Monday, July 23, 2012

Weekend in Mavrovo National Park: July 23, 2012

This is the image we woke to Saturday morning.  The photo is of the sun just peeking over the mountain that is behind Janče village.  We stayed in this village in the Hotel Tutto which is located just across a small ravine from the main village.  Janče is in Mavrovo National Park and it is located about 2-1/2 to 3 hours (120 km) southwest of Skopje.

Hotel Tutto was a wonderful, small bed & breakfast hotel (+389 (0) 42 470 999 or  The meals prepared by the restaurant were the best we've had in Macedonia.  The first evening we had beefsteak (tender) with a wild mushroom sauce.  The second day we ordered a slow-cooked lamb that needs at least 5 hours advance notice to prepare.  We couldn't eat it all so we took the leftovers home with us.

The evening view from the restaurant terrace

Saturday, we hiked from the hotel through a wooded hillside about 3 km to the road.  From there we walked about 4 km along the road to Sveti Jovan Bigorski (St. John the Baptist) Monastery.  The monastery dates back to 1021, but the current version seems to be mostly from the 19th century.

19th century paintings on the outside of the church wall

 Fresco painting of St. Cyril and St. Metodius (creators of the Cyrillic alphabet)

Mountain spring water cooling watermelons

On the 7-kilometer walk back to Hotel Tutto we surprised a Balkan Chamois (wild goat).  He/she saw us and bounded up the mountain about 15 meters or so.  I saw only a flash of medium-brown flash as it moved.  When it stopped, I could see it through the trees with its facial striping and horns.

We also saw a small wild fire just below the hotel.  At the hotel, there was no power because the fire was threatening the village's power plant.  After a short, sweaty rest, we drove to the village of Rostuša to visit a nearby waterfall.  The village isn't far, but it is uphill.  The waterfall is only 1020 meters (1.2 km) from the road.  Unfortunately, Dan and I missed a small backwards fork in the trail and went many more kilometers out of our way and back until we found the right trail.  

The waterfall is in Rostuška River canyon.  Once the correct fork is found, the trail is lovely and shaded.  It runs along a small rivulet to various small cascades.  Duf Waterfall is at the trail's end.

This little canyon is cooler than any of the surrounding area.  There are picnic tables scattered along the river and it is quite photogenic.  After finding this waterfall so late in the day, Dan and I returned Sunday morning to take photographs with morning light.  It was beautiful.

Sunday, after the waterfall visit and breakfast, we continued southwest toward Debar to see the Sveti Gergi (St. George) monastery which is a nunnery.  

The only word I can think of to describe this small 19th century church is charming.  It is lovingly cared for by the nuns that live in the surrounding dormitory.  The inside frescos took 4 years to complete and they are extraordinary.  The monastery sits above the Debar Lake.

The only drawback to staying in Janče occurred during the wee hours of the morning. Both mornings at about 2:30 a.m. two drummers drumming walked through town for about one hour. Ramazan (Ramadan) began Friday, July 20, and the drummers were waking the village inhabitants before dawn so they could break their fast before daylight. Seems like a personal alarm clock would be sufficient. Ana, one of Hotel Tutto's employees, told us she lives in Rostuša (where the waterfall is located) and the drummers there drum for 3-4 hours every morning before dawn. On the second night in Janče I was prepared with ear plugs, closed windows, and a working air conditioner (the power had returned).

A few more photos at Flickr

Friday, July 20, 2012

At Last - A Legal Resident: July 20, 2012

All week I've been basking in the memory of my fabulous Galichnik weekend.  I haven't accomplished much this week except editing photos and writing my diary.  

Dan worked his last weekend and now he feels like a kid released from school for the summer break.  This afternoon we will go to Mount Bistra to a small village called Janče.  It is over the mountain from Galichnik.  We're hoping to do some hiking and just enjoy the mountain air for two days.  

Besides Dan being released from the "death march" of his creation, the other significant event was today's receipt of his official RESIDENT CARD.  We've been here for over 6 months.  Dan first began applying for this card more than 3 months ago.  The card he received today will expire mid-November 2012.  We don't leave Macedonia until January 2013.

Last night we saw another free concert as part of the Skopje Summer 2012 series.  This one was by a group from Denmark called Kynnes Kabale.  Some of the musicians originate from other countries, but all have now made their home in Denmark.  The group organizer and vocalist sang in Danish.  My ears aren't accustomed to listening to Danish in song or otherwise so it was a unique experience for me.  While the words were Danish, their music was not; it had an oriental sound with instruments to match.  One of the musicians played the saz which is a stringed instrument originating in Iran or Turkey.  The group surprised the crowd by singing a Macedonian folk song in Macedonian--a real crowd pleaser.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Galichnik Wedding: July 15, 2012

The main event began last night at 7:00 pm with the decorating (tying a cross and flowers to it) of the flag and firing of a rifle three times.

