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Macedonia, January 26, 2007

My Swiss Miss Advertising Love in Zurich

Heidi is why I am a transit foamer

i miss you, heidi
Still in my digital heart
On my long flight back from Macedonia to Washington DC, I transferred through Zürich International Airport (ZRH) in Kloten, Switzerland. There, as I took the driverless train from one international terminal to another, I fell in love.

Yes, I lost my heart on an underground people mover.

Blowing me a kiss from the other side of moving glass and steel was Heidi, my Swiss love. Calling to me, to my soul, to my tourist dollar, was an advertising beauty you must see to believe:

Now isn't that a metro rail tunnel advertisement you wish you had on the Tube, Subway, or WMATA? And now you know why I am a transit foamer.

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Macedonia, January 25, 2007

Business Tripping With the Boss

With this foray across Macedonia added to our sojourn to Lebanon, I've now business tripped twice with my boss, Tarek. And I have to say I like traveling with him. He's a very relaxed yet organized traveler. He's flown enough to have his routine down, he gives me space to do my own thing, and maybe best of all, we don't sit near each other on long flights.

But it's more than that, for Tarek is amazing to watch in-country. While I may seem to meet people everywhere and make friends easy, I am still junior varsity compared with his professional social skills. He makes connections, business connections, with a practiced skill.

In meetings with local people, be they Lebanese lawyers telling dirty jokes, Macedonians offering ouzo toasts at 10am, or clueless Americans trying to bluff, Tarek never looses his cool. He's precise, diplomatic, professional. And I love watching him work.

Continue reading "Business Tripping With the Boss"

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My Anti-Jet Lag Drug Cocktail

In the book Pattern Recognition the main character put forth the idea that your soul only travels at human speed. So when you take a cross-Atlantic trip, jet lag is really the body trying to function in absence of your soul, which is slowly making its way to you at its own pace.

While that's not medically true, I can appreciate the idea as my body tries to adjust to a six hour time change yet again. But the adjustment is actually rather mild, like the last few I've done.

Now it's not because I am getting any younger, or somehow found a body Zen where I can adapt instantly. I may travel a lot, but not that much. No, I've just found better living through chemistry.

Continue reading "My Anti-Jet Lag Drug Cocktail"

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Macedonia, January 24, 2007

Freestyle Vlogging From Downtown Skopje

Might you wonder what its like to stand in Skopje's central square? The open space at the center of town where everyone meets, greets, and begins their social scene for the weekend?

Luckily, during my hectic scrambling from one meeting to another with Eight Shoe Sue, I paused in Macedonia Plaza long enough to give you a taste of urban living in Southern Europe. From this plaza, famous for the Stone Bridge over the Vardar River, where you can have a noon-time epiphany, a myriad of walking streets spiral off in every direction.

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Macedonia, January 23, 2007

My Geek Dating Life Revealed

As a professional geek, an uber-geek even, and the Director of WiFi addiction, influences the way I interact with the fairer sex.

But just how might my geekdom affect my dating life? Listen to my interview with Free Software Macedonia geeks, and learn:

Continue reading "My Geek Dating Life Revealed"

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Macedonia, January 22, 2007

Be Quiet in Sveti Jovan at Kaneo

It's so quiet, I can hear people talking father up the hill. I strain to tune them out. Why? Because I am sitting on the precipice of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo, a tiny, beautiful 13th Century Orthodox Church perched on a cliff overlooking Lake Ohrid.

This location is spiritual even if you are an Atheist. Protruding out into the air above the tectonic lake, it unites man with nature in ways few places can. And brings you back to the struggles man has with her when from the left you hear church bells , while from the right, an imam's call to noon prayer.

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Macedonia, January 21, 2007

Oh Yeah, Let's Go Lake Ohrid

It is a beautiful Al Gore Spring day in Macedonia and what better day-trip than a drive to the fabled Lake Ohrid. This tectonic lake is mentioned so often by Macedonians as the greatest tourist destination in the country that you start to wonder if there are any other destinations.

You also start to wonder if Lake Ohrid might be suffering from the over-hype common in small countries with not much going for them. Or in countries who might have the best in the region, but when compared on a global basis, pale.

The beaches of Yalta and Nungwe are the best two examples I can give. Both are over-hyped in their respective countries mainly because they are the best in the region. On a global basis, both are quite lacking.

Continue reading "Oh Yeah, Let's Go Lake Ohrid"

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Macedonia, January 20, 2007

Al Gore Spring: Sunny Days in January

I am here a T-club, a too-hip outdoor café on Macedonia Boulevard, the see and be seen walking street in Skopje, and they should change the café's name to T-shirt for it's that warm today.

Do not tell me this is January, or that I should be shivering in wool and leather. Global warming is here and the Europeans, with their quick wit, are already calling warm winter days an "Al Gore Spring" after his movie.

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Macedonia, January 19, 2007

Hello From A Smoking Hell

Over the past year, I've eagerly awaited Washington DC's approaching non-smoking legislation. Smoke Free DC makes all indoor spaces, even bars and restaurants, smoke free establishments. Smokers are relegated to the streets, like the social lepers they are.

