One thing travelling teaches you is the element of surprise.
Cities long-hailed as great places to visit can disappoint (Vienna, I’m looking at you), and places often ignored, turn out to be some of the most beautiful and inspiring (hello, Romania).
For me, Skopje fitted into the latter group.
Drab socialist architecture, eccentric oversized statues, unhealthy gut-busting cuisine, and stony-faced locals are commonly associated with large regions of Eastern Europe, and Skopje is no exception. I wondered if I would find these to be misconceptions or the truth.
The first thing that struck me is that the first two things listed are indeed true; Skopje is full of drab socialist architecture, which can seem depressing the first time you encounter it. This is the case in many countries around the region, and I have experienced similar architecture in Romania, Serbia and Bosnia.
Secondly, colossal statues adorn every square and plaza of the city; some traditional, such as men on horses or stern-looking political figures; and some more modern, such as breast-feeding women, diving swimmers, and shopping teenagers.
Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between art and eyesore, but that perhaps is the appeal.
It rained in Skopje for the first day of my trip.
It rained, and rained, and rained.
There was nothing else for it, we needed to spend the day eating. So we skipped from café, to restaurant to coffee shop, eating cheap and filling food, and meeting helpful shop assistants keen to help us out with our lack of local language. So much for the stony-faced locals theory! We visited a few museums and learnt a little Macedonian history. You can read my post on what to do in Skopje when it rains here.
The weather forecast for the next day promised a few hours of sun, long enough for us to explore some outdoor activities around Skopje. It was cloudy when we left the hostel, but undeterred we pressed on.
Firstly, we went to the Millennium Cross, a 66-foot high iron structure atop Vodno mountain. Snowfall from the day before was slushy underfoot and the warmth of the sun melted icicles on the structure, showering us with perilous shards of ice from the towering arms of the cross.
As we stood waiting for the cable car to descend, the sun broke through the clouds revealing a sliver of blue sky. Hurrah!
Our next stop was Matka Lake, only a 30-minute ride from the city. The contrast could not have been more dramatic, as the city gradually gave way to mountain, forest and lake. Partial cloud cover caused the water to reflect green, rather than blue, making the lake look more spectacular amongst the mountainous backdrop. It’s hard to believe that the city is so close by.
Finally, we drove to a crumbling aqueduct on our way home. To reach the aqueduct we had to drive down a narrow track, thick with mud from all the rainfall. We would never have found it by ourselves, so were grateful to our friendly taxi driver, who drove down the track even though he probably would have preferred not to.
The aqueduct is worth a visit, if you have the time, but military personnel, who said that we could not photograph the structure, quickly moved us on. I had already taken the pictures I wanted, so I jumped in the taxi and we drove away.
Our day around Skopje was relaxing, interesting, and surprisingly beautiful. Did you know that Macedonia is so gorgeous? I certainly didn’t.
Have you ever been to a country that surprised you? If so, where was it and why was it a surprise?
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Thanks, and have a great day!