We arrived in Skopje mid-afternoon after a mixed experience in our flight with Wizz air. They inexplicably took forever to board, resulting in a missed slot and an hour on the ground at Luton. The arrival experience however was good – a short passport queue and our checked bag on the carousel literally in front of us as we came through the other side of immigration. We’d decided to hire a car for the trip and having done so in the UK twice this year I was prepared for pretty awful service and a long wait. Not so in Skopje, which has loads of hire companies based right outside of customs (to your left as you come out, you can’t miss them) and a super friendly guy on the desk who already knew who we were (probably a consequence of coming in the off season) and had the car ready to go. After 5 minutes filling in paperwork he walked with us to a space literally outside arrivals and we were ready to go, just like that! We arranged our rental in advance with Surprice and paid 80 euros for 6 days, which included a second driver for free.
The drive to Skopje was more or less straightforward, excluding a small panic when we realised we didn’t know how to get the car into reverse. Once that was sorted it was easy to find parking, which *seemed* to be free in the streets by our hostel. After a warm welcome from our hosts at Hostel 42 we were ready to explore.
Skopje isn’t too big and we easily walked around the sights recommended by our host in a couple of hours, perfect for a short trip like ours.
We started with the fortress. Its pretty imposing sitting on a hill above the town. There wasn’t an entrance fee and a parts of the site were closed off for what seemed like improvement works. At first we weren’t sure whether we should be there but soon felt easier as we saw a few other tourists wondering round. Its a great place to get a feel for the layout of the city and a pretty impressive relic.
Next up was a brief walk through the old town next to the castle. Its worth a look and had loads of restaurants about but having heard so much about all the sculptures around town we pushed on to the other side of the river to take a look.
There definitely are a lot and they are large, but not as imposing as I was expecting after everything I’d read. What is striking is how incredibly pristine some of the buildings are on comparison to the apartment blocks we saw outside the centre. It’s a really interesting contrast and I’d love to know more about the politics here.
We took a pitstop at a cafe/bar which seemed mostly populated with locals. A couple of things we noticed – 1) tea and coffee are happily drink alongside alcohol here and 2) smoking is everywhere! There is an ashtray on every table and the majority of seating in most restaurants is under outdoor canopies on the pavements, presumably to circumvent laws on smoking indoors. Smoking seems to have all but died out in London these days so this was odd at first, but we decided to just go with it. Other than my hair constantly smelling of smoke it didn’t bother us much.
We got straight into the local for with a “shopska” salad, which is chopped cucumber, tomato and grated feta. Really tasty! The food here in general has been great, with amazing fresh salads and plenty of meat and vegetarian options on all the menus we’ve ordered from. Dinner was actually Mexican food! We were too scared to go to the local restaurants recommended by our hostel owner having found the language too much of a barrier when there wasn’t an English menu on offer. The Mexican tapas, beer and the passion fruit sour we ordered from Amigos (near the giant fountain with the statue of a man on a horse-you’ll know what I mean) were happily all excellent. It really is a cosmopolitan food scene where you can easily get most major cuisines.
Tired from our flight, we decided to take a short walk along the river then call it a day, ready for Matka Canyon in the morning.