In our last post we left you, dear reader, with a somewhat cumbersome border crossing from Albania into Macedonia. This week we experienced light earthquakes, heard more Dutch spoken than we’d liked to, saw some great orthodox churches, drove through Scottish scenery, entered the strangest mosque ever and visited an over the top European capital.
The first few days in Macedonia were shocking, both literally and figuratively speaking. When we checked in to our apartment in Ohrid the owner asked us if we’d heard about the earthquakes in the past three weeks around Lake Ohrid. No we didn’t. Apparently around 1.100 tremors had been registered in the previous twenty days.
We soon enough felt our first quakes too. An hour after we’d arrived we felt our first one, three more following in the next few hours, a quake of 4.1 on the Richter scale really shaking up the building. We’d feel several more the next few days, the heaviest one on our last night being 4.2. Kind of creepy if you’re not used to it.
Back on the tourist trail
We were told many people stayed away from Lake Ohrid because of the earthquakes. We didn’t notice. After off the beaten path Albania we had to get used to tour groups and crowded sights again here in Ohrid. We didn’t know that Macedonia was this popular, especially among Dutch tourists.
We hadn’t heard so much Dutch spoken since we left our home town to go traveling for a year. There were even tour organizers catering specifically to Dutch tourists here and we found a shop selling eyewear geared to Dutch tourists. We knew we were back on the tourist trail again.
Busy Lake Ohrid
Not that it could really surprise us. Lake Ohrid had lots to offer with a beautiful lake surrounded by beaches, a Unesco World Heritage listed old town, some great orthodox churches, the picturesque lakeside Sveti Naum monastery and low prices. Who can resist that. We couldn’t, so it was hard to focus on blogging too. But we managed to write some new posts after the wifi at our apartment, that didn’t work the first two days, was fully functioning again.
You can read more about all the great things to see and do around Lake Ohrid here.
Itinerary change: Mavrovo National Park
We also changed our planned itinerary at the last moment to drive into the Mavrovo Mountains. This turned out to be a great decision (although we don’t know what we missed out on of course). First stop was the Sveti Jovan Bigorski monastery with probably the most beautiful iconostasis we’ve ever seen. Regretfully no pictures allowed inside, a recurring theme at orthodox churches and monasteries.
Then we drove on to Mavrovo Lake and the village of Mavrovo. In the winter this is a ski resort, in summer it looked a bit desolate. We used it as a base to drive to the mountain village of Galičnik. Along the way we passed some amazing scenery that looked like it had been dropped here from New Zealand, Scotland or even Kyrgyzstan. It was completely different from what we’d seen in the past eight weeks. We found it kind of refreshing (the weather was a bit cooler as well….).
A colorful mosque in Tetovo
From Mavrovo it was only a 100 kms to the capital of Macedonia, mostly on the Mother Tereza Motorway, but we had three stops planned. The first was the so-called Decorated Mosque (Šarena Džamija) in the city of Tetovo. We were already surprised by the distinct Muslim character of this part of Macedonia and entering Tetovo we thought we were in a Muslim city.
The Decorated Mosque wasn’t like anything we’d seen before, certainly not in a mosque. The outside looked like a house of cards. The interior was decorated in bright floral paintings from floor to ceiling. When we arrived there was no-one there, only a cute kid playing inside the mosque. Audaciously we put on the skirts hanging near the entrance for visitors, turned on the light and had a look by ourselves. When we exited men had gathered for prayer time.
Matka Canyon and Vodno Mountain
We then visited two heavily promoted sights just outside of Skopje, the Matka Canyon and Vodno Mountain. We found both a little disappointing. We walked through the canyon until the end of the trail and back. The scenery was nice, but we’d seen better during our trip. Vodno Mountain could be reached by cable car that was running for only half an hour each hour, probably because not many people go up. It had one of the biggest Christian crosses in the world on top and there were views to the surrounding hills and Skopje, but again: we’ve seen much better on the Balkans.
Luckily Skopje itself was delightful. We thought we were in the happiest place on earth. Skopje must be the weirdest capital in Europe. In an attempt to beautify the city and help create Macedonian identity and pride the center of Skopje has been given a complete new appearance. Since 2010 numerous imposing new buildings, bridges and have been erected around Ploštad Makedonija (Macedonia Square) and the scruffy Vardar River.
Work is still in progress, so we guess we have to come back in a few years’ time. It’s incredibly kitsch and sometimes grotesque, Las Vegas meets Disney, including music coming from speakers along the northern river bank (we heard ballet and classical music as well as Christmas songs), but we absolutely loved it! We walked around with a smile all day…..
And it has the least touristic old bazaar we’ve come across the past few weeks. That was great too!