Balkans Day 1 – Skopje
11th September 2018
Time for another trip. This time it’s a jaunt round the Balkans. First stop – Skopje, capital of Macedonia. We get off to a good start with an uneventful flight and shuttle bus into town. We had booked into the Alexandar Square Hotel but were telephoned yesterday to say they were overbooked so could we go to the new Alexandar II instead. This is a longer walk from the bus stop. It’s also 10 degrees warmer than not-so-sunny Bournemouth, so we haul our overdressed selves and our luggage to Alexandar II to be told we have a room at Alexandar the original after all. So it’s back the way we came, somewhat sweaty and unimpressed.
But it’s a nice, boutique hotel right on the main square and after a freshen up, we set forth to discover Skopje, which, I am reliably informed, is richly endowed with statues.
Three things about Skopje:
- 1) If, like me, you love weird statues, Skopje is weird statue heaven.
- 2) It’s a bit like being transported back to the 80s.
- 3) They’re obsessed with Mother Teresa, who was born here.
We spend a pleasant afternoon wandering around, admiring the multitude of statues. We start at the Mother Teresa Memorial Centre – on the site of where the great woman may (or may not) have been born. Downstairs is a museum and upstairs is a chapel with ornate filigree doves and Mother Teresa stained glass.
Then we head back, via a with a park with sadly extinguished eternal flame, to Macedonia Square with its statue of a warrior on horseback, which may (or may not) be Alexander the Great.
We finish with a walk along the River Vardar with its beautifully adorned stone bridges.
Second only to the plethora of statues in Skopje, are the Mother Teresa references. My favourite are the quotes which appear on engraved brass plaques throughout the town. It’s a bit like being trapped in a huge fortune cookie.
Once I am suffering from SSO (Statue Sensory Overload) we head for restaurant Rock Kafana Rusticana for beer and sausage (lots of beer and sausage).
Then back to the hotel for an early night. We have been up since 4 am and have an early start tomorrow for our bus to Kosovo.
Balkans Day 3 – Ohrid
13th September 2018
After breakfast, we catch the bus back to Skopje. I’m not a big fan of bus travel. I can’t yell “stop” whenever we pass anything interesting that may warrant further investigation/ photography. Plus, this particular bus looks like the driver stole it from a museum then got it really, really dirty before deciding to see if it could still manage a trip to Skopje.
We do, indeed reach Skopje, pick up our hire car and set off for Ohrid. It’s a scenic drive through the mountains but takes longer than expected due to a succession of roadworks and one way systems.
Ohrid is a quaint, cobbled old town tumbles down the hillside ending at a beautiful lake. Unfortunately, Google Maps sends us down the perilously narrow quaint, cobbled streets which are heaving with tourists. It’s quite a stressful drive in our very new hire car. We go round in a cobbled circle then give up, park in the port and walk to the hotel which is part hotel, part winery; Mal Sveti Kliment.
It’s been a long day with 8 hours on the road, so we choose a lakeside restaurant, Restoran Cun, and unwind over dinner and a beer whilst taking in the wonderful view.
Refreshed, we walk along the boardwalk as the sun sets, which turns the lake a shade of lavender. We stop at Sveti Sofija, an 11th century cathedral.
Then we climb to Sveti Jovan, a 13th century church perched on the cliff top overlooking the lake.
We round off the evening with a glass of wine from our hotel/winery. Ohrid has rapidly become one of my favourite places.
Balkans Day 23 – Skopje
3rd October 2018
It’s our final day, so after a shower (shower gel of the day is rosemary and thyme – I smell like I’ve been marinated) we set off on one last motorway trip and one last border crossing (with 4 sets of tolls) to complete our Balkan circuit.
We stop on the way out of Nis at Bubanj Hill, site of the retaliatory slaughter of thousands of Yugoslavs by the Nazis. There is a memorial park there now with 3 giant fist sculptures sitting on the hillside.
We continue our journey. 55 miles before the border we run out of motorway; we can see it in the distance but it’s not finished yet. So we bump and bounce our way towards North Macedonia. Finally we rejoin a pristine piece of motorway, so new Google Maps doesn’t know it exists and gets somewhat confused about why we are driving through a field.
Since we were last in Macedonia (three weeks ago) there has been a referendum to change the country’s name so that Greece stops vetoing its application to join the EU. 90% voted in favour but only 30% of the electorate turned out. No one is sure what to do next. It’s a bit like a reverse Brexit.
We drop the hire car and walk to our ‘hotel’. Tonight we are staying on the Senigallia, a boat moored on the river in the heart of the old town. We have a 6 am flight in the morning, so take an afternoon nap listening to the river flowing outside our window.
We go to the Carsija, the old Turkish bazaar area for one last dinner of kebabs and ajvar (roast peppers in oil). I have developed a penchant for ajvar, so buy an enormous jar to take home with me.
Time for one last stroll round Skopje with its abundance of statues then back about our boat for an early night. Tomorrow our Balkan adventure concludes and it’s back to the UK to plan for our next trip…
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