Macedonia and Thea’s big 7O!

February 15, 2019. Doha, Qatar to Skopje, Macedonia. 

We were up at 4:00 am for our 7:15 flight to Skopje in Macedonia. 

I do hate early starts. 

As a parting shot, just to confirm how expensive Doha really was, we were stung $8 for a single shot espresso at the airport. 

It was meant to be a six hour trip but there was a good tail wind and we landed 45 minutes early  

After settling in to our AirBnB we went looking for a supermarket, bank and the restaurant area. 

After three tries we finally found an ATM that accepted our card. 

We later found, after talking to our bank, that they had been inadvertently blocked.

From there we walked into the centre of Skopje and wandered around the Stone Bridge area. 

It was jam packed with sculptures, both monumental and simple. There was one massive monument to, you guessed it, Alexander the Great. 

The rivalry between the Macedonians and the Greeks had begun.

 

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February 16, 2019. Skopje, Macedonia. 

We were in Macedonia to celebrate Thea’s 70th birthday with the family.

Hayden and Andrea were the first to arrive from Berlin. They had a very early start and were anxious to stretch their legs and get some lunch. So we walked into Skopje.

I was glad of the opportunity to return, as the shots from the previous day were dreadful, the sky was leaden and the light poor.

The sun was now out and the sky was blue, much better for our snaps.

Evan and Stephanie arrived from New York late in the evening. 

On our arrival we had discovered Gligor from Zip Transfers. He was a pleasant guy with very good English. 

He became our transport provider while we were in Skopje. He or one of his team drove us everywhere. 

That evening we had takeaway roast chicken, salad and fresh bread, all purchased from the local shopping area.

It was great to get the family back together and just chat.

We were ostensibly in Macedonia to celebrate Thea’s 70th birthday but also, as it turned out, we were also celebrating the pending arrival of Hayden and Andrea’s first child.

It was a very exciting time.

 

February 17, family photo by Nadica

February 17, 2019. Skopje, Macedonia. 

Today was Thea’s birthday and we had arranged to have lunch at Kamnik Hunting Lodge. 

As a surprise for Thea, Evan had arranged to have a family photo shoot. 

We met Nadica, the photographer, at the Lodge at 11:30 and she spent the next 1.5 hours with us taking a huge variety of photos. 

Then we dined. 

The wine and food were amazing and we staggered out of the restaurant late in the day having eaten far too much. 

It was a very quiet night back at the Air BnB.

Kamnik is more than a restaurant as there is also a hotel and, as the name suggests, hunting.

Their private hunting range is 100km from Skopje and there you can hunt wild boar, deer and other game

We were happy just to eat them, not hunt them.

Nadica was well known at Kamnik so we were looked after very well. They even provided a birthday cake for Thea.

 

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February 18, 2019. Skopje to Demir Kapija, Macedonia. 

After breakfast Ev and I caught a taxi into the Avis office and picked up the rental car – a Ford Transit.

We were going to spend the next few days touring around the southern part of Macedonia and needed something large to transport everyone.

Fortunately our trusty TomTom portable navigation system worked and we found our first stop without too much effort.

The Skopje Aqueduct is the only one in Macedonia and there is some confusion as to when it was built. Some say it is Roman, others believe it to be Byzantine and a third say it is from the Ottoman period.

Driving further south we visited Canyon Matka, one of the most popular outdoor destinations in Macedonia, especially for alpine hiking. There were a few people there but we were travelling in winter so the numbers weren’t large.

Matka means ‘womb’ and the canyon and lake covers 5,000 hectares. The artificial lake is the oldest in Macedonia.

The stop for the night was Royal Winery Queen Maria. This is in a wine region to the south east of Skopje and half way to our next destination in Lake Ohrid.

It truely is a royal winery. It was establisehd in 1928 by King Aleksandar Karadjordjevic of Yugoslavia (1888-1934) to provide exceptional wine for the royal family.

He was known as Alexander the Unifier and was assassinated in Marseille, France, by Vlado Chernozemski, a Bulgarian revolutionary.

Obviously not everyone like his unifying.

Being the off season we were the only guests at the hotel and had the pick of the very comfortable rooms.

We even had a private guide to show us around parts of the estate. He was only recently in the job and anxious to share his newly acquired knowledge.

One of the features of the winery were the peacocks and peahens, they were everywhere.

That evening there were a few locals in the bar but the six of us dined alone in the vast restaurant area.

We also sampled some of the estate’s wine.

 

Heraclea Lyncestis (Roman and Byzantine ruins)

February 19, 2019. Demir Kapija to Ohrid, Macedonia. 

In the morning we visited Saint Mary’s Church in Demir Kapija, which we could see from the winery. The church was surprisingly only built in 1937, it looks much older than that.

Back into the Ford Transit we then headed for the Greek, Roman and Byzantine ruins of Heraclea Lyncestis.

Originally founded by Philip II of Macedonia in the 4th century BC, it has little to show from the Hellenistic period. Most of the artefacts are Roman and Byzantine.

Its claim to fame are the well preserved mosaic floors from the Great Basilica. These are richly decorated in figurate iconography from the 6th century, featuring birds, animals and floral designs and came from the early Christian period.

Unfortunately we could not see them, as they were still covered up for the winter. They were explained to us, in great detail, by the local guide. He was happy for the distraction from his off season job as gardener at the site.

