On Wednesday, June 29th, nine hours, 250 kilometres, and about 60 Euros after waking up in Thessalonki, I got into the room at the hostel in Macedonia (that is to say, Skopje, in “North Macedonia,” according to Uncle) where I was supposed to be. The lack of a reservation was a mere glitch soon managed, and although I was first put into a room with an air conditioner that featured a Chinese water torture effect whether on high or low or switched off, I soon asked for, and was given, a different room. Furthermore it had only two beds and no other occupant would come for the two nights I was there! (I Occasionally Lead a Charmed Life Dept.)

My first meal of the day (other than the poor pizza) was at the white-tableclothed open-air restaurant in front of the hostel, where I had a gorgeous “Skopje Salad” made of possibly the best tomatoes I’ve ever had (sorry, New Jersey!), lovely crisp juicy cucumbers, and heaps of grated soft salty unidentifiable cheese. After a few days of airport/airline food, this meal was rehydration and nutritional manna. I also unfortunately ordered french fried with cheese, which was a nutritional and sodium disaster, but I didn’t eat so much of that and the total bill including fizzy water and the view was about $4.00 US. I was also drinking a lot of the hotel water, which was a pleasure after the place in Thessaloniki where Twin #1 had told me I could “do anything” in the bathroom – e.g., shower, bathe, wash – but not drink the water, “because it is very dirty.” He didn’t have to tell me twice.

In Skopje I could do everything in the bathroom except move. It was the smallest bathroom I have ever seen INCLUDING the head in my private stateroom (itself the size of a pantry) on the Chinese engineering vessel. On the ship, the toilet stall housed not only the toilet and sink but also the shower. This bathroom in the hostel was smaller than that.

The shower stall was so extremely tiny that if it had had doors I could not have fit in. (Note: in the hotel in Thessaloniki, I literally had to squeeze sideways to get in between the doors.) This one was smaller, but it forgivingly had a curtain instead of doors. The total floor space inside the shower cubicle was four tiles square – two across two down. Around the bottom was a tiled dividing wall about a foot high, to keep the water inside– or so I thought. But I was wrong.

Although the wall surrounded my ankles and formed a kind of psychological illusion of sanitation and privacy, it did not enclose the water; nor was it designed to do so. The wall had a large hole in one side, at the bottom, for the water to flow out of, so that it went all over the bathroom floor. A small drain was located near the base of the shower, not far from the egress point, and some of the water did find its way down the drain, but most of my shower water ended up washing the floor of the bathroom. If I had not bathed hastily it would also have spread into the bedroom and beyond.

Once clean and once I’d mopped up the mess with my towel, I slept like an innocent in my narrow and uncomfy bed. I woke and went to breakfast (two eggs and the worst “cup of tea” I’ve ever tasted) full of plans to go to the tourism office and acquaint myself with the PR authorities for the entire nation of Macedonia, but in fact I slept and ate and did email all day.

On doing email in the Skopje youth hostel: 

There was nowhere to sit in my room except on the beds, so I used the foyer of the hostel to check my email and make some notes. You’d think that having free wifi (e.g. broadband wireless internet access) would make such an exercise simple, but you’d be wrong.

First I had to plug in my notebook because its battery was flat. I bought the Acer about 14 months ago in Australia, and with it I got a special plug device that allows one to position the large plug horizontally or vertically in any (Australian) outlet. This seemed a useful device and I attached it as soon as I opened the computer box. However, I never knew and still don’t understand how to unlock the device it so that the position can be changed, and it is  large and moderately heavy, so its overall effect has been limiting rather than liberating.

The plug and its added feature are made only for Australian outlets, and as I am no longer in Australia, I had brought with me both the Australian-American adapter and a universal adapter that I bought on Ebay and which arrived the day before I was to leave the USA.

So, on my first morning in Skopje, I had the notebook (small and light, about 3/4 the size of a laptop), and a combination of plugs/adapters which combined were about the size and weight of a large stapler. I had no idea how to use my shiny new international adapter, which apparently can connect an Aleutian accordion to a Zulu bugzapper, but which did not come with instructions of any kind.

There was only one outlet in my room, and it was much too close to the wet floor and walls for my comfort. Also, I once, in Germany, fried my American hairdryer by plugging it into an outlet that it fit into perfectly. The hairdryer worked fantastically for about 4 seconds before it exploded and black smoke wafted up from the heating element. My hair was dry that morning but it never again got dry the whole winter I lived in Germany.

Not wishing to drown or fry my computer — now my home, friendship circle, and office in one — I went to the only public room of the hostel, which was the foyer, and looked for an outlet. There was only one: a round recessed area with two holes in it, by the front door. I didn’t see any way to fit my adapter into it so,   being a savvy traveller, I decided to look for a young person to fix the situation for me.

The hostel warden was outside smoking, and the maid didn’t speak enough English to help me, so I tapped on the open door of an office with a man in a suit inside. I said, “Do you speak English?”

“Yes!” he beamed.

“Oh good,” I said. “I have this computer – is there a young person around? Maybe a young man, maybe under 30? You know how they always know how to do computer stuff?” This was admittedly a rather sexist (and ageist!) request, but I didn’t think about that much.

“Yes!” he exclaimed. He stood up and came towards me, in the manner of a person passing by to go outside and find a competent, English speaking IT geek, perhaps from Pakistan or Dublin. But instead of leaving the room, he stopped and put out his hand for my adapter.

“Oh!” I said. “Do YOU know how to use it?”

“Yes,” he muttered, looking importantly at the device and tapping it.

“See, this is the side for the American plug,” I said. “Is this one the part for Macedonia?”

“Yes,” he said.  He led me outside to the foyer and looked not for a young person but apparently for an outlet.  I showed him the one by the front door.

He pointed to the outlet, to the adapter, and to my computer plug. He demonstrated to me that one must go into the other and that one into the wall socket. And then he left, smiling and saying, “Yes” all the way.

Next time:  Prue and the Village Harmonizers: the trip begins!