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.
Strumica is situated along the foot of the Belisica Mountains, providing the town with a gently sloping layout. The town park and central plaza are at the bottom of the hill, where the land flattens out into the fertile valley where much of Macedonia’s produce is grown. Higher on the hill are traces of the old town: historic churches, Ottoman-era houses, Byzantine ruins, and twisting cobblestone roads. And at the top is the town’s best-known restaurant, Loven Dom. If you go any higher than that, you’re officially hiking.
Loven Dom sounded like the perfect place to begin our exploration of Strumica. We could grab lunch, enjoy a birds-eye view of the city, and have the day’s most difficult walking out of the way. Our plan was nearly flawless, except for one glaring oversight: the restaurant was closed, and looked as though it had been for months.
And Loven Dom wasn’t the only shuttered establishment in Strumica. As we walked slowly back down the hill, we got the distinct impression that the city’s golden days might be behind it. Many of the stores were boarded up — not “Be Right Back,” but abandoned for good. The church of Sv Kiril i Metodi was closed, while the mosque of Orta Džamija looked as though it had never been open to visitors. Near the mosque, a set of ruins from the 11th century lay untended, half-excavated and covered in plastic. We tracked down the city museum, and though its door was ajar, there was nobody inside. Our hopes for Strumica were fading fast.
But as we neared the bottom of the hill, the first zombie poked its hand out of the dirt. We came across a restaurant that was open, then another. The cafes around the massive pedestrian plaza actually had customers. Taxi drivers on the main street of Maršal Tito were clamoring for business and kids were hanging out underneath the heroic statue of Goče Delčev. There was life in Strumica, after all.
And then evening came. Apparently, Strumica simply takes awhile to get going, because by the time the sun had gone down, the city was packed. The pedestrian boulevard B.J. Mučeto, which runs from the town square into the park, had an atmosphere approaching that of a carnival, with kiddie rides, popcorn vendors and loads of people enjoying the cool evening air. The bars were full, and music was blaring from a hundred different loudspeakers. This was more like it!
Foolproof formula for enjoying yourself in Strumica: Lower Elevation + Later in the Day = More Fun. By our second day, we had figured this out and adjusted our rhythms. Though there aren’t a lot of memorable sights, Strumica is a nice place with excellent bars and cheap restaurants, and makes a convenient base for discovering the southeastern corner of Macedonia. Go explore during the day, and come back to party at night.