November 10th, 2022
Currency: The Denar (MKD) – worth $0.16 USD and $0.22 CDN
Diesel: 98.50 denar per litre which is $6.02 US per gallon
EU Plate letters: MK or NMK – we saw both
North Macedonia (Macedonia before February 2019), officially the Republic of North Macedonia, is a country in Southeast Europe. It gained independence in 1991 as one of the successor states of Yugoslavia. It is a landlocked country bordering Kosovo to the northwest, Serbia to the north, Bulgaria to the east, Greece to the south, and Albania to the west. Skopje is the capital and largest city. The country is roughly the larger than the state over Vermont or two-thirds the size of Switzerland.
The region’s history begins with the kingdom of Paeonia, a mixed Thraco-Illyrian polity. In the late sixth century BC, the area was subjugated by the Persian Achaemenids Empire, and then incorporated into the Kingdom of Macedonia in the fourth century BC. The Roman Republic conquered the region in the second century BC and made it part of the larger province of Macedonia. The area remained part of the Byzantine Empire, but was often raided and settled by Slavic tribes beginning in the sixth century of the Christian era. Following centuries of contention between the Bulgarian, Byzantine, and Serbian Empires, it was part of the Ottoman Empire from the mid-14th until the early 20th century, when, following the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913, the modern territory of North Macedonia came under Serbian rule.
During the First World War, the territory was ruled by Bulgaria, but after the end of the war it returned to Serbian rule as part of the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. During the Second World War, it was again ruled by Bulgaria; and in 1945 it was established as a constituent state of communist Yugoslavia, which it remained until its peaceful secession in 1991. The country became a member of the United Nations in April 1993.
A unitary parliamentary constitutional rights republic, North Macedonia is a member of the UN, NATO, the Council of Europe, the World Bank and more. Since 2005, it is also a candidate for joining the European Union.
The flag of North Macedonia is a stylized yellow sun on a red field, with eight broadening rays extending from the centre to the edge of the field. The eight-rayed sun represents the “new sun of Liberty” referred to in “Denes nad Makedonija” (“Today over Macedonia”), the national anthem of North Macedonia.
We arrived at the North Macedonia border at 9:28 am on this cloudy and somewhat foggy Thursday morning. At this border post, you stop at one booth and the immigration and vehicle take place all in the same place and we were on our way in three minutes. This was easier and fast than existing Bulgaria.
When speaking to the agent, Fran took care to say we were touring “North Macedonia” only to be corrected to say “Macedonia”. Guess the citizens don’t like the required addition of the word “north”.
Shortly after crossing the border, we noticed that the time had changed on our phones. Our EE has, of course, stopped working once again but the phone will naturally pick up the time zone wherever you are. This time change surprised us.
As we begin to drive we are coming across roads in much poorer conditions than we’ve seen in a while with lots of section of road work and speed bumps. It’s definitely a less affluent country and the buildings are old and dirty and the cars too are old and small.
In many countries we have driven through, bridges are given names and often the length of the bridge is signed. Here in Macedonia, only the length is posted.
We reached a large commercial area before reaching the capital city and thought maybe we were in the suburbs but it was a small city called Arachinova and get this, there had to be over FIFTY shops selling furniture! It was crazy. Other than all this furniture stores we saw a couple of supermarkets and beauty salons.
There are not a lot of tourist sites in Macedonia so we are headed to the capital city area at least. Skopje was quite smoggy looking as we drove in and it was cloudy all morning. The sun came out around noon and it was much more pleasant for walking around. It reached maybe 17C / 62F and will drop to 6C / 43F tonight.
When researching where to stay in this city, we read about a lot of unsafe parking lots and that theft can be an issue. The place we chose on park4night was visited by several and recommended as secure and they offer power and porta potties and Wi-Fi. It was about the same price as regular parking lots, so why not. As we approached the lot we were waved in by an employee and saw the RV parking sign so we knew we were in the right place. We got set up with power, locked up and went on foot into the city.
