Monday, July 29, 2013


Skopje, like so many other large cities in the Balkans, has a large fortress that dominates the high point of the city. The first iteration was built during the 6th century, and later versions were built during the 10th and 11th centuries. It was partially destroyed by the 1963 earthquake and only recently restored, which accounts for the pristine appearance of the crenelations at the top of the wall.
We walked up to it from Macedonia Square in the evening, but it was closed. Too many attractions in Macedonia are not keeping Tourist Hours, something that needs to change as tourism increases. We did enjoy a walk around about half of the perimeter.
The Millennium Cross in the background.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

MACEDONIA, Taxi Excursion Out of Skopje

Some young Germans staying at the same hotel as we were in Skopje suggested that we abandon the Vegas-like city center for a drive up the canyon to Lake Matka.  Bob also wanted to visit the St. Panteleimon Church, which overlooks the city from the top of Mount Vodno, so we figured we could combine the two excursions. However, our time was limited, and without a working GPS we were worried about getting everywhere we needed to go in a timely fashion. To be as efficient as possible, we decided to hire a cab for the morning. We covered quite a bit of ground over about a four-hour period and paid the driver $40. All things considered, it was a good investment.

We started by driving up the twisting, gut-sloshing road to St. Panteleimon Church, only to find that the church was closed until afternoon. One drive up that road could have been enough for me, but Bob decided we would return after making our trip to Lake Matka. (Ironically, St. Panteleimon is the Protector of Health.)

Supposedly, Lake Matka, a 30-minute drive from Skopje, is one of the most popular outdoor destinations in Macedonia, but it was a ghost town (ghost natural wonder?) when we arrived on Tuesday, May 28th.

The dam on the Treska River at the front of the Matka Canyon . . .
 . . . forms a beautiful turquoise-colored lake bordered on both sides by towering cliffs. Note the low water line.

"Matka" is the Macedonian word for "womb." The still, enclosed water, humid air, and fecund hillsides do create a womb-like atmosphere.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


I grew up thinking of Macedonia as a region of the ancient world that was almost synonymous with Greece, and most of my exposure to it came through the many times it is mentioned in the New Testament. (See, for example, Acts 16:12, I Corinthians 16:5, 1 Thessalonians 1:8.)
To be completely honest--and I am really embarrassed to admit this--until we planned this trip I did not know that since it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, there has been a country named Macedonia in the Balkans. In my defense, it's a pretty small country--about the size of Vermont. Also, there is some controversy over the name "Macedonia." Greece is ticked off about the use of that name as Greece still has a region named Macedonia, which includes part of the ancient Macedonia. See the green area below:
Many Greeks identify themselves as Macedonians and feel no connection to the Slavic people who are the residents of the country of Macedonia.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

SERBIA: Parting Thoughts

To kick off this last post on Serbia, I will begin with a few of my favorite images from Novi Sad and Belgrade:

We saw only a two or three McDonald's the entire trip, and this may have been the only KFC, and we didn't actually see it, but we assume it was 250 m ahead as promised:

We passed the 35-story Genex Tower, also known as the Western City Gate, several times during our time in Belgrade. It was built in 1977 in the "Brutalist" style and has to be one of the most unique skyscrapers we have seen. That crazy rotunda between the two buildings is a revolving restaurant. We didn't know about this building when we were doing our planning, or perhaps we would have planned to eat a meal there. Now that would have been a unique experience.

