In my opinion, it’s rare for something to live up to lofty expectations. It’s so normal for our first encounter with some place or person to fall short of the mental images we’ve conjured. In America especially, it’s commonplace to exaggerate good qualities and minimize bad ones so you can make your point. To a certain degree, it’s acceptable and even encouraged to partake in grandiose, verbose rhetoric. Naturally, everyone recognizes that and thus Americans quickly learn how to manage expectations. I mention all of this because it’s rather pertinent to my first impressions of Krushevo. From the time I learned I’d be working here to the moment I stepped off the kombe into the town, the level of acclaim I heard was overwhelming. Allow me to repeat the four phrases I heard ad nauseum-
1. “Krushevo is the most beautiful town in all of Macedonia!”
2. “Krushevo is the cleanest in all of Macedonia!”
3. “Oh, that’s where Toshe Proeski is from!”
4. “Krushevo has paragliding, snowboarding, and breathtaking nature!”
To be honest, I exaggerated a little on the last line – I didn’t know the Macedonian word for “breathtaking”, but you get my point. Day after day I kept hearing endless profuse praise. The perceptions being built ascended further into the heavens with each day. So I did what anyone would’ve done – entertain expectations with a healthy skepticism, and then wait to see for myself. As a Peace Corps Volunteer preparing to be assigned to work with the municipality of Krushevo for two years, I didn’t want to go in with expectations & be disappointed.
Except, here’s the thing. Krushevo lives up to all of it. When I stepped off that kombe, I was received by one of the most marvelous sights I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. So let me tell you about my five first impressions of this idyllic destination and how it exceeds expectations.
1. The Picturesque Natural Beauty: You can’t talk about this place without first discussing its fundamental draw. Much of the Macedonia I’ve seen thus far has a rugged, untamed appeal to it. Krushevo, however, is the crown jewel nestled into the country’s crown. It possesses the natural appeal every mountain town has – exotic peaks, gorgeous hills, snow that coats everything & makes you wonder if you’ve been teleported to a winter wonderland. But it’s also been terrifically accentuated by a quaint architectural style. Clean cobblestone paths, charming houses that evoke an ancient ancestry, and an astonishing preservation of cultural monuments makes you wonder if you haven’t stumbled into a slice of heaven. Which was a phrase I heard before moving here. At the time I brushed the thought away as fun wordplay, but I’ve since revised my opinion. While touring the center with my work counterpart, I happened to look out over the horizon. I was greeted with a sight that looked like it had been stripped from a Van Gogh painting. The fog had become so dense that you couldn’t see through it. The only thing visible was that blue, impenetrable miasma that had coalesced around a single mountain peak cresting through the layer. It covered the valley below in entirety, making you wonder if there really was anything below that fog. It was as though I had unwittingly climbed into Macedonia’s slice of heaven.
2. The Array of Activities: This is something I haven’t actually had the opportunity to experience, but never stop hearing about. Unsurprisingly, tourism seems to be a crucial part of Krushevo’s economy. Thus, they’ve cultivated a range of activities year-round that attract a host of different visitors. A brief list of interesting bits & pieces I’ve gathered:
• Paragliding – I frequently hear this is one of the premier paragliding locations in the Balkans, and maybe even Europe. They’ve hosted various paragliding competitions before, and plan to have the International Paragliding Competition later this year. It attracts visitors & competitors from all over (I keep hearing about French & Australian competitors in particular). It’s a huge sport here, and one I’ve been told numerous times I’m required to try before leaving.
• Skiing – This is probably the second-most talked about attraction in Krushevo. I consistently hear about the ski-center here, and how much I need to try it. I can’t speak from experience just yet, but with winter barreling in at full force I’m excited to get on the slopes & learn how to ski.
• Hiking & Mountain Biking – I’m mentioning these two at the same time because they’re similar in terms of appeal. During the summer I can only imagine how breath-taking the scenery is here, so I’m sure hiking or biking the trails never gets old. I haven’t yet learned where the trails are, but I’ve no doubt they’ll be my second home in the summer.
3. Cleanliness: Many Macedonian municipalities struggle with combating air pollution & litter. Krushevo however seems to have largely avoided those issues. The streets are clean, and largely litter-free. The air has a crisp, sharp smell to it. The town embodies a graceful architecture that compliments the scenery. All too often, civilization has a way of tarnishing nature’s beauty but Krushevo, in contrast, has managed the impressive feat of using its presence to enhance the mountain’s splendor instead of being a detraction.
4. Culture: Krushevo is a compelling combination of ages past with times present. Everywhere you look, you see a concerted effort to intertwine the two. Modern ski & paragliding centers co-exist alongside classical homes. A museum to the Macedonian musical icon Toshe Perovski is a stone’s throw away from Makedonium, the tribute to the 10-day Krushevo Republic that revolted against the Ottoman empire. Traditional recipes like the Turkish delight of lokum are minutes away from some of the best pizza in Macedonia. In the same way that the town strives to connect civilization to nature, you also a beautiful blend of modern culture with historical pride. I’ve only scratched the surface of what there is to see here, but I’m hoping to be very well acquainted with it all due in time.
5. Hospitality: Before I get into this topic, I should set some context to be fair to the rest of Macedonia. By and large, I’ve felt very welcomed by Macedonians anywhere I go. They’re always genuinely curious, and generally welcoming. Krushevo though is on another level. There’s been numerous small incidents that have contributed to my positive welcome here, but there’s two stories that come to mind first. Amusingly, they also exist in a satisfying parity of one another.
The first is from my initial 3-day visit in November. At the time, my Macedonian language skills could be considered sub-par to the task of travelling solo on public transit. After ending up on a bus to Prilep, I didn’t know how to ask what form of transport I could take from Prilep to Krushevo, much less what time it came or left. By some stroke of luck though, I met a woman named Valentina who happened to be returning home to Krushevo via the same route as me. She graciously shepherded me onto the correct Kombe & made sure I didn’t end up on a bus to Bitola or one of a dozen other locales. She even waited after we arrived to make sure there was someone coming for me & that I didn’t need further directions.
The second story was from my departure after the initial visit, when I was returning to Prilep. I befriended a kind older lady while we were waiting for the transport to arrive. Or, rather, she forcefully befriended me. Which is good, because without her I’m not sure where in Prilep I would have ended up. I expected the pull into the Prilep bus station where I’d boarded it just two days ago to go up the mountain. The baba knew better though. Turns out the transit only stops nearby, about a street away, and then proceeds into the center of the city. I was mindlessly sifting through my phone in the rear, but the baba spoke to the bus driver as she was getting off & made sure he asked me where I was going. After a quick conversation I realized I needed to get off with her, and quickly made my escape with a furious round of thank yous.
Overall, I still feel as though I’ve only just barely begun to grasp everything Krushevo has to offer. I’ve seen the surface level of so many different activities & places, but I’ve yet to fully experience them. I’m starting to recognize this is the type of town that always has a little more hidden away, and I’m looking forward to every new surprise.
- Zachariah Humrich