Today we needed to get a bit of Macedonian cash, SIM cards and a country souvenir as we walked around.
The Wi-Fi at the parking is not great so getting a SIM card turned out to be a good idea. One sold for 300 MKD, two in a pack for 400 MKD and each SIM has 20G for two weeks. This is about $6.50.
After setting us up, we left and almost right outside the A1 Shop we found an ATM and withdrew some cash. Not sure if we’ve mentioned this before, but we like to get local coins for our grandkids from each country and we also get some for our nieces, Emma & Sophie.
Now we could explore the city.
We thought we’d found Mother Theresa’s Square according to both Organic Maps and Google, but there was no signage indicating same nor were there any statues in her honour but we did see the National Opera & Ballet House and the National Symphony Houses:
The River Vardar runs through the city and there are four pedestrian bridges which connect the two sides:
The Artists Bridge built in 2012 honouring 35 different people like artists, writers, composers etc.:
The Bridge of Ancient Civilizations built in 2013 symbolizes the civilizations that have lived and developed this territory:
The Stone Bridge:
This is a city of statues! We have never seen a city with more of them in such a concentrated area.
We also saw one of the Wall Street Bull:
Not sure how many of you all know this but you may have gathered from above that Mother Theresa is important here in Macedonia – Skopje was her birthplace and they are very proud of this fact.
Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu better known as Mother Teresa was a Catholic nun who, in 1950, founded the Missionaries of Charity. Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was born on 26 August 1910 in Skopje —at the time, part of the Ottoman Empire. She later considered 27 August, the day she was baptised, her “true birthday”. After eighteen years, she moved to Ireland and then to India, where she lived most of her life. Saint Teresa of Calcutta was canonised on 4 September 2016. The anniversary of her death is her feast day – September 5, 1997.
After Mother Teresa founded her religious congregation, it grew to have over 4,500 nuns and was active in 133 countries as of 2012. The congregation manages homes for people who are dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy, and tuberculosis. The congregation also runs soup kitchens, dispensaries, mobile clinics, children’s and family counselling programs, orphanages and schools. Members take vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience and also profess a fourth vow: to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.”
Mother Teresa received several honours, including the 1962 Ramon Magsaysay Peace Prize and the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. A controversial figure during her life and after her death, Mother Teresa was admired by many for her charitable work. She was praised and criticized on various counts, such as for her views on abortion and contraception.
We stopped by the museum dedicated to her and next door is a church which appears to be either still being constructed (the bell tower anyway) or being renovated.
Next we were getting hungry because although it was only 10:30 am to us it felt later so we found a restaurant on the pedestrian street outside Mother Theresa’s church and went in for a late breakfast. Amigo’s serves breakfast until 1:30 so we were in luck and surprised the waiter by asking for a local beer to go with our omelettes and eggs bennie!
We then walked over to see the Porta Macedonia:
Before heading across the river to view the Fortress:
And walk over to the Old Bazaar:
Then we walked along the river to enjoy the architecture before returning to Minou and using up some of our 20GB of data!
While the evening around us was kind of busy, the night was fairly quiet although we heard an early morning call to prayer. Got to get used to this new time zone as well as we were awake early.
After tea time, and some online time, Doug dumped the cassette and filled the water tank before we left the car wash parking lot. We drove a whopping whole 17 km / xx mi to the Matka Canyon.
Matka is a canyon located west of central Skopje. Covering roughly 5,000 hectares, Matka is one of the most popular outdoor destinations in North Macedonia and is home to several medieval monasteries. The Matka Lake within the Matka Canyon is the oldest artificial lake in the country. St. Andrew’s Monastery, founded around 1388 by Prince Marko’s brother Andrew, is situated in the gorge of the Treska River.
