In the morning we walked out of Ohrid’s old town, down the street, and to the bus stop. Walking down the stairs, about a hundred steps, with my arms full of bags was not my favorite, but it was pretty special that we could hike with all of our luggage to the bus stop, about a kilometer, without needing any special help.
Our bus was more of a minibus this time, and it fit the road that we traveled on. It seems like Macedonia is overhauling its highway system pretty dramatically, but we were not fortunate enough to be on those roads yet. It was one of the twistiest and turniest roads of our travels, with the drivers going many different speeds, necessitating our driver to pass a lot of people at high speed around tight corners going up and down a hill. We all looked a little green after that trip.
Once at the bus station in Skopje, we quickly found a taxi that took us to our next apartment, a third story loft above a coffee shop owned by the host. It was very quaint but a little too warm when we entered. The town of Skopje is surrounded by mountains and seemed a little bit lower in elevation than Ohrid, which made our time in the town a little bit more constrained by the hot weather. I went out to the store to get some fresh food and we had a pasta dinner and an early evening.
The next morning we headed out early so that we can see the city before it got too warm. It was due to get up to around 100°F, so we wanted to be back pretty early. We walked straight into the main square that has a gigantic sculpture of Alexander the Great. Walking around the square and along our path, we realized that Skopje is overrun with sculptures, all of them big, representing all sorts of events and people from Macedonia’s past. We learned only later the provenance and reasons for many of these sculptures, and that many of the largest ones were less than a decade old.
We made our way across the “old stone bridge” and into the bazaar, where we looked for evidence of magical artifacts and had a somewhat traditional breakfast. Afterwards we headed home and did nearly a full day of school, picking up some street food for lunch. Sara set up shop in the little office area of the apartment and got some work done. I took Max downstairs to get a coffee, and treated him to a “kid coffee”.
That evening at 5:00 I met up with a tourgroup and did the “Free Skopje Walking Tour”. I learned a lot of interesting facts about the buildings, the history, the people, and the politics. Some of the most interesting things that I learned about regarded the “Skopje 2014” iniative, and some of the controversies surrounding the many art installations and renovations that no littered the city and halted mid-project around 2018. Looking around it was then pretty obvious to see how much the city had changed, and why it have been so controversial.
The next morning we visited Matka canyon, a local tourist attraction that is about a 45-minute drive out of the city. We took a taxi there and were dropped off at the last bus stop. We hiked all the way to the end of the trail, about 4 km from the entrance, plus about two more from the bus stop. It was a unique hike because so few people do it in favor of just taking a boat. The trail gets smaller and smaller, and by about the third kilometer in you’re bushwhacking along a narrow trail or beside a steep cliff with battered railings. The hike was worth it just because of that, and I was excited to reward the kids’ effort with the destination, a cave.
Unfortunately, my directions failed to mention that our route had one small problem… There was no bridge across the river! Making it to the end of the trail, we saw people disembarking the water taxis and pontoon boats that had ferried them up to the opposite bank, but after scrambling down to the bank of the river, we saw that the only way across was to either swim or ask one of the boats. Luckily, as we got to the bottom of the canyon a boat operator asked us if we’d like a ride, which we accepted. He ferried us across to a small platform, where we spent about an hour snacking and jumping in the water. Mom was the first to take the plunge, Sam jumped in seven times, and I jumped in a couple times along with the others (Mom offered ice cream to anyone who jumped in). The water was about 10°C, which really took the breath away!
After drying off I took the kids up to the cave entrance and we explored it for a little while. It wasn’t big, but pretty interesting. After hiking up to the entrance, then back down into the first chamber we found two underground lakes. The water level seemed to be about the same level as the river itself, which explains the cold temperatures we felt in the reservoir, assuming that it mixes somewhere underground.
Coming down the steps from the cave entrance we saw that our boat operator had returned. He showed us to a second boat that took us back to the mouth of the canyon. We walked back to the bus stop, grabbing ice cream and roasted corn on the way, and found a taxi to take us back to our place for a thousand Dinar.
Not wanting to cook that night he walked back to the bazaar and had a very traditional dinner of kebabs. We realized that the kebabs everyone was talking about was the same as the cevapi we had in Croatia, just different spelling. We paired them with a shopska salad, a dish of beans, some ajvar (a traditional pepper spread), and some homemade bread and yogurt. Delicous and satisfying.
After walking home we walked through the local school yard where about 100 kids were playing in the dusk, after an obviously hot day in the city. Our kids played for about 10 minutes; I then took them up to bed while Sara prepared for a work meeting.
On our last full day in Skopje, Sara and I mixed a little bit of work time with school time for the kids. The kids were all a bit twitchy, and had a rougher time than usual concentrating on school work; Max won our game of “whoever is the most efficient at getting their work done gets to go get coffee with dad”.
We are breakfast and lunch at home on our last day, trying to finish up all the fresh food in the fridge.
The kids had invented a fun game earlier in the week where they made a airplanes and loaded them with envelopes that they used to send a message to each other by flying them through the apartment. We all played before dinner.
We ate out at a nice local restaurant that evening and treated ourselves to pizza, fish soup, tomato soup, pasta, and a beet, carrot and arugula salad.
On our way home, Sam tripped over Max while teasing him. The goose egg he got served a (fleeting) lesson in if/then.