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Monday, February 2, 2009
I got a J-O-B
One hundred years ago, when I was a demure, innocent college student, I was a horrible waitress.  So bad I had to start as a banquet waitress.  I used to forget people's drinks, soups, salads, checks. . . heck, I used to plain forget people.
Last night I was talking to my future sister-in-law, who's a manager at Olga's.  I might have had a few beers. 
And I asked her to hire me to wait tables at Olga's. 
I STILL have nightmares about waitressing.  Maybe you know the one.  Where your whole section is filled and you haven't waited on anyone yet, and they don't have menus and you're stuck in the kitchen doing something that prevents you from going out there and paying attention to your customers?  Do you have that one? 
I do.  Plus I have the one about having an exam in a college class that I haven't attended once the entire semester, a class I totally forgot I had.
Both are very close to reality.
In addition, to further feed our hunger for American culture, we watched my man Clint the other night in "Gran Torino".  There's been much said about this movie (outside the lack of Oscar nominations), but we both found it incredibly hilarious and well done.
And I spent over $40 yesterday buying TWO ENGLISH BOOKS to get me through the first three days in Dubrovnik.
Because today?  We leave for Croatia!  WOOT!
Which means, next post will be from a different country.  Possibly even with photos.
You are so dying with anticipation.  Which you also will be if you come into Olga's and I wait on you.

Friday, January 30, 2009
Shout out to Internet Nerds
Due to the magic of the interwebs, Mike and I have been able to watch the first three episodes of "Lost" on our computer.
Thank you to those peeps who know how to post bootleg videos on the web for us to watch.  It's probably not rocket science, but it's far beyond my knowledge of how all this "technology stuff" works.
And I like me some "Lost".
I also watched "Slumdog Millionaires" this way, and several episodes of this seasons "Two and a Half Men".
It's nice to be able to feed my American Pop Culture appetite.  With things other than re-runs of "Reba", "It's All Relative", "Less Than Perfect", and "Just Shoot Me" that FOXLife keeps re-playing on Macedonian Cable television.
But, it does seem that in our life of unemployment here, one of us is camped in front of the TV box and one in front of the computer box most of the time. . .

Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Counting down to Croatia
We've decided to hit the bricks and get out of here for a month in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Apartment is rented, airline tickets are bought, 90 pounds of "used household goods" are ready to be FedEx'd home (at approximately the same cost as what 90 pounds of our household goods are WORTH!) and we're ready to go.
So, I expect we will get a phone call within the next day or two telling us we need to be in Timbuktu in three days.
In lieu of that, we will actually leave on Monday the 2nd of February.

Thursday, January 22, 2009
Dying of boredom in Skopje with slight hiccups of excitement, keeping us just almost dead

First off, one day last week on my daily sojourn back from the grocery store/beer store/paper buying expedition, I climbed the stairs to our apartment and saw. . . .

The dreaded RAINBOW!

And, yes. . . it really is a Rainbow.  I can't believe someone here has a $1000+ vacuum cleaner.  Macedonia must be more prosperous than I thought.  Anyway, you can imagine the painful flashbacks this sight had me reeling through.  Or maybe you can't. 
Good news is, I don't think there's much chance I'll have to use it.  Bad news is, after six weeks our apartment could sorely use a good Rainbow-ing.
Secondly, as of last week Wednesday, Mike is no longer employed on the Skopje project, so now we are hanging around Macedonia on our own dime, trying to figure out what to do next.  We need to stay out until 3/1/09 to make our 330 (tax thingy), but don't know where to go and what to do without spending all our windfall (from next year). 
Toyed with quite a few things, but are still undecided.  And now Mike has a very good idea of just how exciting this town is when YOU DON'T HAVE A JOB to perform.  Sigh.  We are B-O-R-E-D.
Thirdly, I apologize for the lack of posting here (again), but with the stress of everything 10 days ago and the daily level of inactivity. . . well, anyway.  I apologize. 
To make up for it, I took some pictures for you.  Two different sets!  Lucky you.

Mike spotted this creative wind detector

Scene in front of our friendly "I'm lovin' it" burger joint

Jewelry Street in Old Town, gives new meaning to "the streets were paved in gold"

and our local furniture store. . .

