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Republic of Macedonia
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The Republic of Macedonia, also known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), is a landlocked country in the Balkans, in Merranean Europe. It has Serbia and Montenegro to the north, Albania to the west, Bulgaria to the east, and Greece to the south, and is often known simply as Macedonia, despite the objections of the neighboring Greeks who have their own Macedonia just across the border. The country controls a major transportation corridor from Western and Central Europe to the Aegean Sea and Southern Europe.
Places to visit
Ohrid is without a doubt the jewel in Macedonia's somewhat dowdy crown. Nestled between high mountains up to 2.800m and Lake Ohrid, it is not only a place of historic magnificence but also of outstanding natural beauty.
Aside of the lake, Ohrid is most famous for its ancient churches, basilicas and monasteries where Saints Cyril and Methodus wrote their teachings and formulated the Cyrillic alphabet used in Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro most of the former Soviet Union. Most of these churches charge an entry which for tourists is normally double that what locals pay, but is still worth it. It is a good idea to cover up when entering a church, but most locals will understand the inconveniences involved during a hot Macedonian Summer. There is also a wonderful ancient walled fortress at the top of the city. Churches to visit include:
* Church of St. Sophia (11th century) * Church of St. John of Kaneo (13th century) * Church of St. Clement * Church of St. George * Church of St. Zaum * Church of St. Naum * Church of St. Petka * Church of St. Stephan * Many basilicas from the early-Christian time, e.g. Basilica of St. Erasmus (4th century) * Stronghold of Tsar Samoil (10th/11th century) * Museum of Slavic writing culture (18th century) * Anthic Theatre
St. Naum is at the other end of the lake and is accessible by bus, taxi or boat. It is on the Albanian border so make sure you don't wander off into the military zone. If you take a taxi, it may be worth asking the driver to veer off into one of the picturesque mountain villages overlooking the lake to stop for a cheap lunch of grilled meat and cheese.
Being the national tourist attraction, Ohrid is obviously more expensive than any other destination in Macedonia. Note that hotel prices are very expensive throughout the country and charge double rates to foreigners. It is therefore advisable to stay in private accommodation. If someone does not ask you at the bus station, you can always consult one of the many travel agencies in and around the centre. If you do opt for private accommodation make sure you see the room first and then decide. Payment is normally made in advance and should cost no more than ?10-15 per night per person in peak season and half that during the rest of the year. Note: finding suitable accommodation in July and August is not easy, so try and book through a travel agent in advance.
Food and Drink
If you are on a tight budget, try one of the Skara (grill) places in the Albanian quarter next to the old mosque. Muslims in this part of the world are very liberal, women are treated with respect and most places serve alcohol as most people drink regardless of their religion.
There are quite a few up-market restaurants serving better quality food on the waterfront, but these do cater for tourists and don't be surprised at the rather weighted bill at the end of your meal.
Bitola is the second largest in the Republic of Macedonia (pop. 86,176 in 1994ce; altitude 576 meters), near the border with Greece, straddling the River Dragor at the foot of Mt Pelister, in the Baba mountains.
The centre is pleasant, but the rest of the city is rather dirty and poor. The major tourist attraction is Heraklea, said to have been founded by Phillip of Macedon. It is situated about 5km outside the city and a return taxi ride will cost about ?2.
Bitola also has good selection of bars, pubs and restaurants with fair prices.
Macedonia is blessed with outstanding natural beauty. Do not miss a trip to one of the large lakes, Pelister Mountains or Shar Planina in the West and the fascinating rolling hills and mountains of the East with its rice fields.
Macedonia is a very poor country with 7 ethnic minorities. There is still ethnic tension between Albanians and Macedonians, so maybe this is a subject best avoided. Tetovo, one of the largest cities in Macedonia, has a near 90% ethnic Albanian population. Most people advise not going to Tetovo. However, the brave traveller is rewarded greatly by visiting this town. The people are very hospitable, the scenery is beautiful and it is very safe.
Most people are very friendly and hospitable, but beware of over-friendly taxidrivers and strangers. There is a sizeable Roma minority and children will often come to tables and beg. Ignore them and they will go away. Aside of this, if you are fortunate enough, Gypsy Brass Bands go from restaurant to restaurant and it is common courtesy to leave them a small tip. Tipping is not seen as essential, but it is always welcomed. It is not recommended to tip over 10%, as this is seen as being patronizing and offensive.
