Flew into Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, a week before we had to be in Ohrid for the 30th Annual Jean-Pictet International Humanitarian Law competition. We wanted to see a bit of the country before the intense week of competition.
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As you have probably figured out, these travel blogs are a way for Bernard and me to keep track of our adventures. I can't tell you how many times we've referred back to one of our over 60 travel blogs looking for various details, maps, dates, etc. That said, feel free to enjoy the photos and just skim or ignore the text.
Macedonia March 15 - 31 2018
We had a marvelous time in Macedonia the last half of March, 2018. It was our annual trip to a fun place with the Jean-Pictet International Humanitarian Law Competition, 30th year!! It is always held in an interesting
Skopje, Capital of Macedonia
Skopje city: View from cable car stop near huge cross - lighted at night
place and Macedonia proved to be full of history, interesting and fun. Bernard had the Clara Barton IHL competition in Washington D.C. in **
March and had to teach in Germany in April. That left us with not a whole lot of time to explore Macedonia or its surrounding area thoroughly, so we choose to concentrate on Macedonia and not go with our original plan, which was to also see Albania, Montenegro and Bulgaria - just not enough time. **
Bernard return from D.C. on March 12th and we left for Macedonia on the 15th. We returned to Arizona late March 31 and Bernard flew to Germany on April 6.
Skopje March 15 - 18
We flew Turkish Airlines (TUC/SFO/Istanbul/Macedonia) to Skopje, the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, or more officially: The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (aka FYROM) in the center of the Balkan Peninsula. Over time it has experienced Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman rule.
Skopje has a population of 506,926; population of Macedonia is just over two million, so a quarter of the people live in the big city. The official money of Macedonia is the Denar
: $0.19 bought one
Center of Skopje
Skopje, capital of Macedonia, Museum area at night - very short walk from our hotel
Denar/€0.15 bought 1 Denar
We stayed in the center of the city in a boutique hotel (Hotel Solun) on a beautiful plaza with walkability to the Old Turkish Bazaar, all the museums, restaurants - everything. A perfect location. We could walk about two minutes to riverside restaurants, ice cream parlors, pizza places, but also upscale restaurants with delightful menus. Food: Macedonia borders five countries, including Greece, so the food has many influences with Greek being a dominate one.
We did a day-trip from Skopje to Matka Canyon Lake - lake formed by a dam - and had nice walk along the shore. There was a beautiful little ancient chapel, St. Andrews, overlooking the lake. Later in the day we drove up to the top of the cable car area for a wonderful view of the city. Those were places we couldn't walk to, so we hired a tour guide from the hotel, which worked out perfectly.
Popova Kula Winery
Our first stop after leaving Skopje on our way eventually to the Jean-Pictet Competition in Lake Ohrid was at Popova Kula Winery Hotel in wine country, Povardarie, in the Sardar
Popova Kula Vineyard & Winery
Firsts top after leaving Skopje; Popova Kula Hotel & Winery in Demir Kapija, Macedonia
river valley, mostly around the towns of Negation, Kavadarci and Demir Kapija, which was the town closest to Popova Kula. It is the most important region both in terms of quantity and wine quality.
While part of Yugoslavia, Macedonia was a producer of wine and vodka. In the 1980s, it accounted for around two-thirds of the Yugoslav wine production. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Macedonian wine production decreased dramatically. A big part of the reason for such a decline is the continuing dispute Macedonia has with Greece. Greece has not recognized Macedonia because they think the country is usurping the name 'Macedonia' - Greece has a province of the same name. Greece has successfully blocked a lot of Macedonia's exports vis-à-vis the European Union because of this dispute.
Only one night at the vineyard hotel, but it was memorable for the wonderful atmosphere and food. There was a talented group of musicians playing traditional tunes in the restaurant that evening. We had trout from their private pond and of course great wine. We bought a case of wine before leaving; shared it in Ohrid at the Pictet competition and Brajcino.
