Saturday and Sunday March 12-13 - Skopje, Macedonia
Apologies folks for such a long delay since our last update. Spring has returned here in the northeast with a vengeance and thrown off a few of my earlier established update patterns. Just a few more installments left recounting Mark's trip in Europe. We're still plugging away at the book and will continue to keep you all abreast of what we're up to and thinking about. Thanks for your interest and support!
With a meeting planned in Thessaloniki, Greece on Monday morning, I’d planned to spend the day in Skopje on Saturday and then head south to Greece on Sunday. I was grateful to have a slow morning to sleep in a bit and relax after such a thoroughly full week. Around noon we headed to the surrounding countryside where Martinka and Ilija had recently purchased land and are in the process of building a house. The south facing lot, about a half acre in size, included nearly a dozen walnut trees, several cherries, and a modest vineyard. Located on a gently sloped hill, they enjoyed beautiful views of the mountains off to the south. It was a lovely, warm sunny day and we all sat out on their soon-to-be porch, soaking up the sun after sharing coffee and some snacks and eventually dozing off for a bit. It felt absolutely luxurious.
We talked through one of their big site design challenges - creating sheltered protection from the surrounding neighbors. The drawback to their exposed, mid-slope perch is the fact that they are more or less on display up there for neighbors and passers by. We discussed layout and species selection for a multi-functional hedgerow to create a privacy screen without compromising the view of the mountains they love.
As the light began to fade, we continued along the valley and stopped at a centuries-old monastery. The architecture was absolutely reminiscent of that at Rila in Bulgaria - just quite a bit smaller. Within the complex, the property steward ushered us over to a small museum where they had a modest but intriguing display of several traditional tools, exquisite Macedonian dress and the millworks that was once in operation here along the river. It proved to be a short but enlightening side trip.
That night, I’d planned to solidify my travel plans to Thessaloniki, grateful to have the assistance of a native speaker/reader of the Macedonian language. Martinka helped me navigate the railway’s web page, eventually choosing to call the station instead. We were equally awestruck when the operator told her that train service to Thessaloniki from Skopje was no longer in operation. I had just done the same trip not even a year ago, but it turns out the service had been canceled just one week prior. We then learned that the only option for me would be to wait another day and take a bus that left early Monday morning. Though I’d already reserved a hotel in Thessaloniki for Sunday night and had planned a morning meeting there on Monday, there was little else we could do. Fortunately, it turned out that the bus was scheduled to arrive by 10:30 (assuming all went smoothly at the border) which would leave me with a half an hour to make my 11am meeting. Ilija and I ran across town to secure a ticket for the route to make sure I wouldn’t get shut out of plan B.
While I hadn’t anticipated another day in Skopje, it was pretty easy to make the most of it. I started off another lovely day, walking towards the central promenade in town. Being a Sunday, things were quiet and calm in town. I strolled along the main pedestrian street and found a cafe with outdoor seating to soak up the sun and the culture that steadily passed by.
From there I walked across town, heading to the other side of ‘the stone bridge’ where I found the narrow, windy streets of old market (which is still a marketplace today). Relatively touristy, the place was full of restuarants, cafes, and shops of all sorts. I explored for a bit, getting more or less lost in the windiness, eventually emerging at the food market where I disappeared for a while, meandering amidst fruit and vegetable stalls, trinkets of all sorts, a gruesome diversity of fresh cut meats and a bustle of activity. My original destination had been the Macedonia Museum, so soon enough I tried to modify my trajectory towards the grounds.
From the exterior, it was difficult to tell if it were actually still operating. The grounds were overgrown and the building appeared gray. But once I entered the space, I found the best and most relevant collection of artifacts and exhibits I’d seen on my trip. Covering archaeology, iconography, agriculture, traditional building, crafts, clothing and more, I spent several hours exploring the facility, snapping dozens of photos and reveling in such a treasure trove of fascinating information. I highly recommend it if you ever find yourself in this fine city. As pictures are worth at least a thousand words, I’ll save us all the text and leave it up to them.