Kocani, Macedonia

We had climbed Vinicko Kale, and now it was time for us to head to Kocani for the afternoon. Kocani is about 15 or so minutes from Vinica and we had the most interesting ride. When we got to the house, the car was already decorated in wedding finery in preparation for Saturdays event, and the main reason we were in Vinica. While everyone was working on wedding plans, Amy, Richard, Luka and I were playing tourist.

Kocani, on first impression, is much larger than Vinica. Reading about Kocani that impression was confirmed The population is almost 3 x more than Vinica, the number of people living there is around 28 000. The population is made up of about 90% of Macedonians, 5% Roma, 3% Turks, 0.5% Vlachs (I added a link because I have not heard this terminology before), 0.2% Serbian, and 0.1% other.

I noticed a lot more apartment complexes around the town.

The Kocani River runs through the center of town and creates a beautiful river walk. One block of buildings back from the river is a peaceful outdoor entertainment area, coffee bars, restaurants, shops, and a children’s play area.

I loved this – Life is too short to wear boring clothes. I also think life is to short to not be exploring everything around us. There is a whole world out there.

Below, the story of our vacation. Carrying the stroller up and down stairs, hills, walkways etc. Luka did not complain at all. I let them do the carrying and I took photo’s lol.

I loved this image below of Marilyn Munroe on the walls of what appears to be a restaurant in Gadsby style.

We were heading to an Irish Pub that Amy had been to a couple of times. The look was somewhat Irish but the beers and menu were not. We had the standard Macedonian beer Skopsko IPL. One of my favorite finds was the beggars in Macedonia. They came with four legs and were all feline. There is a huge population of what I assume are feral cats and they are the restaurant beggars. I loved them.

I got to chat with the waitress at the restaurant. She was an English teacher but she said there were no jobs so she was working as a waitress.

When we were leaving the Irish Pub I spotted this church in the distance and asked if we could make our way to it. Little did I know we were going up and down hills again.

Below is one of the views of the housing in Kocani. We walked the streets to the church because the sidewalks have cars on them.

I was fascinated by this tree growing up the wall of this shop. Turning around to take a fuller image I realized that this was a grape vine that had grown up the side of the building and the leaves and grapes formed the awning.

Back up hill and making our way to the church I had spotted. Like Vinica, I saw piles of wood stacked against walls and houses. This wall is the external wall to the church.

Church St George, is situated just outside of the main riverwalk area, slightly up on the hill. I could find little information on this church but from what I did find it was apparently built in 1915 on original foundations.

Church St George, is an orthodox Macedonian church. I loved the design of the building with stone and plaster and traditional red style tiles on the roof. The grounds were immaculate, and we were able to walk around without anyone stopping us. We did not, however, go inside.

One of my favorite things that I saw in Macedonia with the churches was that quite often there were miniature replicas in the gardens.

Lastly we stopped in at Restaurant Kaj Pace for a late afternoon meal. We were all hungry. This was a great restaurant, some of it undercover and some areas had a more garden feel. My favorite part, I have to confess, was that the wait staff moved a giant fan over to us. Phew, with 104F temps we were dying. That fan was a blessing.

Of course, it was back to beer again. For food we ordered shopska salad which is made of cucumbers, tomatoes, mixed in olive oil and covered with a salty cheese, not unlike feta but looked very different. This appears to be a staple salad in Macedonia and we would eat it many times in the days to come.

Amy also wanted cheesy chips, which sounded great. The first taste of the chips was a bit of a shock as the cheese was salty. Amy tells me there is two types of cheese in Macedonia, a gouda type cheese which they call white cheese, and salty cheese. In addition we shared ribs as well which were excellent. What I loved about eating in Macedonia was that we could order a number of plates of food, and all share that food.

We headed back home in the wedding car, to a wonderful evening of meeting new family members, Daniels brother, sister in law and niece. It was a great day, busy with the climb and then the tour of Kocani. It felt good to stop and chat and learn a bit more of our new extended family.

Heading back to the hotel and the air conditioning, we took a little bundle of love along with us. Luka was dealing with a heat rash and Amy thought it would be good for him to sleep in the cooler temps. I made him a bed on the couch and placed chairs along the edge so that he could not roll out. He slept like a log, through the whole evening.

Saturday is going to be a busy day. Rich and I took Luka for a walk in the lower side of Vinica, then we got to celebrate for 3 hours at the house, before heading to the wedding venue. If I thought Friday was a long day, Saturday was going to be even longer.

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Vinica, Macedonia, Hiking to Vinicko Kale

Today is Friday, the second day of our trip. The family is busy getting ready for the events that will take place on Saturday. Today Amy is going to be our guide and show us around Vinica. This morning we are going to walk to Vinicko Kale.

