Macedonia

Macedonia

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  • Day61

    Instead of heading straight to Lake Ohrid as everyone else was from my hostel, I made a detour for a night to Bitola to stay at a place I'd read about during the planning for this trip. Villa Dihovo was listed as number 7 in the Lonely Planets top 50 European secret spots in 2016, and is one of the few places I'd booked before I came over for fear of it being booked out.

    Villa Dihovo is a tiny guest house in a tiny village outside Bitola run by an ex professional football player and his parents. Members of the slow food movement, they grow and make everything they provide guests, including the beer, wine and Rakija. Based on the Lonely planet listing it has, of course, become extremely popular and they are in the midst of expanding, but for now it's only got 4 rooms, a wine cellar and a beautiful garden in which to sit, relax and eat meals, and that's it. As a result I didn't actually do much in my time there other than nap, read, a walk and swim in a freezing, but refreshing waterfall a short hike from the Villa, which was just what the doctor ordered in the 40 degree heat, and eat shared meals with the other guests at the communal table in the garden. Before dinner we were taken down to the wine cellar to select what bottles we wanted, which were matched with a huge spread of food produced from the family plot and cooked with a great deal of love and skill. It was definitely a step up in terms of accomodation and clientele from what I've grown accustomed too, but was a great way to unwind for 24 hours, recharge and relax with great food and in beautiful surroundings.

    Intending to head to Lake Ohrid today, I had a sleep in and figured I'd be able to catch one of the frequent buses at my leisure. What I hadn't counted on was today being Macedonia's national holiday, which meant the frequent buses are not so frequent, which meant I had 3 hours to kill before the next bus, so headed into Bitola for a quick look around. Bitola is Macedonia's second biggest cities, but at only 100 000 people, it's still very small, and besides a charming little bazaar district, largely unremarkable. Unfortunately I still managed to lose track of time and managed to miss my bus, which means I'm now hanging out at the bus station for another 1.5 hours. If there's a developing theme for my solo portion of this trip, it has definitely been an inability to reliably use public transport.
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  • Day59

    Skopje is easily one of the most ridiculously mad cities I have ever been to. A combination of a new nation struggling to forge an identity, being regularly flattened by earthquakes and megalomaniac politicians has created the most wonderfully bizarre city. It's really hard to capture the true monstrous it's of the place in photos, but I spent most of my time there either shaking my head in disbelief or laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.

    First a bit of history to set the scene.

    The roots of Macedonia is rooted in the empire of Alexander the Great, a man who is claimed by both Macedonia and Greece. Since Alexander the Great the region has been continuously (with a very brief gap in the late 11th century) occupied and ruled by a succession of empires and nations near and far. Not until Tito's Yugoslavia were any attempts made to forge a distinct national identity. In 1963 an earthquake destroyed 95% of the buildings in the city, creating the scene for the only time since WW2 where American and Soviet troops worked side by side in the humanitarian response, and also an opportunity to construct the model modern socialist city, which Tito did with a passion, constructing huge broad boulevards and the 'best' 1960's socialist brutalist architecture. The breakup of Yugoslavia suddenly left Macedonia, a country of barely 2 million people, on its own and flailing in an attempt to create some sense of a common national identity. As the only ex-Yugoslav country to avoid any armed conflict during the 1990's, it instead set about reaching out to the west and immediately started negotiating for UN, EU and NATO membership, with negotiations immediately stalling for EU and NATO membership due to Greece using it's veto powers to block membership until the nation changed it's name, having claimed Macedonia is only to be used for its northern region (where they also claim Alexander the Great came from).

    This all sets the scene and background for the bizarreness that is the Skopje 2014 project.

    Cut off from the Common Market, hit particularly hard by the GFC (unemployment is still above 30%) and stuck with a drab and crumbling capital city the powers that be decided that tourism would be the cities saviour and launched the Skopje 2014 project in 2010, a 80 million EURO project to simultaneously transform the city centre to attract foreign tourists and create suitable national monuments to instil a sense of history and national identity. As could be expected, this has not gone well. Now in 2017, there is no end in sight for the project, the best estimates are that over 500 million EURO's has been spent and there is no public registry of current or planned projects, which seem to be being chosen based on the personal whims of megalomaniac politicians with a serious fetish for statues and counterfeiting random and diverse buildings, monuments and vehicles.