Next, musicians were welcomed with rakija and candies by the bridegroom's family, and they began to play their drums and zurlas (a wind instrument). Accompanied by the musicians, the bridegroom's mother danced with a sieve on her head that is filled with bread and decorated with flowers.

A group of beautifully costumed women danced the lovely, graceful Nevestinskoto dance with the lead woman languidly waving a red handkerchief "made of tears" bidding her beloved to stay.  Then the men take the spotlight with the Teshkoto (hard) dance.  This dance begins slowly but the pace increases with the drummers' beat.  Each movement for both dances has a symbolic meaning and at once is both sad and joyful.

As darkness fell, an entourage of members of the bridegroom's family lit torches and walked to the bride's family house.  Once there, they escorted the bride back to fill her water jug from three different springs.  The water symbolizes the fluid life the bride hopes to have, and it is also the last time that the bride will fetch water for her father's home.

Farther back in the procession and behind the torch bearers is the bride.  She is the middle woman with a dark head scarf in the front row of the above photo.  She is carrying two water jugs that she will fill from three different springs.

That was the end of the wedding festivities for the first day.  The entertainment continued with a concert by Kalevala singing Macedonian folk songs.  Leaving the commotion and light of the square behind, we saw fireflies along the road and even the Milky Way was visible above us.  The clear, lovely voice of the singer followed us all the way back to the Hotel Neda. The drum and zurla musicians moved on to the restaurant and performed until 3:30 a.m.

The wedding celebration resumed early this morning (about 8:00 a.m.) with a visit by the bridegroom and his relatives to the cemetery. At the cemetery, the bridegroom apologized for getting married without the presence of his ancestors. He invited his dead relatives to the wedding, and he left gifts and lit candles at the grave. The bridegroom is the tall man in the center front in the below images.

The second procession of the day headed by the bridegroom with the musicians bringing up the rear was to invite the godfather to the wedding. Then, there is the tradition of "shaving the bridegroom." This act symbolizes the groom's passage from boy to man and his separation from his mother.

Once shaved, the bridegroom changes from his dark pants into his white wedding trousers.  Everything he is wearing is made of a thick wool: pants, belt, shirt, jacket, and hat.

Around 10:00 a.m. a procession of the bridegroom's family led by the flag bearer proceeds to the bride's house bringing gifts for the bride.

At the bride's home several more customs are acted out.  Once finished with the formalities there, the bride was dressed in her wedding costume which consisted of 47 pieces of clothing and jewelry.  She is also wearing a large silver belt which was believed to protect the woman's womb.  The entire costume weighs in at 25 kilos (55 pounds).  She was covered with a white veil and placed on the groom's white horse to be escorted by her future in laws to the church.  The flag bearer again led this procession.  He was followed by a horse carrying the bride's dowry.  The two chests that make up the bride's dowry were covered by a sheep skin that has been dyed red.

As this procession winds through Galichnik it stops periodically so the bride can bow her head to the neighbors.

Once back at the church square, the bride and her bridegroom enter the church to have the marriage ceremony. While the actual marriage is taking place, the folk dancers entertained the crowd with both the Nevestinskoto and Teshkoto dances.

Once married, the couple are presented to the crowd and participate in the bride's dance.

The bride is the woman wearing a mostly gold dress with her white veil pulled back from her face. It was difficult to photograph her because she was quickly mobbed by photographers.

Afterward, I rejoined Olivera back at the Hotel Neda.  She told me that Aleksander had seated her in the VIP viewing stand.  The President of Macedonia did not stay at the Hotel Neda, but he eventually showed up for the celebration on the last day of the wedding.  When he arrived, he shook hands and greeted Olivera.  While Olivera was mingling with important Macedonians and four foreign ambassadors, I was following the many processions through Galichnik.