I learned about Vinicko Kale some years ago when Amy took some of her photography students up to the ruins to do light painting one evening. She also has a photograph of herself taken standing in part of the ruins and honestly it looked like she was standing in the map of Africa. So many overlaps to our growing up in South Africa and what we saw in Macedonia, although I will say I never spent time in ruins in South Africa.

Vinicko Kale sits above the village of Vinica. I am a bit of a romantic, with an appreciation of a blood thirsty battle. I love reading history of the Scots. Stories of the way they lived, and the battles that took place fascinate me. Stories such as Troy, 300, Braveheart, King Arthur, I love them all.

So when I think about Vinicko Kale, I think about a fortress built to defend a city. A beacon on a hill in a country where life could be threatened at any given moment. I think about men and women, living through these times. And I think about how much of a privilege it is for me to walk through these ruins and ruminate on life gone by.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, most of the walk was uphill. Aside from a short detour downhill to get to the road that went up to the ruins, it was an uphill climb. And I confessed, I am unfit!. I come from a family of asthmatics, and while I do not have asthma, this kind of exertion honestly makes me feel like I do. Add allergies and altitude and my breathing is the pits. So along the way, I would stop and take photos of the scenery, and the flowers and catch my breath. We passed some stairs and I gave thanks that we would not be climbing those but rather walking the road.

This was where we were heading – up to the ruins of Vinicko Kale. Reaching the top we were rewarded with the spectacular view of the town of Vinica. I mentioned previously that there are about 10, 800 or so people living in Vinica. Walking around the town, I would not image that many people, but the view from here makes it much easier to understand those numbers.

To be honest I wish I had a drone. What we saw is not the full picture of the ruins, they are far bigger. Vinicko Kale is situated at an altitude of 400m. The ruins themselves are about 250m x 150m, and spread across the hillside and onto the surrounding hills.

So what is the story with Vinicko Kale. According to what I have read, Vinicko Kale was discovered in 1954. Around 1978, 5 fragments of terracotta Christian icons were discovered. These icons dated back to Neolithic times, and through to the Middle Ages. This has sparked a real interest in the ruins.

The findings of the icons has sparked archaeological excavations since about 1985. What was found was the history of these ruins which they believe began around Neolithic times and stretched through to the Middle ages. It appears that various identifying features were found in amongst the ruins, such as “benches”, plumbing installations, walls of what appears to be a church.

There was a great site on the web that gave a lot more information on the ruins than I had found. You can learn more if you go here.

I read a number of sites that mention tombs and the excavation of a female tomb. In the excavation process they found glass and bronze gilded bracelets and bronze rings. Some of the icons found appear to have been mounted of the walls of tombs

Looking from where we stood, I believe we could see the town of Kochani, which we would visit later in the day.

As you look over the town of Vinica, the church that you see in the middle, is the church where Luka would be baptized on the Monday.

Above the hill of Vinica, and in fact many towns that we visited stood a tall Cross. Macedonia is made up of a number of religions. Most Macedonians traditionally follow the Macedonian Orthodox Christianity. However, the Albanians, Turks, & Roma are typically Muslin. One of the observations that I saw was there were many small Orthodox churches, and there were also many mosques. Since I managed to get a photo of the cross from the ruins, I opted not to climb another hill just to see the cross.

While we marveled at the beautiful ruins, this little man slept through. I was so amazed at how well he adapted to the busy schedule that we had. He was a real trouper. And his baby jogger was the best investment Amy made before traveled. Oh and the cheap octopus like battery operate fan that she could attach to his stroller to cool him down

Heading back down, I thought Richard and Amy would take the road. I optimistically thought I would take the stairs and meet them as they came around. But no they decided it would be quicker to carry the stroller down the flights of stairs. Below is an example of just a short section of the stairs heading up and down the hill, if you opted not to take the road up to Vinicko Kale.

Heading back into town, I was dragging, simply turning around and taking photos along the way. This always happens and before I know it Richard is way ahead of me. Amy is like her father. They do not walk slow. Me on the other hand, I want to take in what is around me.

One of the best moments of this morning, was right before I headed up the short hill back to the hotel. I was taking photos, and these two men below asked me to take their photo. I do not know them, I could not speak their language other than to say hello, but I got the message that they would like me to take their photo. These are the moments I love. They are spontaneous, they are moments that bring joy.

Vinicko Kale, in my mind, was the first line of defense for the ancient dwelling place. A place where the hustle and bustle of people made the fortress a thriving place of industry. Lying on one of the busiest economic roads, Vinicko Kale would see many travelers, and perhaps many who would want to subdue all and take over the fortress. In my mind, battles took place, and men and women rose up to defend, but, of course, that is all in my mind.

If you find yourself in Vinica, definitely take the walk up to Vinicko Kale, embrace the ruins of history, allowed your mind to imagine what it was like back in the day. Then go down to the village and enjoy the history that is found within this town.

