“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.
A short taxi ride brought us from Strumica to Bansko, a village which has long been known throughout Macedonia for its thermal mountain springs. After arriving, we visited the ruins of an ancient Roman bathhouse, before diving into a more modern pool.
The village of Vodoča is located a few kilometers outside of Strumica. We visited a monastery there, before walking up to Lake Vodoča for a midday swim. On the long hike back to Strumica, we stopped for lunch at an entertaining hilltop restaurant, and saw the remains of a medieval fortress.
Strumica is a nice city, but not one with a huge range of touristic sights. We spent our first day scouring the streets for things to do, but everything was closed. Everything except for one lonely church hidden in Strumica’s Turkish quarter: the Sveti Petnaeset Tiveriopolski Sveštenomačnici, or Church of the Fifteen Holy Martyrs.
A population of 50,000 qualifies Strumica as the largest city in southeastern Macedonia. Over the course of a couple days, we got to know its two distinct sides: although it’s comatose during the day, Strumica comes alive at night.
On the way to Skopje’s bus station, our taxi driver started up a conversation. “You’re off to Ohrid, I bet. Beautiful weather for the lake!” We agreed about the weather, but said that we would be spending this fine summer day in Gostivar. “Gostivar? Why would you want to go there?” We just plan on doing some sightseeing. “Oh right, sightseeing in Gostivar. Good one!” He didn’t stop chuckling all the way to the station.
We weren’t entirely impressed with Tetovo during our short visit, finding it too noisy, crowded and hectic. But the city does have a couple things to recommend it. The Šarena Džamija, more commonly known as the Painted Mosque, and the Arabati Baba Tekke are two historic sites worth seeking out.
Located at the foot of the Šar Mountains which separate Macedonia from Albania, Tetovo has long been a stronghold of the country’s ethnic Albanians. We spent a day here, getting an impression of life in this crowded and hectic city.