Macedonia & Vienna Travel Log
Part Five: Arriving in Macedonia
Sunday I arrived in Skopje. My hosts, Marija and Zoran, and their daughter Ema, took me out on a walking tour around the heart of the city to help me orient myself. We crossed the famous stone bridge into the Old City and climbed up to Kale Fortress. At present, archaeologists are excavating there, and other work is being done to restore the walls and parapets. If you're used to North American historic sites, crowded with signs, summer-student tour guides reciting what is on the signs, and careful walkways, this is quite a change. No tourists that I saw, but lots of locals sitting around enjoying a nice afternoon. No ropes -- you are expected to use common sense and not stand on the edge of steep crumbling things. No signs. Look it up on Wikipedia afterwards, if you want to know details. What you do get is a much more intimate connection with the place. You feel it's real, not something carefully put together for show. This would be very nerve-wracking if I was visiting it with my swarm of nephews, of course!
Looking around, it's easy to see why it was an important point for command of the Vardar River, which curves around below it. There's a sweep of high hills (or low mountains) around the horizon, but nothing close enough to be threatening until more modern weaponry. It would definitely have controlled the Vardar at this bend. One very beautiful view over the walls includes a pine tree and the minaret of a mosque against the misty blue distance.
Coming down the hill, we wandered in the enclosed courtyard garden of a church. It was a very peaceful, still place, which reminded me a lot of a Japanese garden, I think because of the way it was enclosed, with a cloister or covered walkway along the wall evoking a Japanese veranda. (Probably not the correct term when applied to a Japanese building, but at this point in my travels the mind is feeling a bit hazy.) We also passed a Turkish bathhouse from the Ottoman era, with two large domes and a number of smaller ones. It's now an art gallery.
Back across the river in the "new" side of the city again, we ate Middle Eastern food in a rooftop garden. Then we saw the Skopje City Museum, located in the old railway station, which has been left with its damage from the earthquake of the 'sixties un-repaired, the clock stopped at the time the earthquake struck. The museum was closed, but outside it is a row of Roman marble gravestones and sarcophagi. Despite my hat, I think I may have gotten a bit of sunburn, but as the BBC is predicting rain for the next couple of days, it's good to have enjoyed the nice weather outside, after the rain of Vienna. Tomorrow sounds like it will be back to my handy rain poncho again.
And as an afterthought -- my hosts tell me that in fact there are places in Macedonia famous for their cheese (see the first journal entry), and we'll be visiting one on Monday.
Marija, Zoran, and Ema
View from Fortress
Domes of the Art Gallery