Stobi was the big adventure this week

Monday, April 13

So Heinz took Latin Easter Monday off, and we met at 8:45 a.m. for an adventure.  As we left Skopje, there were great black clouds

In Stobi

In Stobi

closing in from every direction.  Our weather website had promised a day of rain, but we hoped that it wouldn’t follow us out of Skopje.  No such luck.  We drove south to Stobi, which is an archaeological dig where the Romans built their city on one that had already existed for centuries.  Dizzying thought.  Several houses, a church, two baths, the theater and the forum had been cleared.

Roman Theater

Roman Theater

But there was a real feeling of being in a city with streets and houses along them.  And the theater was huge–it must have been a major town at that time.  All in a drizzle of rain and a high wind.  The church was a major site–almost completely excavated.  The excellent signage said that it dated from the fifth-sixth century.

Early Christian Church

Early Christian Church

The Baptistry was almost intact.  That’s where we saw a bit of mosaic peeking out of the protective covering.

Fifth Century Baptistry Pool

Fifth Century Baptistry Pool

At one point there was the sound of a horn and all the workmen retreated to the shelter of walls in various places to have their snack.  They invited us for coffee, but we declined because each only had one thermos for the whole day and the four of us would have drunk it all.

Later, H&S loaned us a wonderful picture book of the city.  It’s written by Ivan Mikulchik, who explains the city in each era in its historical context and in descriptions of what you are looking atin the pictures.  In Macedonian on the left page and English on the right, with double-captioned pictures on both pages.  Very well done.

At the end of our long day we drove back past Stobi, and the workmen were still toiling under bright lights.

Then we headed to Shtip, which D&E wanted to see because the must-see buildings were described in the monthly ToDo magazine.  We saw all the highlights plus an old bath that had been turned

Former Turkish Bath

Former Turkish Bath

into a museum for most interesting abstract metallic pictures.  Even a few I would have wanted if I were rich and had any wall space.  But it had started to rain so we asked where we could get coffee and ended up in a pizza place in the old part of the city.  So we saw the old city, had coffee, and shared some delicious cheese bread Silvana got from a nearby bakery while we sat inside out of the rain.  Then a mad race to the car and off we went through Radovish and Strumitsa.  We didn’t stop at either because it was pouring.

Luckily, by the time we reached Lake Doiran the rain had stopped, and we were able to walk for a while.  It’s a summer resort town with hotels, restaurants, and lots of houses on the hillside.  Boats for rent too.  Must be a busy place in season, but it was like going to the Jersey shore in winter–everything closed except a few grocery stores.  Very peaceful.  Heinz pointed out the mountains across the lake in Greece, but they looked no different at all.  Apparently, the Greek border is less than a kilometer from this resort, and in the summer it’s filled with “foreigners”.

Lake Doiran in Spring

Lake Doiran in Spring

By this time the sun (or what would have been the sun if it had ever come out) was setting, so we headed for the major town, Gevgelia, where there is an official crossing into Greece.  We passed our destination across the highway (no access), drove through the town, turned back, and arrived at the Maple Tree restaurant, famous for its lamb dinners.  mapleleaf And it was beyond delicious.  Salads first, of course, and then a leg of lamb cooked for hours at a low temperature so it was tender and wonderfully tasty.  And roast potatoes.  And while they had the major brands of wine, David asked if they had anything local.  They did, and with some hesitation, served it at room temperature.  It was a perfect meal, and we lingered over it while the other tables filled, ate, left, and refilled.  The photo is actually of us after the table was cleared and we were just finishing the wine–note the satisfied expressions.

After the feast

After the feast

Finally, we headed home passing again all the places we’d been in the morning because there is only one highway connecting these cities.  We have a three-dimensional map of Macedonia on our living room wall so we can see where we’ve been.  Just about every corner of Macedonia, although there are still places in the middle to explore.

Tuesday

It rained.  David corrected papers.  I did laundry and cooked us something to eat.  We were still digesting from yesterday, so we didn’t need much.  But let me take this time to tell you some interesting facts about this apartment.  The elevator loves the -1 floor.  0 is the ground level, even though you have to walk up one flight of stairs from the front door to get there.  -1 is the garage; it’s one flight down from the front door.  We usually go to 0 but sometimes the elevator takes us down to -1 first, just for the ride.  Then it turns around and goes up to 6.  I’ve walked it a few times, but there are a lot more stairs than our condo’s 4th floor because in the U.S. you start on 1 and here you start on 0.  So there are 13 times 8 steps from the front door to our floor.

