After a crazy week, I am writing this to you from the magic of Famagusta walled city. The modern way of life has a fast pace which prevents you from having time to feel beauties. You always have to rush, be fast, consume fast food, fast tech and fast transportation. In my Balkans trip, I choose to travel in the slow and old-fashioned way. From Istanbul, I took buses all around.
Indeed, traveling by bus made me to be more aware of the geography. Instead of plane, I crossed borders on the land through observing around, mostly sleeping and sometimes reading book. My journey to Skopje from Thessaloniki lasted for 4 hours in a soft-winter morning.
I arrived to Skopje Bus station around 12.30. The air had an excited feeling with its busy and chaotic sense. The first thing I did, was to approach to the exchange office. Before starting to this part of adventure, I had to convert my money to Macedonian Dinar. To give a better understanding, 1 euro is equal to 60 Macedonian Dinar, which gives you a lot of money for 25 euro. The country is quite cheap for a Turkish-lira holder, and really really cheap for a euro and dollar holder.
Macedonia was a warm experience in every means. The winter was warmer then previous years(which is very important for a Cypriot) with around 0-5 celcious, food was quite good, my friend Elena hosted me amazingly and I met with the magnificent beauty of Ohrid.
After a bit of chat with Elena’s sister Simona and resting, I went out to explore the city a bit with my camera in the first day. I was walking and photographing at the same time.
Skopje is situated at the edges of River Vardar. It has a cocktail of styles ranging from Ottomans to Yugoslavia times and modern Macedonia. The city can be explored easily through walking: Stara čaršija; the old Ottoman market which looks very similar to Arasta in Nicosia, a couple of mosques, hamams, an old stone bridge, a Kale (Fortress) of the city from the Ottoman times, ah and a lot of monuments, statues which builded recently with a big project of the government called Skopje 2014. The city centre which still some constructions are happening, gives you a chaotic but good, warm feeling. The fact that Turkish is widely spoken in the Carsija, wide Ottoman heritage, familiar food like burek, beans, sarma, köfte (meatballs) and Elena’s hospitality made me feel like at home. On the other hand, our guide at the free walking tour was really sarcastic about the city, with a lot of criticism to Skopje 2014 project. He also told us that the main event that affected the city is the big earthquake at 1963 which destroyed 80 percent of the city.
Macedonia Parliament on the right and the square in front of it (left)
The final thing that I will tell about Skopje is Matka which is a must to see if you are in Skopje. Matka Canyon is a natural beauty in 30 minutes distance to the city center. It is a place where you can easily spend a day with canoe, boat trip, picnic, photography, hiking or simply enjoy a cup of coffee towards the canyon. The only thing you have to do is to take the bus 60 from the main station and you will be there in 30 minutes.
The next day, Elena took me to her hometown, Negotino. After one and half an hour, we arrived there on a cozy morning. I met with her mother, grandmother and grandfather. I am thankful to their amazing hospitality and specially great food of her grandmother.
Negotino is a small town which is famous for its wines and rakija. The other highlight of Negotino was the visit to museum of Old Timers. Dionis, who is the owner of classic cars explained each car one by one with a great passion. He also has radio’s and old bicycles. It was a great joy to listen each piece of old timers from his words.
from the Old-Timers Museum.
My last destination in Macedonia was Ohrid. It was a 3 hours of bus ride from Skopje. Probably, peaceful beauty is the best word to describe everything about Ohrid. The city is resting across the Ohrid Lake, which I find it hard to find a word that describes this whole beauty.
I stayed in a hostel very near to lake, walked across the old town, photographed the streets and watched the sunset at the St. John Kaneo monastery. The next day before leaving the city I got a bike and ride it across the Lake. It was a great opportunity to observe a wider part of the city. Two days cannot be better, Ohrid was such a relaxing beauty.
Like everything in life, there was an end to my time in Ohrid as well. I packed and say bye to the city, lovely people at the hostel and started my journey to Belgrade. I went back to Skopje for the Belgrade bus. It was going to leave the Skopje Bus station at mid-night.
Belgrade is situated on the meeting point of Danube and Sava River. Another place with a cocktail of history and styles. The third part of this blog series will talk about the story of Belgrade. Then I will conclude the post with my final thoughts on the whole trip. However, the final words of this post will be this quote: ‘It is not the destination, but the journey that matters’.