At the end of October last year Vincent and me were off to our annual brother bonding trip. This time it would take us to Eastern Europe, to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia with a side trip to the youngest nation in the world, Kosovo.
I booked our flights like a week before we planned to fly there, because I initially hoped some flights with better timings would be available somehow at some point. But I also knew this probably wouldn’t be the case, so I just procrastinated a bit and since prices weren’t changing I booked shortly before.
Said flight departed at 06.30 am in the morning, making us wake up well before 4 am, after I had a work shift until 1am. I was thrilled, as you can imagine. But I tend to not remember all of the pain and agony I endure on my travels, because I reckon, our brain is programmed to not remember this kind of stuff, and just focus on the positive side of events.
We were literally the only people hanging out at the F Gates at 05.30 am at Vienna International Airport and that’s when we laid down on the floor and slept until boarding. Another reason why I hesitated on booking those flights were a 6 hour layover in Zagreb, Croatia. Having two 50 min flights at an hellish morning time just to get to Skopje for cheap was really annoying. But then again, I would have had to spend at least 200+ EUR more for direct flights around noon. No way I had this much money to waste.
Short, uneventful flight later in a small Embraer 100 we arrived at Zagreb and took a cheap airport bus to town. We figured strolling around a bit, having breakfast and then going back to the airport would do the job. And that’s pretty much all we did. Walked around all around the inner city, went to a nice fruit market and had coffee. Then we passed out again at the gate until boarding to Skopje.
Same procedure, short, boring flight to Macedonia. But, now it was exciting. New Country! Yes! This always, always and always feels me with pure excitement and rush, no matter how much sleep I had or how long it took to get somewhere. We took another cheap airport bus to the Central Bus station and that’s when we realised we had no idea where our hotel was. We figured we’d just walk in a direction, where signs were leading to the famous Stone Bridge in the inner city. Oh boy, we were wrong. After about 45 min of walking in the false direction we were in the suburbs of Skopje, or at least heading not towards downtown.
We tried to catch a taxi, but luck was not with us, as each taxi that passed every 5 min was taken. We just walked back and after a while we caught a taxi. Whoop whoop!
We drove some 10 minutes and passed the bus station and continued the opposite direction we walked. Well done, we thought. At least the cost of the taxi was about 2 euros. I love Eastern Europe. So cheap.
We had a basic 3 star hotel directly on the iconic, centrally located, Macedonia Square. It was pretty decent and quite comfortable, with only 10 rooms on one floor. The rest of the first day was a complete blur. Completely tired, hungry, but excited for a new place. We ate, strolled around and made plans for the coming days and crashed into beds early.
Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, is one of the fastest-growing cities in Eastern Europe and has construction sites all around. You can basically divide the city into two parts, the sort-of modern part with the Macedonia Square, multi-storey buildings, restaurants and convenient shops. On the other side of Vardar River you’ll find Old Bazaar. A quarter with narrow roads, old houses, small cafés serving delicious tea and definitely the most enchanting area.
A long time ago, during the Ottoman rule, the Old Bazaar emerged as the centre of life with merchants, mosques and monuments. Today the Old Bazaar is a cultural heritage and protected. There are plans though to renovate some of the old buildings and a project to revitalise parts of the area.
While strolling through this area, we literally stopped every other small café to have tea for a few minutes and just gaze at the vibrant life. I absolutely loved it there. The Old Bazaar quarter had relaxed vibes, where people knew each other and every corner is different to another. You just want to get lost and see what is hiding the next corner. Definitely my favourite area.
When we were looking for decent places to have dinner, we couldn’t help but notice a giant lightning cross on top of a nearby mountain. As we found out, this is the Millennium Cross on top of Mount Vodno. The following day we took the cable way all the way up and enjoyed gorgeous views around Skopje. The Millennium Cross is offially the biggest cross in the world, even bigger than the Statue of Liberty and the Christ Statue of Rio. Quite the site in Skopje.
While Skopje and Macedonia might be a little lesser known on a global scale, there are two personalities, that are world wide famous. Those two are recognisable all around Skopje and probably the two most famous Macedonians. The first is Alexander The Great. Known as Alexander III of Macedon, he is a king of the ancient greek kingdom and was born in what is today Macedonia. A giant statue on Macedonia Square shows him on a horse in a very beautifully built site with water fountains. Every night, there are lightning and water shows. Quite entertaining.
The second and more recent alive personality is Mother Teresa. She was born 1910 in Skopje and lived until 1997. Mother Teresa founded a missionary group of sisters, with more than 4000 sisters, that ran hospices, clinics and houses for people with HIV, tuberculosis, lepracy and a lot more. She won the Nobel Peace Prize and is also known as Teresa of Calcutta. She is honoured in many statues around Skopje and you can visit the Mother Teresa Memorial house. Which I think is a must visit, when in Skopje.
Vincent and me were literally trying to get a bill over 20 EUR every dinner, but we couldn’t do it. Food is so cheap, it’s difficult to eat so much. When we started to order more and more beer, we eventually beat the 20 EUR mark. Travelling in Eastern Europe is so cool, because you get so much value out of your money. Awesome!
For the duration of your stay we had numerous mixed grill platters, cheap local beers, dozens of turkish teas and just a good time. We really liked Macedonia and I hope I come back soon!