31 August 2008

Macedonia Stopover

I was booked on the overnight bus out of Dubrovnik going direct to Skopje. Heading off down the coast before night the panarama was spectacular and I had one more short sea experience on the ferry.

Managed to sleep on and off and in between naps I produced my passport several times--I lost count after a while. I didn't need any visas and as long as it came back to me, I didn't care who stamped it.

For once this trip I was most assuredly going in the right direction. We encountered huge lines of traffic coming in the opposite direction at every immigration point, but no delays for us.

After a long night crossing three countries, winding our way through the mountains of Montenegro, we pulled into Skopje early Saturday morning. With only a three-day time window before my flight out of Athens back to Thailand, I checked first off on transport options. Three times weekly (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) there is a bus out to Thessaloniki. That cuts it close, but is still doable, so I booked a seat straight off for the Monday bus. That gives me two full days to explore Skopje, a completely random added extra venue on my itinerary. An unplanned surprise that turned out to be a gem.

Founded in the 3rd Century BC, it was under Roman rule from 148 BC. In it's newer history it was part of the Ottomen Empire for over 500 years (since 392 AD), and the ancient center has a very Turkish feel. Captured by Serbs before WW I, and under Bulgarian occupation during WW II, it became part of Yugoslavia following the war.

Situated on the Vardar River, the old district has both ancient Roman aqueducts and notable buildings from the Ottoman era. Skopje is purported to be the birth place of the Byzantine Emperor, Justian.

Two nice hostels not far apart from each other nor far from the central area. Great Turkish coffee in the old quarter, and the reccommended meal is kabab. Succulent and spicy grilled ground lamb rolls served with small roasted red peppers. Good local beer to wash it down.

I went to the National Museum where they gave me a New Year Greeting card in four languages as my entry ticket. Small eclectic collection in a spectacular building.

Early Monday morning I boarded the mini-van going to Thessaloniki. Still within the limitations of my tight schedule. It's the bane of solo travelers that the new era of steep [read astronomical] flight costs require advance booking with no change options, as I hate traveling with urgent deadlines. I would love to stay on in Macedonia and go out to Okra Lake, but it has to wait until next visit.

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