The living-dining room gets very warm whenever the sun is out because one wall is windows and there’s a skylight.  We only used the heaters for the first week (when it was snowing).  Since then we’ve pretty much had the windows open except when it was actually raining.  Oh, the window is interesting.  The middle pane looks like it opens, but we can’t figure out how.  The right pane opens every which way.  If you put the handle down, it’s locked.  If you put the handle to the side, it’s the door to the balcony.  And if you put the handle up, the pane opens from the top to let air, but not rain, in.  I guess it would also keep people out if there were any on our balcony.  It does keep out the birds–we have a constant “coo-koo koo” here from early in the morning.  Since it was raining today,  they were visible, but most of the time they must be up on the neighbor’s roof, the highest place in the building.

Did I tell you the electric panel has a red light that goes on when there is little electricity being used in the city.  It’s cheaper then, so I always do the wash when the red light is on.  Also the bathroom water heater has a wall switch so that you can turn it off during the day when electricity is expensive and then turn it on overnight to heat up water for the morning showers.  Neat idea.

We have stores all around us, although we mostly go to Ramstore (a supermarket) and the Green Bazaar. The bazaar is full of all types of fresh fruit and vegetables.  There is also a meat market nearby that was full of whole lambs for the Easter season.  And spice merchants, and cheese and noodle shops.  And lots of eggs and special stands full of dyes to color them for Easter.  There is also has a whole section of clothes of all sorts and sizes.  And another part has every type of nail, screw, tape, tool, and little whatzit that you might need.  Near our apartment is a corner store that has the best homemade-tasting yoghurt for our evening snack.  And another store that has sunflower seeds but we won’t have to go there anymore because I found them in bulk in the Bazaar.  To be honest, Silvana spotted them, and I bought a whole pound.  That should keep us until we leave.  I’m going to put in a bunch of bazaar photos to give you a good idea of it.

Easter Lamb for Sale

Easter Lamb for Sale

Easter Egg Dyes

Easter Egg Dyes

Eggs for Sale

Eggs for Sale

The Bright Vegetables

The Bright Vegetables

Vegetables--the heavies

Vegetables--the heavies

Pottery Shop

Pottery Shop

Fresh Fruit

Fresh Fruit

Spice Merchant

Spice Merchant

Wednesday

David was correcting papers again, so I called Silvana and we went out to the Green Bazaar for food.  That’s when we found the sunflower seeds and also lightly dried blueberries (yum).  Then we called Heinz and David and decided to meet at the Ramstore food court for lunch.  S and I were too early tho, and we were passing the museum in the Old Railroad Station.  The building was damaged in the 1963 earthquake, so when the middle part was shored up, they made it a museum.  And the clock on the outside stopped at the exact time of the 1963 earthquake, so it’s been left at that time as a memorial.

The most interesting exhibit was the foil seals of all the kings from Alexander on.  It wasn’t very light in there, but it seems the Pallas Athena on Alexander’s seal is different from the one on my ring.  Maybe that’s what the British archaeologist meant when he said he could date the stone on my ring from before Alexander because the style of portraying Pallas Athena changed after Alexander.  Okay, one more info bit for my lifetime database.

So we met in the food court.  Now I should explain that except for the McDonalds at the far end, all the food shops are run by small groups of people cooking various types of food.  And as you might expect, the Macedonian specialties are great.  The Mexican wasn’t bad–certainly better than the U.S. chain restaurants, though not as good as those run by Mexicans in Alameda.  But we ate Macedonian–why not?  And although the ambiance wasn’t fabulous (but watching the shoppers go by is almost as good as eating in a street cafe) the food was delicious.

Then, as we were leaving, we saw that Australia was playing in the theater in the mall, so we made a date for the 8 p.m. show.  That was, actually, the only show.  They have two theaters, and they show different movies at different times.  I loved Australia–the critics were mistaken.  It gives a real feel for the immensity of the country and the small marks made on it by human beings.  And the story was pretty good from my point of view–the good guys endured all sorts of hardships without whining, the smallest of all proved the most powerful at the necessary time, the good guys won in the end, and the bad guy got his comeuppance.  Then we strolled over to Malaga, which has ice cream that tastes like fresh fruit or nuts–really something special.  And so to bed–after midnight as usual.  We are going to have to get ourselves organized when this lovely Spring Break is over–people schedule things before noon here.

Thursday

A quiet day for laundry.  The weather was clear and warm, so we met H&S for lunch at their find Perfect Pizza.  Just a little place, but we ate at the booth outside and the food was, of course, very good.  It was somewhat past the Catholic church, so walking both ways I almost got my 10000 steps, which is good, but almost 7000 of them were aerobic, which is better.  Then we went home and I actually got last week’s blog online.  Later we went out to Malaga again for more of the most delicious fresh blueberry and hazelnut ice cream.  You get two flavors in a dish with chocolate sauce on top.  And then we walked home.  Nice to be in a small city, although the suburbs are enormous.  We’re just lucky to be living right in the center of everything.  UACS really picked a great apartment for us.

