Macedonia – and Skopje in particular – is at a crossroads between old and new, east and west, Christianity and Islam. It is a place that perfectly blends cultures, traditions and architecture. The historic centre of Skopje is made up of an old Bazaar, as well as some 30 mosques and the ruins of several caravanserais (once popular along trade routes like the Silk Road, these were inns for travellers) – all of which are ever-present reminders of the city’s Ottoman past. But the Macedonians have also made the city their own, erecting churches and cafes and basilicas, infusing the conquering culture with that of the conquered. For it must be said that the Ottoman Empire occupied present day Macedonia for a few hundred years, from the 17th to the early 19th century. The Old Bazaar of Skopje contrasts strikingly with the shiny new sections of Macedonia’ capital city – the soaring skyscrapers and glittering statues and perfect grids. But the very best way to experience Skopje is outdoors. Find yourself a cosy cafe in the old bazaar lined by ancient facades and leafy trees and make yourself comfortable. Order platefuls of shish kababs and grilled veggies and Mediterranean salads and sticky baklava, and wash it down with a rich and heavy cup of Turkish coffee. Sit back in the sun with a good book and a local beer and listen to the clamour of bustling Skopje under a midday sun.
Pro tip: Head up to the ruins of Skopje Fortress. No entrance fee and you’ll get a great view of the city and all of its minarets and domes.
On the shores of Lake Ohrid sits the ancient town of the same name. Historic, storied, beautiful – Ohrid is a place that stirs up emotion from within. It is indeed ancient – churches like the one here may date as far back as the 800s…! Built in the Byzantine style, it was not unusual for such churches to be converted to mosques during the Ottoman rule. Despite the fact that the Ottomans were supposedly open-minded when it came to religion, this apparently did not affect the church-to-mosque conversion. The best way to get a feel for old Ohrid is simply to stroll around this ancient place littered with Byzantine churches, beautiful quirky houses, cobblestone alleys, and an ancient Roman theatre. Find a cafe and relax outside on a terrace. Duck inside an ancient church to admire the ancient motifs painted on the walls and ceilings. Explore the ruins of the old fortress tucked inside the old city. Climb to the top of the hill and find a place to settle down and enjoy the magnificent panoramas of Ohrid town and lake – Ohrid the Beautiful awaits.
Imagine if it was you sipping your coffee here. Imagine, in fact, that this is where you were taking your breakfast, perhaps a traditional Hungarian breakfast composing of an open sandwich with butter or cheese, perhaps cold cuts or sausages or bacon, and a cup of strong coffee. Imagine that this sweeping view of the grand city of Budapest is what your table overlooked. Imagine that you can afford to do this. Oh wait—you probably can. Perhaps this particular location is a bit more pricy, as it is an elegant café located on the famous Fisherman’s Bastion, a castle-like wall rising up just next to the castle. But Budapest is one of the cheapest places you’ll find in Europe—and also one of Europe’s most beautiful, elegant, and charming cities. Full of markets, Magyar cuisine (spicy and meaty), elegant edifices, magnificent cathedrals, splendid cafés (full of equally splendid cakes and pastries), grand baths (the Széchenyi Baths are world famous !), remarkable palaces and castles, street performers that play classical music, and bars that never seem to run out of cheap alcohol—and all at completely affordable prices! Budapest, one of Europe’s most amazing cities. So now the only question that remains–what are you waiting for?