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 Perhaps other than the outdated and ironic countries which cling to the farce of "Democratic Republic of ..."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.

But here, the slumber feels deep and maintained. I relax in my room - my view being the nearby farm shed amidst fields, and my corridor silent with still empty rooms. My first walk of the trip is, on advice, to turn right out of the hotel and walk and keep walking - "you will soon find the shops."

Accordingly, I walk out of the Hotel Livija and turn left - and the greeting is bold, captivating and photographic. The sun is setting and the deep anger and wrath of a burning summer sun gives the impression that the very clouds have been lit and are smouldering like deep embers in a dying fire. The photograph secured, I take the advice and turn left.

The road is straight and it appears to be long with little to mark it out... Houses are set back some 30-40 yards, there is a small ditch or drain to the front of each property and large round concrete pipes have enabled a drive to be built and an aging car to be parked there. At first my assumptions and judgements takes over and I see little of note and nothing to interest me - I will keep walking to find more something of greater note.

But as I walk, and as the natural light drops I realise that what has settled besides me on the road is a natural and raw insight into what comprises rural Macedonia today, and indeed has always. At the nearby Supermarket, with its wire shutters, sparse table and chairs and piles of bottled water and mixed deliveries of beers - I sit, down with my just ordered beer and chat to my new best friend Ivan.

"Macedonia," Ivan tells me, "has always been limited in wealth by its geographic location as a crossroads of east and west" (ever the opportunity and curse of the Balkans). "It has extreme wealth and extreme poverty and it affected by what it sees and what lays around it."

Along the straight and at first bland road my eyes have started the process of acclimatising and I start to see past my first prejudiced judgements and see what has grown up here in Macedonia. We are in a small village, by definition there is little excitement - it is no different in context to rural Lincolnshire or Leicestershire. I see within 10 or 20 yards even that basic comparison is undermined as, at nearly 8pm there an open shop, and two bars that sell food. In rural England that would be a fairly largely town - in fact here even the smallest communities have and need small local shops. What we in England have eliminated and lost through out of town shopping, vast supermarkets and on-line shopping, Macedonia has resisted and retained in small independent and local shops that are, by necessity, open even on a Sunday evening.

Ivan, now replenished by a further two bottled beers that I have bought, continues in his explanation of what I have seen and walked through and past: "in the UK you retain rural living, but you have drained them of activity - here our small space for football and basketball is maintained, lit and open on a Sunday night and as you saw, it is well used." Having paused and appreciated the 16-20 lads running, shouting and panting energetically around the wire fence enclosed pitch down the road, I have to agree.

"Virtually every house round here has a large front garden, that is no flat lawn of pride, it is a planned garden struggle of activity and growth - most round here have their own fruit trees, grow basics of peas, potatoes, squash, and more." I am forced to agree concede and indeed reflect that whilst I live in central London, at the age of 45 I half crave an allotment - here in Macedonia what I have perceived as slightly old fashioned, even backwards is the provision of the equivalent of two allotments for every house.

So next time I am back in England and moan about the centralised, slightly cold progress that is modernity - the reverse and indeed the reality of what I claim to advocate and regret in its passing is the very backwardness I have judged and dismissed here in Macedonia. If we are to ever return to a more sustainable and localised economy that would mean enough land for the allotment, villages with shops that are open all the week. It would mean a chance to sit in furthest, quietest rural Lincolnshire, perhaps even the Quadring Fen I grew up in, and have a beer with a stranger and discuss the events of the world.

As I pay my bill and walk back in the hanging darkness that has now arrived, I reflect that in pushing ahead with stronger town centres, commercial trade and choice in supermarkets that sell everything we have forced out the economic and cultural life we once held. Indeed, it has gone further, with that progress we have overlaid a set of judgements, assumptions and prejudices. Those inaccuracies have defined England as successful and progressive and western, and little old FYR Macedonia as unsuccessful, backwards and a crossroads. Again, within a couple of hours of arriving in a new country, my experience has been over-ridden, I have corrected my lack of knowledge and re-kindled a deeper understanding of what England and the U.K. has lost in the races of efficiency, price and profit.

I'm attending the conference on Religion and Conflict Prevention on behalf of the UK Unitarians, the conference is organised by the International Association for Religious Freedom. www.iarf.net