Actually getting to Macedonia was perhaps the most memorable bit about my time there. To do so I needed to cross the border on the south of the lake by foot. This was no problem of course so I just took a van to the closest spot possible and blew my remaining lek on food and cosmetics before making the 2km hike. Getting through was no problem and before long I was on the Macedonian side working my way to the first town. The border guards told me that I would be able to find a bus there. Unfortunately the town was several kilometers and the rain started coming down. My airline blanket offered some protection, but mostly it was awful. I put my thumb out every time a car passed, but in the end the people that stopped to pick me up and take me the remaining 27km to my hostel were the border police in their massive black van. There was a major language barrier, but they did instruct me to get in. It saved me a ton of time and money and then of course rocking up to my hostel in my chauffeured automobile was amusing as well. I was of course very appreciative to them. This will be one of those travel stories that I keep in my back pocket.
So finally in Macedonia I was arriving a bit late to hostel that was conveniently located above a pizza restaurant. I chatted with one of the other guests and together we decided we needed some real food, so pizza it was. I got a large all to myself, and it was one of the best four dollar pizzas I’ve had. I wasn’t really awake much past the already late dinner.
The following morning I got right to the walking. This town is located on the other side of the same Lake Ohrid I was at before, though it had a bit more to see; the tradeoff of course being that it was much more touristy. Understandable though, the religious history has made this Macedonia’s only UNESCO site.
My walk took me through the hilly streets to a number of churches. Some were significant because they were old, others because of the mosaic art, but mostly I thought that they all looked about the same. Most of them required me to pay some small amount to go inside, which I didn’t. Monetizing any active place of worship seems wrong, so I just admired those from the outside. Things on the outside were impressive though, the chapel of St. John had an incredible location on a point.
I walked and strolled, and eventually made it up to a fort. Here too I had to pay to get in, but I at least thought that just. The historical site was poorly preserved, but it did offer an incredible view out over the town and the bay.
I tried to milk the town of as much as I could, but unfortunately there just wasn’t anything overtly new for me to take in and appreciate. It was of course beautiful, but it wasn’t different enough in terms of culture or setting from Albania for me to want to stick around any longer. I bought a bus ticket to get me to the capitol city of Skopje the next morning. I still had an afternoon to burn here though, so I feasted on another pizza and took a nap. This nap turned into a coma, and by the time I came to life it was early morning in Ohrid. Fine with me though, I was happy to have fast forwarded to the next day.
I went outside to find the streets a ghost town and unfortunately the supermarket closed. I just hung around the common room until things livened up and then returned to fetch my breakfast. Yogurt, coffee and Gouda on bread, the fuel of champions. After that I had to walk a good distance to the bus station before taking off to Skopje.
Here I would be doing just the day, followed by an overnight bus to my next destination. This city is old, but has a very new world look to it. About fifty years ago, there was a massive earthquake that destroyed everything, so it looks very modern compared to neighboring areas. Coming out of the station, I was accosted by the taxi drivers and after thinking for a moment I did actually take one up on the offer. There was an aqueduct located just outside of the city that I wanted to get a gander at, having not seen any thus far.
I showed the guy a picture of where I wanted to go and asked for a ballpark price. He says 200 denar and ushers me to the vehicle. By about the third time he motioned to see the picture, it was obvious to me that he had no idea where the town’s only aqueduct was located. Sure it was on the outskirts, but I was ticked off at him not knowing the way and having to stop to ask people where it was located – that his priority was ensuring the sale over providing the service. In the end I was able to come up with some of the info to get us close, but the cost of the ride was over twice what he claimed it would be. Annoying, but at least I saw what I came for, all 55 arches.
Back in town, I had a few things to take a look at. The first was the Kale Fortress, but it was closed to visitors for some reason or another. I walked back down the hill to the main square. As I later came to understand, it was the national sports day, so members of various athletics had gathered to demonstrate their passions to the people of Skopje. There were plenty of ‘normal’ sports, but I was surprised to see Muai Thai and kendo also represented. I was able to snap an interesting photo at least.
Occasionally they would blare this extremely patriotic song over the PA system. I understood nothing about it other than ‘Makadonia’, over and over.
I walked down to street and was surprised to find the Mother Theresa Memorial Chapel built to recognize all that she accomplished, and a small museum that chronicled her life from childhood till death. As Skopje was her hometown this made sense, but it wasn’t one of those things that I was thinking about when I arrived here. It was definitely good to learn a bit about her life and what brought her to Calcutta.
There were a couple museums of interest to me as well, so I first stopped at the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle. As interesting as this would have been, it was closed early that day. Fortunately, they guy there took a few minutes to answer my questions and explain a bit about the history of this country. The man was clearly passionate and adept at compressing history into something I could digest. I’m not going to dare summarize it myself, but basically the neighboring countries don’t really recognize Macedonia as a state. Also, many ethnic Macedonians have been expelled or executed from these countries since WWII. I’ve assigned learning a bit more about this region as homework.
The other that I checked out was an art museum housed in an old building. I had read that this place possessed e one of the most impressive collections in Eastern Europe. I was the only one there, and though I didn’t see any works by names I recognized, there were some that did catch my eye. I was definitely more cultured by the time I left.
I did some walking through the bazaar and along the promenade before popping a squat and doing a whole lot of waiting. I had about three hours to kill before another overnight bus would sweep me off into the night.
This was a nice city and did teach me more about the history of the country. As I said, there are a lot of things my time here brought to light that I would like to understand further. I’ve also decided that Macedonia has one of the coolest national flags in the world, some of the most beautiful money too.
One more car thing that amused me was the number of mighty Yugos that are still on the road. They were everywhere, since I assume that they can always be fixed. I want one.