Skopje

The bizarre capital of Macedonia, Skopje was certainly memorable if not always for the right reasons, with an eclectic mix / clash of architecture. It had plenty to fill a couple of days though, more if any of the museums had been opened (everything is shut Mondays, and the Tuesday I was there was a public holiday).

The city centre was the beneficiary / victim of Skopje 2014, a five year €500m programme (still not finished) responsible for the erection of endless statues and fountains, and building / recladding in classical style. The result is reminiscent of Las Vegas, but the mish mass of architecture is at least memorable.

Much of the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1963 but the Stone Bridge survived, and is nicely lit at night.

It leads into Macedonia Square, home to Warrior on a Horse, who is definitely not Alexander the Great…

This was the setting for an unexpected bonus on my last night there, representatives of 8-9 countries in the International Folk Dance Festival, who performed short dances in traditional outfits. The most energetic and skilful dancing was by the Bulgarians.

The other side of the river from the square is the oddly half over restored / half derelict Kale Fortress, which offered good views of the city centre, including this impressive circular building which is bizarrely a water supply facility…

Nearby is the sizeable Bazaar and a number of mosques, including the 15th century Mustafa Pasha Mosque, the double domed Isa Beg Mosque, and Sultan Murat Mosque, the largest in the Balkans which is currently being rebuilt by the Turks.

There are plenty of churches as well, including the unusual and impressive Orthodox Church of St. Clement of Ohrid, and the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, plus the new golden St. Constantine and Elena Church being built next to the Memorial House of Mother Teresa.

Mount Vodno is a 1,066m high mountain by the city, which I tackled from both ends. Firstly from Matka Canyon, 30 mins from the city popular for boating. On a cloudy day it was more attractive though to walk up the steep hillside to the Holy Mother of God monastery, and further on for views.

Later the same day I walked from my hotel to the summit, a decent workout with the second half of the track at an average incline of 20% (though there are longer, more gentle routes). At the top is the 66m high Millennium Cross, one of the largest in the world. I caught the cable car back half way down. Oddly it runs for only 30 mins every hour, so be careful with your timings.

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