But before I could truly enjoy the wondrous clean air of a burning tobacco free city, I was hustled off to Macedonia and into my own personal hell. A thick, stinky hell of chain smokers.

See these two guys at the left? They sat next to me at a big table of people and chain smoked the entire party. And they were not alone. Seemingly, the entire country chain smoked. And I'm not talking about a cigarette here or there, or maybe two or three a day.

Continue reading "Hello From A Smoking Hell"

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Macedonia, January 18, 2007

Want a Social Life in Skopje? Live Alone!

In America, its odd to be living at home after you graduate from college. You better have a damn good explanation if you're still eating Mom's cooking if you're old enough to drink her under the table.

Not so in many parts of the world. In many countries, and not just the religiously conservative states, children are expected to live at home until they are married. Sometimes even after that.

When talking with such people, they often cite economic reasons for still living at home. Reasons I think are bunk. I've gone over the math with them, and yes, the numbers prove me right - they could afford to live alone, or with housemates, if they so desired.

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Macedonia, January 17, 2007

A Noon-Time Epiphany

Are you religious? Or as least Biblically learned? Then, do you know what a "epiphany" is? I had no clue until noon today. That's when I found out it was a Macedonian Orthodox Christian celebration in memory of the day Jesus was baptized.

In Macedonian its called "Bogojavlenie Vodici" and there was an entire procession from the city's main Orthodox Christian church to the Stone Bridge over the River Vardar where the cold, muddy waters were blessed by the priest for at least an hour.

Now, ordinarily, I would've passed such a service right by without a thought, and so would many other Skopje citizens. But this was no ordinary blessing. At the conclusion of the oration, the high priest tossed the blessing cross into the rushing river.

Continue reading "A Noon-Time Epiphany"

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Macedonia, January 16, 2007

Seriously Masticate a Macedonian Sandwich

Are you hungry? And I am not talking about a "I might like something" hungry. I am talking about a "I missed breakfast, crazy busy day, and its now 3pm and I am starving" kinda hunger.

If you're stomach is in knots with emptiness, feeding upon itself to give you strength, then it might just be time for you to experience a Macedonian sandwich. And this ain't no White Castle. This is serious man-wich!

First off, don't dare think you'll find a real Macedonian sandwich at some sit-down restaurant, or, heaven forbid, a fast food chain. No, you'll only find this gastronomical delight in little hide-aways.

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Macedonia, January 15, 2007

Hold On! It's a Skopje Taxi Ride

When I travel for business, I need to get to meetings fast. Meetings that can be across town or across a (small) country. Often, taxi drivers have a much different view of driving than you or I might.

Traffic rules are flexible, lanes are fluid, and cops are irrelevant in more places and ways than you can imagine. And I have the hardest time conveying both the speed and agility in which they drive and my paradoxically calm nature when zipping across a city on a Thai motorcycle taxi for example.

Here in Skopje, taxis are a little less insane in their lane jumping rush to earn my $1-2 per ride. But don't think it's a calm drive. Better yet, live a few moments of a taxi ride I took this week with this short backseat video of the experience.

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Macedonia, January 14, 2007

You can Always Pass on Prishtina

Back when I lived in Russia, Kosovo was big news. The Russians were really pissed off that NATO was bombing Serbia for its actions in the Serbian province of Kosovo. The Serbs were trying to drive out ethnic Albanians, usually Muslims, in favor of ethnic Serbs, usually Orthodox Christians.

This would make Kosovo, a historic center of unrest, more palatable to direct rule from Belgrade. It also parallels Russia's ageless problems with Chechnya. There, ethnic Muslims have historically fought against Moscow's Orthodox Christian rule.

NATO would have none of that though, and bombed Belgrade to convince Slobodan Milosevic that he should let Kosovo become and independent country. Only Americans would think this anything but a dangerous precedent. Europe is filled with concentrated minorities that all want independence, mainly on religious or ethnic lines. Kosovo is a perfect example.

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Macedonia, January 11, 2007

How Many Shoes Do you Travel With?

As you already know, I never check my bags. I even go to great lengths to outfox baggage Nazis. Because I refuse to check my luggage, I pack light, very light. In fact, I only pack a carry on bag, no matter the length of the trip.

My view is that after a week's worth of clothes, which is essentially three full outfits that can be mixed and matched to make seven, you can always wash it all and start the next week fresh. So there is no need to pack more if you’re on a longer trip.

But I am not a woman, and more importantly, I am not my co-worker Sue.

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Macedonia, January 10, 2007

Macedonia: A Russian Waltz Down Memory Lane

Stepping off the plane in Skopje, Macedonia, I get a feeling o déjà vu. A feeling I've been here before, though I know I haven't. My parents came through here in the time of Tito, but that was years before my birth.

Still, I could not shake the feeling of déjà vu. It was so strong, I felt I was having an out-of-body experience, until I realized what was happening. I was time-warping and place-shifting myself back to Russia, circa 1999.

The signs in Cyrillic that I could read like they were in English. The language, which spoken slowly sounds way close to Russian. The people, they even look and act Russian. And of course they do, they are Slavs, just like the Russians.

But this is not Russia. This is Macedonia.

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