Things not to be missed in Bitola

A friendly place to stay: Goldy Hostel

The day before yesterday I spent most of the day reading, writing and photo editing at Zlatko and Elena’s kitchen table in Goldy’s Hostel. Around five, Elena started cooking up a meal. We chatted a bit, Zlatko was off to the market for some grilled fish. If it was possible to bring me some too? Normally you have to order one day on beforehand, but she’d try to call him and see what he could do. Zlatko came back with three grilled fish. If I liked the head of the fish on my plate? Naah, not really. They neither. The salad Elena had made was absolutely delicious and its souery taste went very well with the smokey grilled flavour. Cold cooked potatoes, raw onion rings, oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. Simple and good. 

  

I planned on two, but finally stayed there for four nights. I had a gigantic double bed all for myself, for 15€/night (22€ when you’re two). Elena and Zlatko have great taste in music, never heard anything I disliked really. When I told Elena that my favourite musician is Prince, she replied: “It is impossible for any girl or woman NOT to be a Prince fan”. We got along fine. 

We talked Macedonian politics, future plans (Elena, a nutrician, is taking up German classes), women’s stuff (yes, your eyebrows do continue to grow when you are on a holiday), and food, of course. Zlatko is right when he says our vegetables in Europe taste like plastic. Impossible to imitate a shopska salad in Brussels. The greens are not as tasty, and the cheese that goes on top is simple unavailable outside Macedonia. Feta cheese is not a worthy replacement. The real thing is richer, creamier and is less sharp than feta. Delicious.

This is the country’s richness: the taste of sunlight in your veggies and fruits. Millions of peaches, peaches for me. Millions of peaches, peaches for free.

  

The secret tip Elene gave me, the Viola Beauty Center, was exactly what I needed after my hikes (long walks, really). A beauty parlour and a fitness studio in one, with jacuzzis, a sauna, massages, and every possible beauty treatment you can think of, even botox shots I think, if you ask ‘m nicely. The massage I got after my supposed hike to The Eyes of the Mountain (see next post) was as good as the ones you get in Asia. Firm hands, kneading away the last bits if pain you went through during your day. These women know what they’re doing. Sorry guys, it is ladies only 😎

Bitola has two good reasons for a stop: as said, it’s near Pelister National Park, and there is the beautifully preserved mosaic of Heraclea. As you walk up there from Goldy Hostel, you can’t miss the Širok Sokak “wide lane”, oficcially called Maršal Tito. It’s vibrant with life, lounge bars, shops and restaurants. My favourite one is Jagoda, you’ll recognise it by the gigantic strawberry (jagoda) on the terrace, and the colourful red and white chequered table cloths. 

  

Before getting to Heraclea, you should stop at the Bitola Museum, located in the former military academy where once Atatürk went to school. What I found much more interesting than the dozens of pictures, heroic stories and even the school grades of Atatürk , was this love letter from “The Girl from Bitola”.

  
A bit further, just follow the leafy park and then turn left (it’s well indicated), is the archeological site of Heraclea, 400 BC. Wikipedia is your friend. 

When you see this lady, you know you’re on the right track.

  
The mosaics are so beautifully preserved, with still vibrant colours. When you pay a little extra for photography (100 dinars entry fee and 100 extra is what I paid), the guy behinds the counters advises you to climb on the ancient stones for the best shots. So I did. Here’s my Indiana Jones 😎

   

According to my guidebook, Bitola is the city of embassies, beautifully restored or beautifully faded buildings. I had no time for a walk about town; the view from my hostel was enough for me. As if I were in France!

  

I regret not bringing some Côte d’Or back from Brussels. Should think of that for my next trip. Luckily and against all odds, I found a big pot of Nutella chocolate paste, a product made in Belgium, at the Ferrero factory in Arlon, in the very south. Elena’s reaction was: “This is exactly what the house needed.”

Everybody happy. Meanwhile I’m in Kruševo, the town is packed with paragliders. There is a competition going on in a few days. No Dutch of Belgian people spotted yet. No mountains in our countries.

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