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Trip Report skopsko beer and shopsko salad. my week in macedonia

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My friend and I just got back from about a weeklong trip to Macedonia and since there are very few trip reports written about Macedonia, I thought I would do my best to contribute to the community. (trip reports are not my strong suit, so bear with me. Feel free to message me with any particulars, and I will do my best to answer)
The trip started with a late night flight from boston to Skopje vis Istanbul. We arrived in Skopje around 8 pm on Friday night and took a cab from the airport to the Marriott where we were staying for the first night. We were approached by a cabbie in the airport, but proceeded instead to the official cab line outside, and were charged the proper amount of €20. The Marriott is a nice new hotel on the square and was an easy place to stay for our first night. We picked up our Sixt rental car right from the lobby the next morning (we were never asked about an international driving permit, even tho I had gotten on just in case) and then we were off to Lake Ohrid.
Day1: we took the scenic route to Ohrid via Mavrovo national park with a quick stop in Tetevo to see the Motley Mosque. Tetevo is a smallish town and easy to navigate and find parking, but there were lots of buildings in disrepair, and more trash in the river and around than we would find anywhere else on our trip. Driving into Ohrid was a bit more intense than we had anticipated. We stayed at House Lucija which is right on the lake in the old town and the navigator (me) kept given us wrong directions. It was stressful to say the least, especially not knowing exactly where we were going. We finally arrived at the apartment which was AWESOME with balconies overlooking the lake and beach area, and it had free parking as well in a small lot in front. Stressed from our drive, we took a quick dip in the lake and then went to find dinner. We ended up walking along the lake toward Sv Jovan Kaneo on a boardwalk with beautiful sunset views. We took the required Instagram pictures of the monestary, had dinner at Kaj Kanevche right on the lake.
Day2: we were supposed to go paragliding today, but there were early morning thunderstorms, so we moved the paragliding to the next day and set off to the marina to see if any boats were going to Sv Naum. We caught the only boat that went that day (at 10am) due to weather. I believe normally there are a few times to catch a boat. It was €10 a person for the roundtrip and the trip across the lake took about 1:15. Once in Naum, we had lunch at Ostrovo which was very scenic and then caught a boat right from the restaurant to see the springs. (I think the springs boat was 300MKD). The springs were very cool; very very clear water and you could see the water coming up from the ground. After the springs boat ride, we did a circular route to see 3 churches, looked at the (rather tacky) shops and then caught the boat back to Ohrid at 3 pm. We really wanted to try the fish specialty that requires a 3 hour notice that we had seen on the menu the previous night, so we went back to Kaj Kanevche to order and then hung out and had Skopsko beer and Shopsko salads at a beach club while we waited.
Day3: we booked our paragliding thru paragliding ohrid and gorgi was very easy to communicate with. We met at the cuba libra beach bar at 10:30 (about a 20 min walk from our apt) and up the mountain we went. Paragliding was amazing and the views were unreal. I believe we paid €60 for the paraglide and an extra €15 for the use of a gopro and a CD with all images and videos. Gorgi even emailed us a few images to tide us over since we didn’t have a laptop with us on the trip. After our paragliding we decided to do some serious ohrid sightseeing, and we went to see the roman theater, tsar samoil’s fortress, the old walls and city gates, plaosnik and st kliment. We used an Ohrid walking guide that I had downloaded from google play (there is a skopje one too, but we didn’t use that one) The walking guide was very good. We had dinner that night at dr. falafel and walked along with the main boulevard and stopped for ice cream and souvenirs.
Day4: sadly, it was time for us to leave Ohrid (ended up being my favorite place on our trip), and head to wine country! We drove to Bitola for lunch, stopping at Heraclea lyncestis first which is a smallish site and can be done in under an hour. In Bitola we walked along the Sirok Sokak and saw the clock tower. We ran into a small parking issue in Bitola, since they use SMS to pay for street parking and we were not able to do so with our phones (despite being on TMobile and having service) so instead we drove around until we found an actual lot, and parked there. Then we headed to Popova Kula where stayed for the night. The grounds of Popova Kula were picturesque with a view of the vineyards from our balcony. We were going to do a wine tasting in the tower, but at the last minute were told that it would be an extra €50, so we decided to do a wine tasting, followed by dinner in the restaurant. Despite there being a tour bus there, we were the only ones in the restaurant for dinner, which lasted 3 hours! (we def took our time and enjoyed) The wine tasting itself with meze and dessert was 600MKD, and we had 5 half glasses at least!