Next blog we head to Kochani, a slightly larger town than Vinica, which was about 15 minutes away from where we were.

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Share Six: September 2022: Intentional

Liz from It’s Still Life Photography by Elizabeth Willson chose our theme {Intentional}. This was going to challenge me. I had to really sit and think about it. I have not had a lot of time to myself this past 2 weeks. Aside from my Luka days which always seem to be more than Friday (and I am not complaining), I have had a change in job description. I have been asked to take over two areas that our ex Finance Officer was handing, insurances & employee benefits along with HR. I may loose the HR later but right now it is on my plate. It has been a learning curve. So I had to go back and look at what I had been intentional about recently.

Macedonia was so different to what you see in South Florida. South Florida is so manicured that it is virtually impossible to see a weed. Whereas in Macedonia there was a wildness to the flora on our walk we were taking, and also plenty of wildflowers. On our walk to Vinicko Kale, the ruins of the fortress that sits on top of the hill, I was intentional about looking for the beauty that surrounded us. That and stopping every so often to breathe. The walk up hill was a killer. I am unfit, that goes without saying. However, while I am not asthmatic, I come from a family that does suffer from asthma. My allergies tend to play up when I hit dry climates and the altitude affects my breathing. So I would stop and take photos, and catch up on my breathing at the same time. As a result Amy and Richard were always way ahead of me on the hike.

Macedonia’s topography undulates. We were constantly going up and downhill. We had to go downhill to get to the point where we could go uphill to Vincko Kale. And then it all went uphill. While for many, the sides of the road may seem overgrown, I loved seeing all the wildflowers. Some of them may have been weeds, but they were beautiful flowering weeds. Nature has so many beautiful specimens to offer and I was seeing a good few of them here in Vinica as we walked.

About halfway up the hill I stopped to breathe again, and to breathe in the beauty of our surroundings. Florida is so flat that it is so amazing to be able to look around and see hills, valleys and mountains again. It reminded me so much of the countryside we used to explore in South Africa.

I have no idea of any of the names of the flowers sadly, but they definitely captured my attention. The image below is the ruins of Vinicko Kale, a fortress set on top of the hill that dates back to the Neolithic times. This is where our uphill walk was taking us.

No only were the flowers stunning but I was blown away by the spiderweb below. It appeared that the spider created this tunnel through to where it waited.

After huffing and puffing my way up the hill, with all my {Intentional} stops to breathe and seek beauty, the view from the top was spectacular. It was of the city below. Now while the walk downhill may not be bad, the last little stretch uphill had me huffing and puffing again.

Doing things {Intentionally} is not a bad thing. I intentionally plan before we go. I like to know where I am going and what there is to see. When I am there, I am intentionally looking for the beauty that is around me. Intentionally trying to connect with what the country has to offer. I loved our trip to Macedonia and a journey into an area of the world I have never been before.

This is a circle blog and as I mentioned, we have some very talented ladies in the group. The sneak peaks are stunning and I cannot wait to see the rest. Take some time to follow the links and see what they have for you this month. My incredibly talented friend Katherine of Cobert Photography is up next. I can’t wait to see what she has to share. You can see more of her work by clicking on her Instagram page. Definitely check out her incredible art.

If you want to learn more about the Fortress Vinicko Kale, then look out for the next blog due to go live later this week.

Come and share your images to  Facebook and Instagram tagging #sharesix_travel

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Macedonia: Vinica

Vinica was the town we would be in for the next 5 days. Today we are going to explore some of the town and a little bit of the history. We often have preconceived ideas of what to expect.

Like most of Europe the cities are full of history. I had already used my google man to do some exploring but Vinica was too small to explore. The town was so interesting, we loved meeting family but, best of all, the welcome in Vinica exceeded my expectations. Like most countries that originally formed part of the Soviet block there is not a lot of infrastructure and the income level is not high. Vinica is found in the north east of Macedonia about 1 hour from the capital Skopje. Vinica is also the center of the Municipality of Vinica.

Vinica is a small town with a population of 10, 863 inhabitants. Broken down the town is made up of predominately Macedonians, but there is also a small group of Roma, Turks and Aromanians as well. It is located between the Golak and Obozna mountains and at the foot of the Plachkovica mountains.

The name Vinica is derived from the word vine, and Daniel tells me that Vinica was at one time well known for it’s vineyards. Walking around the town you will see vines growing on awnings outside of the houses.

This morning we walked up the street above to Daniel’s family home to meet up with Amy. We were heading to the Park Hotel for breakfast. Breakfast was good. We had omelets that cost us about $4 each. Coffee was good and they accommodated my milk and hot water request. I drink tea but only certain teas. The coffee was strong for the most part, mainly Turkish.