Friday, July 19, 2013


After our lunch we had a little time to walk around Sremski Karlovi, a small town of about 9,000  situated on the Danube. It was surprisingly quiet, perhaps because it was a Sunday afternoon and most of the residents are Serbian Orthodox.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

SERBIA: Vojvodina Monasteries

Like Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia still has some issues with what part of the country belongs to whom.  Montenegro, seen in the map below in the southwest part of Serbia, declared independence in 2006, and Serbia did not seem to object to much, even though it left them land-locked. It is interesting to me that in 1992, Kosovo had done the same thing, but with disastrous results: the Kosovo War, which led to NATO bombing the Serbian armies in Kosovo.
Kosovo and Montenegro shown on this map as part of Serbia

Vojvodina is a region of Serbia in the north that is similar to what Kosovo used to be (an autonomous province of Serbia). Unlike Kosovo, where the population was and is mainly Muslim Albanians and Orthodox Serbs, Vojvodina is both multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. And unlike Kosovo and Montenegro, it seems to be content (for now) to be a province of Serbia.
Vojvodina is the northern end of Serbia, shown here in pink.

As we left Belgrade and drove north, we traded mountains for rich, flat farmland edged with a polka dot border of red poppies:

Thursday, July 11, 2013


One of the biggest shifts in thought I had on this trip involved Marshal Tito, Prime Minister and President of Yugoslavia from 1944 until his death in 1980.  My memories of him are largely negative. I think we Americans are wary of anyone who is power for so long and so completely. He was re-elected each term until 1963, at which point his term was made unlimited. I suppose our members of Congress could easily be in office for 36 years, but all face regular re-election and none are given an unlimited term.

I looked up Tito in my Columbia Encyclopedia, which was published in 1978, two years before Tito's death. The entry is fairly negative, full of words and phrases like "dictator," "secret police," "purged dissident elements," and "repression." However, it does acknowledge Tito's personal magnetism, his work with Nehru of India and Nasser of Egypt, and the fact that he created "the most liberal Communist country in Europe."

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


As previously noted, 85% of the population of Serbia belongs to the Serbian Orthodox Church, so it seems natural that the first place we visited with our Serbian guide was the Church of St. Mark in downtown Belgrade. One of the largest churches in the country, it was built in between the two World Wars and completed in 1940. Because of the impending war, there was no time to paint the traditional frescoes found in almost all Orthodox churches, and by the time the church could get around to them, a bigger, more important church was already under construction in the city and sucking up all the funds. (More on that in the second half of this post.)

Sunday, July 7, 2013


Belgrade, or "Beograd" ("White city"), as we frequently saw it written in the Balkans, is the capital of Serbia, and with 1.2 million people, it is not only the largest city in Serbia, but one of the largest in southwest Europe.  Strategically located on the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers,
it has been in over 100 wars and has been razed dozens of times. It has been conquered and/or ruled by the Celts, Romans, Slavs, Byzantine Empire, Frankish Empire, Bulgarian Empire, Kingdom of Hungary, Ottoman Empire, and Habsburgs.

Friday, July 5, 2013


We reluctantly left Sarajevo in mid-afternoon. Based on how much longer it had taken us to travel from Zagreb to Sarajevo than we had planned, we figured we needed to add a few hours to our estimated travel time to Belgrade, Serbia.  It's a good thing we did.

Everything started off well enough.  We were enjoying the beautiful, mountainous (or would you call that hilly?) country
. . . and impressive garden plots

. . . as we sped through at about 40 mph because we had to watch out for narrow tunnels,

 . . . and friends on the road:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

SARAJEVO, Part IV, Walking and Eating

I should have already mentioned our terrific tour guide, Neno.  Anyone taking a trip to Sarajevo should consider taking one of his free tours of the city (after which you should give him a generous tip, of course). Neno is a 27-year-old Sarajevan who has a passion for history in general and his city in particular.  He crammed an awful lot of information into three hours of walking around the city, which is just the way we like it. We have taken several free tours like this one in cities around the world, and Neno is one of the best guides we've had.

This post will cover all the places in Sarajevo that I haven't yet written about. If it seems a bit random, well, it is.

Marsala Tita (Marshal Tito) Street is the main street that runs parallel to the Miljacka River, which bisects the city.  In general, the various peoples who live in the Balkans liked, or at least respected, Tito, especially in hindsight, as he was the only man who was actually able to hold this diverse region together. His death was the beginning of the death of Yugoslavia.