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.
While Bitola was under Ottoman control, there was a law that new Christian churches could not be built higher than mosques, nor designed with any unnecessary flourishes. So the St. Demetrius was built low to the ground, with an utterly unremarkable facade. No passerby could possibly hold this squat, plain building in higher regard than Bitola's fabulous mosques. But the law didn't say anything about the interior of new churches...
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.
Situated in Skopje's Old Bazaar near the Kale Fortress, the Museum of Macedonia is one of the country's oldest and largest museums. Originally established in 1924, it covers three separate disciplines: archaeology, ethnology and history.
The Skopsko Brewing Company has been providing Macedonia with its favorite beer since its establishment in 1924. We had the opportunity to tour the plant, see how Skopsko is brewed, and learn about the country's beer market.
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.
Over the course of one long day at Matka Canyon, we tackled two hikes. The first, a climb to the church of Sveti Nikola, we can heartily recommend to anyone. But the hike to Sveti Nedela, on the opposite side of the canyon, is an ordeal we'd suggest only to those we most hate. Really, just those few people whom we wouldn't mind seeing dead.
Found in Gradski Park, close to the city center, the Skopje City Zoo has long had a reputation as one of the most inhumane in Europe. But the last few years have seen a sizable investment from the city, with the goal of bringing the zoo up to modern standards. Have things improved?
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.