Most Macedonians will quote prices in ? and you will find that they are most accurately calculated. One Euro roughly equates to 60 Denar. Most larger cities have ATM Machines where you can withdraw money with cheap commission rates, there are also plenty of banks and exchange booths where you can easily change money. Do not change money on the street.
While some young people speak English, most do not, so a phrase book is handy if not necessary. Speakers of Serbian and Croatian should have no problem getting by, many older people also speak some Russian. German is also very useful, especially among older Albanians.
Warm, dry summers and autumns and relatively cold winters with heavy snowfall
Mountainous territory covered with deep basins and valleys; three large lakes, each divided by a frontier line; country bisected by the Vardar River
The area comprising modern day Macedonia has a rich and ancient history. The legendary Kings of Macedon Phillip and Alexander ruled here as did Illyrians, Romans, Greeks, Slavic Bulgarians and Ottoman Turks, all of which represented in the country's culture today. Maybe the most significant influences are the 500 years Ottoman rule and the fact that Sts. Cyril and Methodus wrote their teachings in the fascinating city of Ohrid. The country is dotted with beautiful Orthodox churches and Monasteries and Mosques from the Ottoman period, most notably in Skopje's Bit Bazaar district.
Macedonia was once actually part of Bulgaria, but incorporated into Yugoslavia by Tito in 1948, thus giving the people of Macedonia a "state" they could call their own for the first time. Macedonia prospered greatly under Marshall Tito's rule - the capital Skopje was rebuilt after a severe Earthquake in 1963 and heavy investments were made in the infrastructure subsequently. This may explain why many Macedonians are still somewhat nostalgic about Tito's Yugoslavia and that one can even see road signs for Veles denoted as Titov Veles.
International recognition of The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's (F.Y.R.O.M.) independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 was delayed by Greece's objection to the new state's use of what it considered a Hellenic name and symbols. Greece finally lifted its trade blockade in 1995, and the two countries agreed to normalize relations, despite continued disagreement over F.Y.R.O.M.'s use of "Macedonia." F.Y.R.O.M.'s large Albanian minority, an ethnic Albanian armed insurgency in F.Y.R.O.M. in 2001, and the status of neighboring Kosovo continue to be sources of ethnic tension.
Macedonia has two international airports, the main airport in the capital Skopje (SKP) and a second airport of minor importance in Ohrid (OHD). An option to travel into Macedonia is to fly to Thessaloniki (SKG) or to Sofia (SOF) and get a taxi or bus from there. However, crossing the border usually takes extra time. A taxi from Sofia to Skopje should be less than 100 ?.
Be sure your Green Card (International Insurance Card) has an uncancelled "MK" box. Try to get a good map of Macedonia and/or try to be able to read Cyrillic letters. Although most street signs are printed in Cyrillic and Latin letters it can be helpful to have a little knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet, especially in small towns.
In Skopje there are two bus terminals. Most buses come to the new terminal, but some connections (for example to Pristina) are serviced by the old one, which is located at the city center. If you need to change the terminals, you need to walk to the stone bridge over Vardar and cross the bridge (about 2.5 km) or take a taxi.
At both terminals you will be constantly nagged by taxi drivers, who will try to convince you to use their services. Unless you have too much money to throw away, you shouldn't take their advice. The taxi is likely to be heavily overpriced, especially for foreigners, while the buses are cheap, clean and safe.
If travelling by car, be sure your tyres are good enough. Especially in spring and autumn weather in the mountains (Lake Ohrid/Ohrid, Bitola) can differ significantly from the weather in the areas you're coming from.
Macedonia is dotted with markets and bazaars well worth a visit. The bazaars of Skopje, Tetovo, Ohrid and Bitola are the largest selling anything from dried peppers to fake designer sunglasses. Whilst most things aren't really worth buying, there is normally a good selection of shoes and fruit and vegetables are of good quality depending on the season. Merchants are generally pleasant and welcoming, especially to westerners, something of a rarity outside of Skopje and Ohrid.
Ohrid is famous for its pearls and there are dozens of jewellers in the old town that will offer good products at decent prices. The Macedonian Orthodox paintings in old Ohrid are also worth a look.