Old boy taking a break in his wagon in Old Town


THEN, on Monday, it was another national holiday here in Macedonia.  Ephiphany.  Or, the anniversary of the baptism of Christ in the Jordan River.  To celebrate, most people get the day off and at noon there is a annual rite at the Stone Bridge.  First, a church service to bless the river, then the "bishop" dude throws a small cross into the river and THEN about a hundred mostly naked guys jump in the river and try and "catch" the cross, making them a local hero for the next year, and the winner of a bunch of prizes (read off in Macedonian, as well as the church service) including a laptop computer (the only thing said in English) and something else that made the whole crowd gasp in disbelief.
We only got there about 40 minutes before the whole shingbang started, so where we stood absolutely stunk for taking pictures, hence the big green line (which is a streetlight) and the Macedonian heads in the way of all my award winning shots.  Sorry.  I guess if I was on assignment or had a press pass things would have been better.  Anway, did I mention it was about 18 degrees? 
It was.  And we had all our clothes on.  And shoes.  And coats, scarves and mittens.  Mike even may have had his ear warmers on.  It was plenty cold.  I'm sure that river was like ice.

The crowd is thick along both sides of the river

and the throw. . .

a bit of a mad scramble. . .

The tension mounts as our mostly naked souls wait for the cross toss, after much chanting and prayin

and they're OFF!

and our new hero takes a victory lap in the safety dinghy (I marked him with an arrow earlier!)


Then we went to the Irish Pub for breakfast and home for a nap.  The End.
As far as Mike's job is concerned, we really have no idea what's next, where or when.  Hopefully something. . . soon, so keep your international beer swillers in your prayers!
Otherwise, I have been practicing for my new job.  It goes like this:
"Do you want fries with that?"
Will keep you updated on our upcoming travel/vacation/need to stay out of the country plans.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009 (con't)
Still my Mom's b-day, but I forgot to mention it's ALSO Christmas Eve
Again.  And, apparently, we have another NYE to live through next week.  Damn.  I thought we had got away from more than one NYE in one year!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009
I won't tell you how young she is today, but if you know her, give her a call and wish her Happy Birthday!  These events take on more meaning as the numbers get higher. . . just kidding Mamma!
Yesterday we got a little sun during the afternoon, so instead of sitting around like a lump avoiding the cold, I went out and took a few pictures for you. . .

More cat pics, hard to take pics without them dastardly devils

Kinda of a cool bridge under the highway, the top is wooden. . .

I walked around forever trying to find the "green market", which consisted of this. . .

Looking through a typical opening in the buildings toward a courtyard. . . the hiding place for pubs

And what a better place to let your kids go sledding but along the highway banks. . . o-kay

This poster was at the newstand and reminded me of 80's heydays

Through the window of our corner Italian restaurant (some French name) we frequent (about 3x a week)

Not safe from multi-level marketing even here in Skopje, haven't seen the Amway headquarters yet.

So, besides our renter in Michigan not having ANY WATER at the house and my insurance company telling my doctor I no longer am insured by them (and they just took my January payment out today!?!?), all is well in Skopje.
I did get to play some darts last night.


Friday, January 2, 2009
Happy New Year! 
That big old NINE scares me a little. . . As in, how did we get here already?  And why don't we have flying cars yet?
So, Happy New Year to everyone. 

Us at the Irish Pub before too much damage was done. . .

Mike, Andy and I laid down our 23 Euro last week to reserve our place with 157 other people at the Irish Pub to ring in the New Year. 
Entrance was at 9PM, our DINNER was served at 11:50PM (these crazy eastern europeans, I swear), the New Year was rang in about 12:04 (the band was in the middle of a song at midnight. . . ), sparklers were lit, Macedonian folk songs were played, people danced.  We danced.  Evening in a nutshell. 

Me with our "neighbors" at the bar, I'm trying to throw a gang sign that says 09, failing miserably.

We staggered out around 2 AM with the party still in full swing.  Andy stayed until 4 AM, being the young, single party animal he is. . .
New Year's Day in Skopje was eerily quiet until about sundown (which is VERY EARLY if I haven't mentioned that before).  I made a HUGE omlette for brunch, we napped, skyped and laundry-ed the day away, then went in search of dinner about 7PM.
Ate a bunch of Mexican food with extra jalapenos.  Yum.
Then we stayed up very late Skyping and drinking 4.5 liters of beer.  Serious.  The empties are staring at me. . . Pretty sure it was mostly Mike. . . heehee.

We like these beers. . . 1.5 liters! Plastic bottles with screw tops. . . very strange. . .

This morning, after bragging to everyone we talked to yesterday we had no snow, we woke up with. . . well, you know.  The white stuff.

I like this building across the street from us, not so much with the snow, but. . .