We’d tried to Skype Margaret before we left, but she wasn’t online.  By the time we got back almost 4 hours later she was there but about to go out.  Anyway, we had a good, though brief, conversation and collapsed into bed.

Friday

Another H&S adventure day.   First we climbed into the Vodno mountains on an unpaved road to see some of the fine houses built there

Rebuilt classic house

Rebuilt classic house

with a magnificent view of city and mountains.  The best was the rebuilt  old house with added wooden and iron touches.  It had a main house and a courtyard with half a dozen outbuildings.  Must have been a palace in its day–and was rebuilt to be a mansion.

Then we headed to Kokino, which is a  paleolithic observatory that was fairly recently discovered.  You have to climb up to it, and then there are slots carved in the rocks for various astronomical sightings.

Kokino--the long view

Kokino--the long view

Paleo-astronomers did figure out that it marked the solstices and equinoxes in 1800 BC, so that’s when it’s dated.  And in 2005 NASA (which had apparently “discovered” it on satellite images) accepted it as the 4th oldest observatory in the world.

We drove miles along a very well finished gravel road, so we figured it must lead to someplace the Tourist Bureau considered important.  And finally there was a sign.  We turned up another road and then parked in the lot.  There were quite a few cars there already–families with children

Climbing Kokino

Climbing Kokino

having picnics and soccer games, and some people climbing up the rocks, which we also proceeded to do.  Most of the way it wasn’t a difficult climb–the rocks were like 3 inch thick tablets piled on each other into pretty easy steps (except when the steps disappeared and you had to balance on knife-edges of rocks).  Still, after only about 15 minutes we came to a rectangle paved with these same kinds of flat rocks and there was one of the “thrones” that we’d read were aimed at the carved slots.   And then we climbed up another layer and found the whole row of “thrones” that looked

David as an astrologer

David as an astronomer

at several of the carved slots.  It would be interesting to be there at the solstice, although in 3800 years, the path of the sun has moved so it doesn’t rise in the slots as it did in 1800 BC.

View from the top

View from the top

But sitting on the thrones we could see down into a remarkably green valley–I hope the photo does it some justice.

Another View

Another View

And as we were sitting there, a butterfly joined us:

Butterfly

Butterfly

And finally, for me, there was a bonus.  We climbed down to the flat floor again (half of the total climb to the top–and the one with better steps), and Heinz found a different way to get down without climbing down all the jagged rocks.  It was a fairly steep slope, but like a ramp instead of mountain climbing.  Then we joined the road and got back into the car.

Saturday

We got up late and met H&S at an art museum–we’d been seeing the poster of a horse/field

Vasco Tashkovski's Horse

Vasco Tashkovski's Horse

all over town and were curious.  It turned out to be the most wonderful exhibit of pictures that were sort of a cross between Gage Taylor and Dali without being at all derivative.  Three rooms of them.  The artist is Vasco Tashkovski.  Here are a couple of the pictures, but this format won’t do them justice.

Port

Port

We picked out the ones we especially liked and were actually thinking of buying one, but when we got back to the room it was in, it had a red dot meaning it was sold.  Heinz, who joined us there, said they couldn’t have been sold that fast–he thought the artist, who was there, just didn’t want to sell those.  So he marked them sold when he heard us admiring them.  Could be–anyway, we bought his catalog so we can see the pictures without having to find wall space for them.

Beach Scene

Beach Scene

Then we went for dinner to the Nacional, a place we’d gone with a group of people from the conference. Even Heinz had to agree that the food was good, although he wasn’t so keen on the decor.  It’s a basement place with pillars and crumbling walls and old statues–kind of like Mama Leone’s in Skopje.

Sunday

Another quiet, rainy day. We got up late and just read and relaxed (David of course correcting papers).  Then we went to the 5 p.m. Mass in English and saw many of the same people.  Unfortunately, the priest has to travel for the next three weeks, so no more English Masses for us.  Sigh.  Then H&S met us and we went for coffee and delicious cakes.

By the way, I’ve been told that I’ve misspelled some of the town names and got some of the things that happened into the wrong locations.  So Heinz has promised me a list of where we went when.  As soon as I get it, I’ll be editing out my mistakes.  But anyway, these things happened in Macedonia on some street or other in some town or other.  And it probably was at the end of a long, muddy, dirt road.  Life is never dull.   And so ends another week.

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