We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.
In 1963 Skopje suffered a devastating earthquake which destroyed 80% of the city. A number of architects were hired to help rebuild the city with help being received from many nations, 78 different countries in total. The people of Skopje feel like it is a city of solidarity as they received help from people all over the world.
The earthquake occurred at 5.17am on July 26th 1963. It was a 6.1 magnitude, you wouldn’t usually expect such devastation from this level, however, the earthquake was very shallow and occurred only 4 miles below the surface. Over 1000 people lost there lives, thousands were injured and approximately 200,000 people lost there homes.
The clock mechanism at the train station of Skopje stopped at the time of the earthquake – 5.17am. And remains this way today, with half the building missing. It’s now the Museum of Skopje.
Skopje is the capital of Macedonia and one third of the population live there. In February of this year (2019) the name of the country changed to North Macedonia. Whilst the Government agreed this, the local people are generally unhappy about it and still consider themselves Macedonian.
Skopje was the birthplace of Mother Teresa. Born in 1910, she left Macedonia in 1928 to join the Loreto Sisters in Dublin, and later that year moved to Calcutta, India. She received the Nobel peace prize in 1979, amongst other awards having spent a lifetime helping others. She died in Calcutta aged 89 in 1997. As a token of gratitude, having dedicated her life to helping the poorest of the poor, the Indian government funded a state funeral.
You can visit the memorial house to Mother Teresa in the centre of Skopje. Her birthplace is marked just off the central square. The corners of where the house stood are highlighted and there’s a plaque dedicated to her.
Just opposite I found this impressive local bookshop! I’ll have the one near the bottom on the second row please..!
The modern part of the city is on one side of the bridge and the older more traditional part on the other. The modern side has some beautiful fountains and countless statues of all shapes and sizes.
Across the bridge you head into the bazaar with shops and bars to wander round. You can head up to a medieval fortress from the 6th century where you can walk a significant part of the wall and take in some great views along the way.
Forza wine bar and restaurant was exceptional. The owner knows his wine and is happy to give you a tour of his collection. The wine was lovely, the food delicious and I highly rate the service too. Fully recommend this one and would definitely go back! It’s a little bit out of town but I stayed in the Ibis near Londonska Street so was only round the corner from there. A taxi into the centre shouldn’t cost more than 200 denar or around 3 Euro’s.
I had the tuna steak which was superb and cooked to perfection. If you don’t like it rare I suggest you tell them when you order. They even had a selection of vegan desserts (well two but it’s the first I’ve seen in The Balkan’s); I had the raw chocolate cake which was also amazing!
Food and Drink
Very important – wine! Macedonia is very proud of its wine, the local drink, more so than beer. My personal favourite if you like a dry white is Temjanika. It’s actually a semi dry, but I personally found it much nicer than the other white recommended which is dry – Traminec. If you prefer red then the recommended is Vranec.
Heraclea and Bitola
We took an early morning train from Skopje to Bitola and just outside Bitola is Heraclea. Here you’ll find the ruins of an ancient city with mosaics from the 4th century that have been uncovered and are still in good condition.
There is evidence of Roman influence with the use of brick and the way it’s connected. The excavation is still in progress and is worth a visit if you’re passing that way.
Bitola was claimed as capital of the European part of the Ottoman Empire in the 1800’s, making it the second most important city after Istanbul. More recently Skopje became the capital of Macedonia as it is closer to Belgrade.
It’s not the most interesting of places I visited in The Balkan’s but is very pretty. It’s famed for a street full of cafes known as ‘Street be seen’. Worth walking right to the end and stopping at the last cafe opposite, to the right of the fountain called B bar, spelt bnh bar. It’s good value and great local food. The specialty is Turkish style bread with meat and cheese.
A few places worth a call out en route to Lake Ohrid
Worth a stay if you get chance is the lovely Hotel Sator, in the foothills of a national park. Modern rooms, limited menu choices and staff who can’t do enough to help!
Galicica National Park is pretty with the chance to see Lynx – although it’s a 1 in 287,000 chance! You may also see brown bears and wolves, though there’s more chance of seeing deer or rabbits!
You’ll drive over the mountain and see outstanding views of Lake Ohrid! It was cold and windy the day I saw it but still stunning – can’t be captured in a photo! You pay an exit fee on leaving the national park.
St Naum Monastery:
Naum was a teacher with a reputation for performing miracles. Many people of different religions come to pray in hope they will get their wishes.
It’s 100 Denar to enter and is well worth it, the interior is impressive. No photos allowed as it destroys the frescoes. But beautiful memories! St Naum is also famous for the Albino Peacocks.
It’s 20 Denar to use the toilets near the monastery, so I recommend a coffee stop! I stopped at Ostrovo and the view is lovely, the toilets were also the cleanest I’d seen in a while, with soap and toilet paper!
Beautiful Lake Ohrid
Lake Ohrid is stunning, beautiful water and beautiful views. It’s one of the oldest lakes in the world at over 1 million years old, and the oldest in Europe. At its deepest point it’s 288 metres deep. You can see the beautiful Albanian mountains across the lake. Two thirds of the lake belongs to Macedonia, the remaining third belongs to Albania.
You can get a small boat across the lake to the Old Town – definitely the prettier part of town. It’s worth it for the scenery and a different perspective of the views across the lake and of the mountains. From there you can take a slow walk up to explore.
Ohrid translates to ‘on the hill’ in Macedonian so it’s a fair walk up, but most definitely worth it!
The medieval old quarter is dotted with old churches topped with a castle and a university from 893. Apparently the birthplace of the Cyrillic letters at the church of St Clement. Most of these students apparently went to Russia, hence Russia using The Cyrillic alphabet.
Ohrid is famous for its fresh trout, in particular red or pink trout – depending on who you speak to. Restaurant Belvedere along the promenade just off the modern shopping street does excellent freshly cooked trout. They had local musicians and singers and traditional dancing too.
The practical stuff
The local currency is Denar, currently – September 2019 – it’s 68 to the pound, and 60 to the Euro. I withdrew from the cash point on my Starling card for great rates. https://www.starlingbank.com/ The hardest thing was getting currency in small denominations. Some places take card. In Skopje in some cases you can pay in Euro’s and get your change in Denar, which helps with getting the smaller notes.
Tap water is safe to drink. It’s often ok to smoke inside restaurants – good or bad depending on your outlook!
From Ohrid came a stunning journey into Kosovo..