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.