Macedonia, alike to the other Balkan countries, is an interesting mixture of different cultures, nationalities, nature, tastes. At first sight it could be close to the Polish culture, especially from the language point of view; however it surprises when seen from closer. As tourists, or rather travelers looking for alternative forms of discovering surrounding realities, we share below few thoughts with those who, like us, enjoy to go off the trodden track.
For those who look for untypical places
Beside the main cities, it’s worth to go to mountains or national parks. We were especially impressed by the Pelister national park, close to Bitola, and just before it Villa Dihovo, located in the middle of the mountains, offers accommodation and healthy, ecological meals prepared from local products.
In the main cities it’s worth to linger a bit in a local bar or cafe in which Macedonians sit for hours, enjoying a cup of coffee, delicious local wine or rakija. In Skopje, for example, we recommend to visit Menada, a bar located at the beginning of the old town. It lies on a quieter spot, protecting it from the wave of tourists and maintaining the original atmosphere. Menada offers also its space fo many social projects and events, which take place on the first floor, so it’s worth to check if there is something going on the day you are there.
Based on our experience we can say that hitchhiking in Macedonia is very easy (for two girls) or easy (if girl and boy). In the second case a little bit more patience was needed, but ultimately we were able to get everywhere. Drivers rather speak English, at least basic, and if not you can easily try Polish or any other Slavic language. Just be careful of unmarked taxis, especially around Ohrid, one of the most touristic (and beautiful) places in Macedonia. But it must be said that once a taxi driver took us with him for 130 km without any fee. Everything depends on the person, but it’s worth to ensure at the beginning if both sides agree it’s hitchhiking.
For couchsurfers (and alike)
Couchsurfing works well in Macedonia. It’s quite easy to find a host for few nights. Challenging can be Ohrid, it’s worth to consider sleeping in Struga, located 15 kilometers further. Buses between those two cities are going every 15-20 minutes and they cost 40 dinars (less than one euro). Struga is also located on the lake, but has a completely different atmosphere compared to Ohrid.
Worse is with workaway.info, which you can use to find iniziatives to volunteer on. Although there are some project described on the website none of them answered to our messages.
It’s not easy. As in all Balkans, meat is the main ingredient of most dishes. However, vegetarianism is more and more popular, nobody will be surprised by a question about a meal without meat, even if you will not be satisfied by answer. In every bigger city there is for sure at least one vegetarian restaurant. From traditional dishes we recommend Ajvar (cream based on pepper), omelet (scrambled eggs with onions cheese and more), a Macedonian kind of gołąbki (a dish known also in Poland) and of course shopska salata – tomato and cucumber sprinkle with salty cheese. Interesting enough, for one week we used Macedonian catering, which managed quite well with the vegetarian option, but for some unknown reason, while the non-vegetarian box contained sweets, for example a delicious chocolate cake, the vegetarian one got only a tiny orange, or yogurt. It seems that vegetarian in Macedonia means also dietetic.
For those who want to do something good
Macedonia, especially Skopje, offers quite a lot to those who want to support the local community. One of our favorite projects is called Retwitt a meal, it’s a group of volunteers which every Friday evening cook food for poor and homeless people from Skopje and distribute it every Saturday, at 12.30 in front of the Memorial of Mother Teresa. You can support them with a donation (only food, they don’t accept money) or join them in cooking. Another option is to use Freshys restaurant, which gives 34% of its profits to people in need. Freshys offers healthy, ecological food, with vegetarian and vegan options.
For those interested in the social and political situation
One day in Bitola we started to wonder why some of the buildings are full of colorful spots. In Skopje there are even more of them. From local people, open to discuss about history and politics, we got to know about the Colorful Revolution, which took place few months before getting thousands of people on the streets. The general situation in Macedonia is rather unstable and definitely it doesn’t help in the development of the country. It seems that the elections, which took place few weeks ago (11/12/2016), won’t change the situation. Macedonians have no problems with talking about politics, they answer any questions and easily join the discussion. They love to complain, especially about the amazing number of monuments and statues that popped up in any street in Skopje and the corruption flows involved with them. To have a bigger picture of the situation it’s worth to talk with different people, including at least one Albanian living in Macedonia. Macedonia has conflicts with most of the surrounding countries, but the ethnic conflict with Albania seems to be particularly difficult and still burning. Also the relation with Greece, which doesn’t recognize Macedonia, is not easy. In Greece it’s better to avoid using the term Macedonia, the official name is F.Y.R.O.M. (Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia). It’s worth to remember it if somebody plan to hitchhike from one country to another. It goes without saying, Greece doesn’t recognize Macedonian passports: Macedonians receive a special paper to collect stamps entering and leaving Greece. They can stay in the EU no more than 90 days per year.
For those who respect rules
In Macedonia every person staying in a particular place for longer than 48h should register at the police station. Without it, in case of accident (or sometimes even when leaving the country) you may have troubles.