Our wonderful time in Macedonia is coming to an end, just in time I suppose as Paloma is now on two packets of cigarettes a day. Ben has been out most days and working late nights in the last chance to uncover some golden moments for his project. Natasa, Paloma and I traipse around the city like the ladies of leisure that we are. It’s great being taken to cool little back street tea houses that I don’t even find in Sydney. The ‘New Age’ bar is behind an old paint peeling wooden door, revealing a bubbling pond with small seating areas built above it, lounging on cushions sipping Turkish coffee and watching the chiffon curtains flow in the breeze. Its moments like this I feel I’m living 1001 Arabian Nights.
The hospitality of Natasa’s family is unrivaled as we are plied with many delicious Macedonian dishes for lunch in their cozy house. Paloma is offered Rakia, and considering her good manners, never declines. In reference to a glass bottle of Rakia in the shape of a lady, Natasa’s dad Peco shouts ‘Naked! Naked!! Get her Naked!’ while Ben and I do our best….ahhh too silly.
Macedonia is the ‘cradle of civilization’, though the Greeks would suggest it’s all a little more complicated. The earth here is filled with Archeological sights. Everywhere you walk there is centuries-old walls crumbling around you and only last year 17 tombs from the Hellenistic Period of the 5th Century BC were uncovered not far from the city. Climbing over the Kale Fortress walls and jumping over chips of ancient crockery and scattered plastic water bottles, the proud legacy our own generation is leaving behind, we find out selves in the midst of a current archeological dig. Ben, his inner child coming out, takes a stick and runs it along the wall and as the dirt falls away huge bones emerge, embedded amongst the layers of history. ‘Look! Human vertebrae!!’ he peers around with a sneaky face, ‘No way! It’s a whole spine!’ We stare in amazement wondering where and when this relic is from. Surrounding us foundations of a city are laid out, but city upon city. The blood-red poppies and other wildflowers grow in patches under gorgeous archways and carved stone.
I am constantly in awe of the historical structures and remains around which people in this part of the world live normal modern lives. Historical wonders of Europe and these Eastern European countries remind me of how young inhabited Australia is, the Aboriginals being a nomadic culture left their rock carvings and ochre paintings as their permanent legacy, in lieu of artifacts and built cities. Spectacular!
Not wanting to miss out on the sights of the countryside we set off for the Matka Gorge with Natasa and Igor. The weather is crazy around the world and here it is no different. Temperatures reaching 30 degrees two days ago have dropped to 19 and the spring air is fresh as it flows through the open roof of the car, cleansing us of the city air. Paloma is all rugged up and tucked into the ergo as we wind our way up the lovely mountainside stopping at a monetary for a Rakia. The Monastery looks out to all of Skopje, of simple design the pattern in the brickwork is beautiful but the frescos and painted saints inside are impressive with their worn golden wings soaring heavenwards for eternity, or at least until the paint wears off. Soon the countryside changes and dramatic shale rockfaces rise with knife-like sharpness out of the forest. The river is rushing so fast that small white-tipped waves crash into the rocks and tree trunks rising along the sides. Walking up worn paving steps on a very narrow path, nature is held back by a high dam wall and the noise from the river is deafening as it gushes from the tunnel. Above the dam the river is peaceful and calm, reflecting the jagged faces of the mountains from which many a rock climber has fallen to their death. Creamy hot chocolate warms us as we sit in a tavern from the 16th Century and contemplate a glorious view, speculating just how delicious those who built this place would have found a mug of steaming chocolate.
Feeling like locals, we navigate the streets as though we have lived here forever, meeting friends, drinking coffee in the cafes and loving our little apartment. Its a perfect start to our adventure, but we’re not getting too comfy! The next chapter is around the corner…Istanbul…the city of Turkish delight awaits us as we rise early one morning to catch the train from Skopje’s old Yugoslav station and we are off once again.