    On one street there's an Arc de triumph, made out of painted white concrete and, in the absence of any significant military victories, commemorating 'cultural achievements'. On the hill above town a half constructed replica of the Seattle tower is under construction. On the roads the buses are being replaced by knockoff Chinese made London double decker buses. The building facades in the city centre are being progressively transformed in the neo-classical styles, never mind that the city has no history that reflects the style. Two replica galleons sit on concrete pillows on the river, never mind that Macedonia is landlocked. A 67 metre cross has been constructed overlooking the city. A recently announced project is a replica of the Spanish Steps, never mind that there isn't a slope on which to build them, the plans include a mall to be constructed on which to hang the steps off.

    The list goes on, but is all a precursor and distraction from the main game, which is statues. There is a joke in Skopje now that there are more statues in Skopje than human residents. There are statues on every available surface and no one knows how many there are today or how many there will be (believe me I looked). Statues range from the 35 metre statue of 'a warrior on horseback', so called because Macedonia can't officially use the term Alexander the Great due to the conflict with Greece (who just happen to be currently constructing a 40 metre tall statue of their own), to statues of unnamed relatives of otherwise famous historical figures and random statues of beggars, Chelsea girls and women swimming in the river. My personal favourite one though is the statue of an ancient priestess, which originally rotated, but the mechanism broke a month after it was installed 3 years ago and it's never been fixed, which is probably a blessing. I met someone who claimed that they had come across a storeroom near the city centre full of countless further statues ready for installation. There's a popular game you can play where you count the number of statues you can see in an hour, I got to 105 and wasn't even trying or taking it seriously, they are literally countless.

    The inevitable backlash to the waste, kitschness and obvious corruption is of course very real and most local seem resigned, but flabbergasted at the perversity of it all. A popular protest has become for the locals to gather in groups and throw paint on all the statues and facades they walk past, the authorities appear to spend most of their time cleaning paint of statues, but you can still find evidence of the most recent attacks as you walk through the city.

    Other than marvel and laugh at the perversity of it all, I managed to go on an excellent free walking tour, which included regular breaks from the 40 degree weather for shots of Rakija, and which inevitably ended in a very long lunch with more shots of Rakija and beer, which kept coming at far too regular intervals, until we all realised that we had spent 9 hours there and it was getting dark, so we went to check out the sights lit up in their garishness, and came across a group of soldiers in an APC, posing for photos while kids held their machine guns in the middle of the main square. A ridiculous end to a ridiculous introduction to the ridiculous city that is Skopje.
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  • Day64

    Lacking a coastline, Lake Ohrid is the closest Macedonia gets to a seaside. Straddling the border with Albania, it is one of Europe's deepest and oldest lakes and, being primarily fed by springs, is one of the clearest bodies of water I have ever seen. Ohrid itself is often referred to as the jewel in Macedonia's crown and it's not hard to see why, with it's beautifully preserved Old Town, fortress and monasteries overlooking the picturesque lake.

    Arriving at my hostel late in the afternoon I immediately jumped at the chance of joining a group heading to the beach for my first proper swim of the trip, which was glorious. The water temperature was perfect, the water crystal clear and the added bonus of endemic fish that swarm around you eating your dead skin cells while you swim. This was followed by a dinner at one of the fish restaurants overlooking the lake where I, accidentally, ate a very tasty endangered species in the form of an Ohrid trout, which is an endemic species of the lake and, as I found out the next day, on the verge of distinction due to massive overfishing.

    The next day consisted of the obligatory walk around the town to see the sites and beg forgiveness for my previous days sin at some of the countless churches and monasteries in the town. Most were much of a muchness, and nothing I hadn't already seen, but one had some of the most impressive and vast frescoes I've ever seen. Being another stinking hot day, by lunchtime I was done and so jumped on board a boat to spend the afternoon swimming and drinking beers with one of the hostel owners, who is a complete character and great fun to spend an afternoon with. After the boat trip there was just enough time to make it to the Monastry overlooking town to catch the sunset.

    Yesterday a group of us from the hostel rented scooters and headed out of town. We started by heading to the Albanian border to Saint Naum, a very famous and popular monetary built ver looking the lake and surrounded by really beautiful springs. The monetary was packed with tourists and so after a quick look, we instead focussed on the springs, finding a track that led through them and up to another much smaller, bu deserted monetary on a hill behind. We then headed to a nearby fishing village for lunch and went in search of a beach to spend the afternoon, eventually finding a very secluded beach at the base of a cliff and down a steep track, where we spent the afternoon snoozing, swimming and enjoying the refreshing water. We made it back to town in time to give the scooters back and head to the Hellenistic theatre, which was only discovered in 1980 and commands an incredible position at the top of the old town with the lake and mountains as its background. It is currently the Ohrid summer festival, and we were lucky enough to be there on a night where there was a performance being held there, so jumped at the chance and saw a very modern performance of Vivaldi, complete with a didgeridoo cameo. It was actually really good, but made unforgettable by the setting.

