SWMBO can say that because she has been there – Holy Mother of God Church, Skopje.
We took Mother Teresa highway from Skopje to Lake Matka. Our original plan was to take a gondola up to the top of Mount Vodno and then to hike 12 kilometres down to Lake Matka. We scrapped that plan because it was deemed too dangerous to do that hike with young children/no guide and because the gondolas don’t run on Mondays. Instead, we drove to the Matka Canyon and walked partway around the lake. We paid 1400 dinar/$35 for our group of six to take a 1 hour tour that included a 20 minute boat ride to a cave only accessible by boat, a visit to the cave and a return boat ride. The cave was wonderful as was our guide.
The cave had stalagmites, stalactites and bats. Spooky. It also had an underground river that is the deepest in the Balkans (confirmed) and is suspected of being the deepest in the world (currently being investigated by a team of international dive experts). Afterwards, we enjoyed lunch on the water with a view of fit young men hurtling themselves off rocks in pretty much any direction we looked.
We walked from our apartment to the Old Bazaar in Skopje. Did I mention that Skopje is known for being 40 degrees celsius all summer?
The old bazaar is wonderful. Faithful blog readers will know that we judge a city in part by the price and quality of the ice cream. Skopje: price = 25 cents Canadian for a scoop on a cone; quality = mediocre at best. The old bazaar is a large area of old streets filled with shops, churches, mosques and market stalls. It still contains the remains of three 15th century Ottoman inns. We wandered into the courtyard of one – the area where the horses and donkeys of travellers would have been fed and watered. Then we headed upstairs (to where the guests themselves would have been fed and watered) and discovered the charming Museum of the Old Bazaar. The entry was free and the excellent exhibits were both in Macedonian and English.
After the museum we wandered the streets of the old bazaar. The loud speakers on the minaret were calling the faithful to prayer, making the experience very atmospheric. Later, the kids and I took off our shoes and went inside a 15th century mosque. Fahbio’s Catholic hang-over extends to any religious edifice so he waited outside. The sun must have gotten to us because we forgot to take pictures of the Old Bazaar.
On the way back “home”, we stopped at one of the beautiful riverside cafés for a late lunch and a ride on a merry-go-round. One of the nice things about Macedonia is how affordable it is to eat out. Restaurant dining makes a really nice change for the long-term budget traveller. We had a nice lunch for six in a modern, upscale restaurant with lovely views. With six non-alcholic drinks (which are very expensive to order in a café), our bill came to $40 Cdn.
We plan to stay out of the sun and visit a hot spring in Katalonovo. At least that is what we think we are doing. One of the best and worst things about Macedonia is the way it is off the beaten track. Trying to get any travel information in English or at least in the Roman alphabet is very difficult. The most reliable information comes from the Bradt guide and some good blogs. Talking to locals is great but expect to be more confused when you end than when you begin owing to language/alphabet barriers as well as strong opinions as to what is worth visiting. Here’s what we know:
- There are hot springs about 30 minutes by car from Skopje. There is a spa there that is reputably the only one in the country that men and women can use at the same time. It is inexpensive. Impossible to get any info as to whether children are admitted.
- The water emerges from the ground at a temperature of 38 degrees celsius so it isn’t heated or cooled.
- We learned today that there is an “open bath” in the area that anyone can go to: read unofficial access point. Of course children can go – anyone can go. To find this mystery place, drive to the town of Something Scribbled in Cyrillic on the Back of a Receipt and start asking locals. This is the advice given to us by a waiter who told us that he goes there every weekend. Then he looked at us with a WTF look and said, “Why don’t you just go to a swimming pool in Skopje?”
It is hard to travel pre-internet style these days but come to Macedonia and you will get a feel for what it was like in those heady days. I am so excited to see what tomorrow will bring!
Quote of the day comes from the 17 century. Evliya Celebi, one of the first travel writers, observed that the bazaar:
consists of two thousand, one hundred and fifty shops. There are big and small markets built of solid material and embellished with arches and domes. The most beautiful among them are those of the cotton fabric merchants, the silk fabric merchants, the umbrella makers, the slipper makers the paint sellers and small cap makers. These are big bazaars built according to a plan. Their alleyways are clean and cobbled. Each shop is adorned with hyacinths, violets, roses, winter roses, basil, lilacs, and lilies in vases and flowerpots. Their smell simply intoxicates the visitor and merchant. There are educated and very honest people here.