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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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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30 Minutes in the Life: August 2022: Macedonia Day 1

In the last blog I gave a short synopsis of our trip to Macedonia. Check it out if you have not read it. I arrived home tired, and found that the jet lag was just crazy. We struggled for at least 10 days to get our bodies back in sync. Sometimes I think poor Luka is still struggling. For these blogs, the images are going to be a mix of not so great quality cellphone pics, as well as camera pics. It was just easier sometimes to grab my cell and take the pics.

Macedonia has been on the cards for a while, but Covid stopped it in 2020, and Richards health and Amy’s pregnancy stopped it in 2021. 2022 Amy and Daniel decided that they had waited long enough and they were going. Daniel really wanted us to go with so that we could meet his family. I plotted and planned, researched, and jotted down notes. Pulled up maps and made key references to places of interest. I am a planner. I probably over plan, however, I am also the kind of person that does not have to get to everything. I just want to know if I am missing out on anything.

11 days before we were due to leave, Snow and Rory, (Amy’s two cats) moved to our house. 10 days before we were due to leave we drove Amy, Daniel & Luka to Miami airport. Oh man, my heart was going on an airplane and I was not going with. I was going to miss that little man.

Finally D-day arrived and we were set to head out. I left Simba in charge of Moo, Snow and Rory. My good friend from down the road was willing to come in twice a day and take care of all 4 of them. Bags were packed and we were ready. We agreed to leave early. You never know what the traffic is going to be like driving to Miami and we had a good hour and a half to drive. Going through customs was quick and easy and then it was the coffee and breakfast while we waited. Our flight was through Turkish airlines and we were on board and ready to go fairly quickly. Amy warned me that they feed you pretty quickly once you are up in the air, but then don’t feed you until about 4 am Turkish time which is 10 pm our time. So a meal at noon and then nothing until 10pm is a long time. What I did find out flying back is there is food at the back that you can snack on but being up front I had no reason to go to the back. Talking food, I was pretty impressed with the food we were given on the flights.

The best part of our flight was that I had booked isle seats. I had two people sitting next to me and Richard had 3 seats to himself, so I shifted across to the free seat and my seat companions were forever thankful that they then had a seat between them.

After what felt like was forever on the flight, which in theory was 1am our time, we landed in Istanbul. Little did we know how big the airport was.

I feel like we landed on one end of the airport and had to work our way through to the furthest point of the airport to catch our connecting flight. The challenge that came was the flight was not showing on the board, and by the time we actually found out what gate we were leaving from we had 20 minutes to navigate this huge airport. Little did we know that there were walking escalators on the upper level. We really did not have time to take in the beauty of the airport, because we were rushing to catch our flight.

I needed a bathroom pitstop and so we found some signs that indicated there was a bathroom entry. I told Richard to stay exactly where he was and not to move. I then found myself entering the bowels (sic) of the airport. I felt like I walked forever before I found the ladies rest room. Navigating my way out, I come out at the entrance only to find that Richard is not there. I was so annoyed. I started walking knowing that I had to go down the walkway. As I started recognizing landmarks and I quickly discovered that the entrance I went in and the exit I came out of were not the same. Thankfully I found Richard standing exactly where he was supposed to be. Frustrated, I might add, because I had taken so long. Of course he is now on a mission to get to where we have to depart and we are virtually running to get there.

Flying from Istanbul to Skopje in Macedonia was on a much smaller plane. Initially I thought that we were going to be on a very roomy flight but that idea was quickly squished when a connecting flight boarded. I had two traveling companions next to me, a guy around my age, traveling with his mother. Richard had a mother and child, and the grandmother. The flight was uneventful until just before we were going to land. The wheels of the plane kicked out and then man next to me nearly jumped out his seat. He did the sign of the cross 3 times and then grabbed his mothers hand. He sat in this rigid position until we hit the tarmac with a bump, after which he gave thanks for the safe landing. Exiting the customs area was quick and hassle free.

And there he was, my heart, back in my arms again. I had missed this little face so much. I missed the cuddles on my Friday. I missed his smiles and his laughter. What a sweet moment it was to be able to just hug this little body again. Daniel, Amy and Luka came through to fetch us at the airport. My first impressions driving through from the airport to Daniel’s home town, was that it was similar to the Natal midlands in South Africa. A place we visited a lot growing up.

Macedonia covers an area of 25,713 km². It is not huge. Towns are scattered across the countryside, with Skopje being the capital. We were traveling an hour to a town called Vinica, where Daniel grew up. Most of his family live there. I will share more about the town in another blog.