    One of the things I love most about travelling in this part of the world, is the type of traveller it attracts. Lots of solo travellers, all a bit older and more interesting than those found in more established locations. You also all end up with similar itineraries and a relaxed attitude to schedules and plans, which is how I find myself on a minibus, which we caught at 5am, with a Pom and an Aussie on a mission to get to the tiny town of Vuno in Albanian where there is apparently a school that is turned into a hostel during the summer break. It should take us around 9 hours if all goes well (it already hasn't), but promises a slice of rural Albanian life, amazing food and 'apparently' the best beaches in the Balkans. Being Australian, I've learnt to be very dubious about any claims of 'best beaches', but it'll be an adventure nonetheless.
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  • Day31

    This places is like a scene out of a bad horror movie.

    Macedonia, different to anything we'd seen as of yet. The roads were windy. The hungover people nauseous. The people riding bikes and horse and cart real. Remnants of communism still present. And a very very expensive lunch...

    We crossed the border in to Macedonia and stopped off in the capital of Skopje. The art district was pretty cool. Bridges with ancient and long dead musicians, religious figures and monarchs welcomed us to the capital as well as a giant statue water feature of Alexander the Great. It was pretty cool and very drastically different to the countryside we had driven through. A lot of the buildings in the main square were still under construction.

    We broke off for lunch, we went a little crazy. A main meal and drink each, fries and chicken fingers. 8 euro each. The food was pretty decent. The poor waiter was probably having a fit with a number of us in there.

    I have to mention the number of stray dogs we've been seeing especially throughout Eastern Europe. They're literally everywhere. They generally seem friendly enough but I'm not one to pat a random stray dog. In western Europe you walk into city squares and are pounced on by African men trying to sell you souvenirs cheap umbrellas and bottles of water. In Eastern Europe you're greeted by stray dogs.

    After lunch we loaded back onto the coach and headed off for our campsite in Struga on the edges of lake Ohrid.

    We were the only people in the entire campsite. Only people. One staff member.

    It was really creepy I'll be honest. Lines and lines of abandoned campers lined the way to the hot water less bathroom block. Once the sun set there was literally 0 chance that I was going to go back there. No bloody way.

    The campers chained and broken reminded me of stories I'd seen from the crime Chanel where men keep kidnapped women chained up. I kid you not we were all waiting for the serial killers to descend.

    After about a half an hour failed attempt at trying to start a fire we made pentagrams and pyramids to get into the whole cult and horror movie feeling of the camp site.

    After dinner it was straight to bed. I think I tapped out at about 9pm.

    The campsite was full of stray dogs and the all started howling and barking at various points throughout the night and early morning. I'm reasonably sure one slept right outside our tent as well.
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  • Day60

    On my second day in Skopje, I ended to Matka Canyon by bus to escape the heat and see some nature. Matka Canyon is only 20 km's from Skopje, and is where a dam has been built in a really narrow, steep and beautiful canyon. After the walk up to the Canyon I took a boat ride up the canyon to see the scenery and visit the Matka cave, which is confirmed as the second deepest cave in the world, but has yet to be fully explored, so may well end up turning out to be the deepest. After my first, and much overdue, swim of the trip in the clear and cold mountain water and lunch at the only restaurant overlooking the canyon I headed back to town, where a group of us grabbed some beers and headed to the river bank to watch the sunset and the city light up to show off it's ridiculousness once again.Read more

  • Day83

    Beim Streckenfliegen im Flachland ist so Vieles möglich: Manchmal steigt es sanft und einfach in die Höhe, manchmal fühlt sich das Thermikdrehen an wie eine rassante Karrusselfahrt. Manchmal findet uns die Thermik nicht und wir stehen viel zu früh am Boden. Jeder Start eröffnet ein Spiel, das uns grinsen lässt, uns manchmal ärgert, ein bisschen verzweifeln lässt und uns dann wieder so glücklich macht, dass wir bereits wieder von der nächsten Runde träumen...Read more

