Bitola is a gorgeous little town in southern Macedonia, though little is a relative term in describing the second largest city in the country. Roughly three hours from Skopje by bus, the ride there was largely uneventful save for the brief stop at a gas station/convenience store in which Ferda took the opportunity to hop off and stretch her legs, but failed to return before the bus began to pull out of the station. I did my best to yell in Turkish and English, and it was either that or my wild gesticulations that stopped the driver from leaving her stranded in the middle of Macedonia. He also very graciously arranged a taxi to our hotel, speaking with the driver on our behalf once we’d arrived in the outskirts of Bitola.
The highlight of the city for me was seeing the ruins of the ancient city of Heraclea Lyncestis, founded by Alexander the Great’s father Philip II of Macedon in the middle of the fourth century BC. Most of the relics, buildings and monuments still standing are from the Roman era several centuries later. The amphitheater is especially impressive, in excellent condition, so much so that performances still take place there during the summer. There were also a number of truly spectacular mosaics left from the Byzantine era, but photographs were unfortunately not allowed.
Overall, Bitola feels very European, which makes sense I suppose given that it’s in Europe, but the sensibility is so much greater than the capital, Skopje, that it really stands out. There’s a beautiful clock tower in the city center, directly across from the main pedestrian street, Shirok Sokak, which is an easy starting point for tourists such as ourselves, especially since our extremely comfortable hotel was located only a few feet away.
We were going to head to the old bazaar first, but we got waylaid by a sensational lunch right next to the tower. Food and booze are very cheap everywhere in Macedonia, and we took full advantage with one huge meal after another, and this lunch was no exception, though our usual habit of sharing everything took a bit of a hit with my decision to order a pork dish with onions that was nothing short of sensational. We also had whatever Ferda ordered that wasn’t pork and also wasn’t nearly as good as my dish and therefore forgettable, vegetables, tavce gravce, which is a traditional dish of fresh beans baked in earthenware every restaurant in Macedonia serves, and a bottle of Krali Marko, a local beer which is described thusly in the brewer’s promotional material:
“Krali Marko is a high quality beer with golden yellow colour, with pleasant bitterness and pure taste produced of 11% beer malt with a content of 4,5 % vol. alcohol. Krali Marko is manufactured since the distant 1924 year, utilizing an original macedonian formula with distinguised taste, hence is part of our heroic tradition for over 85 years. Even with the first drop, true heroes will recognize the taste of their own drink!. Taste the Krali Marko beer, from now in completely new look and traditonally good flavour! Toast, and continue the heroic saga!”
The bazaar was a little smaller than I expected once we finally arrived, but we had a lot of fun just walking around and taking it all in. That night Ferda was nice enough to watch Wigan get relegated by Arsenal, and we enjoyed a nightcap cup of coffee amidst the fairly thriving nightlife on the Shirok Sokak street.
We popped into the Bitola Museum in the morning before catching the bus back to Skopje. The museum building used to be a military school, made famous in part for educating Mustafa Kemal, better known as Ataturk, just after the turn of the 20th century, and there was a nice little exhibit dedicated to him inside. There was also a school visit coinciding with ours, so we had to navigate about thirty rambunctious children during our visit.
Afterwards, we stopped for a quick bite at a row of fast food type places outside the museum that all looked identical. Fortunately, the restaurant we chose turned out to be very good. The following pictorial with accompanying dialogue is pretty much verbatim, and I’m sure Ferda would agree if she had her own blog.
The gracious owner of the hotel we stayed at took a photo of us before we left to catch our bus back to Skopje.
The same bus driver who took us down to Bitola was there to greet us at the station, and we did our best to chat for a few minutes before departing, and he seemed very pleased we enjoyed the trip so much.