Luka ate some tomato’s at breakfast and had a bad reaction to them so Amy rushed off to the pharmacy to get an anti histamine to settle the reaction down. Looking back she feels like the blotchy face may have been the second time he had a reaction to tomatoes. We later walked up to the fort so he slept most of the way.

What was interesting for me, and to some degree worried me, but I am sure that up north USA you will see the same thing in winter. The amounts of firewood stacked in the streets and against the houses is incredible and I am sure that in winter this is all used. But I have to confess I kept thinking fire hazard. Oh me, of the state (Florida) of eternal heat. And if I am confessing, I have to be honest and say “hats off” to anyone who can live for months in snow.

Vinica has fallen under a number of different times. Neolithic times, Byzantine times, the Ottoman empire and the Yugoslavia times. Neolithic times is defined as the Stone Age, in around 4500BC. Byzantine times was apparently when the Eastern Roman Empire split in about 395CE until it fell to the Ottoman Empire in about 1453. Last but not least Yugoslavia from 1929 after the war until the 1980’s when the federation broke up.

There are three schools in Vinica, 2 primary and 1 high school. Amy taught English, through the Peace Corp at one of the schools, over a 27 month period. I had hoped to travel over while she was there but that did not happen.

In preparation for traveling I pulled up a map of Vinica and plotted out what to do and see. I will be honest, there is not a lot of “sights” to see in Vinica but on my list of things was St Arhangel Michael (where Luka would be baptized), the school where Amy taught, the St Apostal Luka, the Mosque, the Fortress, known as Vinicko Kale, the City Museum, St Pavale. To be honest we did not get to all of them, but Vinica was about family and we did a lot of that. There is also a cross on top of the hill, but after hiking to the fort, I was not up to hiking to the cross. I am unfit, the altitude affected my breathing and it was just so hot. Temps were sitting around 103 F. However, walking around the town, there were many things of interest, parks, coffeeshops, general shops etc.

One thing I did notice about Vinica, which we are just not used to anymore, was the overhead power lines. I have to think it would be an American Electricians nightmare. Daniel’s brother told me that the power system was sold to an Austrian company and they are required to only use that form of power. As you will see in other images, in winter wood is their main source of fuel, and they have big stoves in the basement that heat up the houses.

Amy showed us the apartment above that she lived in for at least 18 months. It was the lower right apartment of this building. It was perfect for the quick walk to school.

Hotel Central was the hotel that we stayed at and I will say in all honesty that it was well worth the stay. Not only was the room comfortable, but they provided a breakfast for us each morning. They also offered a gym and a spa. As much as I wanted to get a massage, trying to fit it in with all that was going on was not happening. Below the hotel was a shop where we could go and buy water and any other items we may wish to snack on. It was very convenient given that the temperature on most of the days. I also loved that our hotel had air conditioning. It was good to be able to go and cool down when the temps got to high. I think Luka and Amy loved it as well. We are so spoilt. I forget that growing up in South Africa we didn’t have air conditioning either. That said I am not sure I could live without it now.

There are apparently three major hotels, but I only found the two, Hotel Central where we stayed, and Hotel Aleksander Park where we went for breakfast a couple of times. There are lots of shops, bars and restaurants. Very often in the mornings the coffee bars were full. Mostly men drinking coffee. We drank beers at the Park, and I will tell you that those beers were far bigger than the standard size you get in the US. Skopsko IPL was the beer we seemed to order most of the time. We also ate at one of the pizza restaurants one evening, but again most of the time was spent with family. More on the lower part of town in another blog.

The main farming production around Vinica is rice, which also explains the high population of mosquitos in the area. Nasty biting mean machines :). In addition to the rice farming, there is also is known for their textiles and wood furniture production.

There appeared to be two sides to Vinica, the slightly older side and then the more modern newer looking side. This we came across as we walked to the Vinicko Kale later in the day. What interested me was the solar powered water heaters on the roof.

In addition I noticed that while the buildings may be older, the owners loved adding colorful flowers to the balconies and walkways to beautify the area. They did a really good job of making the area around their homes look pretty.

While Vinica is a smaller and older town, we had a wonderful time there. We were welcomed by the family with open arms, some tears and a whole lot of hugs. Despite our language challenges we were able to meet all the family, and to see some of this historical town.

If you are looking for a place to stop over, then the Hotel Central is ideal. Take time to explore, visit the churches, climb to the Fort, and the Cross if you can, sit at the beer garden and try a Skopsko, do early morning Turkish coffee. Breathe in the smells, experience the beautiful culture, love what you see. That’s the only way to travel – with an open mind, and an open heart.

Next blog will be my Share Six blog, then we will be heading up to the Fort. Join me if you can. If you want to see the other blogs on Macedonia click on the blog tab and scroll down

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