Saturday, March 24, 2012

Holocaust Museum in Skopje

On March 21, I went to with IWA to the Holocaust Museum in Skopje. I didn’t know anything about the Jews in Macedonia. I didn’t even  know MK had Jews in here.  I thought it would be appropriate to share some history with you about the Jews in Macedonia. I’m summarizing here, but I have a booklet that I will be brining home if you are interested.
The Jews who were in Macedonia before WW1, were Sephardic Jews. Or Jews that had been deported from Spain in 1492. They moved around an were kicked out of many other countries before settling in the Balkans. They settled in Bitola, Stip, and Skopje in Macedonia. They became thriving parts of their communities.  Not often forced to live in ghettos like the other  Jews were in other countries.

During WW1, the Bulgarians occupied the current Macedonian area. They signed an agreement with Germany to deport all of their Jews, but they only did so in the occupied areas, not in Bulgaria proper.  Jews were denied Bulgarian citizenship, forced to wear a yellow star, banned from banking, civil servants, pharmacists, and doctors.

After all of this, the Bulgarians signed the Dannecker-Belev agreement, where Bulgaria agreed to deport all Macedonian Jews to death camps. On March 11, 1942, the Jews of Bitola and Stip were shipped off to Skopje were they were interred for 11 days in a tobacco factory with only one toilet for over 7,200 people. And they were not provided food until 5 days in. Roughly 165 doctors and foreign citizens were released. On March 22, 7,144 Jews were placed in cattle cars for transportation to Treblinka death camp.

 No one returned.

A total of 900,000 Jews and approximately 2,000 Roma were killed at Treblinka. There are fewer than 100 known survivors. The only Jews that survived the holocaust in Macedonia escaped the country before the round up or were hidden by other locals. Some joined the military to fight off the invaders.

Of the nearly 8,000 Jews in Macedonia only 350 survived.

There is a small Jewish community that survives in Skopje, the others all immigrated to Israel or Palestine.
A car they were transported in, mostly from Stip.

The Macedonian Jews were the only Jews to have a photographic catalog taken of them.

This is the memorial inside the museum. It is 7,144 different strings of beads showing the burning bush of the bible. It also states "remember" in both English and Macedonian.

Friday, March 23, 2012

St. Patrick's Day Weekend!

The weekend started on Friday when four of us went to see Swan Lake at the Macedonian Opera and Ballet. Jen came over from Tetovo to join us for the lovely weekend. We met up with Aryn and Claire around 8pm to go see the ballet. When we arrived, we discovered that we had second row seats! SECOND ROW! For only 400 MKD/$8.56 USD, so yea, anyone else get that good of a price this weekend?

This weekend, I was reminded of how many people I now know in Skopje and how much of a “big village” this country is. I saw Daniel & Anjie and Sarah & Marissa there. Neither of which I really knew were going.  Then the next night, I ran into a few other people I knew at the Irish Pub.

After the ballet, we went out to this delicious kebab place in Charshija/Old Town. We found it when Hyun, Chris and Ryan were in town. They have traditional Macedonian food. Including Tavche Gravche, kebabchina (meat sausages), shopska salad, ajvar, pindjuar. The meat eaters had some of the kababchina. The rest of us had everything else on there. Eventually a few other friends joined us for a drink. In true, Macedonian style, it lasted from 10:30 until 2am ish. We decided to not go out that night, so that we could go out on Saturday for St. Patrick’s day!

So the next day, Jen, Erin and I went up to Old Town/Bit Bazar to look for some things to fix our toilet and some yarn for Erin. We were able to find both and green mascara!! And we got Jen’s knock off purse fixed! Then we found dishes for our apartment. Erin and I have some old plates that are breaking in every which way. Then we caught a bus back and I was exhausted. I think I did too much this day. Erin had to work, so Jen and I went to this new Thai place to pick up take out food! Yummy curry, that is more hot than flavorful, but still good. When we got back, I ate some food and then promptly took a nap for two hours.

Then we got ready and headed out to the Irish Pub! It was packed, but we arrived at the right time to get a small table. There was a bunch of us! Nevenka, Aryn, Jen, Erin, Gordona, Jen’s co-worker, and  Vancho. And in true Macedonian style, we saw other people that were there that we knew! So much fun, even though they didn’t have any Irish Cream. How can an Irish Pub not have Irish Cream on St. Pat’s Day? But we had a lot of fun sitting at talking to each other! At the end of the night, Nevenka/Erin/Jen/Vancho went out dancing, but I was still exhausted, so I went home! Such a spoil sport. But I was thinking ahead to staying healthy for the next weekend.

