I still believe that the greatest gift we have is travel, the strongest appetite is learning and the virtue to be admired most is curiosity... I'm here in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Perhaps other than the outdated and ironic countries which cling to the farce of "Democratic Republic of ..." this is probably the only country that is so explicitly named and therefore defined by what it was and now isn't.

I'm staying in a very small town a few kilometres from the airport in Skopje - the roads are unkempt, small, often single width, frequently pitted and potted with holes and the dominant atmosphere is slumber. To be fair I have arrived on a Sunday in August. I remind myself that even central London is relatively quiet on a Sunday in August, versus the peak of tourist July or school returning September.

Virtually everyone I have met before travelling has never been to FYR Macedonia. Indeed, even my travelled, global and intrepid Balkan-loving friend, Yuan confessed last night, it was the only Balkan state he has not visited.

So where precisely am I?

The FYR of Macedonia is the middle of no-where, the crossroads to and from somewhere else, defined by what country or culture it once was dominated by and even its airport. That person - Alexander the Great - arguably never really knew this land and indeed his very legacy here today is dominated by assertion, assumption and lack of knowledge.

I am here for a conference hosted by the International Association for Religious Freedom... at first glance that might be a campaign from bible belt America. I'm delighted to say that this a conference about shared understanding, about tolerance and about dissent. We will be discussing and sharing our knowledge from communities that have emerged post-conflict and whose cultures are now at risk of being lost. Check out: www.iarf.net

I am in the Macedonia city of Tetovo, in the north west of the county, the river Pena sweeps through it with its cold mountain waters and the whole town has the air of sitting in the palm of the mountain range.

Indeed, as we awoke yesterday the mountain range was rising up high behind us, but coming down upon us was the dank hanging mist of looming rain. This gave a somewhat mystical air to where we are - finding the foot of the mountain is itself an imprecise science and being unable to see the tops created an aura of invincibility. It was therefore entirely proper that we spent much of the day seeing and walking in the places of worship.

One of the features most evident here in Skopje and Tetovo is that of building. New houses going up, older houses often coming down and the emergence of a new shiny yet tatty pride.

As I walk, explore, take an early morning exploration, a late night stroll, it is clear to me that the country I want to find is off the main streets. Indeed, in some respects it goes further, the old is treasured beyond compare and yet there is a lack of visible understanding of what the future might enjoy.

It was lunchtime so I took a break from the Conference and walked into town. Our hotel here in Tetovo is on the edge of town, but it's a very short walk. But when you are in a new town and trying to get your bearings you take your time, looking around, looking up and pausing and even walking up roads off the main drag to explore.

It occurred to me that as a traveller attending a conference, I am effectively a tourist. As I walk down the street in my jeans, t-shirt, cap and clutching my camera I must stand out. Most people don't react or bat an eyelid, but some clock that I am 'not from these parts'. When I then wander into a mosque, a church, a shop - occasionally you get stopped and asked - in the local language - why you are there and if they can help. Inevitably I can just about understand the greeting or the challenge, and demonstrate that I only speak English. The reaction is variable but usually very warm.