Near Kumanovo, the tiny town of Staro Nagoričane is home to the 14th-century church of St. George, which possesses some of Macedonia’s most important frescoes. We swung by on our way back to Skopje after visiting Kokino.
Before arriving in Macedonia, I might have guessed that the country would offer gorgeous nature, good food, and forgotten mountain villages. But I wasn’t expecting to find multiple megalithic observatories. We had already visited Cocev Kamen near Kratovo, and now turned our attention to the “Stonehenge of Macedonia,” Kokino.
We showed up in Gevgelija raring to hit the casinos. Gambling is one of our favorite vices and Gevgelija, a small city on the border with Greece, has a reputation as Macedonia’s gaming hot spot. But even though a casino was just across the street from our hotel, we ended up taking a rain check. What went wrong?
A few years ago, things were looking grim for Dojran (pronounced “doy-ran”), a lake in the southeastern corner of Macedonia. It was losing water rapidly to over-ambitious agriculture, and facing total disappearance. But a strict conservation program has brought this small lake back from the brink.
It was a long day of archaeology. In the morning, we hunted down Isar, an ancient settlement dating from the 7th century BC. Later, we drove over to the site of Vardarski Rid, on a hill overlooking Gevgelija. And our afternoon was spent at a museum which collects and displays the best archaeological finds from both sites.
We showed up early in Monospitovo, planning to spend the day at the only swamp in Macedonia. Although unclear about its exact location, we were confident about finding it. Monospitovo is, after all, a one-street village. Not much space for a swamp to hide. But it turns out that we were dealing with a very sneaky swamp.
“New York. Australia. Toronto. Ohio. Australia. Australia. New York.” We were taking an impromptu tour of Bukovo, guided by a man who had recently returned after fifteen years abroad. As we walked past home after abandoned home, he was listing off the faraway places to which their former occupants had emigrated.
Before leading the nation of Turkey into the modern day, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk attended military high school in Macedonia. Today, his former educational institute has been converted into the Bitola Museum, a special wing of which celebrates the great man and his legacy.
Bitola may lag behind Skopje in terms of population and influence, but with its turn-of-the-century architecture, compact Turkish quarter, lovely churches and ancient mosques, it competes in terms of style. We spent a few days exploring the city, and enjoyed ourselves immensely.