Matka Monastery, or Monastery of the Holy Mother of God, built in the 14th century, is located on the left bank of the Treska. According to an inscription on the church, someone named Milica found the church in poor condition and without a roof in 1497. She replaced the roof, added new frescoes, built a portico and created a vineyard.
Located in the Canyon of Matka, Cave Vrelo is one of the world’s largest underwater caves. Several attempts to explore the cave fully, but no one still knows just how deep it is. The last expedition reached a depth of 77 meters, but according to their statements, the cave is a lot deeper than that.
Fran had found a hike on Organic Maps that would take us to a lookout but we couldn’t find the trail head. Instead we found the main path from the small parking lot that follows the river, passes the dam and takes you into the gorge and you can go as far as you want. You pass a small touristy area with shops and restaurants and two spots where they rent kayaks etc. and offer a boat tour of the canyon. We opted to only walk the trail on this cloudy, cool morning.
We had hoped to spend the night in that parking lot but it was small the place an employee directed us to park was not level and sloped downward quite a bit. We found two other possible spots on park4night not far away. The first was right on the canyon road by a restaurant and the second was on a small road closer to the river itself. Part of that road was washed out so we parked on the side in the gravel beside the good part (hoping the dam wouldn’t release a hug amount of water and flood us out – we felt the chance was pretty small). We took a short walk to a pedestrian bridge over the river and did our daily walks on our own later.
We had a quiet rest of the day parked reading and playing cards where we were and got ready to cross the border into Kosovo tomorrow.
We put our last 55 cents into the gas tank the next morning (as well as filling it as we figured it would be pricier in Kosovo) and arrived at the border at 8:21 and were stamped out of Macedonia in less than a minute with no issues.
We drove 158 km / 98 mi in Macedonia.
Fun facts about North Macedonia:
- 85% of Macedonia’s territory is covered in mountains. This makes this small country the second most mountainous globally. North Macedonia has 34 mountaintops above 2,000 meters.
- Humans have lived on the territory of what is today North Macedonia for 7,000 years ago. However, the first traces of organized cities date back to 808 B.C., when the dynasty of the Argeads controlled this area. Throughout history, Macedonia saw the mightiest empires in Europe rise and fall. The small country was a part of Alexander the Great’s Empire, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and Yugoslavia, and it finally gained its independence in 1991.
- Macedonia is a fervently Orthodox Christian country that’s home to more than 1,000 churches. Ohrid is a small town in the southwest of the country that’s home to 365 churches (one for every day of the year). Some of these churches have been abandoned, but Ohrid is probably the city with the most churches per square meter globally.
- With a maximum depth of 288 meters, Ohrid Lake is the deepest lake in Europe, but it’s also one of the world’s oldest ones. According to most scientists, the lake is estimated to be more than 4 million years old.
- According to NASA,Kokino is one of the oldest space observatories in teh world. The site dates back to the bronze age, and people used it to observe space as early as the 19th century B.C. The site spreads across 30 hectares and is located around 30 km / 20 mi from the city of Kumanovo. and a Macedonian scientist discovered it in 2001. Today, Kokino is on UNESCO tentative list, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s finally placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
- In February 2019, Macedonia changed its official name from the Republic of Macedonia to the Republic of North Macedonia. The change was primarily made to please Greeceand stop it from vetoing Macedonia’s entrance to the E.U. once again.
- People in Macedonia have Back in 2006, Macedonia became the first country in the whole worldto have full access to a wireless broadband connection. The project was named “Macedonia Connects” and was sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
- Macedonia is the only country in Europe to have naturally occurring rubies, and this is where you’ll find the only ruby mine in Europe.
- There are (supposed) parts of the cross on which Jesus was crucified in the foundations of the monasteries of St. Bogodorica Prechista in Kichevo, and St. Jovan Bigorski and St. Georgij Pobedonosec in Debar.
- Alexander the Great, who was king of the former Kingdom of Macedonia, was the first world-size conqueror who extended his empire across Greece and Persia to India and Egypt.