Treskavec Monastery, Prilep
Near Prilep, Treskavec Monastery. First built upon a 3rd-7th century town, most of the present monastery dates from the 12th century. Burned almost to the ground in 2015, there isn't much to see today except the massive reconstruction going on.
Prilep is the fourth largest city in Macedonia. It has a population of 66,246. The town was first mentioned as Prilap in 1014, as the place where Bulgarian Tsar Samuil allegedly had a heart attack upon seeing thousands of his soldiers had been blinded by the Byzantines after the Battle of Kleidion. Byzantium lost it to the Second Bulgarian Empire, but later retook it. Prilep was acquired in 1334 by Serbian King Dušan and after 1365 the town belonged to King Vukašin, co-ruler of Dušan's son, Tzar Stefan Uroš V. After the death of Vukašin in 1371, Prilep was ruled by his son Marko. In 1395 it was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire, of which it remained a part of until 1913, when it entered into the Kingdom of Serbia.
OK, we don't expect you to remember any of the above, just a taste of how much history is in that area - mind boggling actually.
The Monastery of Treskavec
or St. Bogorodica, is a monastery situated on the rocky Mount Zlatovrv, 8 km north of Prilep. Built in the 12th century, it currently has only one monk. The monastery possesses a large
collection of Byzantine frescoes, which are in terrible condition. The oldest remaining date from the 15th century. The monastery was the burial place of Serbian noblemen Dabiživ Čihorić and Gradislav Borilović.
It was rebuilt in the 14th century by Serbian kings Stefan Milutin and Stefan Dušan. In the mid-16th century it was renovated by knez Dimitrije Pepić (d. 1566) of Kratovo. The monastery was destroyed by a fire in the early 2010s and, apart from the church, it is now in ruins. There was some renovation work going on when we visited, but it looked like they had just started; it will be many, many years before it is restored.
Bitola is one of the oldest cities in Macedonia, having been founded as Heraclea Lyncestis in the middle of the 4th century BC by Philip II of Macedon. The city was the last capital of Ottoman Rumelia, from 1836 to 1867. According to the 2002 census, Bitola is the second-largest city in the country with 75,000 inhabitants.
This is an industrial city so we decided to stay in a national park on the outskirts. We found this amazing hotel (Hotel Sumski
Greek/Roman Ancient Baths
The bath area in Heraclea near Bitola - extensive plumbing. Built by the Greeks and later taken over by the Romans
Feneri) with a fabulous restaurant and we extremely happy with our 'find.' The owner said the locals find it too expensive for them, but Europeans and other tourists think it is a value. We were certainly in the latter category.
The ancient village of Brajcino has a mountain nature-trail leading from the village to Golemo Ezero atop Baba Mountain. The trail links Prespa Lake with Pelister National Park and provides good views of the mountains.
Brajcino is also home to a centuries' old monastery St. Petka. There are also five other churches inside the village: St. Bogorodica, which is located in a cave high up on a mountain; St. Ilja, the village's first school; St. Atanas, said to be built on the spot of an older monastery destroyed by the Turks; St. Arangel, located high in the mountains; and St. Nikola. The village is also known for its architecture.
Brajcino had a population of 791 in 1961 and in 2002 was down to 131 people after the fall of the Soviet Union and breakup of Yugoslavia many people immigrated - Canada and Australia principally.
We, however, got
Town of Ohrid
Ohrid center approaching from the lake - we had a boat ride on the lake with all the Jean-Pictet IHL competition participants and staff complete with a DJ and dancing - fun day
to see very little of the area around Brajcino - see add-on at the end of this blog "Brajcino Adventure.
Ohrid/30th Jean-Pictet International Humanitarian Law Competition
The city of Ohrid (population 55,000) is the largest city on Lake Ohrid and the eighth-largest city in the country. Ohrid is notable for once having had 365 churches, one for each day of the year, and has been referred to as the "Jerusalem of the Balkans." The city is rich in picturesque houses and monuments, and tourism is predominant. In 1979 and 1980 respectively, Ohrid and Lake Ohrid were accepted as Cultural and Natural World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Ohrid is one of only 28 sites that are part of UNESCO's World Heritage that are Cultural as well as Natural sites.
