Singaporeans Abroad - Exotic Europe Series (1) Macedonia (The Jewel of the Balkans)
"Singaporeans Abroad" is a series of blogposts where we share our experiences and information about the countries we have traveled to. The "Exotic Europe" series is our FIRST attempt at this. We hope you enjoy it.
Country: The Republic of Macedonia
Average Restaurant Meal Cost: 3 Euros
Accomodation: Hostels from 8 Euros a night/ Hotels from 25 Euros a room
Cheapest Way From Singapore: Fly to Sofia, Bulgaria. Thereafter a 3 hour bus ride awaits you.
Trip Planning: Ideal side trip if you happen to be in Greece or Bulgaria
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It sounds more like a kind of nut rather than the name of a country; but yes, Macedonia IS a country. In fact, I would rate it as one of my favourite destinations. If you ever watched the movie "Alexander"? Yeah, that guy was the "King of Macedonia".
Bronze Statue of Alexander's Father.
When people travel to Macedonia, they usually head for the "jewel" in its crown; Lake Ohrid. Boy was I glad we didn't give this a miss.
Lake Ohrid with the Church of St. John at Kaneo in the background.
We made our way from Sofia, Bulgaria. At the Sofia bus station there is ONE agency that offers a direct bus all the way to Ohrid. It departs at around 10+ at night and arrives in Ohrid around 6 in the morning, a very ideal night bus. Unfortunately, this particular one didn't leave the day we wanted. We had to catch a bus to Skopje, wait 3 hours at the bus station, then board the bus to Ohrid. Not the most ideal way to travel.
Waiting for my seafood dinner of fresh lake fish. 8 Euros!
There is nothing more refreshing than beer and seafood along one of Europe most beautiful lakes. We even had a 20 minute boat ride around the lake for 2.5 Euros each!
Things to do in Ohrid
1. Explore the Lakeside Village
From the hostel,(most of them are around the same area upon the hill) the village by the lake is a 5 minute stroll away. Souvenir shops and nice lakeside cafes are aplenty; afterall, this is a tourist hotspot.
2. Hire a boat for a lakeside tour
There are boatmen who will ask you if you wish for a ride once you are near the lake. Make this your First activity. We paid 5 Euros for the both of us. (They charge the same for one person and I hear it is double the price in Summer, we went in Spring)
Ask the boatman to stop you at the end of the lake by the Church of St. John at Kaneo. This is the attraction furthest away from the main village. You can make your way through the rest of the attractions as you make your way back. (No point seeing the same attraction twice right?)
No other tourists on the boat but The Bald Guy & Girl. Our own private cruise!
3. Church of St. John at Kaneo
This is probably the most iconic attraction at Lake Ohrid. Nice quiet church at the edge of the cliff with beautiful views of the lake. Beautiful to just chill and relax while soaking up the at atmosphere.
While the views are free, the church is not. I believe it costs 2 Euros. We didn't pay, we'd seen enough churches by then. (They all look almost the same on the inside)
You'll probably spend at least 30mins at St John Kaneo take pictures, relax and even more if you decide to go in to the church. When your done with that, it's time to climb the hill (to get the above photo) so you can make your way to the next attraction; Samuli's Fortress.
4. Samuli's Fortress
The fortress is an absolute Must Go. High above in the hills and towering above all; this is where the best views of the lake are to be had. And it costs just 0.5 Euros for entry!
Such prices make me wonder; why would Singaporean's pay good money to be ripped of at tourist traps in "Singaporean Europe?" They must earn alot. Me? 0.5 Euros is my preferred choice.
5. Swim in the Lake
Where else better to take a dip than in one of Europe's deepest and oldest lakes? Do it in the Summer though. The Girl put one toe in and decided that was enough.
On the way back to the main village from Samuli's Fortress, you will see alot of other attractions like the Ancient Theatre of Ohrid and many other small churches.
I thought the one in Plovdiv was more impressive. Looks similar somewhat. (Not my photo)
Just visit the attractions in this order and you shouldn't miss a thing. Exploring Ohrid just requires you to go in a full circle, that's how the attractions are linked anyway.
One of the many churches in Ohrid
We loved Ohrid. Three days would be perfect here. There is a nearby Nature Reserve if that's your kind of thing. For us, it was great just to chill and soak up the views. Definately one of my favourites, Singporean's are really missing out.
Skopje, the capital of Macedonia
After a couple of days in Ohrid, it was time to head for Skopje, the capital. It's a weird one, this capital. Built to look old, yet only recently built in 2010 as part of an initative to attract tourists. The government seems to have alot of money to spend on infrastructure.
Statues like these are everywhere. Just built in 2013. bet you couldn't tell it was that new right?
The Stonebridge (Above) is probably one of the few "genuinely old" buildings in Skopje. This is the Symbol of Macedonia; it connects Macedonia Square to the Old Bazzar.
I'm no expert on architecture and construction, but surely all these don't come cheap....
A "Ship" being built to add to the whole "ancient feel" of the city
Modern shopping centre in the midst of "Greek Style" ancient architecture
All these efforts are obviously to try to position Macedonia as the "next big thing" at least for tourism's sake. Where does the government get the money for all these though? Last time I checked, Macedonia wasn't exactly in the high numbers when GDP is concerned. Even the locals we made friends with had no idea where the money was comming from. (or they didn't care)
The Old Bazaar (Above) is the main tourist trap of Skopje. Prices while cheap are still not as cheap as they should be. This is a perfect place for single travellers to meet women.(I'm with The Girl so i'm out) The women in Macedonia are beautiful, maybe i should consider doing my Masters Degree in Skopje. (Wonder if it will be "recognized")
Skopje seems to be built to look like a mix of ancient Greece, Albania, and Bosnia. Its all a facade though.
Greek style hotel under construction. The Statues are already up.
Chilling out with new found friends in the Old Bazzar
Singaporeans travel to Europe for many reasons. To see Churches, to see the culture, to show off, and to be ripped off paying ridiculous prices by knowingly walking into tourist traps.
In Macedonia, you get the churches and the culture, but without the tourists traps. How much did you pay for the entrance to a castle in Germany? I paid 0.5cents Euros in Macedonia. You paid 20 Euro for a meal in Rome? Congrats, I had a steak for 2.5 Euros. That's Macedonia for you. (oh, not for Singaporeans, they like to be ripped off. Rome and Paris welcomes you)
I hope you enjoyed reading the first of our Exotic Europe series. Till the next post. Cheers!
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