When people used to ask what we’d change about our itinerary in Europe, we’d struggle to find an answer. That changed after our stay in Bitola, a city in the southern part of the Republic of North Macedonia (“Macedonia” from here on out).
We chose to stop in Bitola because it was a convenient stopping place, just north of the border between Macedonia and Greece. Since we usually try to stay at least a few nights in each place we visit, we booked three nights in the town. This turned out to be about two nights too long.
Bitola is the second largest city in Macedonia. In ancient times, the nearby city of Heraclea was an important Greek City in Macedon. On the main street stands a large statue of Philip II, the founder of Heraclea.
Relations between Macedonia and Greece are rather tenuous, in part due to a fight over the “ownership” of historical figures such as Philip II. This has caused naming disputes about a lot of things, including the name of the country itself. After the country broke away from Yugoslavia it was called “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” or “FYROM”. Recently the country was re-named “The Republic of North Macedonia” as a compromise, one which many people on both sides of the border are unhappy with.
The ancient city of Heraclea is the top tourist site in Bitola. The site contains ruins from the Greek and Roman eras, as well as ornate mosaics that were part of basilicas built in the Byzantine era.
Unfortunately for us, the wonderful mosaics at the site had been covered up with sheeting and gravel to protect them from winter snow and ice. We were disappointed not to be able to see them but still got to appreciate some of the Greek and Roman ruins. On the bright side, the lone employee manning the ticket booth was very helpful in showing us pictures and explaining the symbolism of the mosaics. It looked like they would have been very interesting to see.
The Roman theater was only uncovered in the 1930s. While we were there the kids took turns putting on their own performances for us.
Back in Bitola, we spent some time wandering around the downtown area and taking in the sights there, including two large mosques and the church of St. Demetrius.
On our second evening in Bitola snow began to fall. The kids were excited to see the snow but we were a bit worried about what the winter weather might do to our travel plans. We had not bought snow chains for our car even though they were technically required to be carried after November 15th.
By morning there was 6-8″ of snow and we considered trekking to an auto parts store to try to find some chains, but decided against it because the temperatures were supposed to warm back up into the 40s the following day.
We used our snow day to try to catch up on some travel planning and blogging, and the kids went outside for brief periods to play in the snow until their hands got too cold. We hadn’t bothered to bring any gloves so they had to use socks as mittens!
We probably didn’t give Bitola a fair shot since we visited while the main tourist site was partly shut down and the cold weather put a strain on our enjoyment of the town. Also, our accommodations left a lot to be desired; we stayed in a local hotel instead of an AirBnb as we usually do. At the hotel we found leaky toilets, sparse amenities, and worst of all spotty wi-fi, which kept us from being able to do much travel planning while we were snowed in.
After our third night we were quite ready to move on. Would the roads be clear enough for us to drive to our next destination? Check back soon to find out. 🙂