Day5: we left popova kula and headed to Stobi which is just 30 mins away. The ruins here were very interesting and we got to see ongoing preservation and discovery efforts. The tour guide was included with the price which was 150MKD (about the same as most “touristy” things we did, such as museums in Skopje and other ruins) We saw the famous peacock mosaics and the remains of entire town. Afterwards, we drove to Stobi winery for a tour and lunch, and then checked into our hotel (Pamela hotel) which had a pool and was super conveniently located for the price (€35/night) We walked over to Bovin winery and had a private wine tasting which included 5 bottles of wine! Which of course we couldn’t drink all of during the tasting, so they boxed them up for us to take with us. We had good wine on demand for the rest of the trip.  We had plans to stop in at Tikvesh winery for tasting and dinner as well, but we were too late since they closed around 6 pm. A note about the wine tastings: having been to Napa and other US wineries, the tastings here were really more of an event that involved food and wine, and not just a quickish tasting like you can do in the states. We were always seated (not at a counter, like in Napa sometimes) and the pours were def more generous. I was also unsuccessful in finding a driver for the day like I had hoped to do, so that slowed us down a bit.
Day6: we left negotino early today to get to skopje in time for a 10 am walking tour by skopjewalks. The FREE tour was one of our favorite things. Lots of history and useful information, and it was fun to meet other americans which we hadn’t really done on the rest of our trip. Our guide even treated us all to a shot of rakija during the tour, which was the first and only time I had the courage to try (to me, it tastes a lot like whiskey). Definitely do a walking tour in skopje if you get a chance. The tour ended near Sveti Spas, so we went in to see the large iconostasis, which was a fun surprise for how cool it was. After the tour, we checked into Hotel de Koka, which was fine, but nothing spectacular. The location was pretty central, but the shopping plaza the hotel entrance is in is not very pretty. We wanted to take a bus to the cable car that takes you to the top of mount vodno to see the millennium cross, but no one at the hotel was able to give us solid directions on how to do that, so they called us a cab, which was even better when it was only 160MKD. We ended up finding the double-decker bus to take back down, and they price was about the same.
Day7: the next day we drove to Lake Matka and took a boat to the Vrelo cave which was another unexpected gem. The boat driver turned on a generator when we got there to help light the cave, and then gave us few tidbits about it. I think it was 300MKD for the boat, which took about an hour. The Matka area would make a great picnic spot, and it seemed like a lot of locals like to come and enjoy the beautiful scenery. We were not feeling super adventurous, but you can hike along the lake or rent a kayak as well. Since we were already out and about, we decided to drive about 1.5 hours to another spot I had read about called the Stone Dolls (Kuklica). These are natural rock formations that look like a frozen wedding party. In hindsight, it was kind of a far drive for what it was, but if you are in the area (about 1 hour northeast of skopje) I’d say it is definitely worth a stop in. We headed back to skopje and had dinner and drinks and even found some live music in a small neighborhood called debar maalo which is not far from the city center has plenty of bars and restaurants. We actually were pretty lucky in finding live music on both weekends we were in skopje and listened to two new fav bands (eye cue and foltin)
Day7: our last day in macedonia, and we basically just spent it trying to do a few things we hadn’t gotten to on our lists. We went into the museum of the Macedonia struggle, which was a crash course on the last 200 years of history; wars, conquering and reconquering of the people of that region told thru our tour guide and hundreds of wax figures. It was very….skopje. (which is to say that we found all of skopje just a bit odd. Good…but odd. We called it SkopVegas by the end). We also went into the archeological museum, which would have been better if they had a guide, real or audio, but I did love the large collection of coins. We wandered thru the old bazaar, tried in vain to find a skopsko tee shirt, and waited out a rain storm over cappuccinos.
Day8: heading home. Dropped our car off at the airport no problem, only to find that our first flight to Istanbul was delayed by 2.5 hours and we would most likely miss our connection (which we did). Turkish airlines handled it very well in istanbul…we were booked on the boston flight for the next day, given hotel rooms, dinner and bfast vouchers, and even had a few hours to explore Istanbul (which I must return to)
Some other thoughts: driving in Macedonia was very easy. We used the gps on our phones, and only had a few small goofs that were easily correctable. The roads were in great shape and the signage was almost always in Cyrillic, transcribed Macedonian, and English. The food was awesome, and didn’t start to get repetitive until the end. Lots of cheese and tomatoes, which I love, and ajvar, my new favorite friend (red pepper and eggplant spread). All our hotels registered us, altho we were never asked to present any receipts of that. We had very little language barriers, but there were a few tourist barriers. For things that seemed to be marketed to tourists, there would often be little in the way of guidance on how to do/see them. It was always a small adventure to figure things out. When people found of we were vacationing from the US, the first response was almost always, “why”. Which is interesting, because I think Macedonia has a TON to offer in the way of vacationers, but I guess its just not often done. I hope that my write up was not too bad and inspires you to visit! It was a great trip.

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