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.
The Skopje City Museum relates the history of Macedonia's capital, from ancient times up to the modern day. There are some interesting archaelogical exhibits, but the museum's single most compelling piece is the building in which it's housed: Skopje's former train station, which was closed after it was heavily damaged during the 1963 earthquake.
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.
Although hot springs are a common natural occurrence in Macedonia, there aren't many spas set up to capitalize on the mineral-rich waters. The most well-known is the Katlanovska Spa, twenty kilometers outside Skopje.
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.
In April of 1941, Macedonia was occupied by Nazi-affiliated Bulgaria, who wasted no time in shipping the country's Jewish population to the death camp of Treblinka. Almost overnight, the small and tightly-knit Jewish community who had called Macedonia home for hundreds of years, was extinguished. A museum in the heart of Skopje pays solemn tribute to this most horrific episode in the country's history.
Considering the city's current craze for stately neo-classical structures, it's fortunate that so much of the historic Turkish quarter north of the Vardar survived the 1963 earthquake, including two original hamams. Today, the Daut Pasha and Čifte Hamams serve as venues for the National Gallery, and we visited both on a sweltering afternoon in July.
The center of town might be south of the Vardar, but Skopje's most picturesque neighborhood is on the northern side the bridge. The Old Bazaar, also called the Čaršija, extends roughly from the Kale Fortress to the Bit Pazar. With its mosques, antique shops, baklava bakers, hamams and tea gardens, the Čaršija might as well be a neighborhood in Istanbul. We loved it here, and visited whenever possible.
In 1910, a child named Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was born to an Albanian family in Skopje. Raised a Roman Catholic, Anjezë received God's calling at the tender age of 18, and gave her life over to the church and the care of the world's least fortunate. She took the name Teresa and spent the rest of her days making the world a more humane place.