After the group tour concluded, I spend a couple more days in Skopje playing city tourist. If you are interested in history, this is certainly a city and country to explore. The city and area has been occupied for about 4000 years. Yes, hard to imagine, isn't it? Neolithic settlements have been uncovered at the Kale Fortress; Romans, Bulgarian, Yugoslavian Empire, Bulgarians in collaboration with Nazi Germany and I don't remember who else.
The central plaza with all the giant statues is pretty overwhelming. They include several of Alexander the Great, Romans, and giant rearing horses from which the penises were removed as someone in the government found them offensive. The walking streets and bike paths with outdoor restaurants, adjacent to the plaza, along the Vardar River, beg a stop for a beer or a bite. There is one craft brewery I came upon, and I didn't hesitate to sample their local IPA. Although I'm a big IPA fan, I found their ales more enjoyable, partly because there was a heat wave going on.
Skopje is also the birthplace of Mother Theresa. I'll post some photos of the trip soon.
Vodno Park - if you are going:
From the central square, you have to make your way to the bus station, to catch the #25 to get to the park for either a hike, mountain bike ride, or a cable car ride to the top, to get close to the huge, lighted cross. Getting to the bus station: it's an easy 20 minute walk, along the Vardar. Where the walking street ends, turn right onto a busy main street (you'll begin seeing buses heading in the same direction you are). There's a grey air conditioned shopping mall building, where you make the right turn, where you can change Euros to Denars, shop in a large grocery store, visit the pharmacy, a bakery, or shop for clothing items. Continuing on this street for maybe 10 minutes, you'll see the train station, as a sort of bridge, over the road. Can't miss it. Turn right, and walk to where you see all the red buses. The station numbers are marked on pillars and you're looking for #25. Get your ticket in advance, in the yellow bus which has been converted to the ticket office. Give them 160 denars for the round trip and they will give you a plastic card to scan when you get on the bus.
The bus and cable car do not run on Mondays. It loosely runs every 30 minutes all other days. It is about 30 minutes to the end of the line, which is at Vodno Park. If you have any feelings of vertigo, do not ride on the upper deck of the bus. The views, once you begin the climb, are breathtaking but for me there were terrifying!
When you get to the end of the line, you can take the 15 minute ride on the cable car (buy tickets at the kiosk) or walk on a paved road (8 miles round trip with about 2000 feet of gain). The paved road is mostly shaded, thankfully. There are several trails that would keep you off the paved road but without a map, I chose to stay on the road. Besides, the mountain bikers come screaming down the trails as I observed, and I wanted to live a little longer. There were several rest stops along the way with tables. I found the summit to be sort of anti climatic. There is a cafe and a kids' playground at the top. It looked like there was at least one other route to get up there, via another road. Had I known what to expect, I probably would have spent this day exploring the several museums around the central square.
June 24, 9.30 pm Macedonia time...I have had some great fun in Macedonia and briefly in Albania, but i will save that report for a time if I ever get home.
I am stuck/stranded in Amsterdam today and through this night. It all started when my flight from Belgrade to Amsterdam was delayed just enough to prevent me from making my flight home. It was easy enough to get another, via Seattle, and adding about 5 more hours to the trip. After boardibg and sitting on the plane for several hours (I know the time because I watched an entire 2 hour movie while waiting for takeoff). It turns out that all air traffic came to a standstill as something broke with the piping that is used to refuel the planes. Amsterdam is a world hub, so this is no small issue.
S I proceeded to the ticket services location with several thousand other stranded flyers. It took close to three hours to get to the front of the line. I was informed there were no hotels to be had ( airline would have paid) and no they do not give food vouchers. One can get fully reimbursed at some point though. I was told to either wait for an email advising me of revised departure (there are staff that only do this) or get in yet another 3 hour line to talk to the ticketing people. I will wait for tge email.
Meanwhile my priority was food and finding a piwer source. Both taken care of and now I will soend the night in a booth out of the insane crowds. No, they are not insane, but just many, many people in the same situation.
I have been here for almost a week now and in spite of having internet every night, I have been too tired to post anything. That and maybe too stuffed from eating the amazing food here to even move.
The first day was a relaxing river kayak which was quite peaceful mostly, except when interrupted by the powered tourist boats. Its a very popular destination, even during the week.
Because rain was predicted for second day, we opted to hike to the sumnit of a local mountain, somewhere around 7000 feet. It was windy and wet, but better than being on a bicycle.
Each day, we have been treated to an overwhelming assortment of local cuisine. Cucumber and fresh tomato salad seems to be appropriate at any meal. Sheep cheeses are also popular. Then there is the homemade bread (everything we ate was farm to table). Spread some garlic puree on it and that could be the meal. But, there are wild snails sauteed with onions and mushrooms, tender beef and pork...oh it just doesnt end! I will post some food photos later.
The hikes and biking have not been great distances but challenging, with visits to small ancient villages and stunning views, when skies have been clear.
The guides, Marko and Alex, are a wealth of information about this amazing and often overlooked (by Americans) tourist destination.
I'm traveling soon with BikeHike, my favorite adventure tour company to hike, kayak and mountain bike:
"At the crossroads between the East and West, Christianity and Islam, Macedonia has long been a melting pot of civilizations. While this Balkan nation has many notable similarities to both Greece and Turkey, this emerging destination retains an unmatched level of authenticity."
As with most adventures, there are highlights and lowlights. My adventure was no different.
One of the highlights I want to call out is the kindness and generosity of the docents at the Erie Canal Museum near Syracuse NY. They invited me in even though the museum was closed, fed me the best pulled pork I've ever had, and Linda Vishnesky offered to transport Stanley and me across town to the DeWitt Canal Trailhead. I had heard, and she knew, that navigating through Syracuse to get to the DeWitt is a nightmare. The lowlights? I've already forgotten them.
My mileage came in at just over 700 over the course of 18 days' riding. I don't know if I'd say it was "fun" although there were fun and joyful moments. It was an adventure and I don't regret one minute of it. I think I used everything I brought and only forgot bug spray and sunscreen. Most valuable piece of gear - my .5 lb Helix chair. Most useless piece of gear - 20 feet of cable I thought I would use for securing my bike and panniers. Never unrolled it.
Would I do it again? Well maybe, but why? There are so many new places awaiting discovery. With that, I must organize for my next adventure which leaves in a few days, to North Macedonia for mountain biking, hiking and kayaking. Stay tuned!