We arrived into Ohrid late in the afternoon and settled into our hotel, the Boutique Villa Arte. Again we got upgraded as we were the only guests. We also, for the same reason, got to park the van right outside the front door.

The guy on reception was keen to ‘sell’ us some excursions on the lake. They all seemed too long and too complicated.

We told him we would think about it and let him know in the morning.

 

Lake Ohrid

February 20, 2019. Ohrid, Macedonia. 

Instead of a half day cruise on the lake, which involved lunch, we opted to take a simple two hour trip in a relatively small boat.

This was perfect as it gave us a great view of Ohrid, from the lake and put the town plan into perspective.

Hayden and Andrea decided that the boat trip wouldn’t do much for Andrea’s morning sickness so they stayed in town.

After the boat people returned to shore we all spent the rest of the day wandering around Ohrid. In the late afternoon we climbed the hill to visit Samuel’s Fortress which overlooks the city.

From there we enjoyed a spectacular sunset over the lake.

Ohrid is the largest city on Lake Ohrid and once used to have 365 churches, one for each day of the year.

In 1979 and 1980 both the city and the lake were made Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

It was first settled before the 3rd century BC and over the centuries has been inhabited by many empires. Romans, Byzantines, Bulgarians, Serbians, Ottomans and Yugoslavians, to name some, have all called Ohrid home.

We were travelling in Macedonia at the totally wrong time of the year, especially in Ohrid. 

This is a summer vacation spot and people come from all over Europe to enjoy a Mediterranean climate, by a lake. 

The population goes from 40,000 to 160,000 in summer. 

The temperatures were certainly not summer like but at least the sun shone for most of the time and there weren’t those hoards of summer tourists.

 

Peacocks at St Naum Monastery

February 21, 2019. Ohrid, Macedonia. 

This was a day of driving – but not very far.

Our first stop was at the Lake Pile dwelling settlement in the Bay of Bones. This is a reconstruction of a 1,200 to 600 BC lake settlement. 

This Museum on Water was just 16 kilometres around the lake from the town of Ohrid. It’s built over the site of ancient settlements, from the Bronze and Iron Ages. This lies at a depth of 2.4 to 5 metres beneath the surface of the lake.

Over 6,000 wooden piles were discovered here and it’s estimated that there would have been over 10,000 at the height of its occupation. These piles supported a platform that had over 60 houses.

The reconstruction has over 3,300 pile with 24 houses on top. Each house is a display of how life might have been, showing animal skins, cooking, eating and building utensils.

Just up the road from the settlement were the ruins of a Roman Fort from the 2nd century AD.

There wasn’t much there and seemed to be more picnic area than archeological site.

Our final stop for the day, before returning to Ohrid, was to the St Naum Monastery which is also on the lake just another 14 kilometres further on.  This 10th – 16th century monastery was founded by St Naum of Ohrid (830 – 910), who is buried there. St Naum was a medieval Bulgarian writer, enlightener and one of the seven Apostles of the First Bulgarian Empire.

 

St. Jovan Bigorski Monastery

February 22, 2019. Ohrid to Skopje, Macedonia. 

It was only 172 kilometres from Ohrid to Skopje and we had all day, so there was time for a couple of side trips.

The first was to St. Jovan Bigorski Monastery which was off the main road heading towards the Albanian border.

This Macedonian Orthodox monastery, was established in 1020 and dedicated to John the Baptist. It was destroyed by the Ottomans in the 16th century then restored in 1743 by the monk Ilarion.

Much of it was then destroyed again, this time by a fire in 2009.

We were very restricted with our movements, probably due to the ongoing refurbishment.

The monastery sits high on a hill overlooking the Radika River valley.

From the monastery we could see a mosque on the other side of the river.

The Christians and Ottomans were facing off, once again.

Thea had found another mosque that was of interest to see on the way back. Unfortunately it was a Friday and all the streets surrounding it were crowded with cars, full of people also trying to get the Mosque.

We opted to head back to Skopje.

On the way we passed the Mavrovo Lake. The area surrounding the lake was covered in snow and much of the lake’s edges were iced up.

That night we again had roast chicken. It was the easiest to organise, given the limited supplies of condiments and cooking utensils in the AirBnB.

It was also simple, tasty and a break from the heavier Balkan diet we had been eating.

 

The Bridge of Civilisation

February 23, 2019. Skopje, Macedonia. 

It was very cold on our last full day in Skopje but we ventured into the old city, yet again.

It really is a strange city with statues of all genres everywhere you look. Monumental styles sit side-by-side with the humorous. 

My favourite is ‘The Divers’. This sculpture is literally in the Vardar River and shows two people diving in. One is already in the water and you only see the feet, while the other, a woman in a red two piece, is about to take the plunge.

We had had a coffee in Temov, a craft brewery in the Macedonia Square, on our first day. Now it was time to try a brew.

Evan and I tried a beer called ‘IPA The Great’. It was ok but not that great. Temov was established in 2015 and was the first craft brewery in Macedonia. 

The final family dinner was held at Skopski Merak, a traditional Macedonian restaurant that wasn’t far from our AirBnB. 

Thea and I had eaten there on our first night in Skopje and it was fabulous. 

It didn’t disappoint on our last night either. 

As arranged, Nadica the photographer returned to give us prints of the chosen family photo.

A fitting end to another wonderful family holiday.

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