When few years ago my friend and I decided to explore the southeastern part of Europe, to be honest, our knowledge about this region was very basic. When someone says „Balkans”, the first thing we imagine is Croatia and the Dalmatian coast. But Balkans is so much more! I quickly realized that there are a lot of hidden treasures in Balkans that I had no idea about before I actually visited them. Our Balkan trip lasted 10 days and it’s been one of my favorite traveling experience since then. I prepared a list of my highlights from that trip, so let’s see how much do you know about Balkans! I will start with the first two countries that I visited – Serbia and Macedonia.
Belgrad was the only destination from the whole trip that I’d already visited before. It’s never been on my list of top European cities but I think it’s worth visiting at least once in your life because of it’s long and painful history related to the breakup of Yugoslavia. The traces of the war are still clearly visible in this city, especially when you walk in the centre and you come across the buildings full of bullet holes. Belgrad is a good start to understand the past of the Balkans. The city also offers beautiful views of Sava and Danube rivers from the Kalemegdan fortress which consists of the old citadel and park, and it’s a home to the largest orthodox temple in the world – the Church of Saint Sava.
Skopje is without a doubt one of the most surprising places I have ever been to. I had no idea how Skopje would look like and I can assure you that what I saw was a big surprise. Skopje for me will always stand out as the city of monuments. You can find them everywhere! Someone told us that even Macedonian people don’t know for whom some of them were raised. There are monuments with and without names. With and without a horse. Women and men. Animals. Everything you can imagine in just one city. There are few places that you should write down before you visit the capital of Macedonia – Kale Fortress, Mustaga Pasha Mosque, the Memorial House of Mother Teresa, and of course the Stone Bridge and the old Turkish Bazaar. Don’t miss the chance to visit both new and old Skopje! There is not even one monument in the Old Town, but once you cross the bridge…
The Ohrid Lake, Macedonia
The Ohrid Lake is definitely the biggest highlight of my whole trip. Despite the fact that I got sick and couldn’t eat anything for the next few days, the views from our hotel were simply outstanding. I was spending my nights down at the lakeside. Ohrid is one of the oldest human settlements in Europe and it makes you feel as if you were back in ancient era. Among the places to visit you should include the Ancient Theatre, the Church of Saint Jovan Kaneo and the monastery of Saint Panteleimon. You can also sign for a workshop and learn how to prepare a handmade paper basing on the same methods which were used in Gutenberg’s era. It was really interesting! After one morning you will understand why Ohrid was named a Cultural and Natural World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
If you don’t have plans for the afternoon, I recommend you to take a cruise to the Black Drin River. You will visit the monastery of Saint Naum and also the Bay of Bones museum – an authentic reconstruction of a part of ancient human settlement situated on the lake. The Black Drin River is a reserve which looks like taken out from Disney movies. The integrity of this place is truly impressing. I hope any human beings never destroys its beauty. We swam the river in a small boat and I couldn’t stop staring at the crystal clear water and green area around.
After all the attractions, there was a Macedonian dinner waiting for us. I tried a little bit of everything, including the famous pepper pasta – ajvar. It was the first and the last time in my life. Basically, ajvar was the reason of my stomach flu next day. I couldn’t move from my room, it was safer to stay close to the bathroom… Let’s just forget this day. The view from the hotel was still amazing and the ajvar well.. If you really want to try something Macedonian I would rather suggest you the chestnut honey 🙂
There is one curiosity I that I would like to share with you! Greeks like to believe and to tell tourists that Alexander the Great was… Greek. For many reasons, Macedonians don’t like a lot their neighbors and vice versa. All the jokes that I’ve heard during my visit in Macedonia were related to Greece. We all kind of do the same with our neighbors, don’t we?
Those few days in Macedonia were one of the bests in my life. My knowledge about this country wasn’t big before that trip. It was based on general history and cultural facts but not much more. Now you can definitely try me!
I hope this article will encourage you to put Macedonia and Serbia on your bucket list!