When traveling, I always feel obligated to go to museums, after all, who would think of leaving Rome without seeing the Sistine Chapel. But after hours exploring magnificent exhibitions, endless rows of priceless statues, tapestries and paintings, I start to …. gosh I haven’t been this bored since age six waiting for the end of summer vacation. The guide shovels information into my shrinking head and it falls right off on the other side. Museums make me sleepy, they are hushed, dark and brooding with the air conditioner always set to body temperature. In the History museum in Bulgaria I was looking at a seven thousand year old skeleton thinking that it couldn’t possibly be right. It must have been last month’s visitor who asphyxiated in the airless rooms, her last thoughts “just let me sleep, just let me sleep….”
but as soon as I am out…with oxygen in my brain I feel alive again, ready to boast to everybody that yes, I went to the municipal museum of Skopje in the Republic of Macedonia and anyone who didn’t go is really missing out.
The museums may show the county’s past but its heart is in the outdoor markets, not hidden behind a glass display case. It is here the senses come alive with the prodigal harvest of summer. Stalls are stocked with freshly grown or locally made products; fresh fruits and vegetables, wild herbs for tea, homemade yogurt in recycled soft drink bottles, jars of pickled grape leaves, white beans the color of ivory and rows of imported Greek olives. With produce this beautiful just imagine what can be made from it, dishes that are nothing less than incredible.
But sadly what is served in many road side eateries in Macedonia is surprisingly lacking in flair. The menu consists mainly of grilled meats called sklara, spongy pizzas and a few salads. There is a limit to how much kebab one can eat, and when yet another waiter recommended their kebabchichi, we looked at each other and thought this has got to stop. Traditional food is made at home by mothers and grandmothers, and not something the local’s would go out to eat. When we did happen upon homemade cooking it was flavorful, rich and wholesome. Reason enough to postpone our travels just to have another meal. (I have yet to post about the food from Svetko’s kitchen)
Although Macedonia is a small country is contains a variety of climatic zones suitable for growing a wide range of agricultural products. The southwest, covered with vineyards reminded me of Tuscany, cheese is produced in the alpine north- west, apples and plums are grown in the plains of the central area and the hardy white beans throughout. Beekeepers have decorated the country with their colorful blue hives, producing sweet gold in sunset hues, each with its own flavor profile. Many families supplement their food with large, well tended vegetable gardens. Some of it will be eaten fresh while the surplus will be dried, canned or pickled, to be eaten at home or sold. These jars of summertime are the most flavorful of all.