Thursday, January 19, 2012

Epiphany, Skopje, Macedonia: January 19, 2012

Yesterday I attended my first Skopje IWA (International Women’s Association) meeting. The memberships is a young 20-40s mostly. I met women from Congo, Albania, US (mostly embassy wives), The Netherlands, and more. I’m going to enjoy their company. Already they have helped. The Epiphany Day celebration was explained.  As a result of the announcement, today Dan and I went to see how Macedonia celebrates Epiphany.

Not being familiar with the reason for Epiphany, I looked it up. Epiphany is the day that the three kings visited the baby Jesus.  It is also the day that St. John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

The celebration was set to begin at noon.  Dan and I arrived at the river a little past 11 a.m. and the river was already lined with spectators.  Beautiful orthodox a cappella voices accompanied us as we found our way down to the river.  Next the head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, Archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonia HH Stefan performed the Blessing of Water, dipping the Holy Cross and blessing the water of the river Vardar.  He did this ceremony from a bridge over the Vardar.  Then, HH Stefan tossed a wooden cross into the River Vardar, and 127 “believers” ran into the river to retrieve the cross.

While the sun was out this morning and the temperature was warmer than previous days, it was still very cold with the temperature hovering just above freezing.  River water that had splashed up on the sides of the river canal and on the walkways was frozen.  A spectator told us that all participants are protected from harm and illness on this day.  I had my gloves off while I was waiting for the cross to be thrown, and my hands felt like they were frozen stiff after just a few minutes.

The winning “believer” was a second time winner.  We were told that the one who catches the cross will enjoy happiness, health and good luck all year long.  The winner also received a laptop from the Prime Minister, an icon from the Mayor of the center of Skopje, and a golden coin from the Mayor of greater Skopje.  This year’s Blessing of the River marked the first ever woman participant running into the river.

After the cross is tossed into the river, the river water is blessed and becomes holy.  When the cross was retrieved, various spectators began filling bottles with river water to take back to their homes (hopefully not to drink).

One of the emergency divers considerately filled bottles for some spectators.  Note the ring of ice above the river level. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Neighborhood, Skopje, Macedonia: January 17, 2012

Last weekend Alex took us to see the The Old Bazaar located just across the river.  It contains several 15th century mosques and converted hammans (bath houses) from the Ottoman period as well as churches from later periods.  The shops sell gold, metalwork, silver filigree, silks, and quilts quilted by hand (a dying craft).

Our apartment is 1/2 block from the Pedestrian Street (Macedonia Street).  At the other end is Macedonia Square with its statue officially called “The Horseman” but identified by the population as Alexander the Great.  It is a delightful square surrounded by cafes and shops and next to the Vardar River.

When we first arrived, Skopje was still wearing Christmas decorations.  Orthodox Christmas is January 7 and the Old New Year is January 14.  Since Old New Year the decorations are slowly being removed.

The 15th century Stone Bridge crosses the Vardar River and leads into the Old Bazaar.  When the weather becomes milder, the fountains at the base will be turned on and flowers will be placed in the flower beds. It should be lovely.

Because it is so cold now there are many chestnut vendors on the square.  The smell and taste of roasting chestnuts is a new taste sensation for me.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Moving Day, Skopje, Macedonia: January 15, 2012

Today we checked out of our very pleasant hotel (Villa Vodnos), returned Kali to her carrier, crammed our luggage into a taxi, and Alex drove us in his car to our new home. These photos were taken a few days after we were unpacked and settled.

The apartment, while small, is very well laid out.  We have a small terrace accessible from both our bedroom and the living room. The terrace has lots of pots in which we will plant flowers when the temperatures become milder.

The apartment has lots of built in closets, shelving, and a kitchen pantry. We’ve been able to store our suitcases, except Kali’s scratching suitcase, out of sight. Kali has her own room also known as the guest room. It has two twin beds and an office desk and chair. Kali spends most of her day on the window sill rousing herself only for the occasional visit from a pigeon or her 5:00 p.m. dinner time.

