I spent half of the day today working on my bike and my shirt. Lots of Gooping, lots of cleaning and lubrication, and the other half observing, taking pictures and doing a little shopping for the bike. It took me a lot of walking to find a 'bike shop' in Prilep. Since lots of people ride bikes here, and quite a few of them have derailleurs, I knew there had to be some place to buy a derailleur cable. The place I found is about the size of a deep walk-in closet. There was room for one customer at a time to go in, and the owner could reach all of his stock - quite a lot of stock with no more than two steps.
I got this cable to replace my spare cable than I used on my way to Serres, Greece. I was climbing a lot of hills and doing a lot of shifting that day, and I noticed that my shifts were getting sloppy. Bad sign that! At the top of a hill less than 20 km for Serres, my rear derailleur cable broke when I tried to shift out of biggest cog.
I coasted down the hill till I found a good place to work on the bike, pulled over into shaded area with a nice wall where I could lean the bike, and replaced the cable. Barcons make cable replacement a little more of a pain than with downtube shifters, but the only real problem was that, because I couldn't make a really clean cut with my Leatherman tool, I was unable to get the last fancy seal ferrule on the casing at the derailleur. Just now, I interrupted writing this to do a more careful cut and I got that ferrule on. Life is good!
While I was looking for a place to buy the replacement cable, I got to see a lot of the center of Prilep. Prilep is a big town - 100,000 people - but not an important tourist town so I was probably the only American wandering its streets today. I think that very few of the people I saw today were from anywhere other than Prilep. I|saw mostly Macedonians, but also some Roma and some non-Macedonian looking Slavs, probably Serbs. I saw one woman who was dressed as a muslim. She was in truck cab in 'normal' dress, but when she got out she covered her hair in Muslim fashion and put on a ground length garment that covered her clothes.
There have been human settlement here for more than 5000 years. Since Macedonia is right in the middle of where the Roman - Greek - Islamic - European cultures have clashed, it has a long history of conflict. Prilep, as a city, really started under the Ottoman Empire. It later became Orthdox Christian with Slavic folk moving here from the north. It spent five hundred years being tossed around between the Ottoman Empire, Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria. Only under Tito's Yugoslavian did it become an 'independent' republic. Only in 1992 did it really become free, but a lot of old baggage, especially with regard to Greece's claim to the name Macedonia, still cause it political problems.
Prilep is a relatively prosperous town. There is a large marble quarry - now run by a Greek company - up at that pass I rode over yesterday. It produces very fine marble. Tobbaco is another major industry here, as is a big food processing plant. Still, this is Macedonia, and Prilep feels like a poor Eastern European city.
Cars are old, and ther aren't a lot of them. Buses are are also old, and there are a lot of them. Taxis a important part of the transportation mix here, as are bicycles and small motor scooters and mopeds. Walking is the major mode of transportation and, in town, lots of goods are moved by hand or hand cart. There are some horse drawn vehicles, but not as many as in Bulgaria and not nearly as many as in Romania.
The center of town is marked by a large clock tower - built in 1858 with a, much newer - fountain at is base. The base of the other side of this clock tower also has a fountain. A much older fountain. It was the foot washing fountain for the mosque that lies in ruins behind the fountain. I assume the ruined mosque predates the clock tower by several centuries. Its minaret is broken off, but still sticks up higher than most of the buildings in Prelep. I saw another, non-broken, minaret by a small domed mosque near where I am staying in the south part of town, but that mosque is also obviously non-functional. Macedonia did not have a happy relationship with the Ottoman Empire and there is still a lot of resentment that it was 'held back' by Turkey.
It is no longer being held back, and the downtown area shows a heavy American influence. The juxtaposition of our culture, the older communist culture, and the still older traditional cultures is fun. I enjoyed immersing myself in it for several hours. I walked miles and sat and watched people and ate lunch at a place that served me about half a pound of meat, a lot of good bread, some french fries, a small salad and a mug of beer for about two dollars.