Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wine and Love

Valentine's Day recently passed and here in Macedonia it has double importance, as it is also the celebration of St. Tripun, the patron saint of winemakers. Chris and I decided to take advantage of a tour being offered through the CLO in cooperation with GO Macedonia! It was titled the Wine and Love Tour. A description of the tour is available at the link below. Our bus left around 8am on Saturday morning and returned us to Skopje around 7pm. It was a very enjoyable trip full of you guessed it....Love and Wine.

As we coasted along on our comfy tour bus, we enjoyed fun conversation and listened to our tour guides historical information regarding the holiday. He explained that Feb. 14 was the day honoring St. Tripun, as well as St. Valentine, and how fitting it is that love and wine be celebrated together.

Our first stop was at Stobi, site of an ancient Roman city which has been amazingly preserved. Our bus was greeted by a sweet little street dog, who was very excited to see us and our sack lunches arrive. After a brief coffee stop and visit to the souvenir shop, we toured the site with the assistance of Stefanic, an enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgeable guide, who has worked at the site for 30 years. He insists that in a previous life he actually lived in Stobi, and that is why he knows such details about the daily lives of its inhabitants. He even serenaded us a bit as we sat in the remnants of the Theater. The site was absolutely breathtaking and I can't wait to take Christopher to see it. It is amazing that these structures from 2ND. century B.C. have survived all the seismic activity and harsh conditions in such good shape. Incredible mosaics lie covered with sand to protect them from the snow and cold. Intricate carvings decorate the massive stone columns and Rosetta stones. It is a wonderful window into the past. Sadly, most Macedonians don't seem to visit this place and the annual festivals held there are attended mostly by school children on field trips. We are looking forward to a return trip in the spring. The kids will love it.

Next, we headed South a bit to Negotino for the festival of Tripun. In the charming town square, numerous wineries had set up tasting tables where we sampled several different varieties. Some were good, some not so much, and some had really cute guys working them (according to a couple of our co-travelers). While we sampled the vino, we listened to traditional music and watched as young men and women donning traditional costume performed dances reflecting the pruning/picking of the grapevines. Artists proudly displayed their creations, and one actually had a painting of a dog like Yotee. We briefly considered buying it but decided there was not ample space on the bus to accommodate it's size. The atmosphere in the square was lovely, though it seemed to be full of mostly older gentlemen and I felt a bit out of place.

Our next stop was the Villa Marija Winery. We were told the story of how the King purchased the Villa and the winery for his wife Queen Marija upon the advice of many French experts who thought the location was perfect for producing wines. What a romantic gift! We then joined our guide for a tour of the cellars and a delicious lunch, with plenty of appropriate wines accompanying each course. It was a fun afternoon full of terrific conversation, lovely food, and tasty wine! The Villa Marija Chardonnay was my favorite, with the Cuvee coming in a close second. I highly recommend picking some up if you have the chance. It was very informative and fun and we each received a complimentary bottle of Vranec, made from a local grape variety, to take home with us.

After 4 hours at Villa Marija, we popped into another winery just up the hill, Popova Kula for a quick tasting and the chance to experience the incredible view from their tasting room. It was truly a lovely building with amazing vistas of the surrounding valley, but I was getting a bit sleepy from all that wine! The ride home was interesting, as many of our friends continued drinking wine and started to show signs of "tipsiness"..lol. I, unfortunately, had to drive home since our taxi never showed up in the morning and we were forced to drive to the bus rendez-vous point, so I abstained. It was a really enjoyable day and we had a great time. It was nice to do something special without the kids, and I have high hopes we can do this again!

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