It is 2018. Things have never been so good for LGBT people. Gay people can travel anywhere in the world without fear of violence or discrimination. Really? Not on my planet.
Good countries for Gay people to travel in
LGBT rights have improved a lot over the last few years but really it is still concentrated in a few areas. Western Europe. Australia and New Zeland. Canada and parts of the U.S.A. Places such as Argentia, Chile and Brazil in South America. My own country Ireland recently became the first country in the world to approve of same-sex marriage by popular vote. Then there is Spain. Spain where I lived for 4 years. I love the Spanish mentality on sexual preference and of sex in general. Really they don’t give a fuck. Sex is part of everyday so whats to discuss is the general attitude.
Even in the more enlighted countries, there are just pockets where LGBT people can mix with other LGBT people. Mostly the cities. If you are in a rural area it is not like you go down to the village to have a pint in the local gay bar. Coming out in these and all other areas is still a traumatic event.
I hear that some people are saying some young people are now choosing to be gay as part of a lifestyle choice. God if they only knew the process of coming to accept you are different from the majority’s sexuality. I have yet to meet a person that opened a bottle of champagne when they accepted they were gay. The reality is a lot darker than that.
Alexander the Great Statute Skopje
Anyone that knows me will tell you I don’t make a big deal about being a gay man but it is a big part of who I am. For too many years I denied it which I regret a lot but now I am very comfortable with that part of me these days. Life is not perfect but its better. The truth sets you free.
I have travelled to a good few countries now. I think I am in the low 30s in counties visited. Even though it is not the main priority for me I do try to visit a gay bar when I am in a new country. Last year I checked out a gay club in Havana run by the state in communist Cuba. They had a full show of dancers and singers for 3 euro. A bit surreal but interesting. In Hanoi’s only gay bar I got speaking to a Philipino guy that worked with a PR company for 10 years in Hanoi. I asked him what was the biggest change he had seen in Vietnam in that 10years. That is easy he said. The guys are using a lot more face creams. After a period of silence, I replied yes, that is what I thought it would be.
When you are a young gay person before you come to terms with it you develop a sense for knowing if it may not be wise to say it to some other people. It is an instinct. A survival mechanism. We call it our gaydar. We can also a lot of the times tell if another person is gay without them saying it but too much beer can distort the gaydar.
Not so good countries for gay people to travel in
There are still many counties such as Russia, A lot of Africa and the middle east where being an LGBT person can mean imprisonment or worse. Even certain states in the U.S can be a risky travel option. There are still 10 countries that have the death penalty for being gay. Now that I have been in Eastern Europe for a while now while it is not as bad as some places being LGBT carries risks.
In Sofia Bulgaria, I overheard homophobic conversations. I saw some slogans on peoples t-shirts that would make you think you are in the 1930s. I have to qualify this was a minority but it was something I was not used to. I did not visit any Gay bar in Sofia. I had seen one online but it looked a bit dressy for me and I did not fancy ironing my long pants and shirt. One day I passed it and I recognised the name. It was daytime so it was closed. I was taken aback by the door to the club. Big heavy strong metal with numerous locks. I knew it was not to keep the people on the outside safe.
Gay Skopje Macedonia
In Skopje Macedonia, I cannot see an active Gay bar online. There are over 500000 people here. They reckon that 10% of the population of the world are LGBT. That 10% knows no borders or cultures. It does not recognise the countries where it is illegal. Illegal or not it is still 10%. I have to say that Skopje has the feel of a more relaxed city. The people here seem chilled out.
So when you are a gay solo traveller you need to pick your battles. When I was been interrogated by a Bulgarian Nazi skinheads after I stumbled into their bar in Sofia did I tell them I was Gay? You can bet my life I did not. I activated my emergency family. A divorced wife and grown up working kids.
It is called survival and instinct. It is called Gaydar. Travel is great. It definitely broadens the mind to see other cultures but for LGBT people you have to be aware of where you are and who you are talking to. Things are better but dangers still exist. I am sure it is much the same for solo female travellers also.
