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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Three Days in Macedonia - Yes, That's a Country

For those who didn’t read my recent Berlin postI’ll catch you up - I'd spent a week being a music vampire in Germany as the first stop on a month long Europe trip in August 2018.  The week of beats and bass in Berlin had left my housemate and I pretty knackered by the time we landed in Macedonia.  Yes.  Macedonia.  It’s a country next to Albania that you’ve probably skipped over every time you’ve looked at a map of Europe.  After spending a few glorious days won’t stay hidden for long.

Monday, August 6, 2018

We landed early in the evening and checked into our Airbnb in Skopje, which was fairly hard to find.  Thankfully my housemate is Macedonian and speaks the language, because English is not very common around here.  We met up with his cousins for a few drinks near the main square followed by a lengthy dinner.  Rounds of meat and cheese and red wine flowed, intermixed with singing and dancing.  My stomach was stuffed and my soul satisfied by the time midnight rolled around and we slowly rolled our way back home.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Macedonia mirrors its Greek and eastern European neighbors when it comes to helping family.  We tried to convince my housemate’s cousin that he didn’t need to drive us the 2.5 hours (one-way) to Ohrid the next day, but he wouldn't listen.  The five of us packed into his tiny car and listened to my housemate and his cousin catch up in the front seat for the next hour or so.  We stopped at a gas station for pastries and coffee which felt very “local.”  It was a beautiful drive through the mountains, and we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves, when the old car came to a slow, hiccuping stop on the side of the road, taking what seemed to be its last painful intake of gas.

We spent the next hour being helped by every self-proclaimed mechanic in Macedonia.  Unsurprisingly, none of them were able to get the car started.  The heat had wrapped its fat fingers around the engine’s windpipe and tightened its grasp.  To top it off, there was no reception, so two of us finally hopped in a car with two Albanian strangers (hoping) they'd take us the rest of the way to Ohrid, so we could send a tow truck.

The strangers spoke zero English so it was utter luck that we got dropped off fairly close to our Airbnb which was at the top of the hilly town overlooking the water.  The view from the top made the steep incline well worth it.  Sonja, our hostess, was lovely, taking a load of laundry from us and treating us to delicious coffees on the deck.

After a week in landlocked, steamy Germany, I was desperate for a swim, so we walked down the hill to the right of town (when facing the water) and found an awesome spot for a dip.  We paid a few bucks for some chairs and beers and settled in to await our mates.

Tired, hungry and understandably irritable, the other two finally made it to town.  We excitedly showed them the beautiful swimming area and then continued down the boardwalk to Kaneo - a perfect dinner spot to watch the sunset.  Similar to Croatia, you can excuse yourself mid-dinner for a quick dip in the water before returning to your table – amazing. 

We returned to the Airbnb to change for the evening and made our way down into the town center.  It was well after dark and the main street was buzzing with activity, so we stopped for a few drinks in a central area for people-watching.  

The drinks were so bad and so sugary that we eventually moved on. Around 11pm, there seemed to be a lull in the nightlife… the streets suddenly deserted.  The only place we could find people was at Shilla (I think that was the name?) so we enjoyed some gin n' tonics and beers until 2am before trying out Cuba Libre Night Club.  Somehow the club had gone from empty (we'd checked earlier) to packed and we spent the next five hours dancing to American hip hop music from the early 2000's (wah??!)  The locals probably found my white-girl dance moves to be both foreign and either highly entertaining or shockingly embarrassing.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

We woke up at 2pm and walked towards Cuba Libre Beach (the daytime version of the previous night's club) on the other side of town.  Just before the club, we stopped at a cute little boathouse restaurant called Kotva by the bridge for some fresh fish and coffees.  It was a beautiful day to be on the water.

Cuba Libre Beach Club was great - definitely my favorite venue.  We snagged comfy lounge chairs right on the water and spent the remainder of the day sipping rose, eating cheese and swimming in the water to the gentle beat of European tropic house music.

We hurried back to hike to the top of the mountain behind our Airbnb for sunset.  The ancient St. Clemente Church and Samoil's Fortress sit atop the hill and are the GO TO spots for sunset.  Wow, it was a beautiful view - the brilliant pinks and soothing purples touching down on the high castle walls close enough to touch.  Not a whole lot to see besides the view though so I was glad we choose sunset for our visit.

Meandering down the hill through the cobblestone streets, we discovered a little restaurant called Dalga for dinner - the staff was so friendly and the wine was conveniently cheap.  After a delightful, meaty dinner (Macedonians know how to do meat!) we landed at the Duck CafĂ© dancing to a live band playing classic rock covers.  It was an early evening as we’d be getting up early for our drive back to Skopje.  I was sad to leave Ohrid.  While there isn’t a whole lot going on in the town itself, I would’ve loved to spend more time hiking around the hills and lounging by the water.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Thankfully, the ride back was less eventful.  Back in Skopje, we checked into another great Airbnb. Macedonia is so cheap - we lived like kings and queens!  Our friend collects antique watches and had found an old watch shop in the heart of Skopje’s market district, so we followed him there to have a look.  It was such a cool shop – dusty with memories of forgotten ages, only the watches remembering the time.  I was feeling romantic and suggested that we all get watches to commemorate our trip and our friendship.  The boys laughed at me, and then scurried to pick out a watch. Hah.

We hurried back to change for dinner.  My housemate’s cousin arrived again (what a guy!) to drive us out into the country for dinner at the family farm.  SO COOL.  We were greeted by a giant, friendly dog who lead us around to the back veranda to a table filled with meats, cheese, veggies and rakia.  Ah, rakia – the liquor of Macedonia.  Made from grapes or plums or peaches, it is a fruit brandy that’s about 40% ABV.  In our case, we were drinking Uncle’s homemade rakia which was quite a bit stronger.  

Fair to say, we were rosy and boisterous by the time we’d made it halfway through dinner.  No one in the family spoke English, except the cousins, which made for a halting, yet hilarious evening.  The food was fantastic – all grown and harvested from the surrounding farm.

Riding the wave of good humor and strong liquor, we returned to downtown Skopje to spend the rest of the evening dancing at Casa Cubana, home to the deadliest, tastiest Mojito I’ve had in a long time.  I’m pretty sure I danced with a few eleven-year-old kids at one point but forcing the group to return to the Airbnb for an hour of sleep before our next-day flight to Sweden.

It was a fantastic wrap to our short, but sweet adventure in Macedonia.  I would love to come back here, although having an “interpreter” certainly made the trip more interesting and convenient, so I'll have to check his schedule.  It’d be much harder, and less fun, to holiday here without him.