See you around the globe!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

First Few Weeks Of March

On 3/5, the American Corner had an “in-reach” where they had a local middle school come in. I did the “Big Cities in America” presentation again. It was a bit hectic and rushed and I thought I had 30 minutes, but when I got there they told me I only had 10, but I needed to include everything. So I probably spoke too fast and they probably didn’t get any real information. Kids here are hard to read. They just stare and don’t really respond to your questions…But then they took a quiz about the state capitals and put together a puzzle. See pictures here.
On 3/7, at the American Corner, there was an event for International Women’s Day, where two Macedonian women and an US Embassy worker talked about being women in their professions. I can honestly never say I have felt a stronger need to discuss what feminism and women’s rights mean and how much that is truly needed in Macedonia. I had visited a few different NGOs that were discussing women’s rights, but I never know how much of the common woman’s views were similar to what they were like in the US in the early 1950s. Many of the women there thought is was normal and good for women to stay home and be mothers. And that, that was all they were supposed to want. And that there was nothing wrong with that. Or that when a woman CEO was treated as if she was only there to get coffee for the men, that she was just supposed to accept that and no one protested that she had been placed in a degraded position. Other women were talking about how they should always be a mother or a wife before they pursue their other goals. Also, all feminist are man hating people who only want women to rule the world. (By the way- this is totally wrong. Feminism is fighting for human rights and the idea that everyone should be equal regardless of sex, ethnicity, skin color, sexual orientation, or any other potential discriminatory quality. Feminists don’t all want only women to rule the world, although some do, but so do some men. Feminist generally just want everyone to be treated equal in the shortest definition of the word.) I left there totally saddened and enraged over the injustice that these women will face, and wondering how I could make a difference. I wish the American Corner wasn’t moving this year, so that I could do a workshop on what feminism and women’s rights is actually all about. You can see pictures here.

On 3/8, there was another event at the American Corner: “Dreams for My Daughter, Dreams for My Mother.” It was supposed to be a mother/daughter thing, but they invited me along to contribute to the conversation even though my mom was half way around the world. We had a good conversation. Julia, the US Ambassador’s daughter who is living here was supposed to come but she was super sick, so she wrote a letter to her mom. It almost made us all cry she is such a good writer!  See pictures here. (Have I mentioned how I like the fact that the American Corner takes a million pictures and posts them online so I don’t have to?)

On 3/14, I had an International Women’s Association meeting. These meetings have two components: a social hour and an actual meeting. At the social hour, sometimes we have someone selling stuff (like make-up this time), or we play a game. And then there is a meeting where they tell us about the upcoming events that they have going on. After the meeting we usually go to lunch. This week’s lunch was at Shanghai, one of two Chinese restaurants in town. Neither restaurant is good, actually both are pretty bad and have no good food. But they are nice people. Then I went over to the Opera and Ballet to buy tickets to Swan Lake. After that successful outing, Cecelia and I went to her house, where I met her kitty that I agreed to house sit this past weekend. The kitty kind of reminded me of Koshka, a little skittish (she did warm up by the end of the weekend).

Like this past week (3/12 to 3/16) all I did was lay around and recover from being sick the week before. And other than that, I basically laid in bed or sat on the couch recuperating and trying not to get sicker. I did go work at the new NGO, but that is part of what made me feel worse and stay in on Friday!

See you around the globe!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


I promise I will write stuff on this blog when I am actually doing things. I wish I could be like Jen and tell you about my daily life, but I’m afraid it would get boring. So let me update you about February. (As I type this I realized I did do a bit more than I thought I actually did….funny how that happens!)
I have started working at a wonderful NGO, Macedonia 2025, which is actually using me and letting me be beneficial to their work. I go in once a week and have a great day with Biljana, who works there.

 In February, I didn’t leave the country. I know, shocking, especially after my declaration to travel. I am ashamed at myself actually. I did do a lot in Macedonia.  I hung out with these Canadians who own a company in MK, that I meet thorough Hyun (the embassy worker I met on Christmas Eve). That was a fun week, and they are genuinely nice people. But that week ended with their first annual company party where they invited everyone they knew to come hang out and celebrate.

