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  • Day8

    Today we left Skopje after a quick visit to the Memorial of Mother Teresa. Skopje is where she was born and lived for 18 years, so they have a lot about her here which is interesting! We couldn’t leave Skopje without one last visit to the best bakery for chocolate donuts so we stocked up on them for our bus journey down to Ohrid. Here in the south of Macedonia is a very picturesque little place by lake Ohrid. I liked to walk about this place, it felt like they had preserved their culture a lot (not a McDonald’s in sight!) and I loved all the little cobbled streets. We wandered around for the day, enjoying the views from the fortress. We found it very quiet here but can imagine it to be buzzing in the summer months. Maybe September would be the best time to visit? The restaurants were very quiet but this meant we got the best seats! It was very cheap to eat out so we made the most of the amazing olives and Macedonian wine! It was a bit more difficult to get vegetarian food here but we managed to find a nice cheap Italian place.

    I would definitely recommend visiting this place if you are in Macedonia- but maybe visit when its got more atmosphere during the summer. It got so cold at night too, I guess we are pretty high up! There is nice hiking to do around here apparently, but we only chose to spend a day here as we want to get to Albania tomorrow (which you can see me point to on the photo, across the lake) !
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  • Day6

    Time to leave Bulgaria and cross another border into Macedonia! Thanks to gaining an extra hour with the time difference, we arrived in good time and managed to explore a little this evening. First impressions are great! Such a cute city with lots of huge monuments and statues everywhere! There is a nice centre (not too big which I like) and an old town with lots of bars and restaurants. There seems to be cute market stalls everywhere too.

    Unfortunately we arrived just at the end of the jazz festival but we found a great restaurant that was really chilled out and it was playing great jazz music so we spent the evening in there. We had a pretty good feast again for only €5 each! We finished the night munching on the best chocolate donuts in town from a woman who found our excitement over a donut pretty entertaining. It’s going to be a struggle not getting fat on this trip!

    Excited for another free city tour tomorrow morning and to learn about the history of this lovely city. Skopje is the birth place of Mother Teresa and there is a museum here about her so we are going to give that a go too! Seems like it will be another busy day! :)
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  • Day7

    Today was the first time in 20 days that we have seen rain! It just made us realise how lucky we have been so far and how easy it is to take it for granted. We didn’t let it stop us though, just got the raincoats on and out we went for the morning walking tour.

    The tour guide was great, so knowledgeable and full of beans! The best thing about the tour though was the many dogs that came along with us. [There are loads of dogs all over the city but they have tags on them which ensures that they have been vaccinated and have food etc. Its still sad to see but they seem happy enough and they aren’t annoying or aggressive really.] So these dogs came along on the tour and they would stop patiently at each stop and wait for us to move on. They became very protective over us too and would bark at anyone that came near the group. This included people, people on bikes and even cars. Hilarious. I couldn’t take in much of what the tour guide was saying as I was so distracted by these funny dogs!

    The guide admitted that Skopje has a bit of an obsession with statues but he explained the important ones! We got a nice view of the city too from the city fortress and the sun had come out by that point so that was lovely! You could hear the mosque chanting in the background too, felt like we could have been in the middle east. There is a huge cross up on Mt Vodno that overlooks the city. It’s twice as big as the one in Rio which I found hard to imagine as I didn’t think it was that big!

    Skopje is another city that seems to live in harmony with lots of different religions and beliefs which I like. It seems like there is a lot of poverty though which is sad to see next to so many expensive monuments and statues. Overall though, I really liked it here! And a bonus- we found the best hostel ever that feels so homely! Free popcorn last night and free pizza tonight- can’t complain!
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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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  • 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

  • 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.

  • Day10

    Walks are what we do best :) Today, it was the first day we walked around Ohrid in sunlight. I'm falling in love with this place more and more every second. It really is special. (Unfortunatelly we are leaving early tomorrow morning.)