  • Day10

    Heute hat es uns in die UNESCO Weltkulturerbestadt Ohrid verschlagen. Grenzübertritt Albanien - Mazedonien problemlos. Eine völlig andere Welt erwartet uns schlagartig. Viel mehr Verkehr, größere, schicke Häuser, Tourismus. Letzterer augenscheinlich im Rahmen des erträglichen. Ohrid ist der Hammer. Eine kulturhistorisch hoch interessante Stadt mit einem coolen Beachflair ala Ibiza. Ein Reiseziel für die Tiger!
    Ein Stadtführer spricht uns an und führt uns 4 Stunden. Eine unfassbare Historie hat diese Stadt. 10 % Muslime, 90% griechisch Orthodoxe Menschen leben hier. X Kirchen, Ausgrabungen, Historische Gebäude,eine interessante Universität. Eine am See beginnende , in den Berg aufsteigende Altstadt.
    Wir überlegen im Hafen für eine Nacht stehen zu bleiben und uns ins Axellike😀 Nachtleben zu stürzen... Mal sehen!?
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  • Day66

    Der Krusevo-Pocker ist eröffnet: mal hoch - mal tief, mal heiss - mal kühl! Weit kommt der, der lange mitspielen kann. Für Flozi gibts wohl an der griechischen Grenze Eiscrème - für mich die Rettung vor 7 (00?) Hunden, den Tipp einen Stock mitzunehmen und ein tolles Lachen des Tabakbauers. So gewinnen zum Schluss alle...

    http://airtribune.com/11112/tracks__135081

  • Day9

    We stopped in Bitola to see the ruins of Heraklea. We honestly didn't expect much, but were pleasently surprised with how it was organised and with the number of visitors - especially because Bitola is not really a place people go to for vacation (it is a beautiful city and deserves more hype!). And above all, it was cheap as hell (100den per person - 1.64€). They could charge more, seriously.

You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Macedonia, Ehemalige jugoslawische Republik Mazedonien, Macedonia, FYROM, Macedonië, Masedonia, ማከዶኒያ, مقدونيا, ܡܩܕܘܢܝܐ, República de Macedonia, Masedoniya, Македонія, БЮР, Македония, Macedɔni, ম্যাসাডোনিয়া, Makedonia, Makedonija, Macedònia, Makedonie, Makedonien, Makedonia nutome, Π.Γ.Δ. Μακεδονίας, Respubliko Makedonio, Makedoonia Vabariik, Mazedoniako Errepublika, مکدونیا, Meceduwaan, Entinen Jugoslavian tasavalta Makedonia, Makedónia, Macédoine, Rèpublica de Macèdonie, Masedoanje, An Mhacadóin, મેસેડોનિયા, Republika Makedonija, מקדוניה, मैसिडोनिया, Makedonska, Macedónia, Մակեդոնիա, Republiko Macedonia, Lýðveldið Makedónía, マケドニア旧ユーゴスラビア共和国, მაკედონია, ម៉ាសេដន, ಮ್ಯಾಸಿಡೋನಿಯಾ, 전 유고슬라비아 마케도니아, Komara Makedonyayê, Res publica Macedonica, Masedwanɛ, ແມຊິໂຄເນຍ, Masedwane, Maķedonija, Република Македонија, മാസിഡോണിയ, मॅसेडोनिया, Maċedonja, မာစီဒိုးနီးယား, Republiek Makedonien, म्याकेडोनिया, Voormalige Joegoslavische Republiek Macedonië, Republikken Makedonia, ମାସେଡୋନିଆ, Republika ning Makedonia, Była Jugosłowiańska Republika Macedonii, د مقدونيې ولسمشريزه, Macedônia, Republika Makedoniya, Fosta Republică Iugoslavă Macedonia, Республика Македония, Ripùbblica di Macidonia, Dásseváldi Makedonia, Maseduäni, Macedónsko, republika, Makadooniya, Republika e Maqedonisë, மாசிடோனியா, మేసెడోనియా, Ҷумҳурии Мақдуния, ประเทศมาซิโดเนีย, Republika ng Macedonia, Masitōnia, Makedonya, ماكېدونىيە, колишня Югославська Республіка, مقدونیہ, Ma-xê-đô-ni-a (Macedonia), Makedonän, Republika han Macedonia, Orílẹ́ède Masidonia, 前南斯拉夫马其顿共和国, I-Macedonia

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