Typical Macedonian food resembles the food of the southern Balkans. For example loads of grilled meat known as skara are served in many places. Note that usually side dishes have to be ordered separately. However, Macedonia is also famous for its shopska salata a mixed salad of cucumbers, tomatoes and grated sirenje. Sirenje is a white cheese similar to feta cheese. Usually Macedonians will translate the English cheese to sirenje. Another local speciality is ajvar which is either used as an appetizer or side dish. It is a red paste made from roasted paprika and tomatoes. Many households prepare their own ajvar. Typical as well is tarator which might be comparable to the greek tzatziki. It is made of yoghurt, cucumbers and garlic and it is served as a cold soup.
Macedonia, being landlocked, does not offer a great variety of fresh fish. A notable exception is Ohrid, where freshly fished fish from the local lake can be enjoyed. There you can also taste the Ohrid trout, a fish of endemic nature.
Rakia is a strong grape brandy which is drunken a lot in Macedonia. It is probably close to being the national drink. The main beer, Skopsko, is a refreshing Pilsner and surprisingly decent.
Macedonia, despite being quite poor, is a relatively safe country. Driving is definitely ill-advised , so try and use taxis and public transport wherever possible. As in all countries, keep an eye out for pickpockets and all valuables safe. Hotels and most private accommodation will offer a safe to store valuables and cash in.
Water is generally safe to drink and there are public drinking water fountains in most public places. It is advisable to wash all fruit and vegetables.
Republic of Macedonia1
National Name: Republika Makedonija
President: Branko Crvenkovski (2004)
Prime Minister: Radmila Sekerinska (2004)
Area: 9,928 sq mi (25,713 sq km)
Population (2004 est.): 2,071,210 (growth rate: 0.4%); birth rate: 13.1/1000; infant mortality rate: 11.7/1000; life expectancy: 74.7; density per sq mi: 212
Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Skopje, 587,300 (metro. area), 452,500 (city proper)
Other large cities: Bitola, 84,400; Kumanovo, 78,900; Prilep, 56,900
Monetary unit: Denar
Languages: Macedonian 68%, Albanian 25% (both official); Turkish 3%, Serbo-Croatian 2%, other 2%
Ethnicity/race: Macedonian 64.2%, Albanian 25.2%, Turkish 3.8%, Roma (Gypsy) 2.7%, Serb 1.8%, other 2.3% (2002)
Religions: Macedonian Orthodox 70%, Islam 29%, other 1% (1994)
Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2003 est.): $13.81 billion; per capita $6,700. Real growth rate: 2.8%. Inflation: ?2.6%. Unemployment: 36.7%. Arable land: 24%. Agriculture: rice, tobacco, wheat, corn, millet, cotton, sesame, mulberry leaves, citrus, vegetables; beef, pork, poultry, mutton. Labor force: 860,000; agriculture n.a., industry n.a., services n.a. Industries: coal, metallic chromium, lead, zinc, ferronickel, textiles, wood products, tobacco, food processing, buses. Natural resources: chromium, lead, zinc, manganese, tungsten, nickel, low-grade iron ore, asbestos, sulfur, timber, arable land. Exports: $1.346 billion (f.o.b., 2003 est.): food, beverages, tobacco; miscellaneous manufactures, iron and steel. Imports: $2.184 billion (f.o.b., 2003 est.): machinery and equipment, chemicals, fuels; food products. Major trading partners: Germany, Italy, U.S., Croatia, Greece, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine, Austria.
Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 408,000 (1997); mobile cellular: 12,362 (1997). Radio broadcast stations: AM 29, FM 20, shortwave 0 (1998). Radios: 410,000 (1997). Television broadcast stations: 31 (plus 166 repeaters) (1995). Televisions: 510,000 (1997). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 6 (2000). Internet users: 100,000 (2001).
Transportation: Railways: total: 699 km (2002). Highways: total: 8,684 km; paved: 5,540 km (including 133 km of expressways); unpaved: 3,144 km (1999 est.). Waterways: none, lake transport only. Ports and harbors: none. Airports: 18 (2002).
International disputes: the Albanian government calls for the protection of the rights of ethnic Albanians in F.Y.R.O.M. while continuing to seek regional cooperation; ethnic Albanians in Kosovo continue to protest 2000 F.Y.R.O.M.-Serbia and Montenegro boundary treaty, which transfers small tracts of land to F.Y.R.O.M.; dispute with Greece over country's name persists. 1. The UN recognized the Republic of Macedonia on April 8, 1993, under the temporary name the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The U.S. recognized Macedonia as a state in Feb. 1994.