I’ve been raving about the kindness of the Macedonians all week. And because it’s well-deserved, I wanted to dedicate a whole post to giving examples of it. All of these little things made visiting Skopje and Ohrid unbelievably pleasant.
It started when we arrived at the bus station in Skopje. Since we didn’t have cash and our hotel was nearby, we decided to walk. Right outside, several people offered their taxi services and then immediately backed off when we nodded our heads. One guy even apologized for asking.
We only stayed at the Log Inn Hostel because they have private rooms and one of them had David Bowie on one of the walls. But being a hostel, we didn’t expect much. However, when we arrived, the woman at the front desk noticed we had two reservations with a break in between since we had plans to go to Ohrid. So she suggested we leave our bags in the room while we were away. She didn’t charge a thing and waved it away like it was nothing. Then she helped us carry the luggage upstairs.
Near the St. Clement of Ohrid church, we sat down to admire the architecture. A man with a stack of flyers came and offered us one. After we politely declined, he sat down and asked where we were from and told us he hoped we would enjoy our stay. We never did find out what was on the flyers.
After that, we went out for drinks at Sindikat, where the menus weren’t translated and the locals were having cocktails. When we were leaving, we told our server to keep the coins as tip. But he nodded his head with his eyes wide, as though asking us to reconsider and gave all our change back.
When we got to Ohrid, we finally had to take a cab since the bus station is a ways away from city center. There was no meter, and I was already picturing myself having to yell at the cab driver for charging us the same amount for a 20 minute drive as our 3 hour bus from Skopje had cost. But our fare was 100 denar ($2).
The wonderful innkeeper at Villa Ohrid was away when we arrived. But she left notes at the property so we could find our room. When we finally met her in the evening and paid for the night, she gave us a print of the city because “It’s so cold. You’re not going to be able to see anything.” And to be honest, when we arrived at our room and saw this view, we would have been okay with not even leaving.
And we did see plenty of the beauty of the city, because 60 degrees feels like a summer vacation now. When we got up to Samuel’s Fortress which overlooks Ohrid and the lake, they didn’t have change for 1000 denar to pay the 120 denar entrance for both of us. The sweet old man, who didn’t speak English, let us in with whatever change we had in our pockets, some of it Bulgarian.
Then we sat down to have what would be the most delicious meal of the entire trip, pork in a pot and fried cheese that was more like a lasagna pie. Our server offered to put the WiFi password in our phones. Then he went out of his way to cut our lasagna pie for us into even pieces.
And you’d think that they’re going the extra mile for tips, but at Liquid, our server brought us the bill for our drinks because his shift was ending. When we told him we wanted to get coffees, he brought them anyway and left before we could tip him.
The next day, we took a walk around the port and a guy was offering boat tours on Lake Ohrid at a deeply discounted rate since it was off season. We told him we would come back after walking around a bit. When we returned, he was leaving, but his friend with Ohrid Lake Cruises honored the same rate and told us a little bit about Ohrid as he took us around the lake.
When we left Ohrid, our wonderful innkeeper ordered a taxi for us. She also gave us access to an empty room at the villa to use as a storage room for our bags.
Back in Skopje, our tour guide to the nearby natural wonders of the city didn’t simply adhere to a rehearsed sightseeing script. He chatted with us about life in Macedonia, politics, and how awful the Greeks have been to his country. And maybe this is not necessarily a great example of kindness, but a good show of the candor and openness of the Macedonians.
At the Old Bazaar, a guy waved us into his cafe, but we wanted to keep looking around before sitting down. When we returned, he thanked us. And upon finding out we were Cuban, he practiced some of his Spanish.
Over the last couple of days, we were agonizing about how my friend was going to get from Skopje to Sofia for a 5 am flight. The people at Log Inn called around for a good taxi company that would do it for 70 euro even though we had been getting quotes for over 120. She made it to Sofia safely.
And on my last day, I made my way to a bakery (Специјал Пекара). I ordered a cheese pastry and because I wanted to try a dessert, a chocolate and nut bar. She threw in a drinkable yogurt and a puff pastry for free. She said it was a promotion, but I’m pretty sure she just wanted me to try some of the things I might like.
When I left to the airport in a cab, the driver asked me in broken English how I liked Macedonia. He didn’t ask to make small talk; he asked because he wanted to know.
So the trip ended the way it started, with the warm delighted feeling you get when you visit a place where you’re welcome and where people hope you’ll return.