Macedonia was admitted to the United Nations under the name "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" so as not to foster any possible claim to the Greek province of Macedonia. Reputedly the ancient homeland of Alexander the Great, Macedonia is now known for its beautiful forests, medieval churches and bazaars and unique blend of Greek, Serb and Albanian cultures. However, it is best known today for the ethnic Albanian insurgency that has gripped the country of late.
Macedonia is a moderately high plateau with a continental climate and weather; summers are dry and hot, and winters are cold with heavy snowfall. Dress in layers for the most comfort.
The official language is Macedonian, a Slavic language using a variation of the Cyrillic alphabet. Other languages spoken are Albanian, Turkish and Serbo-Croat; English, French and German are the most prevalent "second" languages. A majority (65 percent) of Macedonians are Eastern Orthodox, and some 23 percent of the population are Muslim (Albanian).
Macedonia's capital city of some 450,000, Skopje, is accessible by air from many European capitals. There are 15 carriers operating including: Macedonian Airlines, Malev Hungarian Airlines, Alitalia and Czech Airlines. Most cities are connected by rail to the rest of Europe through Serbia and Greece. Internal rail travel is reliable and inexpensive. Main highways are in good shape, but secondary roads are poor, poorly lit and hazardous in winter. Vehicles are driven on the right side of the road.
Travelers are not specifically targeted as victims of petty crime, but pickpocketing is a concern in urban areas. Most crimes in Macedonia are nonviolent and non-confrontational. Common sense property and personal security precautions should always be observed. The phone system is not very reliable, and newer pay phones use prepaid phone cards. English media is available in Skopje and larger cities. ATMs can be found mainly in Skopje, and credit cards are accepted only in upscale shops, hotels and restaurants; consider Macedonia a cash society.
Macedonian cuisine is heavily influenced by Turkish dishes; grilled mincemeat and bureki (cheese or meat pies) are everywhere. In general, if one takes the usual precautions, the food is safe, wholesome and tasty. Though hotel prices tend to be closer to Western norms in deregulated, privately-run establishments, Macedonia is a bargain for those travelers exchanging Western currencies.