Following off from my trials and tribulations of getting to Skopje and dodging all manner of taxi drivers, in this part I find myself chatting to a local, hike up Skopje cross and discuss politics with a local hostel receptionist, you’re in for a fun ride I can assure you.
There are a variety of different things that separate a fully democratic country from one that sort of pretends to be one. One of the most notable things is the penchant for less democratic countries to have massive grand public buildings. I think there should be a scientific study or something that goes, the more modern and grander the public buildings, the less democratic the country.
Now, that isn’t to say that North Macedonia (its brand spanking new name) isn’t a democracy, there’s only one thing I knew about the country beforehand, and that is that it has the largest income inequality gap in Europe. This isn’t just blasted western propaganda either, this is on their own government’s website.
This does sort of chime with something I observed while I was wondering around that Balkans, and that was I kept seeing, really nice cars, porches’, Audi’s, rovers. They were much nicer than the cars I see in Spain. Which by all measurements is much richer than any of the countries in the Balkans. To be honest, I am not exactly sure of the reason behind this, but it’s just one of things I kept noticing.
Anyway, back to Skopje, the centre of the city is full of these rather grand buildings, which are sort of fashioned to seem extremely old, but in fact, they are pretty new, so new in fact, on some of the satellite views of the city, they are not even there. One of the things you first notice about the place though, apart from some of the grand buildings, is the Skopje cross. Standing high above the city and unlike the one in Mostar, is lit up rather strongly at night.
Large crosses on hills seem to be a regular site across the Balkans, I am sure there’s some historical reason for it. But as I like hiking, these are great as points of references to climb up to.
After lugging my bag across the city, I quickly checked into my hostel in this rather sketchy looking neighbourhood, the very friendly receptionist explained they don’t get many English tourists here and seemed intrigued about London. Grey, dull and expensive, that is my tag line for the country whenever people ask me about it. The fact I haven’t lived in England for over 10 years should really tell everyone my thoughts on the place.
This then set off a conversation chain that lasted some time, she talked about the whole entire political situation in the country. The incredibly low wages and the ridiculous wealth divide that exists in her country. Something I had mentioned with all the beggars and at times Oliver Twist-like kids running around the place.
She was incredibly honest and passionate about her country though, and talked about how little she got paid, 250 euros a month! Which to be honest is nothing at all, yes, the cost of living is cheaper, I enjoyed my gourmet burger for three euros, but still, 250 euros a month is insulting. If you look at the graph earlier, you’ll see that is actually pretty much an average to good wage for Macedonia.
She went on to talk about the fact a lot of Macedonians have dual citizenship with Bulgaria and because Bulgaria is part of the EU a lot of them have headed off to seek a better life elsewhere. A lot went to the UK (not for benefits, you racists) but because most of them learn English as a second language early on, so it’s just easier to get a job. Her English was very good as well, brilliant in fact because let’s be honest, we weren’t having this conversation in Macedonian.
We were having such an interesting chat, all about her hopes for the future as well, she’d studied and university and had a good degree. In all regards, this receptionist was more intelligent than oneself, but due to an accident of birth, I was able to have enough funds to travel the world for two years while she worked away in this little hostel. I am not saying this to be arrogant, due to show clearly how unfair a lot of the world is.
This conversation must have been going on a couple of hours now and had developed into a group discussion involving wine and pizza. Suddenly though the manager of the hostel arrived. The best way I can describe him is that he seemed like the sort of guy who drives around in a six-year-old bruised and dented Porsche cayenne, and thinks that gold teeth make a classy accessory to one’s dental arrangements. On hearing his voice, the receptionist quickly leaped out of her chair and the mood suddenly changed. To be honest, I can’t imagine my boss being too happy if he found me drinking wine and eating pizza when I was supposed to be working.
Obviously, I have no idea what exactly he was saying to her as my Macedonian is practically non-existent, but from the look on his face, he wasn’t exactly giving her a big happy bonus…
After the dust had settled, I tried to glean exactly what had been said but she didn’t seem to want to talk about it, fair enough and I retired to my bed. Funny really, I’d been in North Macedonia for less than 12 hours I already felt I knew the place, it’s history, it’s culture, and of course, it’s really big public buildings…
Stay tuned for Part 3, where I sweat to death hiking up a cross and find myself being chased by a heard of wild dogs!