Next article

coming-soonStill in Skopje, Macedonia.

My next post will be about the walking tour I went on with Ana, and a new addition to our group.

Advertisements

Kantina, Skopje’s friendliest restaurant

As previously mentioned, on the first day in Skopje, we were looking for a place to eat, recommended by Lonely Planet. Sadly, it no longer exited, as we soon found out after asking around. But our steps took us to a really nice place nearby, where we heard some good music: Kantina Lounge Bar.

We sat down on the terrace and a very friendly waitress brought us some menus. They were written in their alphabet, though, which I could barely understand due to the limited knowledge I have of the Greek and Bulgarian alphabets.

However, not to worry, while we were having some beer, the waitress translated almost the entire menu for us and recommended us something good to eat, as well.

The atmosphere was perfect for a lazy summer afternoon and the food was delicious. Definitely go there if you’re in Skopje!

Terrace of Kantina, Skopje

On the terrace of Kantina, Skopje

And this is not the last you’ll be reading on Kantina’s friendly staff in relation to our Balkan road trip. 😉


14330130_887017254763871_2496619402595817774_n

Kantina Lounge Bar – 5 out of 5 stars
4 Radnjanska, Skopje, Macedonia
Tel. +389 70 222 137 | Facebook
Click for menu.

Skopje, our first stop in Macedonia

It took us some time to leave the Rila Monastery and head towards Macedonia. Like on our arrival in Rila, there were works to expand the road, so we had to wait a lot for the machines to get out of the way or to move the recently cut trees out of the road.

Slowly, but surely, we made it, though. And we instantly started to appreciate the Macedonian music. I forgot to mention this, but we only listened to what was on the radio in this road trip. And the music we found, regardless of the radio channels, was like the music from the ’80s.

Anyway, once in Skopje, Tim found Urban Hostel & Apartments, where we stayed for two nights. It was a great deal: we had two rooms, a balcony, a small kitchen and, most important: a washing machine in the bathroom.

We started searching for a restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet, but it was no longer there. However, in the area, we found a really nice place, with tasty food.

After a hearty lunch / dinner (or linner, as a friend likes to call it), we went to the Skopje City Park or Gradski Park, past the stadium (Philip II National Arena or Telekom Arena) and across the Vardar River. We were heading towards the fortress, but  was feeling sick so I went back to our rooms. The two of them went on and saw a good part of the city centre by night, too.

From the streets of Skopje, Macedonia

From the streets of Skopje, Macedonia

As bad as I felt, I still loved all the treats the streets of Skopje had to offer and I hadn’t yet seen the most interesting parts.

At the hostel, I went and talked to the guy at the reception about things to do. I got a Balkan Bucket List and some info on a walking tour for the next morning. After my friends returned, I talked Ana into joining me for the walking tour.


Urban Hostel & Apartments, SkopjeUrban Hostel & Apartments
22 Adolf Ciborovski, Skopje 1000, Macedonia
(Old street’s name was Mother Teresa)
Tel. +389 78 432 384| Website | Prices available here.
Free: coffee, tea, maps, bicycles, parking, Wi-Fi, computer & printer access. | Has delivery & laundry service available.


Philip II Arena or Telekom Arena
Aminta the third, Skopje 1000, Macedonia
Tel. +389 2 322 8462 

Top 5 things to taste in Bulgaria

If you happen to travel to Bulgaria, here are 5 things you should try:

  1. Banitsa
    This is a pastry product, kind of like a pie, which is usually enjoyed for breakfast. Depending on the stuffing, it can be salty (e.g. with sirene cheese,  spinach, mushrooms, cabbage) or sweet (e.g. pumpkin, apples, walnuts). Excellent as street food, for the on-the-go backpacker.
  2. Tarator Soup
    Like the Spanish Gazpacho, Tarator is a soup that’s served cold. It is made of yogurt, cucumber, dill, garlic, oil and water. In other words, it’s a more liquid version of the Greek’s Tzatziki. 🙂 However, it can also be served with walnuts, and, to make it even more refreshing on those hot summer days: ice cubes!
  3. Shopska Salad
    This is a salad you will find in every menu when you’re visiting Bulgaria. It’s simple and contains basic ingredients (cucumbers, onions, peppers, tomatoes, cheese, and parsley), but it’s also very tasty. Plus, the colours of its ingredients are also the ones found on the Bulgarian flag.
  4. Kavarma
    Depending on the Bulgarian region you’re in, the taste will vary. However, though the recipes are different, it’s always marinated cooked meat and vegetables, plus spices. It can be mild or hot, so if you’re not into spicy foods, ask beforehand or skip it.
  5. Rakia (40-90% alc.)
    Not for eating, but for drinking, Rakia is a common treat in the Balkans. It is made by the distillation of fermenting fruit (grapes, plums, pears, apples, apricots, cherries or figs).

Rila Monastery

After Sofia, we went on with our car trip and ended up at the Rila Monastery.

