“Macedonia 🇲🇰 ~Skopje Fortress and Macedonia Square”

We found the old Fortress of Skopje, and enjoyed walking around it, then we went on to check things out in the interesting Macedonia Square.

We think the Fortress was technically closed, but the gate was not locked, so we walked in. Not a soul around, and nobody yelled at us to leave. (When I checked online, it said the Fortress was open).

We headed for the Archeologist Museum, next and found a performing arts center along the way. Both looked quite worthwhile to see, but neither building were open for visitors.

Thought to have been built in the 6th century AD, Skopje’s Fortress is its most famous symbol. The Kale (pronounced “kah-lay);” Kale being the Turkish word for Fortress, located atop a hill on the northern side of the Vardar River, providing a commanding view over the old town.
This Fortress was built from materials taken from the Roman city of Skupi after the city was destroyed by a massive earthquake in 518. However, very little is known about the early life of the fortress or what life was like inside the fortress or its garrison. 

After our exploring, we got back in the car and head out of Macedonia, by driving over the border to Kosovo 🇽🇰. We had the best day, and absolutely love Kosovo. We will be at our first stop for two night.

But, not wanting to get too far ahead of myself, first I will post about our visit in the capital city of Skopje in Macedonia.

We do have many places to see in Macedonia, so we will be back, but for now, we are driving a gigantic loop of sorts (heading north) through many European countries, and will come back to Macedonia, again, soon.

Construction work continued on the fortress throughout the 10th and 11th centuries over the Byzantine remains. In 1346, while at the Fortress Stefan Dušan crowned himself Emperor, and appointed Skopje as the new capital of the Serbian Empire.
Sometime during Ottoman rule, the Fort fell into a state of neglect and was left completely empty. During the 19th century, warehouses, arsenals, a military hospital, and prison were discovered inside the Fortress.

The Fortress was greatly damaged during another earthquake in 1963, which left most of the defensive towers and buildings in rubbles.  
Scholars believe the Fortress was constructed under the orders of Byzantine Emperor; Justinian I, who had been born in the nearby city of Tauresium.
The Kale was renovated in the 11th century, after damage sustained during the Bulgarian-Byzantine wars. Once the Ottomans took over the city, the Fortress was expanded and given an a extra set of walls.
Much of this is speculative, because it’s only recently that the fortress has been treated as an archaeological site. The first academic digs began in 2006, and uncovered evidence of human activity dating back to 3000 BC. The site has always been an attractive area for settlement, and it’s not hard to see why. High on a bluff with excellent visibility in every direction, and on the banks of an important river, this is a natural spot for a fortress.
Overlooking Skopje from the Fortress
During an excavation of the Fortress, the foundation of a 13th-century church was discovered within. A project was announced to restore the ruins as a church/museum. Albanian groups belonging to the Democratic Union for Integration claimed that the site contained artifacts relating to their Illyrian ancestry, leading to a dispute over rights to the area and violent outbreaks. The project was eventually abandoned. 
Ottoman and Byzantine heritage
Settled as early as the 3rd century BC, Skopje only began to make a name for itself as an important trading centre with the rise of Byzantium and the Orthodox Christianity around the 6th century AD

Another cultural legacy from the earthquake is the  Museum of Contemporary Arts, built in the years following the tragedy and probably one of the best of its kind in the region; thanks to the outpouring of donations from artists and collections from around the world.
Vardar River and the Old Stone Bridge

The Stone Bridge rises magnificently over the Vardar River in the central part of Skopje; the capital of Macedonia. The bridge connects the old and the new part of the city. All important events throughout history and all the events of today, take place on it.
Various interpretations explain the history of the Stone Bridge. Some of them lead to the period of the second half of the 15th Century, during the time of the rule of sultan Mehmed II. However, there are certain indicators that say that the bridge dates from much earlier. This is supported by a writing in Isa-Bey s mosque, where the time of its construction is related to the time of the rule of Murat II, at the beginning of the 15th century.

