Skopje and Ohrid
As we ventured into Macedonia we felt like we were engulfed in a heat wave, luckily our trip included a few days lakeside.
We left the moderate temperature of Sofia and headed into the scorching heat of Macedonia’s capital, Skopje. This must be one of the strangest cities we’ve visited. In 2010, the ruling nationalist party voted to have the city undergo a massive building project called Skopje 2014, essentially turning the downtown area of the city into a Vegas-esque ode to what the party claims are historical figures of Macedonia (including Alexander the Great) as well as gaudy government buildings and museums. The estimates for the entire cost vary, with many citing it to be over 500 million euros–a large sum for a country with high unemployment and poverty. Many critics have argued that the project was essentially a large middle finger to rivaling neighbors like Greece. Whatever the case, it does appear to draw in some new tourism.
Similar to Sofia, one of the most exciting aspects of Skopje for us was eating. Our hostel was located near a section of the city with the most fantastic outdoor restaurants serving delicious local food. We shared plates of Pljeskavica, Shopska salad and Taratur and were guzzling wine and beer and enjoying the cooldown of the city as evening took over.
As Skopje’s heat was becoming over bearing and we’d seen most of what we wanted to in a day, we decided to take a day trip to Matka Canyon. This beautiful canyon/lake is a short drive from Skopje, making it an ideal location to unwind from the city. It’s significantly cooler there so we decided to walk around the canyon enjoying the breeze coming from the lake. We had also packed our bathing suits hoping to cool off in the lake, however once you get down to the shore the entire place is littered with trash making it less appealing–such a shame. All in all though, we enjoyed taking in the views and relaxing.
We left Skopje bound for one of the top tourist destinations in Macedonia, Lake Ohrid. We were not the only ones with this idea, as it is summer, the lake was booming with Macedonian families looking to escape the heat as well as tourists from other nearby countries. We spent a bit more on accomodation and booked a room for $30 USD a night with a private balcony overlooking the city and the lake–well worth it. As soon as we checked in, we put our bathing suits on and headed for the lake. It was a bit rough to find a spot as they were not beaches per say, but little rocky coves or piers with sunbathers taking every small piece of real estate possible. Regardless, we essentially just dropped our stuff and dove for the lake–it was as refreshing as we’d hoped.
The next day we visited the main sights, Church of St. Sophia, Tzar Samoil’s Fortress, Church of St. John, and the Ancient Theatre of Ohrid. All of these locations are mainly wonderful spots to take in the surrounding views. We then located a “beach” that was around a cove, not too far from the vastly busy ones we’d visited the day before. Since we had an overnight bus on our last day, we ended up relaxing at our new favorite spot all day. We learned from our Airbnb host that we had located the “wild” beach where all the locals go.