I found out I still had 6 days of holiday to use up by the end of March, I sent a message to Keith, we looked on our Google map of places to see and picked an area where there were lots of pins, by the end of that day we had booked flights to Macedonia!
Saturday March 12th we made the journey to Luton airport. There wasn’t much to see or do in the airport, we were so bored that we tried to walk around and make shapes with a gps map app on my phone. It didn’t work as it was too inaccurate and kept moving us even when we were still.
Finally it was time to board, the flight took ages. We arrived sometime after 11pm local time.
I was a bit worried beforehand as I’d paid for the car hire online but they were yet to take the money. We located the hire firm and got car. I asked about cross border travel, they said we could get a green card for an extra charge whenever we wanted it which covered Kosovo and Albania.
The car hire was pretty cheap, I would recommend it. Interways Macedonia Rent a Car
In the car we realised we had no sat nav! (which was part of the hire deal), I went back inside guy found us one. Before leaving the UK I had plotted a lot of points from our Google map to offline map app Maps.me. We couldn’t easily enter street addresses into the satnav as even though it was set to English the names didn’t always translate very well.
Luckily Maps.me gives you the GPS coordinates of the points you’ve plotted on the map which gave us something to enter in to the satnav.
It was now around midnight and it was raining and I had to drive to Skopje.
I drove on the right hand side of the road sticking to the outside lane but sometimes the outside lane would end and I’d have to swerve into the next lane in, was quite strange.
We had trouble finding the apartment. Keith rang the guy who came out to find us. The apartment was pretty much on a building site, we weren’t expecting much as it was very cheap. The décor was very interesting. I tried plugging in the bedside lamp but it kept tripping out an MCB!
The blinds were rubbish, there was a lamp post shining through lighting up my room. I wedged some towels in the windows which did a much better job of shutting the light out.
The shower head had no nozzle, just a direct flow of was with was surprisingly ok.
We went for walk into Skopje, it was raining but only slightly. There was a shopping mall very close to our apartment so started there. It was fairly early for lunch but we hadn’t had breakfast so went to a Mexican fast food place, I a got bean burrito thinking it would be vegetarian with just beans but it was full of mince. I ate the chips, some of the wrap and lettuce!
The shops weren’t great. We walked out of the mall and there was a cute stray dog standing there. Keith stroked him. Then he followed us and followed us and followed us some more with just a few slight deviations to go sniff other dogs bums. Keith decided to buy it some dog food from a supermarket. He gave it to dog then while the little guy was tucking in we ran away! We could see the poor dog looking for us in the distance.
Next we had look at concrete post office building. The main hall of the post office is derelict with some of its windows smashed. Skopje post office, an interesting concrete building built following a terrible earthquake in 1963. Designed by Macedonian architect Janko Konstantinov.
Skopje Central Post Office
Walking by river we noticed lots of construction work taking place.
The stone bridge dates back to 1451, it connects the city’s main square to the old bazaar. After crossing the bridge we walked through the old bazaar followed by a look around the market, which seemed to be mainly Islamic/Turkish dresses or fruit and veg.
I would not recommend the market toilets, you have to pay (they let us have 2 for 1 as I had no change!), they were rank. Run down and smelt horrendous!
The weather wasn’t great so we decided to head back to the apartment so we could pick the car up to travel to one of the points we’d marked on the map hoping the weather might improve by the time we got there. On the walk back we saw an office block (The National Bank of the Republic of Macedonia) that has similarities with our own love it or hate it HMSO Sovereign House in Norwich (I think it looks similar anyway!), it was opposite another mall, which wasn’t up to much.
On the drive to Kočani there were two toll roads there was also a couple of miles of the main road stripped to bare rubble where they were in the process of resurfacing so we were limited to about 5 mph or less as it was so bumpy.
When we arrived in Kocani the sat nav tried to take us up a dirt road which looked a bit dodgy, Keith used the offline map to navigate somewhere closer to the monument. The monument was a short walk up a path to the top of a hill. The monument came in to view, it was pretty cool but very neglected and run down. The weather was cold and wet.