As the name itself says, the Stone Bridge was built of solid stone blocks, while its massive construction is supported by firm columns, connected with semicircular arcs. The fact that the bridge resisted all the numerous accidents and threats throughout history and all natural disasters, supports the theory of its really solid construction. The Stone Bridge was reconstructed and conserved several times, but that did not have any impact on its original appearance.
Karposh was a rebel leader and was killed by the Ottomans in 1689 after leading a Christian uprising.
Karposh was known as the “King of Kumanovo.” When the battle was over, all rebels who resisted were slaughtered. Karposh and the others were taken prisoner. After conquering Kumanovo, the Ottomans left for Skopje where they executed Karposh and the others. The statue was placed next to the Stone Bridge where Karposh allegedly was gruesomely impaled.
The National Archeological Museum
This supersized pile of Italianate-styled marble has been a giant receptacle for Skopje’s recent splurge on government-led monuments to boost national pride.
Inside, there are three floors displaying the cream of Macedonian archaeological excavations beneath the dazzle of hundreds of tiny lights. Highlights include Byzantine treasures; sophisticated 3D reconstructions of early Macedonian faces from skulls; a pint-sized replica of an early Christian basilica showing the life phases of mosaic conservation; and a Phoenician royal necropolis.
Bronze sculpture of a stylized female figure holding a rosary symbol 
“In The Footsteps of War” Statue
Take a stroll around Macedonia Square, the largest plaza in the country and one of the capital city’s primary meeting places and public areas. Though surrounded by communist-style buildings, the square has undergone intensive government renovation in order to transform it into a modern and inviting space.
Walk around the square, taking in the nearby mountain scenery. Pass by the numerous monuments that dot the plaza, including those honoring Roman emperor Justinian, Tsar Samuel, and several groups of Macedonian revolutionary figures. Be sure to get up close to the towering statue of a sword-bearing warrior on horseback, controversially said to represent Alexander the Great. 
Georgi Pulevski (1817-1895) was a Macedonian writer and revolutionary from Macedonia. He is known as the first author to express the idea of a separate Macedonian nation distinct from Bulgarians, as well as a separate Macedonian language. His statue is erected next to the Stone Bridge facing Macedonia Square
A Fountain dedicated to the Mothers of Macedonia
A giant 29-metre tall bronze statue of the ancient warrior king, Philip of Macedon, who is the Father of Alexander the Great
The Republic of Macedonia erected the largest statue of Alexander the Great in the world.  As cranes lifted the bronze statue on top of the pedestal, while hundreds of Macedonians sang the national anthem and other patriotic songs, waving flags and shouting “Macedonia!” 
Saints Cyril (826-869) and Methodius (815-885) were two brothers who became missionaries of Christianity among the Slavic people. They are credited for inventing the Glagolitic alphabet. The Cyrillic language was called after St Cyril. Their statue is located next to the Stone Bridge.
Skopje’s Eye Bridge
The capital of Macedonia, Skopje, is inhabited since at least 4000 BC. Conquered by the Romans around 100 AD and later part of the Byzantine Empire
While our hotel choice we finally found, in our price range of budget, it ended up being a disaster, They did have a nice restaurant with lovely grounds, with ponds and ducks and geese.
Also, right in their parking lot was was this family of storks.
We do not recommend the Bellevue Hotel in Skopje. After we checked in, the A/C quit working, the hot water quit working as well as the WIFI. We spoke with the manager at checkout, and agreed we would not pay our tab on our dinner the night before. We still got rippe
d off, but sometimes this happens, especially in places where the economy looks to be suffering
Kosovo doesn’t show on many maps like these, because it’s so small, but it’s north west, just above the edge of Macedonia
Kosovo is in green, about Macedonia , on the European map

“Macedonia 🇲🇰 ~Struga and Skopje”

After riding by a car-hire from Sarande, Albania to the Kjafasan border crossing into Macedonia, in about 4.5 hours, and $167; before we crossed, we were able to transfer to a taxi and ride through both custom stops, and the neutral zone. Then, the same taxi driver took us to the nearest town of Struga, where we enjoyed one night. Lake Ohrid is next to this town, and it was enjoyable.

Drim River Walk in Struga
Lake Ohrid view from our balcony in Struga

We found a hotel, on the shores of Lake Ohrid, and then the usual search for new country essentials, like an ATM for starters. Not coming in by plane makes getting local currency a challenge, because border crossings by vehicle, there are no ATM machines. We also looked for a place to get our SIM cards for our phones, too. Here’s to figuring out the essential “unknowns;” and making them less of a mystery in short order. This is the routine, with every new country we go into.

After one night in Struga, we got a van/bus for five Euros pp for a three-hour drive to Skopje. It makes better sense to arrange a rental car from the capital city, or at least a large city, in order to make the return, easier. As it worked out, we made a plan to visit several countries with this same rental car from Macedonia. Of course this will all be dependent on borders being open.

We have the car to drive through Macedonia 🇲🇰, Bulgaria 🇧🇬, Turkey 🇹🇷 Kosovo 🇽🇰, and Serbia 🇷🇸. Macedonia is landlocked, so slipping over each border will be quite convenient, if said borders will be open to us.

For now, after a tiring day of a van transfer from Ohrid Lake, getting the rental and driving around Skopje, and finding several closed hotels, we finally found one open. It would appear the economy is struggling here. We are not big fans of big capital cities, so we will head out after a bit of touring tomorrow, and we will only an hour plus away from Kosovo 🇽🇰 

In Skopje

After Kosovo, maybe Serbia 🇷🇸. Then, Macedonia 🇲🇰 again, and on over to Bulgaria 🇧🇬, and finally back to Turkey 🇹🇷. We want to do ballooning in Cappadocia, (eastern Turkey), but operations for that won’t start till August. We will try to make this our final stop in the non-EU countries of Europe. We still have a suitcase to collect, which we stored in Turkey, and were to have picked up by June, but the lockdown did not allow that to plan to work out. Lucky for us, we have a friend in Istanbul who is taking good care of our belongings, till we can get back there.

Obviously we have no solid plan, yet, for the next five countries, but we are getting very good as “winging it!”