Week 136 - Four countries

Work work… and then four countries in one day!

Week 136 - Four countries
The centre of Skopje

Work work… and then four countries in one day!

Woah! This week has absolutely flown by. There’s not a lot to say other than we’ve been more or less keeping our nose to the grindstone trying to complete all the jobs in order to get ready for the season. We didn’t quite get to the polishing, but it’s imminent!

Several major milestones have been accomplished. I’ve completed the varnishing and Karina has finished polishing all the stainless steel rails. While the varnishing doesn’t look radically different, it’s fixed the peeling that was starting to appear everywhere and in several places around external doors the exposed wood now has several protective coats in place again.

Newly varnished cupboard doors with sparkly clean stainless fittings again.

Monday was very wet so not much outside work was done. Instead we headed out to the large Hipermarket (what we’d think of as a Supermarket) to make the most of access to the car, to start our bulk stockpiling. We bought lots of heavy items like drinks, water, bulk coffee beans and so forth. All things that will keep and we can store away on Matilda. It’s also the items that are hard to carry back and forward.

As part of that wet weather process we sorted through our cabin and repacked our cupboards again, getting rid of old clothes that we no longer wear. Karina also went through the pantry and rediscovered a lot of food at the bottom of drawers and re-packed and re-sorted everything in there.

On Tuesday lunch, we headed up with Eric and Vandy, Peter, Craig and Pandy to a local restaurant hidden back in the hills above Tivat which was amazing! The food was some of the best grilled meat we’ve experienced here in Montenegro and the price was exceptional too. It filled the meat fix for the week for sure.

There was more meat than the seven of us could eat, this was after a first round of taking food off the platter!

We varnished and polished like crazy on Wednesday, then allowed ourselves a break on Wednesday evening when we headed to Saved By Grace to have curry night with Nat & Colin (the Blue Room has shut down for two weeks for new season refreshing). Shawn & Lyn and Sarah & Peter also came along which made for a nice small group. Karina and I re-ran the quiz night that we did a couple of months ago which was also a fun diversion.

Thursday it was… wait for it… more polishing and varnishing. The weather was exceptionally good though so we headed out for a last hurrah with Rada to visit the Lipci cave paintings. No longer contained in a cave (it’s collapsed at some point in the last few 1000 years), the cave paintings are images of the rising sun and hunting scenes painted by 10,000 years ago (8,000 BC). They are the second oldest found along the Adriatic coast. It was a neat experience seeing something and thinking about the very long connection that humans have to this part of the world.

Thursday night we had drinks with Nigel & Matt who are restoring an old Halberg-Rassy sailboat called Xora at the end of our dock. They had arrived in October, but then went home and only recently returned a couple of weeks ago. We had a lot of fun chatting on board Matilda and then headed out to a local restaurant for dessert (tiramisu and cheesecake). There’s a lot to enjoy about this lifestyle, but as much as anything we love the people we get to meet.

We’ve also made progress on the passerelle repairs — we now have a date, Thursday next week! So we’ll be firing up Matilda again and heading over there to get that repaired. There’s a lot of rain forecast (including big winds) for Monday and Tuesday, so I’m not sure how much polishing we’ll achieve, but I hope to start that as well.

Besides completing the varnishing and main stainless polishing tasks on Friday, we also took a last run in Rada out to the marine store. I had two of the liveaboard kids from one of the boats on our dock come by to trial the board game I’ve been developing. This was the second play test and I’ve learnt a lot, mostly that there’s more I need to change! Everyone agreed it was fun, but that it’s hard to finish at the moment. Ideally it should take around an hour, but with the current rule set it was closer to about two.

At some point you have to make a call and say “We’re leaving the marina now.” Excitingly (and a little sadly) that’s started to happen and the first of the community left the marina on Friday morning, keen to start their season and sailing up to Venice.

We’ve also set a date, for no reason other than it’s good to have something to work for. We aim to be starting our cruising season in two weeks, on April 15th. Which means making moves to sell Rada, so we set off bright and early on Saturday and drove through Albania, Kosovo and into Skopje in North Macedonia.

It was an epic drive, not least because for the first time in our lives we were actually in four countries in one day! And not just fly over — boots on the ground, walking the streets (mostly driving but we did get out in each place) actually visiting. Kind of.

From Tivat, we drove in the fog and heavy rain to the border with Albania. We were excited about our Albanian leg because we had ~€50 in LEK that we hadn’t exchanged so we figured it was a good time to spend it! We tried to blow it all on a big lunch, but we’d forgotten just how cheap Albania is. A large meal for both of us with drinks only used up €13 of it all. That’s OK, we bought some whiskey instead for the person who’ll help us sell the car to say thanks.

