First stop: Macedonia!
Macedonia is a small country just north of Greece, also bordering Bulgaria, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania. It’s a well-kept secret – – for me anyway, and for most other Americans according to what I heard from the locals. They told me they get very few American visitors. This amazes me considering the beauty and interesting history Macedonia has to offer.
Our first stop in Macedonia is Skopje, the capital city. Skopje is Ched’s birthplace. He left there long ago and remembered little about the area, so it was a challenge finding our way around. Lodging has not been an issue here since we have been able to stay in an extra apartment owned by Ched’s family. After looking around though, there appear to be great deals on places to stay in Skopje, so lodging shouldn’t be a problem for any traveler.
The taxis are very reasonable and restaurants offer a large variety of delicious meals at a very affordable price. Ched introduced me to one of the Macedonian favorites: Bourek. It’s severed mostly as a breakfast food and made from sheets of pastry dough filled with feta cheese or possibly spinach and feta cheese, then baked to a golden brown. Most of the locals eat Bourek with yogurt. It’s a tradition, I suppose. This is not the typical yogurt you find in America. It’s served as a drink. I will have to say, it isn’t too bad.
Touring downtown Skopje:
Considering the temperatures are around 100 degrees this time of year, we chose to ditch our usual walking tour and accepted a ride to the downtown area from Ched’s nephew. Surprisingly to Ched, there’d been a recent addition of hundreds of statues and fountains all around the downtown area, along with big beautiful buildings that were also recently built.
Although these new buildings and statues made a nice addition to Skopje, we much preferred walking through the old town, visiting all the small shops, restaurants, markets and historical sites. The house of the birthplace of Mother Teresa is here, along with a memorial to her.
While we were there, we also spotted a place called The Casa Cubana, a Latin Restaurant and Bar. It’s quiet in the daytime but comes alive at night with great music and dancing. We made a return trip there on a Friday night to get our Salsa on!
A visit to Matka Canyon:
A great suggestion by Ched’s family was a visit to Matka Canyon, located just west of Skopje. Once we arrived at the area we took a short hike up the canyon by the water’s edge where we reached the main attraction, a small medieval monastery. It’s located just behind a rustic outdoor restaurant built on a cliff overlooking the lake. There we saw a few small wooden boats with tiny strips of bamboo fused together as a makeshift shade. These boats were available for anyone that wanted to take a ride up the river. After a short visit to the monastery to light a candle and say a prayer, we decided on a boat ride which would take us to a cave located about a half mile up the river.
Getting back to nature after so many planes, trains and automobiles was very satisfying and calming. What a relaxing trip! Thank you Lydia, for the suggestion!
Bus ride to Ohrid Lake:
Ohrid Lake is located just over one hundred miles from Skopje. The most logical way to get there is by bus ride, which is a little more than 3 hours long. Along the trip we were surprised to see so many Muslim communities. The area consisted mostly of new, tiled roof homes surrounded by twelve foot block walls. There was also a Mosque with a tower located near the center of the village.
On Booking.Com we found a place with a 4 star rating near the center of town for $30 per night. Once we arrived in Ohrid Lake we took a taxi from the bus station to our hostel for a little less than 3 bucks. We took notice of the area along the way since we would be walking after getting settled in. The Hostel was owned and operated by the Joce family, who were very pleasant. The small apartments were cozy and clean. There’s also an outdoor sitting area with an arbor full of sweet tasting grapes. The owners were very friendly and helpful and made our stay in Ohrid even that much more pleasant.
Lake Ohrid is a top tourist area in Macedonia, mostly visited by people from Turkey, Romania, Holland, Italy, Greece and other surrounding countries. I only know this from speaking to other travelers who were from these countries and from talking locals about the tourism in Ohrid. I was delighted to find that many of the people there spoke English.
We decided to go along with the majority of the tourists this time and take a boat ride to other locations that could only be reached by water. This excursion took most of the day and covered some really beautiful area. The boat stopped for lunch at an outdoor restaurant located on natural springs which offered paddle boat rides, nature walks and small shops. A walk up the hill there took us to an old beautiful monastery called the Monastery of St. Naum, located near the border of Albania.
On our second day in Ohrid Lake we chose to stay in the downtown area where we visited more monasteries and browsed the small shops. Ohrid Lake is known for its hand made pearls so mostly every shop window displayed a wide variety of these pearls. Curiosity lead me to inquire from one of the locals (who spoke English) as to where the pearls actually come from. He told me the story of a family that lived there many years ago. They had a secret family recipe that used fish scales from the Plasica fish that came from Ohrid Lake. Today the fish are not as plentiful as they were 80 years ago and I was told that most of the pearls being sold in these shops come from China and other sources. Buyer beware – True Ohrid Lake pearls may not be what you are actually buying.
After three days in this charming place, I found myself wishing I had more time there.
Next stop – – Athens, Greece, with a layover in Serbia.