And it's all DOWN OUR STREET, too. . . :-)

So, if it sticks around for 5 days, the Macedonians will have a White Christmas. 
Because the Macedonian Christmas?  Hasn't happened yet.  It's 1/7/09. 
We have no idea what to expect.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008
My Love for Dogs is Seriously Dwindling
I like dogs.  I do.  I am also extremely allergic to them, but I usually try and work through it.  I don't hold it against the dog (or cat, or horse), how could I? 
But it does limit my interaction with them overall.
There is a big German Shepard living down the street from us here in Skopje.
(deep breath)
(If you think that's annoying, you should BE here.)
Day.  Night.  It doesn't matter.  Not aided by all the stray cats in our street, either.
Currently wondering how much rat poison it would take to kill a German Shepard.

Monday, December 29, 2008
Remembering the Yugo
Depending on your age, you may remember a little, itty bitty car introduced in the USA in 1985 called the Yugo. 
Guess where it came from.  Yep.  Yugo-SLAVIA. 
Guess what is all over my neighborhood.  Yep.  Little Yugo's!
I think there are more on my street than I ever saw total in the US.  Seems they still make this car here, only now it's called a Zastava.  Didn't want to call it a Yugo anymore, after the former state broke up into different countries.
I can't imagine how they can keep so many 23 year old cars on the road.

I think you could buy them new for less than $4000. . .

Of course, not all of them are 23 years old.  Some of them appear to be about 50 years old, while others look almost brand new. 
But, seriously?  They are everywhere. 
Apparently, we missed out on this sporty model in the US, though.  I don't remember it. 

I did not take this picture, I stole it from Wikipedia, therefore I can not attest it's real. . .

Maybe that was a "concept" Yugo. 
So, things are plodding along here in Macedonia.  I have had a pretty reoccurring fever for the last week which kept me fairly low key this weekend.  We actually STAYED IN on Saturday night, much to Mike's dismay. 
We do have our New Year's reservations in at the Irish Pub (that's its name, I swear - Irish Pub), so all is well in Whoville. 
What's you up to?  Drop me a line, I'm getting LONELY.

Monday, 12/22/08 con't

PS: Mike wasn't lying. . . I saw them today. . . and got yelled at by the police. . .

Monday, December 22, 2008
A Little Background and Info
Okay.  We're in Macedonia.  And, no, it's not famous for it's nuts.  Those are Macadamia's and are native to Australia. 
Just kidding. 
Just north of Greece, Macedonia is part of the former Yugoslavia, which has currently been broken up into six separate countries:  Bosnia and Herzegovina (one country), Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.  This region, and many of the surrounding countries (Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Moldova) is usually referred to as the Balkans, or the Balkan States.
Slovenia is the only one of the six to have been awarded EU status (evident from their brand new airport :-)).  Croatia and Macedonia are both in the queue to join, with Croatia's membership generally believed to be accepted well before Macedonia's. 
The national language is Macedonian, but, at least here in the capital, most people speak AT LEAST some English, and many speak English quite fluently.  So far, language has only been a minor inconvenience.  Typically, the older generation (over 50) speaks fluent French in addition to Macedonian, but very little English.  I'm not sure why.
Money is the Denar, and one denar is equal to about two cents (US$).  A large can of beer at the local kiosk costs about $1 US and a large draft at an upscale cafe or bar about $2 US.  Taxi fare just about anywhere in the city is about $2 US.  I haven't taken many taxis yet, but as the weather gets colder, I probably will. 
The national beer is Skopsko.  I like it.  I've sampled a lot of it so far.
They also have some nice local wines (unsurprisingly, due to it's location).  I have drank a bit of vino, too!
The Ottoman Empire ruled the region of the former Socialist State of Yugoslavia from the mid 1400's until the early 1700's, leaving behind a large population of Turkish Muslims.  Today, Macedonia is primarily Christian (Orthodox - 70%), with the remainder being Islamists.  Of course, the region has been one of many battles over the years, mainly due to religious and culturally conflicts.  Althouth the "Butcher of the Balkans" , Slobadan Milosevic generally left the state of Macedonia alone, Macedonia absorbed many ethnic Albanians and Kosovo refugees during his reign, not always willingly, and leading to some internal conflicts.
Skopje lies along the Vardar river in a valley surrounded by hills, surrounded by mountains.  On very clear days you can see the snow-capped mountains to the north and west.  I haven't seen them yet, I have to believe Mike.
Most of the city of Skopje was destroyed in a huge earthquake in 1963, killing thousands.  The old railway station still stands (now the Skopje museum, see pics below), the clock stopped at precisely the time of the quake.
Okay.  History lesson complete (if not comprehensive).  School's out.