Then a few weeks later, Chis (one of them) came back to wine and dine a client/friend. And that week we went out every. single. night.  And ate dinner at 9:30 each night. No joke. Welcome to Macedonia. But it was really nice to hang out with them. They are some nice people here in Skopje and they seem to genuinely care about having fun and welcoming new people.

I also went over to Hyun’s one day when he wasn’t there to cook with his housekeeper. He asked her to make all Vegetarian food, and I thought it would be cool to learn some new recipes. She was really nice and we never lagged for conversation the whole day. One of the funniest parts of the day was that he had someone come over and fix his broken front door, and they so thought I was the lady of the house and kept asking me questions and commenting to me about things. It wasn’t until the very end that they figured out I didn’t live there (although “I don’t have a key” should have been a good indicator). Dinner that night was super delicious! We had croquettes, stuffed peppers and potatoes, quiche, stuffed mushrooms, and cous cous salad. So many yummy dishes that I will  be trying to make on my own in a bit.

One weekend in February, I was supposed to go Brussels for a conference. But the airline I was on went bankrupt. Luckily, I found out the week before I was supposed to go, so I didn’t show up at the airport and then find out, but still. I am currently going trough my credit card company to get my money back.  That weekend I went to a one day conference with an NGO Progress about MK and EU integration. It was very interesting and I got to see what one of the main parties here SDSM (the opposition, progressive party) thought about a lot of the different issues. I also picked up a lot of cool literature about the Balkans.

That night (2/11), there was a fundraiser for an animal shelter here in Skopje at the Irish Pub. A bunch of us went to support the cause. They had a live band with “rock.” (Rock here means oldies and classics, by the way not real rock.) It was a bunch of fun a definitely a girls night out. We had an amazing time! And supported a really good cause- there are a lot of homeless dogs around Skopje that need food and love. Everytime I see them, my heart breaks a little because I know I can't save them.

I also went to Tetovo and Stip to present about American Wedding Traditions. It was neat to see Stip, where I had never been. The ride down was very pretty and I had a yummy lunch at a local restaurant. See pictures from Tetovo by clicking here and from Stip by clicking here. And I presented at the Skopje corner as well, see here.

Other than this, in Feb. I was busy meeting new NGOs and working on writing up my research blog.

Oh and it SNOWED! Like a mini- blizzard. And went down to -20C/0 F. Yes, ZERO DEGREES! Let’s just say that was a bit cold. And every single Macedonian disappeared and never went outside. And they didn’t want to go to any American Corner events either. Then in the first nice weekend, suddenly there was an EXPLOSION OF PEOPLE. SO MANY PEOPLE ON THE STREET!!!

See you around the globe!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Venice- Day 4 (without Mama)!

We woke up bright and early to take Mama to the bus stop to go to the airport. She had to catch a 6:30ish bus. We got there in plenty of time, I then proceeded to go back and sleep for a few more hours! I then proceeded to finish packing and then headed out.

I wanted to try to find this guy’s house that was included on our museum pass (eh, why not?). It wasn’t worth the trouble to find it. I started off by walking towards it, seemed easy enough. But this is Venice mind you. About 45 minutes later, and asking about 3 different people where it was, I found it. And it was totally not worth it to pay to see it unless you have that snazzy museum pass. It was about three rooms about this guy’s life. Apparently his father built him a theater inside the house and then he became a famous playwright.

Afterwards, I took a boat to the center and bought some pretty art. Then wandering towards another museum that looked promising.  But it was closed.

Then I began the long process of finding a post office or even a drop box for the post cards I had. And when I mean long, I mean bout 45 minutes long. FINALLY I found a drop box, dropped the letters off and walked back to the hostel. I grabbed my stuff and headed to the boat stop. When I got there, I was able to hop on the first boat that went to the bus station.

Then I waited. And waited. It was about a 45 minute wait once I was there, but I thought it was going to be shorter. There were a few other people waiting for the same bus. It took about 45 minutes to get from the bus station to the airport.

Wizz Air has a strict one bag, 10 kilograms limit. I knew with my snazzy three new dresses from H&M. So I had my wallet, the travel book, and a few other things in my jacket (they don’t weigh you) and my camera around my neck. My bag was 9.3 kg. OH YEA!!!! But I had apparently forgotten about that little 3 oz rule (which is 100 ml in case you needed to know) and put some balsamic cream in my carry on. Now MK doesn’t really care about these rules, but the EU does. So she took my yummy cream. I had to buy it for 8 euros in the gift shop/duty free.

