I arrived in Skopje after a 6 hour bus from Sofia and made my way to Unity Hostel where I would spend the next two weeks. It was immediately evident as I walked through the city that what I’d read about Macedonia’s capital was true: the government has been spending a ridiculous amount of money to “beautify” certain aspects of the city, while leaving other parts in poverty. The first bridge I saw was very impressive, but then I saw the next one, and the next, and it became immediately evident that these were not really part of the city, that they had been built to put on a show. A show that many of the city’s inhabitants greatly disagree with.
The bridges, the statues, the fountains, the frosted glass street lamps that made me think of Narnia. It’s a bit much. Especially when you compare this obvious display of wealth with the amount of begins children in the streets. My favourite part of town, however, is the Old Bazaar. It’s reminiscent of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, albeit on a much smaller scale, and it gives more of a feeling for what the city really looks like. Shops selling genie lamps and Turkish coffee, and restaurants selling traditional Macedonian baked beans. The vibe is a lot more down to earth than it is by the river.
My new home for the next two weeks was pretty cool, a nice family feeling with the staff and the other volunteers, and some cool guests that came and went during my stay. The only downside was that the volunteers had to do the night shift, but at least there were a couple of us so we were able to take turns and have some nights off.
Some of the most enjoyable things I did were playing frisbee in the park with the other volunteers, going to see the sunset from the old fort that was right across the river from the hostel, and watching new episodes of Game of Thrones with a crowd in the hostel. But the best thing was definitely Matka Canyon.
If you only have one full day in Skopje, forget the city and go out to Matka instead. The bus to Matka is very cheap, even free sometimes for tourists, and drops you off right at the beginning of the canyon. There’s a big lake with clear water full of little fish, a place to hire kayaks, and a boat that you can take all the way down the lake to these caves that I didn’t go to but the pictures look really cool. There is also a hiking trail all along one side of the canyon, an easy hiking trail but with some really good views of the canyon. And even though there was literally no one else swimming in the lake, after our hike we were so hot (I went with two other girls from the hostel) that we just had to get in and it was perfect. A bit cold, but exactly what we needed after hiking in the 38 degree heat.
We also hired kayaks for just half an hour, and then attempted to get the bus back into town. That’s the hard part. Sometimes the afternoon bus just doesn’t come and you have to get a taxi. The taxi is a lot quicker than the bus and if you manage to split it between four people it doesn’t cost too much. We ended up needing to get a taxi and a Belgian guy we’d met while hiking conveniently reappeared just at the right time to make us a group of four.
It was so nice to just stay in one place for a while, but by the end of the two weeks I was very ready to move on and see some new places. And also go to the beach. If the hostel was near a beach I probably could’ve stayed longer but oh well, I enjoyed my time in Skopje.