The Pearl of the Balkans


As small as a british county, full of sunshine and natural beauty Macedonia is a place that should be on the ‘got to go’ list of every traveler.

Mats mats’ – this is how people call cats in Macedonia and other Balkan countries. What’s surprising cats are not reacting differently from any other in the world. Before I have visited Macedonia, Balkans had been for me the synonym of poverty, danger and many other not positive features. For sure it’s a little bit of truth in that, but the reality looks more gladly in general. Initially my trip there was a huge and frustrating challenge for me, mainly cause of the language barrier. Everywhere I have been so far I could have easily communicate in English (more or less). I was terrified when I had to transfer from point A to point B without any ability to communicate in that language, and what is worse, without knowing the alphabet. That was the time when I have come to the conclusion that people’s attitude changes inversely to the decrease in latitude and in direct proportion to the amount of receiving sunshine. I didn’t have to wait long for help. Literally everybody there asked for help is willing to help. This is probably not only my observation. I have been to Macedonia for a seminar and all of the participants of that seminar that I have been talking to said exactly the same, and described Macedonians as relaxed, chilled out, with positive attitude to life and problems.

Macedonia is in fact a poor country. 100 denarii is about £1,5; and in comparison you can buy the pack of cigarettes for 60 denarii (!). People there are complaining of course, but as my friend Sasha claimed – Macedonian will be able to have fun and party even if he doesn’t have a penny to his name… or he will simply resign of other spending :). The centre of Skopje, the capital, is full of new and new, beautiful buildings in a neo-antic style. The central square looks far more better than a few of years ago, what you can admit by looking at the old photographs. If the development will go like this, in my opinion Skopje may become a popular touristic place. However, one of my Macedonian friends, Bube has a different point of view. She claims that the right-wing government should invest in education and new jobs instead of spending money on monuments and huge buildings that are ought to satisfy the rampant ego of politicians. Exactly those buildings and monuments of Alexander the Great and Philip II are the reason of conflicts between Macedonia and Greece. Macedonian government claim its rights to build a national tradition on the basis of the tradition and culture of the ancient Macedonia. Greeks are not accepting that and hold that they have greater rights to that, both territorially and culturally. I’m talking to my other friend, Vojislav, and he is explaining me that after all ages that this territory got through like Roman Empire, influx of Slavs and 500 years of Turkish domination, it is hard to consider any cultural heritage of ancient Macedonia or the blood line with Alexander the Great. Because of that conflict Greece is blocking Macedonia’s ability to join the European Union or NATO. What is more Greece does not agree to confer Macedonia’s name of the ancient land, so the official name of that country is Macedonia-FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). Apparently it’s better not to mention that suffix to any Macedonian cause it may be taken as offending. However, for them money is far greater problem anyway. Those Macedonian that I’ve met openly admit that their country is poor, and they don’t see any life perspectives there. ‘State should firstly take care of its citizens, and after that of tourists’ concludes Bube. ‘That is why Macedonians don’t like those monuments and buildings, no matter how beautiful they are’ adds Vojislav.

     The seminar that I was going to, took place in Ohrid. I was trying to find any printed guide to Macedonia or that city but I failed. I found a couple of short descriptions in the Internet, saying that Ohrid is the most beautiful place in a whole country and now I am able to agree with that. It’s located by the huge, transparent and warm lake, around which I haven’t find even one sandy beach, just the rocky ones. The Ohrid Lake has a calming influence on a scorching Macedonian climate. It’s surrounded by the mountains, that are really worth to climb on to see that stunning landscape of two lakes on two different sides of the mountain in two different countries (border with Albania on Galicica mountain). Macedonia in general enchants with the beauty of nature, and in some cases even architecture blend with the nature, like in the old part of Ohrid where red and orange roofs of white houses harmonise with the green hill, trees and turquoise lake. On the streets there are plenty of old Yugoslavian cars and on the top of that hill there is a fortress. On the way down the hill there is beautiful forest and stairs leading to a couple of monasteries. One of them is the apparently the oldest University in Europe – it’s the church of Saint Clement, student of the Saints Cyril and Methodius. Another one is probably the most popular, it’s Kaneo of the Saint John Theologian placed on the edge of the cliff and it’s, I think, the most beautiful view on the Ohrid and the lake. Despite all that Macedonian also use the nature in the art. The most popular souvenir from Ohrid are Ohrid’s pearls and that jewelery is made of fish scales, of course the process of producing is secret.

Another enchanting element of Macedonian nature are its gifts. Fruits and vegetables differs totally by its colours, size and taste from those ones from the north. Macedonians use it perfectly in their dishes, like Shopska salad or Macedonian salad. There is a lot of Turkish influence in Macedonian cuisine and culture in general (cuisine, music, dance, clothes and so on). The basis of every meal is bread, what I can understand for breakfast, but for dinner or supper it’s not such common for me. Some of the traditional dishes are Tavce Gravce – baked sausage with baked beans in sauce, Kebapchinja – baked minced lamb, veal and beef shaped like sticks, or Pleskavica – a cutlet or burger with various etceteras, like eggs, cheese or onion. Typical desert is Tulumba – yeast-cake in sugar syrup or Baclava – puff pastry with nuts and pistachios also in a sugar syrup.

       The seminar in Ohrid was an amazing opportunity to get to know Macedonian culture, local traditions and language. The initiators of that international events were philologists from the University of Cyril and Methodius in Skopje. The seminar has been created to broaden the interest in Macedonian culture and problems among Europeans. The first seminar has taken place in 1967 and since that time there have been 45 editions. From year to year there have been more and more participants and Universities that established a cooperation with University in Skopje. The seminar takes place every year and covers two events – the conference and summer school. The conference gathers philologists from different countries to discuss various Macedonian problems and present their essays. Students on courses connected with Macedonia or Balkans take part in summer school. During the seminar there are lectureships on the Macedonian language, both for beginners and advanced, and different lectures on Macedonian history, culture, literature and geography  spoken in Macedonian. Apart from that summer school offers as well the cultural course of national dances and singing tutorials and trips to different villages and cities like Struga, national park in Vevcany, Bitola, Krusevo or Sveti Naum – that last one you visit to listen the heart of Saint Naum lying in the tomb in Monastery. This is what the legend says that his heart is still beating.

        There are not many places on such seminar, those are two places per each partner university, that is why the possibility of taking part in such seminar is the dream of every student of Slavonic philology. For some students it’s a unique opportunity, some of them manage to come back once again to improve their assignments. One is sure, that everybody goes back happy after that seminar and the time they have spent there is unique, valuable experience, however not only students of philology can experience that – everybody who visits Macedonia shares similar experience. Life in that country is cheap, trip relatively inexpensive, people delectable, views and landscapes stunning – Macedonia and Ohrid are definitely places ‘got to go’ and it’s worth considering it as a destination for the next trip.

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