Ohrid city is where approx. 200 people (students and support staff) gathered the week of March 24 - 31 for the 30th Jean-Pictet International Humanitarian Law Competition. We occupied every single room at the beautiful Metropol Hotel on Lake Ohrid for the week.
So what is this competition? I think the Jean-Pictet website explains it best:
The Jean-Pictet Competition is a learning event in international humanitarian law (IHL) for students (law, political science, military academies, professional institutes), competing in teams of three persons.
The 48 selected teams, usually from the five continents, first benefit from a remote training on IHL.
They thereafter meet during one week, in a place which differs every year, for the Competition as such. They compete in the context of simulations and role plays built over a fictitious armed conflict. Teams play the role of actors of armed conflicts (military, humanitarian, lawyers, political leaders, rebels, etc.) in a context which is broader and richer than the judicial context. Teams benefit from the support of tutors during tests where they are assessed by the jury. All tests of the Competition are oral - no written essay is required, except for the application file.
Bernard functions as a juror/judge and
30th Jean-Pictet Competition
Group photo of all the competitors and staff taking part in the 30th annual Jean-Pictet International Humanitarian Law competition held in Ohrid, Macedonia from March 24 - 31
I in administration helping facilitate the activities during the week. It is an intense and busy week, but tons of fun too.
The last day of the Jean-Pictet is extremely intense with the final competition of the three teams (two English and one French) before a bilingual jury containing internationally known experts (flown in for the event) in the field of IHL (no pressure!!), deliberations and finally the announcement of the winning team (University of Essex from the UK this year), followed by a formal dinner and dancing.
The party usually goes into the wee hours of the morning and this was no exception. We retired at a reasonable hour as we had a 4 a.m. bus to Skopje. This enabled us to witness participants still partying, or hung-over. Actually several were to be on our bus and had to be woken/sobered up to join us.
Add-on: Brajcino Adventure
We did a day-trip out of Bitola; our destination: the village of Brajcino, which was supposedly 'untouched and authentic.' In hindsight when we awoke to find it had snowed several inches during the night, perhaps we should have rethought our day trip, but noooooo.
We were staying at a great hotel in a national park just outside Bitola. It was spring one morning with fruit trees in bloom and then the next we had snow, followed by 8" of snow the next morning. Of course we had no scrapper, so I'm using my sleeve. The following morning with 8" we had to borrow a broom from the hotel, which worked MUCH better.
I brushed the snow off the car with my coat sleeve, put the village name in Google maps on my phone and we headed out.
We had no trouble finding the village and it was as picturesque as promised. However, Google maps didn't seem to be able to differentiate narrow lanes/alleys from regular streets and navigated us down many so narrow we had to fold in the side mirrors.
At one point it got incredibly narrow, so I got out of the car and ran down the road to see if there was a place to turn around. There was, but a car with a flat tire and a flooding creek made it impossible to get through, so we had to maneuver a tricky turn around, which got us in trouble. Actually we had made the turn avoiding the car with the flat tire and were headed up the slight incline, which was slippery from the snow earlier, plus the Fiat had no power. Bernie actually slipped backward and over a hole, which was not so much a hole as the beginning of a creek running under the street. We hadn't
The village of Brajcino where we had a mishap with the car - a WHOLE other story; see those photos at the end this photo section. This is where we were heading one snowy morning for a day-trip out of Bitoia: Brajcino, a village that was "quaint, authentic and little changed" over the years.
seen a single person before then, but they came out of the woodwork to help us - George, his wife, a village boy, George's mother-in-law Mille and father-in-law Pavel. Our car was leaning on the wall surrounding Mille & Pavel's house.