Back at the hotel we ate the traditional Galichnik meal of roasted lamb with Aleksander and Metodija while we waited for traffic to clear out of Galichnik.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Galichnik pre-wedding: July 14, 2012

Wow! I had a great weekend. Olivera and I went to Galichnik for the 50th annual Galichnik Wedding Celebration. Months back, when I first heard of this event, I knew I had to see it. A few weeks ago, I signed us (Olivera and me) up for a tour to Galichnik. Dan was working his last weekend so was unable to go. The tour company didn't get enough tourists, so the tour was canceled. I had a feeling that would happen so Olivera and I had already been working on Plan B. Olivera father's family came from Galichnik. She contacted someone she knew who lived near Galichnik who then went to the only hotel in Galichnik and called her. Olivera talked to the hotel and made a reservation for us. We would have a room with a shared bath down the hall. The hotel told Olivera that the best rooms (with bath inside the room) were already reserved for the President of the Republic of Macedonia. We figured that if the President was staying there, the hotel couldn't be all that bad. I reserved a rental car and we were set.

Friday evening I picked up Olivera and we traveled the 120 km (74.5 miles) southwest to the mountain village of Galichnik.  Galichnik is perched on the slopes of Bistra Mountain at an elevation of 1,400 meters (4,593 feet) so the air is fresh and very clean.  There is one road to Galichnik and it ends at the Hotel Neda--where we had our reservation.

The view of Galichnik from Hotel Neda
Hotel Neda was a surprise.  Despite being told by a travel agent friend that there was only one hotel in Galichnik and the bathrooms were outside, Hotel Neda ( or tel: +389 (0)77 26 88) was lovely.  Our room had bare wood floors a double bed, a closet, and good lighting.  The room was on one of the upper floors and located at the back corner of the hotel with a view of pines trees.  The bathroom was just down the hall but Elena, the proprietor, assured us that no one else would be using our bathroom.

Hotel Neda

View of the surrounding landscape from the restaurant terrace at Hotel Neda
Saturday morning while having breakfast, a hotel guest named Aleksander asked me if I'd like to join him and his friends.  Aleksander was with his cousin Metodija, both are Macedonians with a Galichnik family heritage, and a couple from Holland.  Aleksander and his wife were married in the 1996 Galichnik Wedding Celebration.  He is also a member of the Galichnik council.

After breakfast, I joined Aleksander and friends on a hike to the rock where Galichnik women bid farewell to the men.  As the departing men went down the mountain, women would call out to their men hoping their voices would create a psychological impression to make the men return to them.

After the hike, Metodija took me and the Dutch couple to visit the sheepfold. We looked at the flock and chatted with some of the shepherds. Pre-WWII there were 500,000 sheep grazing the area. Presently, there are about 8,000.  The sheep are trucked to Negotino for the winter. Shepherds are paid about 350€ each month plus meals. They are away from their families for months at a time.

Written accounts of Galichnik date back to 1493, but some people say the village of Galichnik may be 1,000 years old. Why did people settle in such a inhospitable location? One story I read suggested people came to protect their daughters from Ottoman soldiers. They also may have settled here to preserve their Christianity as the lower, more accessible villages did convert to Islam.

In previous centuries, the main industry was raising sheep and all products connected with sheep.  But if you weren't a shepherd or cheese maker, there weren't many other ways to earn a living in Galichnik.  Most men became economic migrants traveling to work in cities around the world.  Their occupations included stone masons, painters, woodworkers, carpenters.  When a son reached the age of 15 he would join his father to travel abroad and learn the family craft.  While men were gone for 1 to 5 years at go to earn their living, women and girls stayed behind in Galichnik.  Even the shepherds were not in Galichnik during the winter months as they drove the flocks to lower elevations in Negotino.

In order not to miss their friends and relatives returning to Galichnik, it was agreed that when the men returned, they should come around St. Peter's Day (July 12).  While men and boys were away, marriages were arranged.  When the single men returned, mass weddings were held on St. Peter's Day.  The average age for a girl to marry was 13-16 years old (I've also been told 15-20 years old).  Imagine being 15 years old and marrying a boy or man that you haven't seen for years who will then leave you after 2-3 weeks to return to his job abroad.  The young bride, now pregnant, might not see her new husband for a year or longer.

Aleksander took us to the Galichnik Museum for our lesson on Galichnik and its weddings. Galichnik is an abandoned village that is occupied by returning families only during the summer months. Most of the residents gave up living year round in Galichnik in the 1960s.  Real Galichnik weddings formerly lasted for 10 days.  Now, the tourist event is a two-day celebration with a real bride, groom, and wedding, but it is also theater to preserve the 30 or more customs surrounding the ritual.

In the afternoon, Olivera and I took a walk to visit her Galichnik heritage. She showed me the bell tower near the Church of St. Petka that was built by her father and his brothers. The bell is centuries old and was found and returned from a museum in Bulgaria.