After Albania it was Kosovo. To be fair we saw very little of this except for a few hours of freeways (very very good and modern), a small town where we tried to buy a coffee (very very bad and old fashioned — we think they refused to serve us because Karina was a woman “No coffee here”, despite the fact the men were drinking coffee), and then a rather spiffy Shell service station where we bought the sourest tasting sour cream & onion flavoured chips we’ve ever experienced.

Cruising through Kosovo (on a back road — thanks Google) we found this car being pulled out of a ditch by a tractor.

Finally, our third border crossing of the day and a short drive down the hill from Kosovo to Skopje in North Macedonia.

We wandered the streets for a few hours on Saturday evening and came away with a lot of mixed impressions. Skopje feels like a city that should be discovered more. It’s got a lot of very impressive architecture and thanks to a massive earthquake in 1963 and then a reaction to communism after independence, they have found space to plan, re-plan and expand.

At times it feels a little bit like the interior of a Las Vegas casino, it’s a city trying so hard to impress it can almost seem fake. There’s what feels at times like a lot of borrowed history and an attempt to root themselves as a relatively new (but still ancient) nation.

Karina made the comment that there’s so many awe inspiring statues everywhere that you almost feel like you’re walking on a chess board with these huge figures looming over you.

Continuing our theme of doing little research when we arrive, we stumbled past Mother Theresa’s Memorial House. I think this intriuging building sums up the eclectic nature of Skopje’s attempt to memorialise everything in architecture. Mother Theresa was born in Skopje and lived here from 1910–1928. The memorial house was built in 2008 on the grounds of the church that she was baptised in and beyond being an “artistic rendition of her child home” bears no actual connection to Mother Theresa at all. I believe it houses a museum now.

Let’s not get started on Alexander the Great, whose statues are both impressive and dotted around in a few places in Skopje. While it’s indisputable that North Macedonia was part of ancient Macedonia, it’s really on 1/3 of it, 2/3rds of which is still in modern Greece. Alexander was tutored by Aristotle himself and led the Corinthian League amongst other things. While Skopje and North Macedonia have every right to claim him a little bit, perhaps that little bit would more accurately be at 1/3 of the size to which the statue they built in the middle of the town square dominates the city.

The fortress which sits immaculately over seeing the city, is completely rebuilt — it was destroyed in the 1963 earthquake. Kudos to them for rebuilding and restoring it, but artistic license was taken reverting it several hundred years in time to a more aesthetic version.

The fortress is lovely, despite being an interpretation of itself…

And then there are the moments that are either inspired, or absurd. Perhaps a little bit of both. It all depends on how you feel about brutalist architecture. Karina and I, both fans of mid-century modern tend to be fans. Brutalism is really a reaction to the over design of buildings in the past, no need for fancy frills, a cherub here, a gargoyle there. It’s stripping the building down to its core parts and letting its form and function dictate its place in the world.

So we were delighted to stumble upon the Skopje Post Office which is a famous brutalist building. Built by the Macedonian Architect Janko Konstantinov he wanted an iconic building to replace the Post Office destroyed in the 1963 earthquake. When we were in Chicago on the city architecture tour, they spoke a lot about how good architects and their buildings respond to the environment around them. The post office is an amazing example of this, its tower structures reflecting the towers and walls of the fortress opposite — mimicking and yet defining its own space too.

Karina is more eagle eyed than I and noted the lions astride the bridge leading across the river connecting the Post Office and the fortress to each other. Facing away from the Post Office, the lions are very classical in form, but when you stand on the fortress side of the river looking towards the Post Office, they are modernist, angular interpretations. It’s small touches like this which help bind the disparate buildings together and make for an intriguing city to discover.

We had a lovely dinner at a local restaurant. This was a pork stew in pastry that was rather larger than I expected! Tasty though.

Skopje is apparently undergoing yet another period of “great building” — a huge tower is going up on a hill, new buildings are going up in the main square and it will be fascinating to see how it develops. From a place that was just a stopover for the night, it’s somewhere we’d definitely like to return to and explore some more in the future.

Today we’ll continue from Skopje up to Sofia in Bulgaria and then tomorrow, we’ll be handing Rada over to the people who will arrange the sale for us. It’s a sad farewell, it’s been fun having a car again of our own. Karina has been telling everyone that next time she’s getting involved in the purchase however. We’ve had enough of “quirky” (those who have known me a long time, will know I’ve also owned 2 Mini Mokes and a Mini Cooper S in my past). Karina says next time it’s something sensible — like a Maserati. I can get behind (the wheel of) that!

We’ll be back in Tivat, Montenegro on Monday night and it’s then continuing the prep and getting ready to head off. The count down is on and the season starting is just around the corner!

Until next time.

Tim & Karina