Saturday, November 18, 2017

Skopje Part 2

Skopje, Macedonia

19 -20 Sept 2017

For our Balkan trip, we booked a return flight from KUL-SKP, so after finishing our 12 days trip throughout parts of Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, we returned back to Macedonia to spend another day in Skopje before going back to Malaysia the next day. We had spent 1 day in Skopje on arrival day, covering the city centre and Old Bazaar area. We haven't decided yet what we would be doing this time around.

We arrived in Skopje from Zagreb around 11pm, taking the Croatian airlines flight. We did not have to pay for check in luggage, but that's because we didn't check in our backpacks and we were served drinks and a packet of snack. Since we arrived late at night, there was no one manning the taxi counter at the airport, nor was there anymore airport bus service, so we had to take the taxi touts who offered the same rate as the taxis (EUR 20) to Skopje city. It wasn't really that far, took us about 20 minutes only to reach our apartment Aloha Luxury (EUR 35 per night,

Since our apartment had some problems to secure our booking through credit card, we had to stay at the second apartment building, which is about 5 minutes away from the main reception building. We would switch to the main building only the next day. Since we were tired and sleepy, we just agreed. Our host today was George who did offer to fetch us from the airport for EUR 18, but we declined the offer, thinking we could get a better rate the airport. It turned out it wasn't.

our apartment at the second building

The next day around 9am, we checked out from our unit and walked to the main building, waited a bit for our room to be ready. This room is better than last night's, and the main building had a verandah, swimming pool (small one though) and gym (but we didn't use it). After we got our new room, we decided to go to Matka canyon, just a 30 minute drive away from Skopje.

our studio room at the main building

the main building of Aloha Luxury apartment

We planned to take Bus no 60 from the bus station to Matka canyon which would cost MKD 75, but we missed the 10.30 bus, and the next one is at 12.10, so we decided to take the taxi. The taxi driver at the bus station quoted us MKD 800. We just agreed on the price quoted, then made our way to Matka. We arrived in Matka around 11.30am. The taxi driver promised to wait for us for 1.5 hours without charging the waiting time. The ride back would cost another MKD 800. Since we were short of Macedonian denar, we paid for the first half in EUR for EUR 15 (at the time EUR 1 = 60 MKD). So the remaining EUR 11 will be paid in MKD, which is MKD 660. The taxi driver agreed.

Matka canyon is great for hiking, one can also hike from Vodno mountain at the Millenium Cross to Matka. The Matka dam was consturcted in 1938 on the river Treska which resulted in the artificial lake of Matka. The dam is still in use for electricity production. Now, the lake hosts activities such as kayaking and boat rides. Since we were short for time, we couldn't take any boat rides or kayak, although the price is really cheap (MKD 200 for 30 minutes). We just walked along the route by the lake taking pictures, then stopped for a drink at a cafe there while enjoying the view.

Matka dam

Matka lake kayaking

Matka canyon

Matka lake

green waters of Matka lake

river Treska downstream

a monastery at Matka

At 1pm, it was time to go back. Lo and behold, a different taxi driver was waiting for us, he told us he was the friend of our original driver. We showed him the picture of our original taxi and driver, and the friend said yes. So we hopped in, expecting everything was fine. We asked to drop us at the city centre, and when we were about to pay the remaining MKD 660, he refused. He demanded MKD 800 from us, but we tried to explain to him that we had paid in excess already to his friend and he should get the money from him. He refused again, so we tried to settle with MKD 700, luckily he agreed, so we left the taxi as quickly as possible in case he changed his mind. This was the first time we had been scammed in our Balkan trip. On hindsight, from the Tripadvisor forum, a taxi from Skopje to Matka would only cost MKD 550 (EUR 9), but this was in 2012. But then again, the price could have not possibly hiked to MKD 800 in 5 years right? So possibly the MKD 800 price was already on the high side.

the first taxi driver

Anyway, we then made our way to the Old Bazaar again to have lunch, this time at the Old Balkan restaurant, then continued with our last souvenir shopping before returning to Malaysia tomorrow. Ah, how time flies! It was already 10 days into our trip, and surely it wasn't enough! Our flight back to KUL tomorrow would be at 12.15 noon, so there was no time to go anywhere, just straight to the airport. This time we got the service of our host George for airport transfer for EUR 18.

cevapi again!

meat with rice- traditional dish. didn't get the name though

Porta Macedonia arch

the red double decker bus of Skopje, no trams here

our host George

traditional chilli paste - Ajvar
prayer room at Skopje airport

Goodbye Balkan, thank you for the beautiful memories and great experience! Overall, we were free of scams, except on the last day, and we didn't face any major hiccups, just a few delayed buses and different bus schedule from our plan. The bus schedule information on the internet may not be updated, so do expect some schedule to deviate from your planning. If you have enough budget, or have no problems in driving left hand side, then renting a car and self drive is highly recommended. In our case, we were not really confident to drive on the opposite side, and renting a car with only 2 persons may not be the most economical choice as the fuel price is high in the Balkan countries. 



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