  • Day16

    Not good not good. We spent the night scratching. We brushed our teeth, made the bed, collected the rubbish and did a final scan of everything. We were instructed to leave our key in the room so we did.. we walked downstairs and found the front door locked, we needed the key.
    We were stuck.
    Will once again was far more stressed than me. It really surprises me, I thought I'd be the one having anxiety.
    We waited and luckily one of the residence came down for his morning smoke so he let us out.
    We went to the taxi rank and asked to be taken to Thessaloniki station. He was not happy but agreed. I think he was cranky because it's not a big/long job and they have designated pickup stations so once he dropped us off he would have join the back of the queue again So it's a big waste of time for him. He was a miserable sod and overcharged us but I tipped and extra euro anyway which cheered him up. To his credit he could have said no to us so I'm thankful he drove us.
    We were an hour early for the bus so we waited in the only open coffee shop.
    We couldn't help but notice the difference between counties. It was 7:30 on a weekday and the station hadn't opened yet. There was like 5 people around and this is the main station of the city...
    we waited where we thought we were suppose to - there was a sign with our bus company on it but the rest was in Greek. Eventually after time had past and still no one else had turned up I went searching for another potential bus stop and found one. We rushed over - lucky we checked it was nearly time to go.
    It was only a little shuttle bus type vehicle but we fit.
    When we got to the Greek border our driver took our passports and went inside, they got stamped and we went through. They didn't check to see if the passports matched those on the vehicle lol.
    There was a duty free shop one of the girls on the bus wanted to go to so we stoped there and I made friends with a dog.
    It broke my heart. He was so so so wet. And he was so happy when I game him a pat. I think he was hungry, he tried to get on the bus :( :( I wish I could take him home.
    He must have been so cold.
    I had to pay 50c to use the toilet, Will refused but I couldn't because they had hoarded all the toilet paper -.- it's ridiculous. I really don't think you should have to pay for a toilet. Especially if you are going to get in trouble for going on the street? What if I had no money? So stupid I wish I hadn't paid but the man started getting cross so I caved.
    We've crossed into Macedonia now and within the first 2 kilometers we saw 4 casinos hahah.
    We have both had a small nap - Will is still asleep.
    I think we should arrive soon. I already like Macedonia better, the buildings are like little rundown farm houses. I've seen some chickens and so much grass and lush greenery. Didn't realize how much I like plants until this trip.
    The leaves are a funny lime green color.

    So we arrived and there was this really friendly guy helping our driver get everyone's bags out and he asked if we needed a taxi so we said yes.
    We followed him to his car and he drove us to the hostel. He was hilarious! His English was very clear. He made a few good comments but I think the main one that will stick with me is when he asked us how old we were and we said 24/25 and he responded "oh guys this is the best time of your life, live it. Smoke a joint, eat some ribs, enjoy it! His accent and enthusiasm made it all the more funnier. It was unexpected. He was really lovely so we tipped him 5€.
    He has given us his his number if we have any questions or I suppose if we need a driver we could call him too.
    His name was Toni :)
    We got an upgrade at our hostel so we have an apartment to ourselves. It's really nice. It has a fridge and washing machine which is great!
    The hostel has a fish tank :D
    I was so frighten exhausted so I had a 3 hour snooze while Will researched Macedonia and he updated me when I woke up.
    We hadn't eaten at all today so we went for a walk to the main square looking for a place for dinner.
    I LOVE the main square. They have a ridiculous amount of statues. Like it's beyond stupid.
    Easily 30 in the one place but a big one of Alexander the Great in the middle surrounded by lions and such.
    There was a cool water feature nearby too with colored lights. We walked across the stone bridge and back.
    We found a spot to eat which had traditional Baulkan food.
    Will is regretting his decision to not buy waterproof shoes. He said I jumped the gun buying hiking boots but tonight it was raining and FREEZING and my feet were toasty while his toes were numb.
    We ate an entree of mixed meats that's intended for 4 hehe. We made a solid attempt.
    We tipped our waited the equivalent of 6€ and he was so so ecstatic and appreciated it. He shook both our hands.
    The walk back was COLD.
    I love Macedonia already. We have collected all the brochures from the hostel to have a look at and make plans for the week. We also bought cereal and milk on our way home.
    Honestly though, it's already kicking Greece' ass and I've been here all of 5 minutes.

    I have noticed that there are no stray dogs here. Will has said that he read that out in the villages they hang stray dogs from trees.
    Oh god.
    I pray I don't see it.
    It's forecast to snow in 2 mornings time. Exciting!
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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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