Except for bad news about the conflict in and around Tetovo and the ethnic conflict, little is known about Macedonia. The country is rather small, but it's blessed with stunning landscapes. →Ohrid is the main attraction of the country, which is for a good reason. Outside Ohrid, there are virtually no tourists at all. Actually we were planning to go to Moldova at that time, but since we couldn't get a visa we had to change plans and went to Macedonia instead. However, due to a permanent lack of time we could only visit Ohrid and the capital →Skopje. I'm sure there's plenty more to see. Macedonia is definitely worth a visit.
Macedonia seemed to have relaxed its rigid visa policy. A few years ago, every visitor needed a visa. Me and my (Japanese) wife didn't need one in 2001, but I'm not sure about other nationalities outside Europe, so it's worth checking with the embassy before going to Macedonia.
There are 1, 2 and 5 Denar coins; bills come in 10, 50, 100, 500 MKD and higher denominations. All bills issued in or before 1993 seem to have become unvalid - at least they are not circulating any longer. ATM's accepting common credit cards as well as Maestro and Cirrus cash cards (for the latter, the usual fee for a transaction is € 4) can be found in →Skopje. And there's even one in →Ohrid. However, ATM's are not very common, so it might take a while to find one.
|Colourful Macedonian 500 Dinar bill|
Attention: It's almost impossible to change Macedonian money outside Macedonia, so it's better to get rid of all the money before leaving the country. Exchange rates at border crossings are substantially worse. There are some exchange booths here and there, but it's well worth to compare the rate.
Although →Ohrid is the most touristy place of the country, it's a very cheap place. € 6 per person and night in a private room are quite common. The situation is completely different in the capital →Skopje: Even in the youth hostel, a bed for a night sets you back at least € 15. There might be two reasons for the gap - one is the fact that there aren't many visitors, another one is the fact that the capital is frequented by UN personnel spending more money than individual travelers. Eating out in Skopje is quite expensive, too. It's still cheap to travel around in Macedonia, but travelers arriving in Skopje from →Bulgaria will be surprised by the costs. Bus and train fares are inexpensive. Logically, the fare for international trains is substantially higher.
Bus, train, plane, car - everything is possible. For most nationalities, no visa is required for the neighbouring countries, so it's possible to move around freely. There are several direct flights to Skopje and Ohrid as well as some charter flights to Ohrid from various destinations in Europe.
|Welcome to Macedonia|
Some buses run all the way from Germany, Switzerland and Austria to Macedonia, but it's a very long ride and numerous border crossings on the way to Macedonia don't make it a convenient trip. But, except for hitchhiking, it's probably the cheapest way to get to Macedonia. Bus connections include direct buses to and from →Sofia, which takes less than 6 hrs and costs € 10. There are also direct buses to Albania, the Kosovo and →Serbia
The national railroad network is very small - all in all, it's only 700 km. Nevertheless, the one and only international train is very convenient. It's the express train from →Belgrade to Thessaloniki in Greece. This train is comparatively fast and not too expensive. There are also some nice sleeping cars. Note that you won't find the name 'Thessaloniki' on Macedonian and Serbian timetables - the Macedonian name for the town is Solun! There's no train connection to Albania and →Bulgaria.
There are four border crossings to Greece, three to →Bulgaria, six to →Serbia including the Kosovo and four to Albania. According to several reports, it is still not recommended to go to →Serbia via Kosovo!!! Here are some remarks about three of the border crossings:
- Гюешево (Gyueshevo) ↔ Деве Баир (Deve Bair) is the most frequented border crossing to Bulgaria. It's the shortest way to get from →Sofia to →Skopje. The procedure at the border is very time-consuming, because Bulgarians and Macedonians are frisked intensively. Travelers are not checked whatsoever, but crossing the border on a bus can take hours.
- Табановце (Tabanovce) ↔ Прешево (Preshevo): This is the main border crossing to →Serbia on the shortest way to the Serbian capital →Belgrade. Trains cross this border, too. Except for a short grill by Serbian border guards, it was hassle-free.
- Свети Наум (Sveti Naum) ↔ Tushemisht This is one of the border crossings to Albania at the southern shore of Lake Ohrid. We already stood in front of it but had no time to cross it. There are direct buses from →Ohrid straight to the crossing. 8 km away from the crossing, there's the first Albanian town called Pogradec. Many nationalities don't require a visa. Instead of that there's a an "entrance fee" of around €10, varying according to the nationality.
- There's at least one bus a day running from →Skopje via →Prishtina (Kosovo) to →Novi Pazar in Southern Serbia.
Food and drinks
Well, Macedonia lies in the heart of the Balkans, and so is the food: Fried meat, grilled meat, fried minced meat, served with flabby chips and the inevitable but tasty Shopska Salata - a cucumber and tomato salad with loads of grated sheep's cheese. Cevapcici and Burek - greasy meat or cheese pies - are sold everywhere. Recently, Italian restaurants mushroomed everywhere. However, there's the strange habit of adding sour cream to everything - pasta as well as pizza. It's the typical Balkan staple diet so to say. One exception is →Ohrid, which is quite famous for its Ohrid trouts. Note that the prices stated in the menu are per gramm, so a large trout can become very expensive.
Leaving alone the typical soft drinks and coffee (Turkish or as an espresso), there's a local beer called Skopsko Pivo, which is quite okay. The most common firewater is Rakija, which is made of grapes. Rakija is common in the neighbouring countries, too. My experience was, that Rakija can be very tasty in Bulgaria, but the Macedonian one was simply a nightmare. Macedonia produces very taste red wine, which is definitely worth giving it a try!