All right everyone lets talk about Macedonia. Every time I mention my travels there a quick barrage of questions follow, most often I get asked why Macedonia, and where is Macedonia? First off-lets get some bearings Macedonia is on the Balkan Peninsula and was part of the former Yugoslavia. The country neighbors Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania, and Greece. Due to a still current naming dispute with Greece, the country is also known as the former Yogoslav Republic of Macedonia in the UN. It has yet to join the EU or NATO.
So why did I go to Macedonia, the truth is I am a sucker for ruins and churches. Macedonia has been inhabited by the Romans, Ottoman and Greek Orthodox. With untouched Byzantine churches, remains of Roman fortresses and old monasteries there is a lot of history to love. I went on a tour of both Macedonia and Albania organized by the worldly Yomadic and lovely The Blond Gypsy. Both experienced travelers in the area, allowing my hubby and I to easily traverse both countries.
Macedonia’s economy is complicated; it has one of the lowest GDP in Europe, but is also listed by the World Bank as one of the top “reformatory states.” While open trade and low inflation rates are all positive developments, the country remains plagued by a corrupt government, leaving many citizens fiscally unsound.
Skopje, the capital city, is in the midst of a complete makeover. While the city’s roots are ancient, a terrible earthquake in 1963 destroyed over 80% of the city’s buildings. The muslin quarter remains intact and the government is currently adding a more “monumental feel” with their Skopje 2014 project. The city is now covered in large-scale statues, an arc de triumphs and many fountains. The fountains have music piped around them, and many of the statues make high-pitched sounds to repel pigeons. All and all it leaves a very Vegas feel to the city: big, gaudy, and over the top. Many of the statues are copies of beautiful Renaissance architecture in Italy, which is confusing, as I believe they are trying to add a more historical Greek feel. Also the general fashion sense also reminded me of Vegas: Women wearing sky high heals with mini skirts and dresses, and full on makeup. (All these photos have been lost with the new iPhone update-grrrrrr.)
The city of Orhid on like Lake Orhid, is out of a fairy book. With 365 Byzantine churches and chapels (one for each day of the year), it is known as the Jerusalem of the Balkans. Almost every spot in the city overlooks the lake, which creates picturesque views. Best of all are the preserved frescoes in many of the churches. St. John at Kaneo and St Sophia (an 11th century cathedral) were absolute highlights. I could have easily spent a week in Orhid exploring.
Close by the monastery of St. Naum also boast impressive Byzantine frescos, really some of the best remaining. In addition around the church and the monastery’s land are peacocks. These make wandering around the grounds an absolute pleasure.
But would I recommend a trip to Macedonia: yes and no. On the pro side it’s cheap and for the art history buff definitely worth the trip- the ruins and churches are stunning. Also positively tourists have not overrun the area, so it remains mostly untouched by the touristy shops and hordes of tour buses. But the food is mediocre at best, and the country lacks an easy public transit system, making getting around without a car near impossible. I probably wouldn’t go back, but really enjoyed my time there.