“What the heck are you doing in Macedonia?” That’s the first thing the locals would ask.
We had a great time in Greece and felt a little sad leaving the country of beautiful beaches, great food, friendly laidback people and cheap Frappes (we’ve become hardcore Frappe addicts.) Matt was pushing to go to Kosovo and Serbia next but when we got the great news that our friend Ryan would be landing in Burgas on March 16th we realized that we needed to get a move on. The new route would have to be through Macedonia; Bitola, Skopje, Kumanovo, then back to Bulgaria.
First stop, Bitola. The main pedestrian street was very clean and lively, everyone is having a good time drinking coffees and beers at the hundreds of elegantly decorated cafes and pubs. We stopped for coffee and a bathroom break at one place and it cost $1 for a regular espresso OR $1.10 for an espresso with cherry liquor and whipped cream. Booze in my coffee? Yes please!
Deviate even one block away from the main road you will truly see how the majority of Macedonia lives. The buildings are unkempt and every third house is rubble yet people hang tarps and sheets in these spaces and live there. It looks like a post war movie set. Despite their terrible poverty Macedonians are the friendliest and most generous people we have met so far (and Greece is a though one to beat).
Macedonia is a tiny Balkan country and the drive from the Southern city of Bitola to the Northern capital of Skopje only took a couple hours, mostly through valleys and farms with snowy peaked mountains not so distant.
Arriving in Skopje we were hit by some serious traffic. Yet another protest was taking place which forced the police to barricade two of the major roads and reroute all the cars down a 5 kilometer detour, delaying us by about an hour.
Once parked and locked up we hit the town square for some snacks and people watching. Skopje is like no European city I’ve ever seen before, or maybe it’s more like a combination of ALL the cities we have recently visited but on crack. The main plaza is huge, you could easily fit two football fields in there without blinking. The buildings are tall and impressive of varying styles and colours and the Vardar river runs through main square with several ornate bridges linking the two sides. What makes the city so unique the insane amount of statues and monuments, you think Vegas has a “bigger is better” attitude, wait until you visit Macedonia! Though the locals find them ridiculous and would prefer the money spent more wisely, Matt and I enjoyed walking around taking pictures of them as if we were strolling down an outdoor museum.
Lots of twisty roads through the mountains, luckily the road was in fair condition.
We drove up the mountain to take pictures of the 66 meter tall cross but the road was closed near the top and Matt wasn’t excited to hike the last 7 kilometers to the summit.
Jewish holocaust memorial museum.