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Greece Thessaloniki

September 20, 2013


2013 Greece Turkey Macedonia
Tour Journal
Skopje, Macedonia


17 September 2013, Tuesday
Skopje, Macedonia

We arrived in Skopje at 11:10 am. Luggage was collected with no problem. Stefan met us with a big smile. We quickly changed few Dollars/Euros to Macedonian Dinars. Through a heavy traffic, we arrived in the old city of Skopje. The closest restroom was the one in Mustafa Pasa Mosque which was built in 1425 by Sultan Murat of the Ottomans. Using the restroom and not visiting mosque did not sound right, so we walked in to the mosque to find how beautiful this mosque was.

Macedonia remained under the rule of the Turks until
1913 Balkan War.

Therefore, the Turkish influence was all around us. Turkish baths, Ottoman Craft Centers, the hans, narrow streets, white washed buildings led us to the center of the CHARSHI, the market. Before lunch we stopped at the 200 year old church which was famed with its stupendous iconostasis. We briefly discussed the difference between Catholicism and orthodoxy. Down the cobbled streets, we arrived at the old city square. The "Tourist Restaurant" was in the middle of the square. We did not think that we were hungry and could eat the " kofte" - meat balls and the baked beans," fasulye " as fast as we could. We even asked for the seconds. Some chose "Skopje" beer and the others happily gulp down "ayran" the yogurt drink. After lunch, we had half an hour to ourselves. Every one went out to a different direction to discover the narrow streets of this 600 year old market. Cindy got her necklace fixed, Carol decided not to join

  the group until 04:00 pm. 2 years ago, she had visited the Ethnographic museum, so she chose to go find the "slipper man" to buy her Christmas gift. The museum was empty as usual. Unfortunately the ceiling was leaking. The fabulous ethnographic collection obviously was getting destroyed daily. The nice thing was that we were able to have Vladimir as our guide. He took us around the museum in about two hours explaining the cultural traditions of all the ethnic groups that were represented in innumerable costumes.
The embroidery, the silver work, the designs, the color combinations, the head wears, the objects used to ward off evil were stunning. Unfortunately, the museum shop did not have any replicas of the excellent display.

Almond shaped belt to ward off evil and
earring with Ottoman coin

  Vladimir was impressed with the interest of the group, he shared with us his family stories related to the traditions that he mentioned in relation to the museum display. We found out that his grand ma would not color Easter eggs blue or green color since those colors were believed to be the colors of the Muslims.                   a wonderful ceiling

September 18, 2013 Wednesday
Skopje city tour

Mother Theresa was born in Skopje in 1910. Her given name was Gonca - a Turkish name which meant rose bud. At a very young age she decided to become a nun and moved out of her house and did not see any member of her family until after 52 years.

She pleaded Jesus," Come be my guide"; the little chapel on the third floor of her museum was designed to allow her to have the utmost "light". Mother Mary on one side, and Jesus on the other, Mother Theresa's portrait dominated the alter of the chapel.
Her modest soul must be in agony with the glamour attributed to her. I personally think that she would have never allowed her picture be so much larger than the images of Mary and Jesus.. The guide of the "house" was very impressed with our group since we bombarded her with lots of questions.

None of us expected Mother Theresa to accept the Nobel prize that she was given. We thought Mother Theresa would not be doing what she was doing for a worldly award but we found out that the Pope had insisted that she would not turn the one million dollar award. After all every one has their price obviously.
With mixed feelings, we left the museum. Before we got to the main city square, we were surrounded with a Gypsy family. those of us who have had pick pocketing incidence with the Gypsies before were quite nervous. We quickly walked through beggars and reached the " Park of the Women" opposite the street from the parliament of Macedonia. The Women's Park was now decorated with the statues of mostly man. Around the "Project 2014
 " the whole city is being adorned with the statues of those who had made an impact on the history of the Macedonians.

At one point it looked like they copied Berlin on one side of the avenue and on the other side you could see Paris being imitated. We were wondering why any city would like to create a false identity if they are starting from the scratch. All that money being spent to look like a German and a French city is probably not what most of the Macedonians pay those taxes.

Our guide Stefan

This statue has been our favorite. After the first World War, the Greeks had deported the Macedonian children from northern Greece. Those children who were separated from their families had ended up in Romania and Poland. Stefan's mother was one of those deportees when she was four, she was separated from her mother and father and was taken to Romania where she grew up in an orphanage!!

The variety of the statues are incredible. On one corner there is a huge statue of Justinian, the Byzantine emperor who was born not too far from Skopje, on the other corner, Philip, the father of Alexander the great cast his shadow over female figures depicting every state of motherhood.
Alexander the Great's statue was not named after Alexander not to get the lightning of the Greeks.

We asked several Macedonians if they were happy with the facelift of their city.They all answered more or less in the same words:"  We did not know who was important for the Macedonians in the history. During Tito's time, we were brainwashed to think that our history had started with Tito and was finished with Tito. For cultural , historic identity, what these statues are doing is very important to us"

Furthermore, this 2014 Project will finally help mend the sorrow of 1962 earthquake which totally destroyed the new part of the city.

For a late lunch we drove to the village of Stefan's in laws. Sefan and Mika with their two children spend their week ends at this village. We were welcomed to the village before we could get to Stefan's house by a couple who were picking their wall nuts. The husband was on the tree beating the branches with a long stick and the woman was collecting the green wall nuts from the ground. As soon as she saw us walking down from our van, she started cracking the wall nuts and offering them to us. what a warm welcome!!

Sefan's wife Mika and her mother met us with their beautiful smiles and big hugs. Stefan had done a lot of work on the veranda. Under a wonderful grape vine we had our home made lunch. Cheese and spinach stuffed borek, stuffed grape leaves, sarma and pepper sauce was our menu. After lunch we had coffee and cake. The fruit juice made by Mika was quite popular. We finished the day at a small restaurant where we tried Macedonian pastrami. Pastrami was not all that good but the fig desert was to die for.
September 19, 2013 Thursday
Drive through Vardar Valley, Thessaloniki, Greece

We left the hotel right on time at 08:00 in the morning. the breakfast nice. We had kashkaval and white cheese . Musli/cornflakes for the "tourist", salami, jam honey and butter. Since we might loose some time at the border crossing we were all prepared to schedule changes but the plan is have lunch in Greece. The road going down south is very nice and meanders with the river Vardar. Some times we lost the river but the fertile fields always reminded us that the river was not too far away. The weather was chilly. We were assured that the temperature will become more pleasant after we go through the mountains into the Greek side of the valley. It certainly was right. the minute we passed a tunnel and descended onto the Greek border, it started feeling hot in the 80s.

We did not have to do any thing for the border crossing. Our driver collected the passports. We all went to check the duty free shop. We returned to the van loaded with treats. The crossing did not even last 1/2 an hour. We started driving straight south to Thessaloniki. Unlike the neatness of Macedonia, the first impression in Greece, there were garbage every where and graffiti allover the walls, windows doors. We even saw a poor dog sprayed colors on it.

We arrived at our hotel at around 1:00 pm. Our guide Athena met us in front of the hotel. After check in, we walked down to the restaurant of the hotel for a quick lunch. We have been eating meatballs ( kofte ) in Macedonia all most all the time we were there. Here our fist meal was again koftes with mashed potatoes. thank goodness, each kofte had its own unique flavor. The afternoon was free for every one to explore the city on their own. We all did pretty well going around the streets of Thessaloniki, did not get lost and had good time. When we all met for dinner on the sea front, every one had a fun story to share about what they found in their on their own. We are staying at ABC Hotel on Ignatia Street.

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