We arrived at the hotel, had time to unpack, have a shower and then head up to Daniel’s moms home. What a sweet welcome with had, with hugs and tears. Our biggest challenge was language, with us not speaking Macedonian and Daniel’s mom not speaking English but the hugs made up for the difference. What a sweet, sweet time.

Aside from the greeting I was there with a purpose. Daniel was taking Richard for a beer, while Amy, Luka and I were joining the traditional bread making ceremony. Traditionally the family of the unmarried bride host a bread making ceremony. However, in this case, Daniel’s mom hosted the ceremony. The bread is shape in a round circle to symbolize something that has no beginning or end. Daniel’s young cousin, was the lady who made the bread. First the dough is made and kneaded, then it is patted in to the round dish, then Luka (who it appears is the star of the show) had to give his foot stamp of approval. While we were not looking a coin was placed in the bread mix, then Daniel’s cousin and his aunt created a beautiful design on the bread. and finally Daniel’s mom placed butter and oil onto the top of the bread.

The bread making ceremony was not just about making bread, it was the gathering of the women, the dancing of the traditional dance the Horo, and the drinking of rakija which is the traditional Macedonian drink. I have to confess it was a little strong for me, and I stuck to the giant beers 🙂 A little bit more information on the Horo. This is a traditional dance where the guests link hands and do this intricate little step (which I mastered at slow speed, and caved as it sped up) and they go around in a circle celebrating the event. This was a beautiful time of learning their traditions and hugging and smiling at everyone. The only word I knew was “Stravo” which means “hello” and I said that quite a bit.

Of course, the whole happening was about Amy and Daniel’s second wedding reception and Daniels family wanted to do this as a traditional wedding. Amy and Daniel got married in 2018 in the USA with just our immediate family and a few friends. Daniel’s family was not able to attend and it has always been their intention to have a ceremony in Macedonia for his family. So this was Amy’s bread making ceremony.

After the bread making ceremony Amy, Luka and I headed down to the Park where we joined Daniel and Richard for what must have been the largest beer I have ever drunk, and would continue to drink over the coming day.

We ended our evening off with the family gathering for dinner along with the two groomsmen. There was an enormous amount of food, lots of translations, and plenty of the bread that was baked earlier in the day. I did not tell you that the person who gets the piece of bread with the coin in it, is said to have luck for the coming year. That turned out to be Daniel’s mom. Hopefully she will be lucky and the embassy will grant her a visa to visit the USA in December.

Tired and weary we did our five minute walk back to our hotel. It had been a good day. My next blog I will share a bit about Vinica and the town itself.

Thank you for joining us, 30 Minutes in the Life is a circle blog and we have some very talented photographers in the group. I always love looking at the sneak peaks and I cannot wait to see the rest. Take some time to follow the links and see what Kristina of Hello Olivia Photography has for you this month, and I look forward to seeing what she has to share.

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Tallulah Gorge: Part 2

The 30 Minutes in the Life blog was just that 30 minutes, but it was also too many images so I decided to split the blog. If you did not see the first part you can click here to read the initial part of the blog post.

A quick summary of the previous post is that we were in Georgia for a short get away with the family and decided to head to Tallulah Gorge for some hiking and visiting the local area. You are picking up at look out point 2.

As I mentioned in the previous post, there are 750 steps from the top to the suspension bridge. There is an addition hike down to the water level. That is another 450 steps. There is a limit as to how many people can access that area and it is under certain conditions.

At this point we decided to move on to lookout point 3. Our ultimate destination was lookout point 5 seen above. This is when the fun started. While it was accessible it was a little more difficult going with the wheelchair and at some points Kathryn had to get out and Cameron had to move it for her over the roots or what ever obstructions there was.

I really enjoyed seeing all the fall leaves on the ground. The smell of dampness, soil, fresh air. All those things are an aroma to my senses. Added to that the weather was gorgeous for walking.

We made it to look out 4, but at this point it had been tough going for Kathryn, and when we spoke to some ladies about lookout 5 they said the wheelchair would not be able to get there, and there were steps on the way. So that was the end of the journey for Cameron and Kathryn. I decided to go on my own to look out 5 to see what the view was like.

The view was very similar, so I journeyed on towards the end of the property where there was an access up to the road

Tallulah Falls,
Tallulah Falls,

From the road you had a great view of the river heading away from the dam wall. And I got to capture Cameron, Kathryn, and Cody at lookout point 4. Having finished up my shots, I turned around to head back to meet up with them when who should come behind me but the stair climbers, looking somewhat fatigued.

If you are visiting Georgia, and you are within driving distance of Tallulah Gorge, then add it to your bucket list. You will not regret it. If you have any form of disability, there is still areas that you can get to and enjoy.

Thanks for joining me for the second part of the blog on Tallulah Gorge.