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.
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.
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.