April 26, 2016: Macedonia

We only had one night in Prishtina, Kosovo before we needed to move on to Skopje, Macedonia.  We had breakfast down at the hotel’s restaurant today.  Breakfast is almost always included with your room in Europe.  I almost cannot remember when it was not.  Even hostels normally include it.

Our Internet in the hotel did come back last night so we have been connected.  It was only out for a few hours and much of that we were out at our friends’ house across town.

This morning we decided to check out and load up the car after breakfast but to leave it at the hotel so that we could see the city on foot before leaving.  Our hotel is right next to the old city centre, just a three minute walk.  So very ideal for exploring. They did not have people checking in soon so leaving our car in one of the three parking spaces was not an issue.

We crossed the big street and were right into the city centre.  Even the side street leading into it that we took was lined with bustling cafes.  Kosovo, I have read and now seen first hand, has an extremely busy cafe culture.  From what I understand, culturally it is a “go and and be seen” culture but current economic conditions have left a huge portion of the population without the funds to go out to eat and such.  Because of that, the trend has moved to going out for coffee, buying one cup and sitting with it all day out in the public spaces.  So the coffee shops are very busy places, but not making tons of money.

We walked the main square for a while.  It is a beautiful downtown square and the national government offices are right there on it.  It is always interesting to see how a country of under two million people hands their national government since, in some ways, their national government handles only one third the number of people in the population as does the Houston or Dallas mayor’s offices!

The girls wanted to play tag.  So Dominica sat at a fountain with them while they ran around in a mostly empty part of the square.  I was sent out to scout lunch options.

I walked all the way down the square to the Grand Hotel.  I got to see a small group of protesters marching through the square.  First time that I have seen that in person.  It was very small, very much lunch time and very low key.  But they had a banner and a dozen people are so bringing some complaint to the government.

For a Tuesday middle of the day, the square was incredibly busy.  We were very surprised at just how  many people were out enjoying the nice weather.

From my scouting we found a restaurant that looked like it would be good and had some space on the side where the girls could run around and not be in the way of people on the square. So we found a good table and sat out.  The girls played for a good long while.  Dominica and I had coffee and everyone ordered sandwiches for lunch.

Luciana had been requesting cake, so after lunch, on the way back to the hotel we knew that there was a little cafe and bakery that specialized in cakes.  So we had planned to stop there.  More coffee and everyone got themselves a slice of wonderful cake.

From there it was back to the hotel and the car.  Time to get on the road again.

Getting out of Prishtina was not too bad now that we know the city a little.  This time we are heading south bound towards Macedonia.  Our last new country on this road trip.

The drive south was easy.  The mountains that separate Kosovo from Macedonia are huge.  We had no idea.  It was so tall that half of the mountain was covered in snow.  Half of it!  It was a warm and sunny today, too.  No hint at the snow that we had seen last night.  It almost felt like summer.

The Macedonia border was not hard, but the insurance fee was fifty Euros.  More than all of the other combined.  A bit ridiculous.  This is not a country working hard on encouraging tourists, I see.  But it is our last one and there is no good route home without going through it.  We do not want to miss it while we are here.

Sadly I have college friends from my time at MCC who were from Macedonia but I lost contact with them a very long time ago and no one that I know knows how to look them up so there is no way to make contact with them now.

Macedonia was an immediately different landscape than Kosovo. Kosovo was very verdant, Macedonia clearly drier and rockier.  Northern Macedonia sits in the rain shadow of that enormous mountain that we saw causing all of the rain in the area to go north into Kosovo and to avoid Macedonia.  So even though they are just next door, one gets four times the rain of the other.

The total drive from Pishtina to Skopje was very short, under two hours.  If we had insurance green cards for both places we could have probably done it in ninety minutes.  An hour if I drove like the locals 😉

Skopje is the largest city and the capital of Macedonia with about half of the country’s population living in it.  We had a little challenging navigating our way to the hotel.  Google GPS was useless of course, but even Google Maps was useless here.  Their data was totally wrong. Roads in the wrong places, bridges that don’t really exist.  What a mess.  I had to eyeball maps while driving and do some complicated things.

The Hotel Super 8 was great.  It is located right downtown in a great location and our room was amazing.  It was huge and very nice and with great views right down onto the new waterfront area that is being built by the city.  We were very happy when we checked in.

Having not had a lot of Internet access yesterday we decided to spend some time in the hotel catching up with things and enjoying the nice room.  The girls took out their toys and had a good time.  It is so nice here that we just went down and extended for an extra day so that we could avail ourselves of it a bit longer.  This will let me do things that I need without extra complication and give us a little bit of time to relax before we tackle the very long drive back up to Baita which is very, very far away from where we are now.

We have loved this road trip, though, and are planning to tackle a similar one in the north sometime “soon”, in the next year or two.  We want to do a massive northeastern European trip that will hit all of the countries that we have not yet been to.  We figure that a seriously long road trip, much like this but on a bigger scale, would let us hit everything that we have thus far missed in a single go.

Once it got late we went out for dinner.  Dominica had done some searching and found an Irish Pub across the river on the river walk that had extensive vegetarian cuisine.  So we went that way out for a walk.

On our walk across the river we quickly encountered riot police heading out to do something.  We practically walked with them across the river.  We also noticed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building that we walked past was covered in paint, but we did not think very much of it at the time.

Once we hit the bridge, Skopje was truly magical.  The river is spanned by many brightly lit and beautiful bridges.  The north side of the rive is lined with majestic buildings.  The trees and light poles around the area have speakers on them playing classical music.  Everything is lined with statues and is so well done.  It feels very much like walking around the World Showcase in Walt Disney World.  It’s really magical.

We found the restaurant easily enough.  A football game was on so the place was packed.  We sat inside, though, as it was just a little too chilly outside.  There was a table, though, so no problem there.  Dinner turned out to be excellent, everyone really liked their food.

After dinner we walked around the river walk just a little bit.  The girls were not in the mood to walk very much.  We got back to the hotel and I immediately realized that I had left my hat behind.  So I went back to the restaurant on my own where they had set it aside for me.  On the way back I walked around the area a bit more and explored the Art Bridge, the Bridge of Civilizations, found the Archaeological Museum, the monument to Skopje’s most famous daughter Mother Teresa, the Opera House and more.  The downtown area is still under major renovations and construction.  They have been doing this for years and have years to go.

The city was destroyed in the 1960s and when it was rebuild it was rather drab by European standards.  Now the city is working hard to reinvent itself as an amazing, classic European capital, which it has not been for a very long time.  So the project is very important and the scale is very large.  It seems like they are doing an incredible job, though.