The Freedom Monument Kocani
Monument to Freedom, Kočani, built in 1977. Dedicated to fallen fighters from Kočani and neighbouring places in WW2.
The views from the mountain were really good. We walked round and took photos of the monument until we were too cold and wet to continue. A man and woman escorting donkeys and goats walked past, a great photo opportunity missed 🙁
On the way down we visited the toilet, well sort of. The toilet block smelt so bad and was a bit of a rubbish dump.
We drove back to Skopje and went for a rainy walk into town to look for somewhere to eat. Ended up going to bistro London where the doors are made to look like old red phone boxes. It was 50% off everything on Sundays which was a bonus. The service ok, little bit hit or miss. They had no waffles, and gave us the wrong flavour of San Pellegrino but the food was pretty good and the price was even better so we didn’t mind in the slightest.
Outside our apartment block there was a weird old woman shouting, she shouted late into the night.
We got up at a reasonable hour as we aimed to drive a big loop around the country visiting 3 places plotted on the map.
First on the hit list was Mavrovo lake. We wanted to see the submerged church of St Nicolas. The Lake is situated within the Mavrovo National Park.
On the journey we passed through the abundant obligatory tolls as we headed towards the snow covered mountains. I had done minimal research on the lake prior to this trip; I just thought it looked cool. I didn’t know it was located in the mountains and had no idea it would be so far above sea level that there would be snow!!
We were now over 1000 metres above sea level and there was snow all around us, it was actually snowing too. The roads were very well gritted. Not slippery in the slightest bit.
We turned off the main road towards the National Park, the roads were really good until the road around the lake itself. This road wasn’t gritted and was pretty slippery. I took it very easy.
The snowy landscape was beautiful; we could see the church in the distance. To our surprise the majority of it was not submerged enabling us to walk right up to it and go inside.
The snow was about a foot deep!! I got soaked, definitely not dressed for the conditions!
It was a pretty cool place. There were hardly any people about. There were however quite a few dogs!
St Nicholas Church, Mavrovo Lake
We got back into the car and headed towards our next point of interest (somewhere I’d wanted to see for well over a year after first seeing it online). After the sat nav tried to send us down some questionable roads we arrived in Kruševo at the Ilinden Monument, also known as Makedonium.
Opened on August 2 of 1974, it is dedicated to all the fighters and revolutionaries who participated in the Ilinden uprising of 1903, as well as soldiers-partisans of the Macedonia National Liberation Struggle 1941-1944.
Unfortunately the monument was closed so couldn’t go inside but outside was plenty good enough for me, very random building.
We headed for our final destination of the day. This is the Kosturnica monument in Kavadarci. It is an ossuary or mausoleum, a place where the bones of the soldiers fallen during the World War 2 from the Tikves region are buried. Pretty epic looking concrete structure with a spiral staircase to the top.
By the time we got back to Skopje it was pretty late and we were hungry, we eventually ended up in an Italian restaurant, it looked quite posh but it wasn’t expensive. My Dad always said you should give a 10% tip in a restaurant, back in England I struggle to part with that much as meals are usually expensive enough anyway. I like eating out in Eastern Europe because I can give a decent tip which makes me feel good.
We only booked 3 nights in Skopje before leaving England and wanted to plan the rest when we got there. So we made a rough plan and route. It was time to head to the next destination – Pristina in Kosovo. After loading up the car we headed back into Skopje for another look round. On our walk we had another look at the post office where we met a couple of locals who tried to tell us about it but the language barrier was a little too big. We walked past a building site where we met a nice builder who educated us on Skopje and how hot the girls are.
Justinian I monument
Visited the old Bizarre and Kale Fortress.
The journey to Kosovo started with a quick visit to the car hire shop where we purchased a green card for travel in Kosovo and Albania, it cost €30………