfast became varied every day with homemade or bought Macedonian specialties - no more traces of muesli...

Ohrid is a lively, unfortunately a bit touristic place but I discovered a beach far enough from the bulk of tourists, away from noisy beach bars and only to reach by a steep path, so only a small minority would/could find their way there.

In the next few days, I sampled every possible variation of burek, lots of local veggies kissed by the sun, of course palacinka (Balkan crepes) and I did lots of swimming in the clear and beautiful waters of the lake. 

I did the culture thing too, and went round all the massive and tiny churches on the hills - to see them from the outside only: due to cooking hot 33+ temperatures I wore too few cloths to be admitted inside. Some were anyway so tightly filled with wedding guests, that certainly no additional soul would fit in. The old city wall offers an amazing few all over Ohrid and the lake.

Scared of local rip-off-taxi-drivers, I went to take my excursions by local transport, which proofed fairly adventurous. Heading off I did with completely wrong information about bus stops and times given to me at the bus station info desk. There are no indications or timetables displayed anywhere; most ‘bus stations’ could only be identified by a bunch of people being gathered, seeming to wait patiently for nothing in particular. I felt so proud, when I finally figured it all out, when, where, how much, having use every single scrap of my tiny Serbian language skills.

This way I went to the next town, Struga, which is lovely, still touristic, but mostly frequented by Macedonians. The goods at the markets are about 25% more tacky, 50% cheaper though, and the small-pebble beaches made chilling out on the beach and getting in and out of the water a lot less painful. 

I managed to order and enjoy the best trout I ever had, freshly caught from Lake Ohrid; though the strange restaurant manager would not permit me to sit next to the water-front, on one of the many empty tables, for no apparent reason… This type of 'can-not-be-bothered' vibe reminded me of a school trip to Eastern Berlin, long before the wall fell, and the way the waiters over there served you your coke...

Friday, 4 September 2015

Friday 14th August: sun, beach and water - trying for some real holiday

Last day in Skopje, and I realise, I actually haven’t seen much at all, mostly hanging round Shutka. Apart from my new Roma friends, and of course Bojana, I made friends with an iron monger in the Zelena Bazar (Green Market), who used all his charm, big smiles through tooth gaps and gold teeth, and his German language skills which outbid my Serbian ones  by about five words, to sell some of his water taps or shower heads to me  - I actually got a bit tempted by the taps, as mine here in London sucks - the unfortunate weight involved kept his efforts in vain.

… off to Lake Ohrid now...

After a 3-hour ride on a cramped minibus, I arrived in Ohrid. I had read amazing things about its beauty and magic - and found them all true. 

Upon arrival at the youth hostel I had booked myself in, I had to learn that the ‘private tent’ I had reserved had unfortunately been destroyed. I was offered a place in the open, which shocked me so much, that the host quickly arranged a private room for me, and even paid the taxi which took me there.

I could not wait to dig out my swimming suit and towel, and run over the hills through the town to find a bit of beach to swim - herrlich !!!

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

13th August: Hajde Hajde, Bashalen Romalen !

Since leaving London for the Balkans this time, I have not once been soooo full of amazing food - traditional Macedonian cuisine, with veggies and potatoes from the own garden - I had been invited to Bojana’s parents for lunch. Bojana’s mum indulged us in proper Balkan hospitality fashion, full of love, amazing tastes and calories.

... and not one picture I took :-( 

After that we went back to Shutka for a musical venture. We met Asan on the main street. A long walk through the labyrinths of the residential Shutka followed. Everything is very narrow, very interleaved and close together, very very cozy. One can find a big mixture of attributes and qualities; little houses painted in bright purple and green next to slum-like dwellings, messy alleyways followed by clean-swiped passages. People seem very open, going about their chores in the middle of everyone, sharing their lives very much with the community around them. We were a rather exotic bunch walking along through those alleyways, me with my violin case and my colours sticking out even in those surroundings - once more a ‘resident’s attraction’ (as opposed to ‘tourist attraction’).

Once arrived at Asan’s courtyard, we settled down in the open-air sofa next to the pigeon’s shed - my Serbian wasn’t enough to ask if they were letter-pigeons. Accompanied by their purring, we started getting the instruments out, and some more musicians joined.

...only a couple of pix here, from before the real thing started...

Our music making session turned out to be a huge exchange of notes, music and ornaments. In our search for common repertoire, I ended up teaching some of my Roma repertoire to my new musical colleagues (hahaha, didn’t I come here to actually learn, and not teach :-)?). 

Anyway, bit by bit we gelled and found lots of pieces and songs to jam through, from common classics, to unknown stuff, even some klezmer, Sephardic and Israeli repertoire - I received huge compliments for my interpretation, how well I picked up their music and phrases by ear, and for my trills (how chaffed did it make me to be praised by the masters !!!!). 

A little vid of the first few minutes, - when we were in the thick of it I was too busy to record anything... 

Going there with the aim to take some music lessons, we ended up learning lots of new tunes, and we formed a new band, which will go touring through Europe (!!?!!)… currently a fata morgana and still, I’m really excited about it - lets see what happens :-)

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

12th August: Roma Town Shutka

Shutka today ! A suburb of Skopje, it is Europe’s biggest Roma settlement, a proper little Roma town. The full name is Shuta Orizari.

We met up with the lead trumpet player of the Cherkezi Orchestra, Asan Rashid, who took us through the markets. Yes, I did have in mind buying some nice handcrafted Rom souvenirs, but what did I end up with: 2 stage outfits. Trying and choosing them resulted in a whole audience of spectators, gathering around the stalls, commenting on which styles suits me best, and then taking ‘promotion pics’ of me for their goods.

the red oneor the blue one?

 The blue one it is:

One of my new outfits is a mild one for smaller occasions, but the other one, well, it certainly will shock my musicians… and amazing device of some kind of trousers and a vest top made of generous amounts of burgundy satin and gold… Anyway, our new Roma colleague got the best prices out for me. 

We also had the obligatory coffee and lemonade at some bars there, talked about music, and fixed a jam session/rehearsal for the next day, where some of his colleagues would join us.
My first impression of Shutka: I only saw the main road and the market, which looked like a busy road, not too different from some roads in East London. 

The atmosphere was very lively and bubbly, and I only saw happy faces, open and friendly to us. Can’t wait to dive deeper into this place tomorrow…

One thing I really regret: I have not taken pictures ! Usually I photograph all and everything, but firstly, my camera broke, and I don’t like taking pix with my phone, AND when I’m so involved I forget to take pix…