Macedonia is medieval monasteries, timeworn Turkish bazaars, Orthodox churches and space-age shopping centres. It is also the drone of the local bagpipes, Turkish-style grilled mincemeat and Balkan cheese pies. The country is unbelievably green; its people are hospitable and welcoming.
In northern and western Macedonia, travel should be restricted to main roads and daylight hours. Unexploded ordnance plagues pockets of these areas, and the border with Serbia and Montenegro is a military zone. Ethnic tensions in the region bordering Kosovo can erupt into occasional violence.
Full country name: The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Area: 25,333 sq km
Population: 2.06 million
Capital City: Skopje
People: Macedonian 66%, Albanian 23%, Turkish 4%, Gypsies 3%, Serb 2%
Language: Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish, Bosnian
Religion: Eastern Orthodox 67%, Muslim 30%
Government: parliamentary democracy
Head of State: President Branko Crvenkovski
Head of Government: Prime Minister Vlado Buchkovski
GDP: US$10.57 billion
GDP per capita: US$5,100
Annual Growth: 4.5%
Major Industries: Coal, metallic chromium, lead, zinc, ferronickel, textiles, wood products, tobacco, rice, tobacco, wheat, corn, millet, cotton, sesame, mulberry leaves, citrus, vegetables, beef, poultry, mutton
Major Trading Partners: Bulgaria, other former Yugoslav republics, Germany, Italy, Austria
Member of EU: No
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Macedonians celebrate Orthodox Christmas on 7 January, followed by the Old New Year on 13 January. Otherwise, a lot of the nation's special events center around military milestones: Ilinden or Day of the 1903 Rebellion is 2 August; Republic Day is 8 September; and 1941 Partisan Day is 11 October. The Balkan Festival of Folk Dances and Songs, held in Ohrid in early July, draws folkloric groups from around the Balkans. The Ohrid Summer Festival, held from mid-July to mid-August, features classical concerts. Poets gather in Struga at the end of August for an International Festival of Poetry.
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Currency: Macedonian Denar
Macedonia's hotels are very expensive and will take up most of your budget. If you're able to find a private room rather than a hotel, you'll be better off financially and able to get by on about US$20-40 a day. If not, count on spending at least US$50 a day for a roof over your head and some food in your belly. More palatable versions of each will require closer to US$100 a day.
The denar is now a stable currency, but outside Macedonia it's worthless. Travellers' cheques can be changed at most banks with no commission deducted. Small private exchange offices can be found throughout central Skopje and Ohrid, and the rate they offer is generally good.
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Macedonia's capital, Skopje, is strategically set on the Vardar River at a crossroads of Balkan routes almost midway between Tirana and Sofia, capitals of neighbouring Albania and Bulgaria. The Romans recognised the location's importance when they made the city the centre of Dardania Province.
Later conquerors included the Slavs, Byzantines, Bulgarians, Normans and Serbs, until the Turks arrived in 1392 and managed to hold onto Skopje until 1912. After a devastating earthquake in 1963, aid poured in from the rest of Yugoslavia to create the modern urban landscape you see today.
The town of Ohrid is the Macedonian tourist mecca. Some 30 'cultural monuments' in the area keep visitors busy. Predictably, the oldest ruins readily seen are Roman. Lihnidos (Ohrid) was on the Via Egnatia, which connected the Adriatic to the Aegean.
Macedonia boasts Lake Ohrid, a natural tectonic lake which is the deepest lake in Europe and one of the world's oldest. A third of its surface area belongs to Albania. The Macedonian section of the lake is beautiful, with striking vistas of the water from the beach and hills.
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