Our exotic cousins
When my girlfriend and I were deciding where to go for our main summer vacation we set a number of criteria. What could we do there, how much would travel cost, how much would accommodation cost and what interesting places are in the location? Thanks to my watchlist for cheap flying tickets Balkan states, amongst others, made it to our list. One of those eventually won the destination competition. The lucky one was Macedonia.
Macedonia is a small inland country north of Greece which nowadays occupies a big part of Macedonian original area. It is a rather mountainous country. The capital city is Skopje. Macedonia is birthplace to one of the most significant people in human history – Alexander the Great.
Macedonian is, just like Czech, Slavic language. Important members of Cyril and Methodius expedition to The Great Moravia were from Macedonia – Clement of Ohrid and Saint Naum. Not only thanks to them have we been connected to Macedonians for centuries. It´s also one of the reasons for the cousins salutation. As we discovered, nearly every Macedonian knows the Czech Republic and likes Czechs. Similarly to how Czechs go to work in Germany, Macedonians go to work in Czech. Or rather they used to when there was still Yugoslavia. Therefore it´s no exception if you come across a Macedonian who worked in Czech or one of whose parents are Czech or so.
That is where the stiffness ends, though. Macedonia has for ages been a multi-religious county where Christianity collides with Islam. I feel an urge to tell, during our 12 days stay we didn´t come across a single religious conflict. There are at least 1 mosque and 1 church in every village. Many churches look as though they used to be a mosque earlier. It might be for local churches were build in Byzantine style, therefore completely different from Czech churches.
You can´t rely on time tables in Macedonia really. There aren´t any, not even in Skopje. And if you somehow get one or you ask for a time of departure, the time is only approximate. Most of the stops are not even marked as stops so all you can do is hope you stand at the right place and wave at any bus that could potentially be yours. One time, the bus wouldn´t even take us to the target station. The driver, out of nowhere, just stopped 4 km before reaching our destination, telling us to get off. We have no idea what the problem could´ve been. Most of the time there are vans instead of busses.
What to visit?
Skopje really is a fascinating city. Years ago nearly the entire city was destroyed by an earthquake. Since than Macedonians has been renewing it. I´m talking big time renewing. The city centre is full of a huge building in Antique style. Antique columns, huge statues, fountains… Flashy wooden sailing boats (immobile) in the river basin. A historical fortification ruin above it all. The only pity is, vandals with paintball rifles tent to play the soldiers all around the city. And another slight disappointment might be… Well, go find it out for yourself ?!
Go visit Matka Canyon nearby Skopje. Kayaking to limestone caves there is great variegation.
Sure thing, Skopje isn´t the only interesting place. Mountains around Mavrov are without a doubt worth paying a visit. We, for example, climbed Makedonian and Albanian highest mountain – Mount Korab. Visiting Saint Jovan Bigorski Monastery is breathtaking. On borders with Albania, there is one of the largest and oldest European lakes – Ohrid. There used to be 365 churches around Ohrid. You won´t find that many there nowadays but still there are churches at every corner. We absolutely recommend staying in Radožna village overnight. It´s the end of the world and you´ll meet many Czech speaking people there (a salesman in one of their small shops for example).
If you enjoy romantic drives I recommend road from Ohrid to Lake Prespa.
You shouldn´t leave out Bitola. There are remains of ancient city Heracleos Lyncestis founded by Philip II. Macedonian in the middle of the 4th century BC. In the city centre, there is a Turkish bazaar for you to visit. We recommend getting some fruit there and ground paprika there.
We were buying fruits daily throughout the entire Macedonia. In comparison to fruit from Testo and likewise, the Macedonian fruit was absolutely incomparable ?.
According to me, Macedonia is a very cheap country. Costs for transport and entrance tickets, in particular, seemed to be embarrassingly low. It´s likely to be because we compare it to transport costs in western Europe.
The best thing on Macedonia is Macedonians themselves. We didn´t bump into a single unpleasant person (apart from two baggers clearly of a different nationality). Many times we hitched a ride. Whenever we found ourselves in need of advice everyone willingly and kindly helped. The only objection we could dare to have is, Macedonians overall speak English even worse than Czechs. And that speaks volume. This is why we recommend learning at least a few basic phrases and especially Macedonian Cyrillic alphabet (it´s 80% identical to Russian Cyrillic alphabet).
We absolutely recommend visiting Macedonia. Ideal length of stay is 7 to 10 days. There´s no need for a passport or visa. Both the travel there and the stay are very cheap (flying ticket from Bratislava might be as cheap as 12 € Kč).
Our vacation wasn´t by any means just about visiting places recommended on the internet. I´ll rather write a separate article about all our adventures there – Macedonian Adventure.
Translated by Dan