Saturday, December 20, 2008
Walking tour of Skopje
Not a lot to report, but it was sunny (sorda) and nice yesterday, able to walk around without a coat on.  So, I did.  Long enough to get blisters.
Started from my house (obviously) and did a pretty big loop through downtown and old town and along the river.  Encountered a flea market that was fascinating.  Resembled more of a garbage dump.  Saw a guy standing by two bags of dirt (the whole area was dirt), and thought, "Are these people so desperate they are selling DIRT?".  Then, I realized it was BAIT. 
Anyway, interesting and prettier with some blue sky than with POURING RAIN.

Lots of mangy cats around, this one in a dilapidated house by ours

Looking back at our 'hood from the mall, first day I could see the cross on the mountain

The Skopje Museum. . . didn't go in, don't want to do EVERYTHING in one day. . . LOL

Christmas is coming! Only we celebrate it 1/7/09 here! Okay.

Fort. They are rebuilding it. Will go later. Promise.

Looking up at the traffic bridge from the river walk

I never saw such ragtagged stuff at a flea market

I liked this car. . . and the dude.

Apprently wandered in just before prayer time, these cats were all ready at the end of the street

Side of one of many orthodox churches

Self portrait in a retro door around the corner

One of the main drags up to St. Theresa Square (Main Square on the river)

Old stone bridge. Most the city was destroyed in an earthquake in 1963, but the bridge stood

Nice graffitied walkway along the river

Mike's work. . . .

And lots o lots of shoes

Big ole anchor on the other side of the stone bridge on my way into old town

Peeking in at dude getting a shave


Found a decent restaurant last night, very cute, with pictures of Skopje pre-earthquake (1963), good food and great service. 
Then we went to the Irish Pub and drank.  Alot. 
Today, Mike, Andy and I are going to go investigate Old Town a little deeper.

Thursday, December 18, 2008
Our House
These are the only pictures I've taken in Skopje so far.  It's RAINING.  ALL THE TIME.  It is not conducive to holding an umbrella in one hand and my camera in the other. . . .
But, I think it's stopping.  Or at least slowing down.  Maybe I'll walk down to the river.
Or not.

Uh, yea. . . the living room. . .

Yes, that is the KITCHEN!

the dining room (which is on the other end of the living room)

Where the magic happens. . . heeheehee

Haven't done or seen much yet, due to previous mentioned rainy conditions.  Will get out soon! 
Like when it's snowing. 
The sun goes down behind the mountains around 4ish, so makes the days pretty short.
But, have had some decent food, some palatable local wine, and some nice cold beer, so all is well in SKopje.
If not a little boring.
We have three balconies (very small) off our apartment and I clicked this photo as the sun went down today.

People on our street as the sun is setting. . . at 4 PM!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Mission Complete
Me, and all my luggage (a small miracle of God, I'm sure) arrived in Skopje, Macedonia a little before 5 PM last night.
I had ONE flight out of four that actually left on time.  And that was with a little carrier out of Frankfurt called Adria Air.  Of course, their connecting flight out of Slovenia left over an hour late. . . but whatever.  Not like sitting in Chicago for over 4 hours waiting for my flight to leave late for Frankfurt.
I didn't get much sleep on the long flight from O'Hare to Frankfurt.  Why?  It's just not LONG enough.  Eight hours in the air only allows for about 4-5 hours of sleep.  Not sure how much I actually got, but I'm assuming four as I was able to watch 2 movies, and eat dinner and breakfast.
So, I was a bit tired when I arrived in Frankfurt.  Slept through both my connecting flights, albeit they were only just over an hour a piece, but arrived in Skopje just in time for dinner.
AFTER I went and got registered with the local police.
Then I had copious amounts of wine and a brie salad and some ricotta bread and promptly passed out around 11 PM.  Woke up wide awake at 3 AM, took my trusty valium and slept until Mike went to work. 
Now I'm swilling freshly brewed coffee and hoping Mike left me a map.
Mike did a great job picking out our apartment.  It's kinda  a combination between our place in Seoul and our place in Bulgaria.  But the town itself (so far, obviously I haven't seen much) looks like Tirana, Albania (architecture and street wise), but a little busier.  And maybe bigger.  I'll post some pictures, as MANY people tell me they like to see where we live, so they can picture us there. 
This morning I'm off to the mall (sounds like me, don't it) in search of an ATM (I have NO LOCAL CURRENCY), a SIM card for my phone and whatever else strikes my fancy. . . heehee.
The weather is quite mild, think it only got down to around 40F last night, but snow is expected this weekend (of course).
And Mike has been 10 days without a smoke.  Good boy!