Bus-ing Round the Balkans travel blog





Supposedly it's illegal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet here. A rule, I had read, which is actually enforced. Maybe someone didn't tell the Macedonians that? I gawp in horror as a young man barrels down the road outside my hotel on his motorbike. No helmet. Not the first time, but still shocks me.

I'm sitting on the wall outside my hotel waiting for my taxi to arrive. For some reason I chose a hotel located as far out of town as it possibly could be, and I'm not up for walking into town in this heat. So it's a good job the taxi fare into town is little more than £1. My budget can accommodate that.

After an hour walking around Bitola, I start trying to remember why it was I decided to include it on my trip. Nothing is coming to mind.

There's nothing horribly wrong with Bitola - and it's no Skopje - but there's nothing particularly interesting here either. It's a bit run down in places, smashed windows in empty buildings. I end up at the park at the end of pedestrianised Sirok Sokak, and spend a while there people watching.

Back up the other end of the street an hour or so later and I can hear music. Further investigation reveals two men in the park by the Ottoman clock tower - one on a drum, the other a clarinet - exuberantly making as much noise as possible. In fairness they do play well.

I watch for a while, slightly bemused if I'm totally honest, and then grab a taxi for the return trip to my hotel. Once we set off the driver asks me if I understand French (in French, naturally) and I answer that I do, a little. Thereafter follows a very stilted conversation as he asks me where I'm from and about my time in Macedonia.

Now, it's been over 4 years since my last trip to South America, and yet everytime I venture to a country where English isn't the lingua franca my brain still reverts to Spanish. This despite the fact that my Spanish has been woefully neglected since I started my accountancy training in 2006 (scary).

My French has been neglected slightly longer, but I managed to have, albeit fairly simple, conversations in French at the Moot in Canada last year. So it's a little embarrassing to hear Spanish spilling out of my mouth every time I attempt to answer the driver's questions! Flustered, I can't remember the French versions of my Spanish answers fast enough, so my (non Spanish) half of the conversation mostly consists of "oui" and "non".

He asks me what I think of Macedonia. I begin answering, in Spanish. I catch myself and try to think of the French for what I was saying. My brain offers up "je t'aime". I decide against this. If you don't know somebody's name it's probably not the right time to declare your love for them.

Back at my hotel and there seems to be some kind of dog choir rehearsal going on nearby this evening. What they lack in melody they certainly make up for with enthusiasm - and volume. Admiring their perseverance I leave my window open and listen; they certainly seem to have a strong membership.

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