Then I was there about 4 to 5 hours because the plane was delayed. There was a big storm in Sofia, and the plane couldn’t take off. They didn’t even know when it would take off. But since we were in the EU, we got free food and drink. I met some awesome PCVs there and some MK’s who were also returning to Skopje. We had some good conversation. Then there was the added benefit to have a cheaper taxi ride into the city with their taxi driver. :)

Then sleep. Lots of sleep.

See you around the globe!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Venice- Day 3 (with Mama!)

After a delicious breakfast, we headed back out to Ca’Rezzonico. It was easier today because we took a vaparetto directly to the boat stop where the Museum was. It contains furniture, decoration, and artwork from the 1700s. It was apparently “the best place in town to experience the luxurious, decadent spirit of Venice in the 1700s.” It also looked like a really cool place to host a wedding, by the way. They had some really cool paintings in there, but it was kind of cool to see the rest of how the house was set up. On the top floor they had a special exhibit of random paintings by locals, but they were some really cool paintings. Also, they had it set up so you could look outside and see the skyline of Venice. Kinda cool, if I say so myself.

We then caught 2 vaporetti (?), to go visit one of the islands in the lagoon. We stopped off in the Cemetery island, technically called San Michele. We weren’t supposed to take pictures, they claimed that it wasn’t respectful enough. I disagreed and took some pictures anyway. It was created when Napoleon decreed that no bodies could be buried on the main islands of Venice. he claimed it wasn’t “healthy;” imagine that- dead bodies on the sinking islands where everyone lives?

We then headed off to Murano, our main goal for the day. Murano is famous of it’s glass factories. In 1292, a law restricted the factories to the island of Murano- they were afraid of setting fire to the islands where people lived. (We got off where Rick Steves’s suggested but I disagree with his suggestions. I think you should take it all the way to the museum stop, visit the museum first and then walk back through town. ) We walked along a canal to head towards the museum of glass (also included in our museum pass). We bought some cool non-breakable-ish glass stuff on the way (including my bridesmaids presents!).

The museum was cool- it actually reminded me a lot of the other glass museum I had visited- except this glass was so much more intricate! I got some cool pictures of stuff you weren’t supposed to take pictures of again. But these works of art were amazing!

Then we waited for the next vaporetto and headed back to Venice. We shopped a little on our way back, and then ate some dinner. We also decided to take a night time tour of the canal, so we caught a boat to catch a boat. We got to see part of the city that tourist probably never go to. It looked pretty residential. Apparently there is a really fancy hotel there. Then back to pack and eat some more before going to sleep!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Day 2 in Venice! (With Mama!)

The next day we attempted to go to Ca Rezzonico, But apparently picked the only day that it wasn’t open on to go. Which was in the guide book but somehow we both missed it. Oh well, now we knew where it was the next day! So we decided to go to the Academia museum.  That museum is the “greatest museum anywhere for Venetian Renaissance art and a good overview of painters whose works you’ll see all over town.”

One benefit: you can take pictures in here. No flash, but better than the other museums that are not picture friendly. It had some amazing paintings. There were lots of funny descriptions that Rick Steves provided. Such as “swarming beehive of saints,” or the party version of the Last Supper, with Protestants and “a black man”, to the “even the spear couldn’t deter his worship.” We spent like two hours in this museum. And I started wondering how many “Madonna con Bambino”s exist in (1) one museum or (2) all of Venice. My guess is more than 2-300 hundred.

After the Academia museum, we bought a vaparetto (public boat) pass for the next few days. TOTALLY WORTH IT. If you will be there for longer than 3 days, you will use it. A lot. And it will help with the lots of walking you want to avoid. Then we went towards the Costume Museum (it is technically called Plazzo Mocenigo, but it was described as the costume museum in all the books). Rick Steve says to avoid this museum, but if you have the museum pass- it is so worth it! It was super interesting to see the different clothes that people wore back then, as well as how the house would have been set up. It was a cute little museum.

Then we went to Ca’ Pesaro, the “modern” art museum. It needs a new definition of modern however, because there were only about 5% of the museum as modern. It also hosts the Oriental Museum. Apparently a rich dead Venetian guy went to the “orient” and donated all of his stuff to the City of Venice to start a museum about it. There is a lot of swords and pottery and other kink-knacks. The guy was actually nice (a rarity in Venice) and told us we could take pictures in this part of the museum.

