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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