Getting to Kratovo
Well, here we are a couple of days further on and things are seeming much better. The sun is shining again and we are on our way to Ohrid, by the lake, the premier tourist destination of Macedonia.
But most of all, we have had two great times with people here. First N and D, my friends from flickr who we met on saturday evening for dinner and drinks. Then yesterday with L and I down in Kratovo in the north-eastern part of the country.
We met N and D near the Stone Bridge in the centre of Skopje shortly after my anti-Skopje rant on here. The clouds threatened rain and N had a yellow umbrella with him but we decided to walk to where we were going to eat, this walk taking us past the Macedonian Orthodox Church we had walked up to earlier in the day to an older Skopje neighbourhood of low-rise 1930's buildings along tree-lined streets, some with bars and restaurants and tables and chairs on the pavements. This was much more like it - and it is typical that having no guidebook with us, we had missed out on this treasure hidden away in downtown Skopje.
Now in the bus, which is almost full, everyone in a holiday mood for our three hour journey down south.
Back to last saturday and we found ourselves a smart looking restaurant to sit outside and so started a very pleasant evening with our Macedonian hosts. They both work at an academic institue in Skopje, N a professor and specialised in fashion design, D a lecturer in interior desaign and architecture, both finishing off a challenging academic year. Very nice to meet them in person, having exchanged comments and e-mail across flickr for the last year and a half and N was evry bit as charming as he appears to be on flickr. Moreover, the food was delicious as was the well-chosen wine - a Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon from the Macedonian vineyards. After dinner, we made our way to a lounge-type bar where a girlfriend, D, joined us, a very lively and fun young woman and the evening ended very late after too much alcohol, certainly bearing in mind that we had the 7.30 bus to catch to Kratovo later in the morning. Anyway, we certainly felt a lot better about Skopje and Macedonia after this lovely evening and I felt more than a little bit guilty about what I had written earlier...
On our first walk into town from our Leonardo Hotel, set in a leafy suburb to the south of the city, up on the hill towards the intrusive Millennium Cross which overlooks the city, we came across a small park surrounded by commie-style blocks. Sat at the corner of this park were a few people at simple tables having a beer. It looked very inviting and as we approached we saw that the people at one table were sitiing down to what looked like a very tasty meal. We told them that it looked very nice and they agreeed and encouraged us to also sit down if we wqanted a good meal. And so began our contact with L and T, who were both from Kratovo, a picteresque old town in the hills with bridges and towers. A great place to visit and we could get in touch with them if we fancied coming down for the day. It all sounded very good and sure enough, down we went yesterday on the 7.30 bus, getting in just before 10. We were catching up on some much needed sleep, but every now and then one opened one's eyes to see a landscape of rolling hills, a bright golden colour in the sun which was now shining. Much less built up than in Kosova and looking altogether more prosperous and settled. I wole up properly as the bus turned left off the main road and we entered what was obviously the Kratovo valley, which got progressively narrower and greener the further and higher we went. Lush and bountiful. The trees on the side of the road were drooping with the weight of the black and yellow wild plums whilst the blackberries were left black and unpicked. The river was a lievly stream of clear watwr rushing down over the rocks and every now and then a wagtail could be seen scurrying around. The small farms were suitably ramshackle and the odd shepherd could be seen with his flock of goats or sheep. A country idyll.
Again, not having any guidebook, we did not really know what to expect from Kratovo and would there even be a shop there (as we had taken no provisions), so we were happy to see a large advertisement for Kratovo - an ideal place for alternative tourism just before we entered the town. And, sure enough, it turned out to be quite a busy little place, set on the steep hillsides by the side of the river, crossed by numerous old stone bridges, as our friends had told us. We decided to walk to the centre and have a coffee before calling our friends and found a small town square with a number of cafes with seats under parasols. We called our frind L and he told us he'd be along in about ten minutes. It felt good, very good.
Continuing the blog on the blackberry on the bus to Ohrid, on which we had an hour stop at the top of the mountain while the bus got fixed...
We were sitting outside the cafe in Kratovo and our friend L turned up, bright and cheerful. Time to make plans and after much umming and erring we decided we would make a day of it, taking the chance that we would find soimewhere to sleep, while we would take a taxi back to skopje early the next day, accompanying L's friend I who was going there anyway. We would then take a walk around the town of kratovo, visit one of the famous 13th century monasteries and would go to a fish restaurant, sitting in a garden on a curve in a local mountain stream. It sounded excellent and this is what we eventually did, accompanied for the most part by L and I. L is a psychologist, specialising in pedagogie, working back in Kratovo after six years in Skopje and he was 27. I was a year younger and is studying architecture - again industrial design - in Skopje, back in Kratovo for the weekend. Both made for excellent companions and tourist guides witha great enthusiasm for and knowledge of their town, and their country, Macedonia.
They told us many interesting stories and legands about the town, including how there came to be a woman's breast protruding from on of the bridges in town, how a local hero (against the Ottomans a century ago) threw himself from the bridge and killed himself in order to save his friends whose names the ottomans were going to try to extract through torture and how the local saint, George, was burned as a christian martyr in the main square of Sofia....
Pictures of Kratovo to be posted later as running out of time... Will also finish off the story of our day in Kratovo when time allows.
By the way, we are loving it in Ohrid!