We left Pristina bus station on the Albus bus to Skopje which cost 5 euros each. The journey took just under 3 hours with a stop on the way and quite a long delay at the border before we arrived at our accommodation Hotel Super 8. We were lucky in the fact we passed the hotel and the bus driver allowed us off nearby rather than having to find our way back from the bus station.
We checked into our hotel which was £60 for 2 nights with breakfast and whilst the room was compact it suited our needs. It was a little difficult to find the entrance as it was in a row of shops but we found it.
We arrived at 2pm and headed straight out for a spot of lunch. We hadn’t researched much of Skopje in advance but were advised by reception to head across the square opposite our apartment into the old town where we could find copious restaurants. The first thing we had noticed in Skopje was how much they appeared to like statues as they were everywhere we looked! We headed into the old town and grabbed some pizza for lunch. Like Pristina, we noticed a distinct lack of seasoning and flavour but hoped it was just a one-off. After lunch which was a very reasonable £8 for the two of us, we headed back out of the Old Town towards the town centre…. and were greeted by more statues and fountains!
What was surprising was how clean the town centre was and how well kept all the statues and fountains were. We were somewhat in awe and surprised at Skopje so far; whilst we had no expectations we also didn’t expect such an array of architecture both modern and old. We also couldn’t help but note the rather large Kale Fortress that overlooked the city.
In 2010 the Skopje 2014 project was proposed to give the town centre a neoclassical look. Architecture which was part of the 2010 proposed Skopje 2014 project which was undertaken between 2010 and 2014 costing over $700 million; much to the criticism of many different groups who saw it as a waste of money given the poverty and deprivation in the country as a whole. The construction involved building colleges, universities and 136 monuments depicting famous characters from Macedonian history. The aim was to give the capital a more cosmopolitan look and gain a sense of national pride.
Crossing over the River Vardar we were faced with more monuments and interesting statues. The town centre was indeed bustling with street entertainment and the Macedonia Square housed a spectacular statue and fountain depicting Alexander the Great. The Macedonia Square was where independence from Yugoslavia was gained on 8th September 1991.
We headed out of the flamboyant city centre and headed to the post office so we could send a postcard taking in the ambience of the city as we went. It had a particularly modern feel to it with lots of nationalities and students. We headed back into the town centre through the Porta Macedonia Arch located on Pella Square.
We stopped for a quick drink in the square before heading down to the waterside to see the Stone Bridge (which we had already been across) and the floating hotels on the water. The Stone Bridge was built on Roman foundations between 1451 and 1469 and was last restored in 1999.
We headed back to the hotel for a brief rest and to freshen up before heading back into the town centre at night to get some dinner. The night view of the town was quite breathtaking with an array of lights and illuminations of all the monuments we had seen earlier in the day.
We had a well-earned drink and a meal on the riverside; again the meal was distinctly average, lacking in flavour but the beer was very nice!! :):) After a quick selfie stop, we headed back to our hotel for a well-earned rest!
The next morning Nigel walked to the National Football Stadium and enjoyed the walk along the river Vardar to get there. The site is also the home of FC Vardar and any football fans would enjoy this visit. Personally I stayed in bed but he enoyed the walk and the stadium!
Prior to coming to Skopje, there was one place I had seen that I really wanted to visit and that was the Millenium Cross. The cross is 66 metres high and sits on top of Mount Vodno. I had seen you could get to the top by cable car and therefore that was where we aimed for after breakfast the next day. We debated a bus but negotiated a good deal with a taxi driver to take us up the mountain to the cable car station. When we arrived we had a short wait until the cable cars started so sat and had a coffee in the gardens.
The cable car was 120 denar (the equivalent of 2 euros) so was not expensive at all and was a short but enjoyable trip looking over the city. Reaching the top however really was spectacular and our pictures really do not do it justice. There were several green areas at the top which were a great setting for a picnic and also a cafe which served snacks and beer. There was an amazing view across the other side to snow capped mountains. This was definitely the highlight of our whole trip so far and we had a great day for it.
Reluctantly we headed back down the mountain via the cable car and headed back towards town. We were able to get a taxi in the car park which was handy and headed back to the hotel before heading back out again to the Old Town. We had only spent a brief time exploring it the day before and thought it would be well worth a visit to do some shopping and experience the ambience before we left.
There were copious shops selling all variety of goods from wedding dresses to furniture. We bought some macadamia nuts and stopped and had some local tea which cost the equivalent of 21p all together whilst listening to the call to prayer from the mosques.
Afterwards, we headed back to the town centre for our last meal before having to leave in the morning which we were both sad about. Skopje was a city of surprises; a blend of the old and the new but certainly spectacular if not slightly OTT with the statues. Our highlight was definitely the view from the Millenium Cross but we enjoyed our whole stay here and were sad to leave. The cost of living here was extremely low with transport, food and accommodation really cheap compared to the cost of living in the UK. The most disappointing thing, however, was the food; like Pristina, it really did lack much in the way of flavour and we tried a variety of different places but it was the same everywhere. We were really glad we had visited but just slightly disappointed we didn’t have the time to travel south to Lake Ohrid which is also supposed to be spectacular. Return flights from the UK to Skopje, with a bit of notice and some planning, can be bought for under £40 per person through Wizz Air We would highly recommend a visit, and I’m fairly sure we’ll come back to explore more of this fantastic country. Next time… however, now it was time for the final stop of our break – Sofia!
Carol & Nigel xx