Thank goodness for Macedonia's excellent cell phone coverage as George pulled out his phone and called a friend with a tractor, Boris, who came to our rescue. George's wife and mother and father-in-law all gave advice. We knew right away there was a problem with the gas line; tank was OK, but you could smell that gas was leaking - right into the creek, yikes. George called the village mechanic (failed to get his name!) who was there in a jiffy and advised us not to start the car; he jumped in and steered the car as Boris towed it to the main square. The mechanic, Boris and the village boy set about repairing the gas line with a flexible tube and clamps. They worked on the car for 3 hours (make-shift clamps not working, tubing not right) to patch the gas line. It was FREEZING, remember, it was snowing off and on. Boris took me
Brajcino Adventure #1
The streets of Brajcino were so narrow we had to fold in our mirrors; we were driving a tiny Fait; imagine a bigger/wider car
to his home where his wife, **Divna, who spoke English, her mother and I sat before a fire drinking tea and Bernardo 'helped' the guys.
**Divna, which means 'helper,' and Boris rent out rooms during the summer to mountain trekkers and that is why Divna's English was so good. Her mother spoke not a word, but when we left she hugged me, kissed me and chatted away in Macedonian - lovely, lovely people.
Once the car was drivable Bernie fetched me from Divna's, but we had no idea how much gas was left in the tank. We were super low on cash by now as we'd been paying our way: $20 to George who called the mechanic and tractor guy; then $50 + all our local currency to the mechanic; 20 Euros to Boris, the tractor guy. We also had wine in the car that we'd bought at a local winery, so we were passing that out too - to Divna who took me in and gave me tea, the mechanic. Basically we gave out all the money we had on us with the exception of 10 Euros to use for gas. They don't
Brajcino Adventure #2
George, in red, called a friend with a tractor, Boris, who came to our rescue. George's wife and her father, Pavel are on left. We knew right away there was a problem with the gas lines as we could all smell gas
use Euros in Macedonia so Divna had called ahead to the petrol station and got them to agree to take Euros (max of 10) for gas. Mind you, the gas gauge is not working at this point because the sensor was damaged. We crossed our fingers we'd make it back to town, which we did - out of money and probably very low on fuel. Fortunately it wasn't dark yet and we managed to find both a petrol station that took a credit card and an ATM to get more cash.
Back in Bitola and with the help of the hotel manager, we called Hertz the following morning - office had been closed the evening before. Hertz said if the fix held to drive to Ohrid (1 1/2 hr.), which was our plan anyway. All was well Friday morning (checked under the car several times), so we drove to Ohrid and turned the car in.
Turns out it was almost $750 and we are now dealing with a claim with the credit card company (had additional insurance through them). Even added to the claim all the money we spent in Brajcino, although we didn't
Brajcino Adventure #3
George called the village mechanic who is actually in the car steering as it is being towed. BTW, that was a creek we are suspended over leaking gas into it - yikes!
have receipts. Still waiting on the claim. Should I have added the bottles of wine too?
We hadn't eaten all day, so when we got back as the sun was setting to our wonderful hotel, with an even more wonderful restaurant, we had an early dinner of 'village meat' (slow roasted pork with chilies & veggies in an amazing savory sauce) & home fries; arugula salad with country cheese, fresh tomatoes & basil; seasoned and sautéed zucchini and eggplant and hot delicious local bread - we scarfed it down!! Oh, and I had several glasses of fantastic local wine.
BOTTOM LINE: We enjoyed Macedonia very much - lovely people, great food, some nice sites; if we had it to do over, we would definitely make sure there was enough time to add Montenegro and Albania to the itinerary.
That is it from us for now; we hope you are all well, but mostly we wish you wonderful adventures, Kathy & Bernard DON'T FORGET TO LOOK AT THE PHOTOS BELOW (VERY BOTTOM, BELOW THE AD, OUR PROFILE, THE BLOG OPTIONS, NORTH AMERICA, TRVELBLOG AWARDS, TOP PHOTOS -
Brajcino Adventure #4
Boris towed us to the main square and then the mechanic, he and the village boy set about repairing the gas line with a tube/hose and clamps.
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