Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Skopje, Macedonia Part 1

Skopje, Macedonia Part 1

8 - 9 Sept 2017

I have longed to travel to the Balkan countries, specifically to go see the Stari Most or Old Bridge in Mostar. I have been fascinated by the scene of the Old Bridge, torned during the Bosnian War of 1992 - 1995, but re-built in 2004. Now finally in 2017, I've set foot on Balkan soil, entering via Skopje, the capital city of Macedonia (or Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia, FYROM)

Our 2 week trip covered the former Yugoslavia countries - Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia - with additional Albania. We did not cover Serbia and Slovenia in this trip as there was not sufficient time. The language spoken in these countries are similar i.e. the Slavic language, particularly South Slavic; although it is called Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, Macedonian and Montenegrin where it is spoken.

The flight from KUL to DOH took us about 8 hours (0825 to 2315) with a long layover (7 hours) before our next sector from DOH to SKP at 0650 which took us another 5h 20mins, arriving at 1115 in Skopje. Since our ticket is a promotional fare (return ticket RM 2430/person), we were not qualified for complimentary room for the long layover.

The majority of the Macedonian people are Christian Orthodox (65%), while 33% of the population are Muslims. We could the churches here have a unique design with domed roofs and minarets. There is the Millenium Cross on top of the Vodno mountain in the vicinity of Skopje which could be accessed by cable car, or hiking! However, it is much smaller in scale than the Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, of course. We didn't go to the Millenium Cross though.

the unique structure of the Macedonian Orthodox church

Vodno mountain view from our apartment. Can you see the Millenium Cross on the mountain?

We touched down at Skopje's Alexander the Great airport almost noon on Fri 8 Sept 2017 via Doha. It was hot and sunny that day. We were greeted by the sight of the Cyrillic alphabets, something so alien, but fascinating to us. From the airport, we took the 12.45pm Vardar Express bus to Skopje International Bus Station for 175 MKD or RM16.5 (Macedonian Denar - exchange rate 1 EUR = 54 MKD). We exchanged money at the airport. There is a bus counter at the airport to buy the airport bus ticket. The bus ride took about 30 minutes. We departed at 1pm and arrived at the bus station at 1.30pm

Alexander the Great airport, Skopje
Skopje airport bus ticket
airport to Skopje bus schedule
Skopje to airport bus schedule

Since we would be going to Prizren, Kosovo the next day, we went inside the bus station to buy the ticket. Our plan was to take the 11.30am bus. However, since it was Saturday ( a weekend) the next day, there is only 1 bus going to Prizren at 4pm. So we bought the 4pm bus to Prizren for 550 MKD (RM 52).

Skopje international bus station

From the International Bus Station, we walked to our apartment Elena Luka (booked through Booking.com for EUR 31.50 or RM 157.50/apartment/night) for about 10 mins, 750m where our host Filip was already waiting. We whatsapped him at Skopje airport, informing of our ETA. There is free wifi at Skopje airport and at Filip's apartment, so we did not opt for data roaming.

Filip's Elena Luka apartment

After taking shower and quick lunch of Brahim's brought from Malaysia (we were already famished), we set out to Skopje central by foot at 4pm. It took us about 30 mins walk, 2.5km along the Vardar river. We passed by 3 bridges - the Art Bridge, Bridge of Civilizations and Stone Bridge along the Vardar river. The Art Bridge has many statues of Macedonian artists and musicians. The Bridge of Civilizations takes you to the Archaeological Museum across the Vardar river. The Stone Bridge, which is the oldest was reconstructed from the original 5th century foundations in 1421 to 1451 by Sultan Murad II. The last reconstruction was done in 1994. The Stone Bridge connects the Macedonian Square to the Old Bazaar, dating from the 12th century across the river.

Art bridge
Civilization bridge and Archaeological Museum

Vardar river and Stone bridge
Stone bridge

At the Macedonian Square, there is the statue of Alexander the Great, believed to be born in Macedonia or Kingdom of Macedon in ancient Greece. There is also the Memorial House of Mother Theresa nearby, who was born in Skopje.

We proceeded to the Old Bazaar to visit the Murad Pasa mosque, built in 1963. We spent the rest of the evening at the cobblestone streets of the Old Bazaar looking for souvenirs and had a takeaway dinner of kebapi (or cevapi) i.e. grilled minced beef with bread. The food is halal. Because it was a takeaway, there was no ajvar (paprika sauce) or kajmak (cream cheese) that came with it. There was also a fruits and vegetable market at the end of the Old Bazaar area.

Skopje Old Bazaar

souvenir shop at Old Bazaar
Murad Pasa mosque in the Old Bazaar

cevapi - it contains 10 pieces of minced grilled meat

fruits and vegetable market after exiting the Old Bazaar

The next morning, we went to a shopping mall (of all places!) to buy new shoes as Partner In Crime's shoes didn't look like it could survive the trip. The Capitol Mall is within walking distance from our apartment, so we walked for about 20 mins, 1.6 km and within a few minutes after Sports Vision was opened at 10am, the transaction was done.

Capitol mall

After that, we walked to Skopje central again, to Kale fortress, originally built in the 6th century, entering from the Old Bazaar area. There was no entrance fee. We went in to take some pictures. We could see the top view of the city and Vardar river from here. Then we proceeded to the Mustafa Pasha mosque next door, built in 1492. We then had lunch of rice and beef kebab, which is also halal, at the Old Bazaar before going back to our apartment to get ready for our bus to Prizren at 4pm.

Kale fortress

city view from Kale fortress

chandelier inside Mustafa Pasha mosque

inside Mustafa Pasha mosque

the imam asked me to take his picture

Mustafa Pasha mosque
ablution area outside the mosque

our lunch of kebab and rice

Filip let us use his apartment until when we needed to go to the bus station at 3pm as there was no guests for today, how nice of him. As we were about to leave the apartment, it rained heavily. Fortunately, when Filip's father came to get the apartment keys from us, he offered to take us to the bus station. We couldn't thank him enough for his kind gesture as it saved us from getting drenched. We will be coming back to Skopje at the end of our trip as we had bought a return trip ticket to KUL from SKP.

While waiting for our bus to Prizren, we had a chat with a medical student who is from Prizren but studying in Skopje. He asked us what we were doing in Skopje, and that we should visit Prizren as it a beautiful city and steeped with history. That's what we would be doing!

Our bus to Prizren at 4pm. The guy with the blue backpack is the medical student

Stay tuned for our next adventure in Prizren, Kosovo. We will be crossing the border and get our passports stamped. No visa is required for Malaysian citizens to enter Kosovo.



Post a Comment

<< Home