The bus from Istanbul left at 5pm and made its way to the border between Bulgaria and Turkey. We arrive shortly before sun down. But we’re stuck here waiting in a massive line for the next 2-3 hours. The road into Turkey seems fine, the road out is huge.
I bide my time reading a book for most of the journey, though after the border they decide to turn the main lights off. “No biggie, I’ll just turn on the reading light”. Which didn’t work, great.
I get into Skopje at stupid o-clock (read 6am) and decide to get some Macedonian Denars and make my way to Art Hostel. Only problem is I don’t have anything but the street address and seeing as everything is in Cyrillic I go with the approach and old taxi driver and hope I don’t get ripped off. Luckily its only 200 denars (about 3 euros). I did hear some bad stories of people getting ripped off with this journey.
I get to the hostel and the receptionist lets me in and shows me to the room with sheets for the bed. I do my best to quietly put my sheets on and fall asleep. After getting a few deserved zzz’s I get up and grab some breakfast and run into a middle aged gent who was in Veliko Tarnovo – strange. After some general stuffing around Kevin (a brit who also got in at stupid o clock) and myself head off into town to check it out.
Its not really a far walk into town from the hostel, 5 – 10 minutes, and we end up on the main pedestrian parade. And across the road is the ‘famous’ clock that stopped during an earthquake. So we make our way down an admire the scenery that is the main shopping street of Skopje with a tonne of cafes and bars. We get to Macedonia square which is rather modern and cosmopolitanish – I’m a bit unnerved by it though.
One of the main attractions here is the Stone Bridge which was built by Justinian in the 6th century. So its fairly old, and most people who have ruled Macedonia/Skopje have tried to make their mark on this bit of architecture. Its nothing fancy – a stone bridge over a river.
We then get lost. Sort of on purpose. Its one of my most favourite things to do in a city – just get lost and wander where ever. You meet the locals and see sights that not everyone will see. But we are in the Ottoman part of the city so the architecture is very Ottoman and there are plenty of things that remind me of Turkey – after all it seems to be the Bazaar. There are tonnes of shops and then we stumble upon a huge market sprawl that sold everything and everything!
Somehow we wander back to the Kale Fortress. And decide why not check it out. Its free to enter too! Double yes! But its not exactly much – a long castle wall perched up on a hill with a view over the city of Skopje.
The view isn’t spectacular but it gives you a good view of what Skopje is like from above. Though I am somewhat dismayed with fear at the amount of construction going on – not just building houses, but massive high rises. Its not that they don’t fit in, but it just seems like they don’t actually finish them. I saw about 5 that were just the skeleton and no crane in sight.
After our exploration of the Fortress we head to grab some food. Both hoping for some local Macedonian fare we don’t have much luck and end up at a Mexican restaurant. Its not bad and we spend most of the afternoon drinking a few of the local brew – skopsko which is rather nice.
A few others from the hostel turn up and join in before setting off to see a Monastery with nothing else to really do Kev and myself decide to jump in and go with them. So we make our way to Sveti Pantelejmon monastery which is about halfway up Vodno Mountain (which really gives you some great views of the city). Its either a good walk up or a taxi – I being the smart one suggest taxi as it’ll take a fair while and well it will probably be night time by the time we get there.
So we get taxi’s up and we get there at the ‘golden’ hour before sunset. We get there and the monastery is actually shut on Monday. So we wander around – and see another church/monastery just down the road a bit. This also seems impossible as we get to dead end after dead end before just admiring the view.
We get back to town and walk to the hostel, where we go grab some beer and a hamburger thats bigger than a porn stars fake boob – its a monster of a thing. Filled with everything and a bunch of chips too. Pity the meat wasn’t really cooked too well. We settle in for a few drinks of the skopsko and stay up talking the shit as you do.
Waking up the next morning, and having to check out that day I head for breakky before deciding to stuff it I’ll stay another day here. So I end up tagging along with a few people and heading out to Matka Canyon (about 30 minutes from Skopje).
We get to a place where there is a small stream with a Kayaking course and are told in the driver’s best English to walk up this path, it’ll take you to Matka Canyon. The canyon here is formed by the hydrodam and beyond it the Lake. There are a fair amount of walks around here but we just follow along the canyon – apparently there are caves somewhere along the line.
The scenery is pretty exceptional – I wasn’t expecting much from this as I had just decided to come here at the last minute. And it was quite a good suprise. The cliffs and mountains jutting up steeply from the Lake below to the colour of the lake was pretty inspiring. We did hit a bit of a roadblock at one stage when the front person in our group of 4 nearly stood on a snake – they then just looked at me and said ‘You have heaps of poisonous snakes you lead’. Luckily or unluckily (for some) I didn’t manage to step on any.
Back near the dam, it starts to rain a little, but we decide to have a Skopsko to celebrate a pretty good day. Its then piling back into the taxi to get taken back to the hostel. Back here, I chill out with the US Veteran and not do a whole lot for the rest of the day but drink giant 2L bottles of Skopsko beer. Which is exactly what happens for the rest of the evening too.
I kind of regret not going out in Skopje – but money is rather tight and I need to make it up to Munich. So drinking gets put on the backburner. For a while anyway.