Next, we located the house of her grandparents. The roof fell in several decades ago leaving only the walls as patient sentinels. Her grandfather's initials are above the door.

In our search for Olivera's family house, we inadvertently found ourselves at the bride's house. The bride's family was very gracious and invited us in. Since we were there, I took a photo of the illusive bride greeting some of her friends. She is in pink with the white hat.

Several couples applied for the honor of being the stars of the Galichnik Wedding Celebration, but only one couple was selected.  To be considered the couple must never have been married before, be less than 35 years old, and at least one of the candidates must have roots in Galichnik.  The bride, 27 years old, is named Danica Torteska; the bridegroom, 29, is Trajche Lozanovski. The bride's family comes from Galichnik.

This is the 50th Anniversary of the Galichnik Wedding Celebration. The festivities begin at 7:00 pm. tonight.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Six Month Anniversary: July 12, 2012

Today, marks our six-month anniversary of living in Skopje, Macedonia.

I braved the daytime temperatures and went with Dan to the Ministry of Interior (hotter inside than outside) to find out what hurdles I'll need to jump to get my resident card.  The woman at the Ministry was very nice, spoke understandable English, and was helpful.  She looked at the three pieces of paper translated into Macedonian which Dan's lawyer erroneously told him to present at the Macedonian Embassy in Washington DC and said, "you need many more documents than this."

I showed her the other things I had accumulated: a copy of my passport showing the entry date that is consistent with my police registration card and a copy of our marriage certificate.  She associated the passport copy and the marriage certificate copy with two of the translated pages.  The third page is a translation of my US health insurance card.  She sent us away with a list of stuff we still must get:

1.  original marriage certificate or a notarized copy,
2.  my US health insurance card,
3.  criminal history and translation of same
4.  copy of Dan's resident card (lichna carta) which he will have on July 24,
5.  2 photos of me,
6.  our apartment rental agreement with an addendum that states that I also live in the apartment and it must be notarized,
7.  proof of payment of 3 fees (2,150 MKD, 190 MKD, and 50 MKD).  We're not sure why there are three or what they are for.

It's quite unfortunate that Dan's incompetent lawyer did not think ahead. As a result, we will need to re-do many of the documents that we had to obtain for him.

On the walk back to Dan's office, we were chatting about Ellen who is Dan's ABA Washington DC colleague who was visiting this week. We were saying that Ellen, who left last night, must be enjoying Montenegro this morning and the first day of her vacation.

But Ellen wasn't able to leave Skopje last night by bus.  According to the bus schedule posted on the the bus company's website, there is an 8:00 pm bus to Montenegro on Wednesday.  She went to the bus station about 7:00 pm to buy her ticket for the 8:00 pm bus.  The woman at the ticket counter said there is no bus on Wednesday.  Ellen told her that the bus schedule on the website shows a bus on Wednesday.  The woman just chuckled.

The ticket counter woman confirmed that there is an 8:00 pm bus on Thursday.  Ellen tried to buy her ticket, but she was told that tickets can only be sold on the day of travel.

Tonight, Ellen and Dan returned to the bus station.  This time Ellen was asked if she had a reservation for the bus.  She didn't because last night the ticket woman did not tell her that was possible.  Tonight, she was told that the bus was fully reserved but she could wait to see if someone failed to show. At 7:40, Ellen was finally allowed to board the bus because there was an unfilled seat.  

Dan and I have learned a valuable lesson about bus travel from Skopje.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Duran Duran comes to Skopje: July 11, 2012

Mini skirts and hot pants of the 70s are once again popular so it was only a matter of time before performers from the 80s re-emerged to perform in Skopje. Duran Duran is quite popular in Macedonia.  This young Macedonian crowd knew Duran Duran and all the words to their songs. Even though tickets were 1000 MKD (about $20) there was a large crowd. Fan-pit tickets cost 1500 MKD and from our vantage point, the pit was packed like a jar of pickles.

The venue was the main reason we wanted to attend.  The fortress has been closed since we arrived.  Unfortunately, it is still closed.  The concert was not inside the fortress but on the lawn outside the fortress walls.

After having our plastic bottles of ice water taken from us at the entrance, Dan was drawn toward a "cigarette" sign like a flying bug to a light.  The cigarette kiosk had some kind of a promotional game event on an iPad with a prize.  Dan played the game trying to keep a motorcycle from crashing on a race course.  The rider died many times but Dan still won a lighter.

We brought chairs to this event and positioned them at the crest of a hill so we could see down into the stage and still enjoy the breeze which was ever so slight.  We didn't see any other chairs anywhere.

