Through historic Macedonia

Through historic Macedonia

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), that’s the country I am referring to and that’s the hidden Balkan gem that I had been to a couple of years back.

Popularly known as Macedonia, one of the newest countries on the world map, it
has been mired in controversy with Greece over the use of the name Macedonia and hence was forced to resort to that long official name.

 This trip was with a bunch of my college friends and interestingly a part of a study tour. We flew by Turkish Airlines with a long layover in Istanbul. We reached Skopje by evening and our final destination for the two-week-stay was a town called Tetovo, about 40 odd km from the capital Skopje. After a long immigration check (we seemed to be the only people at the airport at that hour) we got on our bus to reach the town of Tetovo.

Most travellers stay in Skopje, so I won’t get into details about Tetovo although I must add that it is a lovely town with some of the friendliest people on the planet.

For most part of the trip we had three local students with us – helping us understand as much of the local history and culture as possible and also taking us around to some of the most beautiful places in Macedonia. There are quite a few places to go around in Tetovo itself including the 15th century Šarena Damija mosque, a grand piece of Ottoman architecture.

Other places of interest are the Arabati Baba Tekḱe, one of the finest surviving Bektashi tekes in Europe and the Leshok Monastery. And if you want some fresh fish grilled for dinner, just head up on the mountains where there are some fabulous restaurants to choose from.

The Central Square at Skopje is a must-see place, full of life and vigour and dotted with shops and cafes; it’s the perfect gateway to Europe. The market nearby is bustling with local eateries and pubs as well as a host of shops selling what tourists love to buy the most – souvenirs. It is a wonderful walk across the bylanes leading up to the Square and then just standing right there near the fountains and see the crowd come to life or maybe sit at the river bank and just stare at the sparkling river just flow through. Oh and the most historic place that you will get to see only in Skopje is Saint Mother Teresa’s Memorial House, and it is right in the middle there, just a few minutes walk from the Central Square.

 I had earlier talked about how friendly I had found the people to be.

Well here is an example. When we reached the Memorial, it was closing down but when we said that we were from India, the lady was so ecstatic that she setup a private tour for us immediately. And that was followed by a small gathering of everyone who was present there. It was almost surreal to visit that place.

So once you think you have soaked into the revelry that Skopje has to offer and drunk enough of the local beer (Skopsko is a must try when you are in Macedonia), you have to head out to Lake Ohrid, a UNESCO World Heritage site for its natural and cultural richness. It is about 170 km south of Skopje near the Albanian border and its clear blue water is sure to take your breath away.

The Church of St John at Kaneo overlooks the lake and is one of the most beautiful churches in Macedonia, a fine specimen of Byzantine and Armenian architecture.

And just when you feel that you have exhausted your visual senses, all you have to do is walk around the Ohrid town through its cobbled streets or simply sit on the banks of the lake and stare at its vastness.

Overall, Macedonia has been an exhilarating experience for me, not just because it was my 30th birthday the day I landed in Skopje but also because it is still such a virgin beauty. Macedonia is unique in itself, it is probably the only nation where I have seen crowds of young people huddled together in cafes cheering for their favourite football team with a cup of coffee (instead of clinking beer mugs).

And of course, not to mention that their coffee is to die for. And before I sign-off, a quick tip for all the ladies out there (and some of the men too because I don’t want to sound overtly sexist here) shop for some fabulous footwear at brilliant price at the Il Cammino’s and pick up a silver filigreed butterfly brooch at the local market, because the locals think it brings good luck!

(The author can be contacted at debolina.mukherjee@gmail.com)

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