Coming to the Republic of Macedonia I had no idea what to expect from this land-locked Balkan country. My first stop there was the small city of Strumica, purely out of geographic convenience. While it may not have dazzled me with attractions, in Strumica I received possibly the warmest welcome I’ve ever had upon entering a new country. It was definitely an uplifting way to begin exploring the earnest nation of Macedonia.
As the minibus rolled over the border between Bulgaria and Macedonia, I was keen to arrive in Strumica. It felt like I had spent the entire day travelling and barely gone anywhere. Crossing the border had been a breeze, with just us and a Polish tour bus there.
On the minibus as we approached, the other tourist there was asking for advice on where to stay in Strumica. A really kind man named Anthony began helping him, even calling ahead to ask for hotel suggestions. At some point the man asked if I had a hotel booked, which I didn’t. I had been so uncertain about whether I would even make it to Strumica, I’d only looked up a few hotels and decided not to book anything. As it happened, he suggested the first hotel on my list so he said he would walk both of us there once we arrived.
When we arrived in Strumica, he began to walk with the other tourist and I, before stopping and asking if we would like to get a drink before going to the hotel. Since we weren’t in a rush, we stopped at a small cafe and got a beer. We chatted, he taught us the Macedonian word for “Thank you” which is Zdravo and even paid for our drinks, knowing that we hadn’t had a chance to get any Denar yet. Yet another act of kindness.
After our drinks, he walked us over to the hotel only for us to find that the Polish tour bus has booked out the entire hotel. He quickly asked the manager where else we could go and soon had us heading for another hotel. If he hadn’t been there, we would have had a lot more trouble communicating nor known where to go next. The second hotel did have rooms and even turned out to be cheaper and right in the city centre. Once he was sure we were sorted, he gave us a dinner recommendation and just like that, said goodbye.
For someone to take considerable time to help two strangers, buy them drinks, show them around and ask nothing in return, really stunned me. I was truly overwhelmed by his kindness.
The next morning before catching my bus onward to Prilep, I set out to see a little of Strumica. The night before, the other tourist and I had had dinner on a small pedestrian lane, so I made my way back up there to see it in daylight. Above the little lane, dozens of colourful umbrellas hung brightening up the public mall. Following the lane down, I emerged in the large City Central Square which had been buzzing with life the previous night. It was far quieter in the morning, just the occasional person enjoying a coffee in one of the many nearby cafes.
Beyond the square, I wandered down into Strumica Park which seemed quite pleasant before venturing into the city centre. I felt like I started to draw a few stares here as Strumica is most definitely not on many people’s European itineraries. As I made my way back to the hotel, I passed by what appeared to be a modern shopping centre. On entering, it turned out to be more of an indoor market, with everything from fruit stalls to shoe stalls. This helped me realise that Macedonia still had some strong ties to tradition, despite modern advancements.
Strumica may not have been a stellar tourist destination, but it was able to give me some worthwhile insights into the country I was beginning to explore. More so, my visit here gave me my first taste of Macedonian hospitality, something I would come to deeply appreciate throughout my visit.
Have you ever encountered overwhelming generosity when travelling? Please share your stories in the comments below.
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This post is part of the Weekend Wanderlust linkup put together by A Brit and A Southerner. Please follow the link for more great posts.