It was so nice to enjoy the mountain temperatures after the hot days we had experienced till then. In the parking lot, we actually switched to longer pants, discreetly.

The Rila Monastery is quite a sight, due to its beautifully painted interior courtyard. It’s a very calm place and you can enjoy the quietness to reflect on things. The guy we were traveling with is not even an orthodox, but he liked the atmosphere a lot, so in the evening, before closing, he returned to the courtyard to meditate.

The Rila Monastery was founded in the 10th century and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

Rila Monastery, in the Bulgarian mountains

The interior courtyard of the Rila Monastery

We couldn’t book a room right at the monastery, as we had wished. The lady there said she’ll look into it, yet never returned to give us any news, good or bad. So we stayed at a nearby hotel, Tsarev Vrah, built and owned by the monks from the Monastery.

In the evening, we went to their terrace and ate fresh trout, caught the very same day from the river right next to it. It was a nice dinner, but it was so cold that our breaths were steamy. We had our warmest clothes on, but still shuddered. Luckily, they had blankets. 🙂

The next day, after a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we returned to the Rila Monastery to send some postcards, as they have a Post Office right there. And then we hopped back in the old Cielo and headed towards the border with Macedonia.

If we had more time at our disposal and warmer clothes, the place was worth a longer stay. It would have been nice to climb up the Rila Mountains and watch the sunset, maybe from the top of Musala Peak (2 925 m).


Rila Monastery
2643, Bulgaria
Tel. +359 705 422 08


Tsarev Vrah Hotel & Restaurant
Rila MonasteryRila 2630, Bulgaria
Tel. +359 7054 2180 | Website

Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria

In the afternoon, after visiting the Devetashka Cave, we ended up in Sofia.

I had passed through Sofia several times before, on the way to Greece, but I never got out of the car to visit anything until then.

We went and saw the Church of Saint George, which is said to be the oldest building in Sofia. It is an impressive rotunda made of red bricks, built by the Romans in the 4th century, and it is part of a larger number of buildings which have remained from the ancient town of Serdica.

After discovering the pedestrian area, with all its terraces, we went to Knyaz-Borisova Gradina. It is a very large park, and it has lots of statues. Not all of them to my liking, though, but it’s an interesting place to visit.

We finished the day by visiting the Alexandar Nevski Cathedral. Huge and imposing, it can be seen from quite a distance. Inside, we didn’t get to see much, it near closing time.

But next to the cathedral, there was a large stage, and they were rehearsing classical music fragments for a concert. The acoustics inside the cathedral made it all sound amazing and, through a peephole in one of the gigantic wooden doors, we could even see a bit.

We had to leave, as the guard chased us away, eager to lock everything up.

In the evening, we met up with a couple of friends who lived in Sofia at the time and hosted us for the night. We grabbed dinner in a Happy Bar & Grill. The food was good and, if you come across one of their establishments, you could give it a try.

As with every other place in Bulgaria, their menu includes all kinds of cuisines, it’s not specialized on a certain one. And as I’ve learned that night, the Bulgarians are crazy about sushi.

Street corner in Sofia, Bulgaria

Colourful street corner in Sofia, Bulgaria

The next day, one of our friends took us to see the parts of Sofia she liked the most. We ended up on streets with colourful buildings and, a bit later, in Zaimov Park.

Right next to the park is a restaurant called Raketa Rakia Bar. The inside is decorated nicely with retro phones, televisions, photos, radios.. And the food was quite tasty. It’s worth a visit.

In  the afternoon we got back in the old Cielo, ready to go on with our Balkan road trip.

But here’s a bit more of Sofia:


Happy Bar & Grill Mladost, Sofia

Happy Bar & Grill – 4 out of 5 stars
35-37 Alexander Malinov Blvd, Mladost district, Sofia
Open from 11.00 to 00.00
Tel. +359 700 20 888 | Website
Click for menu.


gallery_39315

Raketa Rakia Bar – 4.7 out of 5 stars
17 Yanko Sakazov Blvd, 1527 Sofia Center, Sofia
Open from 11.00 to 00.00
Tel. +359 2 444 6111  | Facebook

Continue reading

Devetashka Cave, Bulgaria

Our next stop was Devetashka Cave, about which we had been told by a friend who lived in Sofia at the time. It seemed to be a very long way there, but it was worth it. Once you get there, you feel like you’re on the set of a movie, it seems absolutely surreal. There are these large openings in the ceiling, there’s a small river, and so much green, so much vegetation everywhere.

I’m used to caves being still and quiet, the silence broken only by a few drips of water every now and then. But this is something entirely different: it’s full of life, from bats*, to plants, to the flying, chirping swallows everywhere.

BeFunky Collage

—–
*Over 30.000 bats from 15 species.


Devetashka Peshtera
5555 Devetaki, Bulgaria
Tel. +359 68 688 212
Tickets: 3 leva / adult; 2 leva / student