The rest of the museum was actually pretty interesting. It was showcasing the acquisitions that the city Museums had made throughout the years at the modern art showcase “Biennial” that is hosted every 2 years. I’m sure that some of the paintings were “modern” in 1903 when they got them,, but they are not modern now. It was actually pretty nice museum- because of this. Neither of us expected to enjoy the museum (modern art is not my taste, it’s just weird and most of the time I could paint it). There were some amazing paintings- and I even wrote down some names to go look them up later. I of course gave the piece of paper to Mama so now I have no clue what those artists names were, but many of them were in the style of Edward Hopper (who I fell in love with the summer). I apparently like real life like paintings with a touch of commentary on life.

After this museum, we went to the bus station to figure out where Mama was to catch the bus to the airport (since she would be taking a different one than I did). We bought her ticket and then caught a vaparetto back to the hotel. We decided to go to Hard Rock for dinner. It was a nice place, but super expensive. The table set up was weird too, but the food was pretty good.

Then it was home and to bed/ See you around the globe!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

First full day in Venice! (with Mama)

The next day/first day in Venice, we headed out to explore! We had some rough estimates on what we wanted to do.  We knew that there were 3 English led tours at the Doge’s Palace (no I don’t know how to say that), but they don’t post times anywhere but in the museum. So we stepped out into St. Mark’s Square, and wow. The movies don’t lie. It is beautiful. Lots of arches. Venice has apparently a mixed history of architecture...Some Gothic thrown in with Ottoman and a pinch of traditional Catholic. The clock tower looked closed (it seems you Might have been able to do it if you were able to book a tour, but no one was clear on where it was you booked said tours). The rest of it looked amazing!

When we went into Doge’s Palace “housed the fascinating  government of the rich and powerful empire. It also served as the home for the Venetian ruler known as the doge (pronounced as “dohzh”, aka duke). For four centuries (about 1150-1550), this was the most powerful could govern itself without a dominant king, bishop, or tyrant. The doges wanted their palace to reflect the wealth and secular values of the Republic, impresing visitors and serving as a reminder that the Venetians were Number One in Europe.” (All quotes taken from Rick Steve’s Guidebook.) We took the Secret Itineraries guided tour. We got to learn all about Cassanova and the dungeons of Italy. They had one section that allowed water to come in and fill up to the prisoners chest. And this usually happens in winter. And in the summer they are really hot due to the roof design. Also, this was very interesting to me: the government seat was on top of the prison. They were so interconnected.

After the Doge’s Place, we went and took a picture of the “Bridge of Sighs.” Legend has it that as they were sentenced to death/jail for the rest of their life, they were taken over this bridge and sighed that they would never see Venice again. I think this is just part of the romantic ideas, because the views were not that great.  We then grabbed a very very pricey lunch. We were told that we would get charged an extra euro for sitting down. But we thought that it was 1 euro per person. OH no, it is 1 euro per item! So that overpriced tomato and cheese sandwich that was 3 euro- well now it is 4 euro. Lunch cost almost 20 Euro or at least $25....for basically nothing. It was horrible! I mean the food was good but not THAT good.

After the Doge’s Palace we went to St. Mark’s Basilica. It basically looks like a traditional Orthodox church to me. There didn’t appear to be anything that was traditional catholic church.  It was super beautiful. Everything was mosaic. Like EVERYTHING. The walls, the floors, the ceiling. But randomly in the center was an HD big screen TV. I guess you have to get with the new program.

When we walked out of the Basilica, we saw the Correr Museum right across form us. Since it was on our Museum Pass, we decided to go there.  We needed more time than we gave the museum, maybe like at least another 30 minutes or so. However, we got to see most everything. There was this AMAZING exhibit on Armenia. Apparently many Armenians came to Venice way back when, and many Italys/missionaries went to Armenia (“the only Christan country in the caucuses”= their catch phrase, not mine). The Armenians were very influential traders way back when. The rest of the museum had many different exhibits on Italian history and culture.

After the museum we went to find the grocery store. However, our map from the hostel had it in a 5-10 Venitian block radius. Needless to point out, we got lost. But not really. I do have to thank Mama for the innate sense of direction she installed in me by letting me help navigate across the country at age 5. I always got us in the right direction, maybe off by a few blocks, but always near, no matter how many twists and turns we completed. The grocery store we went to was cramped and crowed. But it had delicious store brand chocolate. We decided to cook at home for the next few days. It was yummy pasta and salad. We had balsamic cream, have you heard of this? It is a yummy version of balsamic vinegar. Then sleep. Lots of Sleep.