This post is for my friends from Macedonia. I think a lot about them these days. There are times when one is in a surrounding of great sorrow and grief and it is so easy to immerse oneself in the idea of the senseless cruelty of the world. And for the pointless loss. In such moments it is difficult to remember that in this same world there are bright rays of joy, of human communication and friendship. I choose to think of the bright world. I choose to tell you about Macedonia, as I met it, as we became friends and as I will always return to it.
I was born at the other side of Bulgaria, almost on a perfect diagonal. Fate and love brought me to the southwest corner. Well, and the beauty of this land, and other good things. I started working on international projects, including cross-border ones. I was warned very seriously that in these border areas I should be careful where, what and how I speak, because people were sensitive to various topics. On both sides of the border.
Then I crossed the border and met the people in question. I was very careful. They, however, were not. They grabbed me in a bear hug, made me laugh and told me jokes. The one for the snail with the ‘hook’ on the back, and more. I was treated to a tavche-gravche. And they poured me Tikvesh vine rakia to see if the Bulgarians could drink. We drank and sang. We played horo. We climbed to waterfalls in the mountains, descended into ancient excavations and lit candles in monasteries. For good things, but obviously also for sad ones.
Places and people from this sunny country will remain in my heart forever. Our partners Ace and Mitko, with whom we ate many bags of salt together. Their town of Strumica, home to the funniest carnivals in Macedonia and the Open Festival of Modern Balkan Music. The villages of Belasitsa Mountains, where they cook fantastically. The Roman baths of Bansko (yes, Bansko!) And the sweet-spoken priest in the church of St. Fifteen Martyrs. The Veljusa and Vodocha convents with flower gardens, wonderful views of the valley and nimble nuns producing natural cosmetics and painting icons in the old traditional ways.
The tractor ride through the hills above Doiran, where the local ethnographer tells about the Doiran Epopee. The old man with the boat, who tells about Dojran Lake while sailing through it. The most delicious fried fish you can imagine. With Golden Oak beer and fries. The Fig Festival in nearby Valandovo. The reed paths in the Monospitovo swamp, where you will find interesting species of birds. And you can find the Naked Man tree if you climb the Kozhuf mountain above Gevgelija, to the Smrdliva Voda resort.
To the north, Stip and the nearby ancient town of Bargala await us. The Kochani field, yielding delicious rice. Osogovo Mountain with its green canyons, trekking routes and more friends from Macedonia. In the town of medieval towers and bridges, Kratovo. In the Lesnovo Cup and the village of the same name with the monastery of Gavril Lesnovski and the legend of the Four Saints. In the village of Kuklitsa with his stone dolls. Or in Kriva Palanka and the monastery of St. Joachim of Osogovo – an ideal place to celebrate Easter with a midnight liturgy and with colorful eggs for breakfast in the yard.
To the west, we can go to Ohrid town, climb the fortress at sunrise or sunset and just admire the view. Make a quick visit to the monastery of St. Naum and take a boat ride on Lake Ohrid. Meet with friends from the University of Ohrid and grab a bite together by the lake. On the way back, see the ancient city of Stobi and buy some huge apples from the old ladies in the villages. Drink great wine in Kavadarci. And then turn to the northwest and the city of Skopje to visit our partners from the Macedonian Ecological Society and the Haemus Research and Culture Center.
Finally, we go almost to the border with Serbia, where something truly amazing awaits us. An ancient megalithic observatory nearly 4,000 years old on a stone ridge near the village of Kokino. The road to it is challenging and one can easily think that they have left for the end of the world, but the reward is worth it. We place our hands on the bizarre rock formations just like the ancient people did so many centuries before us. We look at the beautiful panorama below us. We sit on the throne of the star benefactors and open our hearts to Macedonia and its people.