10-12 July, 2011
Actually, I am staying in Trnovo which is a little village a few kilometres from Bitola, near the entrance to the Pelister National Park. I’m flash-packing here for sure. Hotel Sumski Feneri (“Forest Lanterns”) is a very nice place. I have a big single room with comfortable double bed, en-suite bathroom, fridge, air-con, TV, wi-fi internet for 22 euros per night. As my guide book says, for the same price you could probably get a bed in a smelly dorm with sagging mattress in Barcelona.
As I have thought more than once on this trip – “this is the life!”. If it wasn’t for missing friends and family, I think I could do this for the rest of my life…
I walked up the road and into the Pelister National Park today. Of the marked trails, I took the option of the pleasant, easy “Historical Walk”. With numerous informative signboards (in Macedonian and English) it showed the history of World War 1 battles in this area.
Of the four major fronts in WW1 (excluding the Gallipoli campaign which turned out to be a sideshow), Australians probably only know a little about the Western Front (poppy fields of Flanders and all that). Of the Eastern Front, Balkans Front and MacedonianFront the majority of us know almost nothing.
The armies of the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austro-Hungary and Italy – joined later by Bulgaria and Turkey) had 600,000 soldiers in this area. The Entente powers (Great Britain, France and Russia – joined later by Serbia, Romania, Greece and Montenegro) had 619,000 soldiers here. The Entente forces, led by the French, landed in Salonica (Salon in Macedonian, now Thessaloniki in Greece) and came up from the south.
The style of warfare was, as on the Western Front, trench warfare, wth huge casualties as each trench was sometimes taken, lost and retaken within days. In this Macedonian Front, horriffic weapons such as flamethrowers and poison gas are thought to have been used for the first time. Trnovo and other nearby small villages were caught between the two armies and suffered terrible damage. In one village of 1,000 houses before the war only four were left, and similarly for other villages including Trnovo. By November, 1916 the Entente had taken Trnovo. The Front Line moved up to the Pelister National Park area where the Historical Trail was, and remained basically unchanged until the end of the war on November 11, 1918.
Walking along the trail I found myself humming and singing some Bob Dylan (Masters of War, With God on Our Side and Blowin’ in the Wind).
Other signposts listed flora and fauna in the park. Lynx, wolves, bears and hedgehogs are in these mountains. The signs warned to steer clear of them. Fine, I’ll steer clear of them if they steer clear of me. Alright then, I’ll stick to the marked trails. I wouldn’t want to be eaten by a savage hedgehog. That reminds me of a traveller I met in Valbona who said that a couple of years ago he was lost for three days in a Costa Rican jungle, crawling with crocodiles in the many rivers. Tall story or not? I am not sure.
The big tree in one pic is the oldest (200 years old) specimen in the Park of the rare five-needled Molika pine.
Bitola is at an elevation of about 600m. The highest point I walked to was the Hotel Molika at the end of the History Trail at 1420m. The highest peak in the Park (Mt Pelister) is 2600m.