That newly old capital, Skopje as Ive seen

 The stream of thoughts can probably come to loads of first time “Skopje arrivers”. I guess I was one of them. This small-sized capital of Macedonia creates an easy and quick access to the city center, so the surrounding architecture can be noticed right away. You may be experiencing thinking that you haven’t seen quiet a capital like this before. What history did not leave, you can always bring back, or can you really? The design of, so called, project Skopje 2014 completely transformed the way city center looks like today. There are loads of stories, loads of reasons behind this “clearly original” change. Big budget got involved too. And there is that sour question at the end: who is this really for? Tourists, as in the first place? It’s not a secret that it is one of the fastest growing industry. How about the locals? How do they find them self around? Maybe a show off, or the way to stand out to bust the tourism. You really have to get to the bottom of all this. The path trough, almost baroque kitsch like drooping richness in a country with not so great economy, may leave you with loads of questions.

 This, once plain, maze of Europe became a place for many neo-classic buildings and bridges along the river. Perhaps too white and too clean structures may turn out way too difficult to help you to get the vibe of past-time travel. Yet, you can’t really say they are not impressive. Shall we be grateful Macedonia is showing us how newly done acropolis possibly looked like for Greeks back in the days? Perhaps. Could be a plus. It can be left only for an individual opinion. But the feeling of fakery is still a bit present. The project has two main aims: to draw in more tourists and to try to reclaim aspects of the country’s history from neighborhood Greece, appealing to the patriotism of many ethnic Macedonians. Walking by the rich bronze statues full of bridges definitely wont make your head to turn away. You gladly will take your camera to photograph the things around. You will see, you will capture and then you will start to think. How? I do not see any problem investing in tourism. I do adore Moroccan king for doing so. And so do Moroccans, as I spoke with many of them. Yet, the King do it differently. He want to keep the culture present, but just making the country more accessible, safe and inviting. But here we have a bit different situation.

We are discussing a country  where 21.5% of the population live below poverty line with minimal wage at 231 Euros. Macedonia is also very vulnerable to economic developments in Europe, with a strong banking and trade ties and dependent on regional integration and progress toward EU membership for continued economic growth. And yet, on another hand we have a government spending loads of public founds. It been known that cost lay somewhere between €200-€500m (depending on who you talk to) and may have resulted in drop in minimal wage. Than we have a beautiful new buildings and statues. Quiet two opposite situations that divided the nations. The project, known as Skopje 2014, instigated by prime minister Nikola Gruevski, is just as questionable and arguably as diverse as it was when first announced.

  Many Macedonians are questioning the scheme’s vast public expense – not to mention its aesthetic qualities. We have also this sticky problem of complete ignorance towards a very large Muslim community, religion and culture that, sadly, did not get to participate in the project. I visited Skopje in March 2017. Being around city center area for few days, I witness anti-government demonstrations on a daily base. Thought, peaceful, yet shouting for attention a lot.  But there’s no doubting it has put the city on the tourist map. 

  Foreign visitors used to come to Skopje primarily to wander around the beautiful Old Bazaar district, with its alleys, mosques and old hilltop fort. But now they can go in less than five minutes from drinking a Turkish coffee among people and architecture that wouldn’t be out-of-place in a traditional city of the Middle East, to being surrounded by faux-classical European architecture and imagery. Maybe not a bad thing. Diversity. Something for us. 

 So where this all bring us, tourist, the recipients of the project? I hope very close to Skopje. You have to remember that it is one of the most amazing countries in Europe, with magnificent landscape, mountain ranges, canyons (Matka Canyon) and lakes. All that comes at a very affordable price. Public transport is good and very cheap. People are very friendly and possible to interact to in English. Food is absolutely a heaven with a kebab to die for! So yes! Whether the project of 2014 worked or not, we will have to leave it for individual opinion. I think even for the one who are not so keen on it, Macedonia will not be disappointing in any single way. I absolutely loved my time in this Balkan country. I’ve met loads of warm people, and I saw a beauty of the landscape. I am satisfy, happy and richer than the newly build Skopje surrounded architecture.

Matka Canyon by public bus from Skopje

  Once in Skopje Matka Canyon is a place you just have to visit. I could start with important reasons like: the beauty of the place, clear green waters of the Treska River, path trial trough the canyon…loads.