The above photo is of the concert ground and surrounding scenery while the warm-up group performed.  The below image is of the much larger crowd during Duran Duran's performance.

All those little spots of light in the crowd are cell phones recording the concert.  The last time I was at a rock concert, there were no cell phones.

Dan has a colleague from ABA in Washington DC visiting.  She is 20-something.  When Dan told here we saw Duran Duran on Saturday, she said, "I thought they were dead by now."

This week I have been hibernating during the day, and like most of the residents of Skopje, I emerge from my apartment cave after the sun sets.  With Dan's colleague, we have been going out to dinner each evening and then on to the Skopje Summer 2012 entertainment. If the performance is an outside venue, it is great. Monday night we saw an energetic group from Hungary called Fabula Rasa. Their music was a fun blend of Hungarian folk music and heavy metal. They played guitars, clarinet, saxophone, drums, keyboard, violin, and trombone.

Sunday and Tuesday evenings the performances were inside museums.  All museums, public spaces, restaurants, and most private spaces lack air conditioning meaning at these performances a lot of body fluids flow.  Last night's performer was guitarist András Csáki from Hungary.  He played lovely classical guitar, but the venue Daut Pashin Aman, a 15th century Ottoman hammam that is now a museum, was sweltering inside.  There was one small fan/ventilator on a stand, but the woman seated next to me turned and stared death rays at the fan operator so he turned the face of the fan/ventilator up into the 30 foot ceiling.  No breeze, no more.

Yesterday, the power went off at Dan's office.  Dan's colleague, Ellen, is staying in a small hotel on the floor below the ABA office.  That meant that she also lost power to her room air conditioner.  Her hotel room has one window but the window does not open. After about 45 minutes, power was restored. It was 104F (40C) yesterday.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Independence, No Longer Illegal: July 5, 2012

Today, Dan went again to the Ministry of Interior in hopes of becoming a legal resident of Macedonia.  He submitted his paperwork to a woman who after looking through all the documents and mumbling something about being "late," directed him to the official photographer who took his photo.  Dan was given a piece of paper with a number on it.  A MOI employee told him that he would get is official residence card in about 15 days and that in the meantime, he should not leave the country.  

At this point, Dan's lawyer showed up at the Ministry of Interior office--Dan fired him and told him not to send him a bill for today.  

Now, it's my turn to travel this convoluted path to legal status.

On Sunday, I turned 58.  Since turning 58 a strange line I read last year in the Sacramento newspaper keeps going to my head:  "58 year old woman struck by lightening as she was walking along the sidewalk."  

My birthday was very nice.  Dan had to work until 3:00 pm that day, but in the morning Olivera came by with a cake and flowers and a gift to celebrate my birthday.  In the evening, Dan and I took a taxi to a restaurant we had not yet tried.  The taxi quickly left us; unfortunately, the restaurant was closed.  We couldn't get another taxi back to the center because the Euro 2012 game final was about to begin.  So, we walked back to the center and went to another restaurant.  The game began just as we sat down.  My birthday turned out to be a very big night for Spain and not so good for Italy.

On July 3 we were invited to a reception at the US Embassy to commemorate the 236th Anniversary of the Independence of the USA.  Along with our invitation we received these instructions:  

Please use taxis to the event
All guests should arrive with their invitation and a valid photo identification
Please do not bring any gifts, flowers, weapons, cameras, recording devices, large bags, large purses, electronic devices

All those "instructions" were almost enough to keep me from going--especially the one about no cameras; however, we went and had a wonderful evening. Because of all the important dignitaries, there were security patrols walking the inside and outside perimeter of the embassy grounds. The event was attended by the President of Macedonia, the Prime Minister, other ministers, the head of the Orthodox Church, about 500 others, and us.

First, we went through the reception line to shake hands with the US Ambassador, the Public Affairs Officer, and the Charge d'Affaires. Next, we enjoyed cold drinks, appetizers, and music in the shade cast by the US Embassy building. The building is on a hill above the River Varder and, luckily, that night there was a slight breeze. While the guests were arriving and mingling, a fireworks company was wetting down the foliage below the embassy. At 9:00 pm just as darkness was falling over Skopje, the fireworks began. They were extraordinary. Because they were being fired from below the embassy, the explosions of color rose right in front of our faces. Very exciting--but no photos.  

This is the first time in many years that we've been to a celebration of America's independence.  On the 4th of July, a work day for Dan, I made hamburgers, a fine American meal, for dinner.