The kitchen is not huge, but it is adequate. There is a small dishwasher, the stove/oven and a toaster. It came furnished with some dishes, glasses, and pots and pans.

Unlike our internet in California, the internet service here is really fast. We have satellite TV with American and English TV programs subtitled in either Hungarian, Serbo-Croatian, Albanian, or Macedonian. We are enjoying TV programs like Monk (we’ve never seen it before), National Geographic, Nature, and movie stations. We also get the usual BBC, sports, and CNN.

We love the location: 1 block from the pedestrian street with lots of restaurants and cafes, 1/2 block from Ramstore grocery, 1/2 block from the green market, 4 blocks from Dan’s new office (when he gets it).

When the sky is not full of clouds, overcast, or foggy, we have a great view of the surrounding snow-covered mountains.  They float above the buildings and are more beautiful than these photos show.

Our address is Mito Hadzivasilev - Jasmin no. 22/10 - 28, Skopje, Macedonia. Number 22 is the property address, number 10 is the building number, and number 28 is our apartment number.

A few days after moving in Dan and I, our realtor, and the landlady walked to the nearby police station so our residency could be registered with the local municipality. I think it is a good way for the government to make sure that rents are tracked although no one asked us how much rent we will pay to the landlady each month.  Our realtor was surprised that there is no similar address registration required in the US for visitors. Now we have resident cards that must be carried with us.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Apartment Hunting in Skopje, Macedonia: January 13, 2012

Yesterday after several hours sleep, we began apartment hunting with Alex and Viki (a realtor).  We saw apartments with their own swimming pools.  There was an apartment with a clothes dryer--I wanted the dryer not the apartment.  We looked at apartments on the 4th or 5th floor with no elevators.  We looked at a charming apartment that was part of a house.  It had a beautiful yard, but was a 20-minute walk to the center of Skopje.  We looked at a lair-like apartment with state-of-the-art sound equipment, a TV in every room (even the bathroom), and black walls in the living room. 

Just as everything was becoming a blur, the last apartment we saw seemed to fit our needs.  It is centrally located with a 10-minute walk to Dan’s new office.  It has 2 bedrooms and 1-1/2 baths.  The kitchen is adequate and it has a corner terrace for lovely summer meals outdoors.   It is on the 7th floor and the elevator works very well.  There are no stairs--not even to enter the building.  

The apartment is the second building shown above.  The apartment building has a ground floor plus 12 floors above.  These towers were built after the earthquake that devastated Skopje on July 26 1963.

In the descriptions I’ve read, Skopje, the epicenter of the quake, was described as demolished, “leveled, paralyzed, almost wiped from the face of the earth.” 
Only a few seconds were enough to turn 85% of Skopje into ruins. But the greatest damage was the irreparable loss of 1,066 human lives. More than 3,300 inhabitants of Skopje were lightly or badly wounded. Only 3 minutes after the first came another earthquake of the same intensity (8.5 degrees of the Mercali scale), followed by hundreds of tremors of smaller intensity. It was that dark Friday, of July 26th, 1963. Clocks stopped with their mechanisms pointing to the fatal 5 o'clock and 17 minutes AM, marking the longest day in the history of Skopje.

Post earthquake many countries sent teams to Skopje to assist in rebuilding the city. These buildings and several others were built by a team from Japan in the 1970s.

Today we agreed to take it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Getting to Macedonia--The Long Way: January 12, 2012

We (Dan, Kali Cat, and me) left our California home at 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, January 10.  We arrived in Skopje at the Alexander the Great Airport at 1:00 a.m. on Thursday, January 12---36 1/2 hours after we began.  We were supposed to arrive early afternoon on January 11, but the Air France flight out of Seattle left two hours late causing all our connections to be rebooked.  We’re very tired, but we’re here!

Alex Jovanovski met us at the airport and got us and our bags to our hotel.  Alex worked for the ABA in Skopje in the past.  The ABA has hired him to assist in opening this new ABA office.  He will also help us get settled.