But how about the fact that Matka is located just 15 kilometers from the city? Yeah I know, just around the corner. Even if you are visiting capital just for one day, you can still add it to your schedule, as the public bus takes only 30-40 minutes to reach the canyon, and it arrives just right before the entrance. You can even get there by taxi. I’ve heard it will cost only 400-500 MKD one way (that’s around 8 Euros).

  So in order to get to Matka Canyon, you have to take a number 60 bus that leaves from the main bus station. Please note that the stop is actually located on the right hand side of the main bus terminal behind the petrol station. The stand is somewhere in the middle, and it has a sign with number 60 next to it, so you really will find it with no hustle. Ultimately, you can catch it also from the city center, as the bus makes loads of stops in Skopje on the way.

It is running quiet often. Times of departures from Skopje main bus station: 7:00 / 8:45 / 10:30 / 12:10 / 13:50 / 17:10 / 18:45 / 20:15 / 22:30.  Return from Matka to Skopje: 11:20 / 13:00 / 14:55 / 16:25 / 17:45 / 19:20 / 21:00. 
Unlucky, most of the bus stands here in capital don’t have any information, so you have to ask locals where is the most convenient stop for you, if you are not going from the main one or the one near the city center (tagged on the photo). In order to travel you need to buy a card. You can not pay to the driver by cash any longer.The travel card cost 150 MKD. That`s enough for 2 ways, and probably you will have some money on it left that you can use later on for other buses, if needed. Please don’t panic if the bus is late, it`s normal. I, for example, waited 10 minutes.

Going back

The bus will leave from the same place where you got off at arrival. Repeating: return bus depart from Matka to Skopje at 11:20 / 13:00 / 14:55 / 16:25 / 17:45 / 19:20 / 21:00. Please, be 15 minutes earlier, as I have been warned that bus can leave 15 mins prior departure from Matka. Matka

Sofia to Skopje by bus

 Welcome again in my so-called “from A to B” section where I will advise you on the best (or not?) ways of traveling between capitals. I will also share with you my adventures like: buying a ticket, looking for a toilet…etc. This time we are looking at connections between Sofia (Bulgaria) and Skopje, a city in Macedonia.img_1697.jpgI know that a train is a possible option, but it is not a direct one (you have to change at Nic, and it takes 10h, so no thanks), so I simply took a bus. Four-wheeler leaves from the terminal north of the city center. You can get there by underground, bus: 78, 213, 404 and tram: 3 and 12. Public transport costs 1.60 lev for one single ride. Taxi is a good option too, as you should pay just 5 lev from the city center. Once you are around, please don’t head to the big fancy, glassy new  terminal, that’s not the one you are looking for. The bus station you need is located just across the street 100 meters away from the other terminal, I mentioned, on a right hand side. It looks like a square with little shops and travel agencies all around with the bus stands in the center. IMG_1699.JPGI have chosen to go with Matpu. It is also possible that it is the only company that provides this service right now (march 2017). Bus will depart from the stand just next to the Matpu office, from where you got your ticket. The whole journey was a quiet pleasant experience. Bus did accommodate me in a confi chair, and there was a fast wifi available to use (but just on Bulgarian side…fair enough), so I was streaming youtube all the way till border. IMG_1821Also there was not many passengers in, so I could claim 2 sits to stretch. Toilet was there as well. The ticket can be paid by cash and by card at Matpu office. I paid 30 lev, a fair price for a journey between 2 countries. Three departures at: 9.30, 16.00 and 19.00 are the part of a daily schedule that is valid everyday. Please note that there may be other company that serves this route, but I can’t be definitely sure, as there was no info to be found online. Once you purchase your ticket, maybe in case just use a toilet on the side (0.60 lev), as the bus will stop only once by the loo, and the one in the vehicle may be either unavailable or not-existing. The journey takes around 5.45 h, but you will get to Skopje around 14.00, as of a time change (if you are taking 9.30 bus like me).

 The border crossing might be a bit annoying. It is probably due to the fact that you are leaving a Schengen now. Your passport will be checked twice by Bulgarian and Macedonian side. Border control will do the same with your bag, it will be search twice, so maybe don’t try to smuggle anything 😉 Sniffing dogs are at the border too. After 30 mins, you will get back to the bus, and you will head off to Skopje. You will arrive at the main bus terminal that is located east of the city center. One you’re out, you will get attacked by taxi drivers offering their service. Take it if you are tired, they will charge you a fair price. The capital is very small, so I just walked to my accommodation. It took me 15 minutes to get to the main square in the center. So that’s it, you reached your destination…congratz, now leave your bag and go to explore the city!