Ah, Macedonia, the second to last Eastern European country I haven’t been to. Had to visit before they changed their name to North Macedonia to appease Greece. They voted on it while I was staying there, and the vote failed. So Macedonia it is, and no NATO.
Skopje, the capital. Wasn’t really that excited for it, but heard it was weird. Known for its big renovation projects in the past 20 years, the city center is covered in expensive statues and buildings that make it all feel weirdly fake. Trying to look old and historical, even though it’s all super new. There must be hundreds of pounds of horse balls alone.
I stayed a week, accidentally booking an AirBnb in somebody’s house, which I generally don’t like to do. It’s only the second time ever actually, and the first time was only for one night. He and his girlfriend were very nice, but I felt kind of like I was imposing and much prefer my own space.
Macedonia is a bit weird. I went to this cafe (The Gallery Cafe) across the street that I really liked later at night – maybe 9, figured I’d grab a beer and do some work. The place was full, and everyone was drinking coffee. What a weird thing to do. So I drank coffee too and ruined my ability to sleep. That continued for basically the next week I stayed there.
The only real vegetarian place I could find was Vegan 365, which was super cheap and very delicious ($3-$4). They had a good veggie burger at Fitness House too. And Kolektiv, right on the main square, had a good veggie sandwich and craft beers, so that worked too. But overall, for being a big city their vegetarian game could use a little improvement.
Coffee Factory is the chain in Skopje where it’s good to sit with a coffee and work for a while. There are plenty of other bar and cafe places, but they had 3 locations and seemed to be pretty chill about me hanging out and working for a while.
A nice thing about Skopje is that it’s right next to Mount Vodno. Like, 20-30 minutes by bus depending on which side you wanted to visit. So I did a couple day trips there.
First was a hike up to the Millennium Cross. You can take a cable car if you’re lame, but the walk up isn’t so bad either. At the top is a giant cross. I bought a couple snacks, looked at the cross, said to myself “that’s a cross”, enjoyed the view, and then hiked back down.
On the other side of Mount Vodno is the Matka Gorge. This was a really pleasant surprise. It was a nice time to go because it was after the high tourist season, otherwise it probably would have been overcrowded with people. You can rent a kayak, go for a boat ride down to a monastery, grab a coffee overlooking the gorge, or go for a hike along the side. I opted for the latter two. Had coffee with a nice Macedonian family too.
A week was far too long to stay in Skopje – an afternoon would do just fine (maybe a night to stay and see Matka), but I was eager to go to Lake Ohrid and hang out for a while. I was just a little worried about the weather, going about a month after the main season ended in September. While cold in the mornings, the weather was nice enough and the forecast was solid, so after a couple nights in a hotel I negotiated $25/night for an apartment right by the famous St. John the Theologian church with a balcony looking out right onto the water. Hot deal!
The church itself isn’t exactly holding a giant congregation in it, but you cant’ beat the location.
At the top of the hill there’s a sizeable Fortress. It’s just walls, nothing happening at all on the inside, like a medieval Instagram model. I took like 3 pictures here (that’s a lot for me) to get a wavy looking flag.
It was a very relaxing and enjoyable couple weeks, although as much as I enjoy the romantic idea of sitting on the lake for an extended period of time, I do think I would struggle to stay in one place like that for too long – particularly a place I didn’t know anyone. I had my routine of going for a morning run, then grabbing a coffee ($2) at one of the local beach clubs and doing some work. Home for lunch, then a more proper coffee shop for the afternoon before returning home for some more work and dinner.
Aquarius, NOA, and Liquid are cafe bars right on the water that I would frequent in the mornings. I think they turned into party spots at night, but that’s not how I roll. But I’ll drink a $2 coffee by the water.
The Vault – A more modern coffee house and lunch spot towards the main part of the city. They had multiple vegetarian options too!
Steve’s Coffee House – Self-serve coffee places are rare in Macedonia, as a matter of fact I think this is the only one I came across. The people were very nice, the building was great, and it had a view out over the water too if you wanted to sit by the window. I went here a lot, despite it being kind of a long walk.
Dr Falafel – Pretty much the only strictly vegetarian option in Ohrid, the lady working here was really nice and the food was delicious. A little more than $3 for a great falafel plate too!
I got into the terrible habit of eating the spinach or potato pastries after wandering around for a while, which definitely wasn’t good for the waistline. They also have a strange affection for yogurt here.
I took a day trip to St. Naum, another point along the lake (it’s a pretty big lake). It wasn’t a terribly exciting day trip, but it was nice to go for a boat rid for a couple hours. Here is a picture of the monastery there.
There was a boardwalk along the water that I had to walk multiple times a day to the main town center. This is the sunset along the way. It had swans and lots of ducks. I don’t know what kind though, not normal ducks. Tiny brown ones that dove a lot.
There was also a big Fortress at the top of the hill overlooking the city.
After my peaceful and reclusive stay there, I took a couple buses back to Sofia. The bus I wanted was full, so I had to burn 6 hours in Skopje again (ugh). I walked around, did some work at Coffee Factory, had dinner at Kolektive, and grabbed a picture of one of the buildings because I hadn’t done that properly before.
The flights from Sofia were better than the other places. Plus, I liked Sofia, so it was a good excuse to go back. I stayed nearly another week there before venturing to the great unknown again. Egypt!