Skopje City Center
So where is Skopje? Skopje is the capital of Macedonia and I have to say it has surprised me a lot since my arrival. The heart of the city has gone under a massive transformation under a programme that began in 2010 called Skopje 2014. The cost of sprucing up the centre from its communist days to a new look was to cost 80 million euro. By 2017 close to 700 million has been spent and it looks it will cost more. Governments come and governments go and an investigation by a new government showed that one company won over 1/3 of all the projects. Also, designers of the many buildings and the many statues in Skopje were well paid. Investigations have also shown connections between politicians and companies awarded construction work and artists submitting unchecked expenses of up to 300,000 euro.
Now Macedonia is one of Europes poorest countries so Skopje 2014 is a highly controversial topic I am sure. In the meantime, the real winners are visitors to the city.
What to do in Skopje
I would highly recommend a visit to this city. I think it would be ideal for a short city break. Since the revamp the city is now full of cool bars and all types of restaurants.
Macedonia square and Alexander the great statue
The heart of the city is Macedonia square where the massive imposing statue of Alexander takes centre stage. As with all things connected with project Skopje 2014 it is not without controversy. Erected in 2011 it was always going to upset Greece as Alexander was born in Greek Macedonia. Critics of the former government that has been accused of corruption and of been authoritarian that approved the statue have suggested the statue be taken down. Well as of August 2018 I can verify it is still there. Taking out the politics I hope it stays there. It looks nice.
The Stone Bridge Skopje
The Stone bridge Skopje connects Macedonia square to the old bazaar over the river Vardar. It was built during the Otterman empire time by Sultan Murat II in 1451. It was damaged in 1555 by the great earthquake. Also in 1944 the Germans had placed explosives on the bridge and were persuaded in the last minute not to destroy the bridge.
Old Bazaar Skopje History
Crossing the Stone bridge to the Old Bazaar in Skopje is like going back in history in a few minutes. It has a mainly Turkish vibe to it. I am sure most of the Turkish people have been here since the Turkish Ottoman empire ruled Macedonia. I have visited a good few Bazaars now and some have been good and some bad. Some dirty some very clean. Some selling good stuff and a lot selling junk. I have to say I liked the Old Bazaar in Skopje. It had a happy medium. They seemed to have invested in the area and it is very walkable. There is a good selection of places to eat or have a coffee or a beer. Also, there is a street full of jewellers. I saw a lot of locals shopping there but the usual tourist junk also. I liked it.
From Beer to Eternity
After the shock of paying 2.27 for a pint of beer on my arrival in Skopje Macedonia, I have made some ground back. I just paid 70 Denar for a beer. That is 1.30 euro. Ok, the establishment left a lot to be desired. Would I go there again? Knowing me yes but not after dark. I pulled the leaver on my beer time machine and I have gone back again from June 1983 to late 1982 Ireland
The last cigar
It has been over 10 years since I gave up cigarettes. Back in November, I spent a month in Cuba. When in Cuba I did indulge in their cigars. When I returned to Las Palmas I continued. The Canary Island of La Palma produces very cheap cigars. You can get 50 for a fiver. I went upmarket and got 25 for a fiver. I used to enjoy a daily cigar with my morning coffee in Plaza de Espana. Then 1 became 2 and if I have a beer it became 3 and 4. When I left Gran Canaria I stocked up with 100 cigars. Last night I had number 100. I am now going to take this opportunity to quit again. Don’t be surprised if my blog gets a bit angry for a while.
This weekend I am going to pop into Prizren in Kosovo for the weekend. It is only about 100km away. Another country I can take off my must-visit list. More about Kosovo next week.
This week exciting video is a quick look around my apartment in Skopje. To check it out click here.
Another blog I like reading is this one about a gay married couple travelling the world. Nomadic Matt
Join me on my journey.
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