As I mentioned before in my previous post, the city of Skopje has a rather large, adeptly named ‘Skopje Cross’ overlooking the city. So it should come as no surprise to you dear reader, with my love of hiking and equal love of big crosses, what should transpire next…
Situated at the top of Vodno Mountain and standing tall at over 66 metres, Skopje cross makes a rather grand statement over the valley. Leaving aside the history behind it, like the one in Kosovo it is their to mark over 2,000 years of Christianity, I set out one hot July morning, to conquer this mountain all by myself.
Armed with two essential ingredients to hike, a laptop and a bottle of water. I set out from the hostel on what the receptionist warned was the hottest day of the year. I assure her though not to worry, I used to live in Spain, I can easily deal with a bit of heat.
Due to the sheer size of the mountain, it would take too much time, and way too much effort to climb it all in a single day. Fortunately situated halfway up the mountain is a recently opened cable car. This whisks you straight to the very top and cuts out a good 500 meters hike.
For the even lazier among you, there’s a bus that runs from the centre of Skopje right to the cable car station, this means you can make it straight to the top without putting a single concerted effort in.
I decided though that wasn’t for me, and I would at least hike the first 400 or so metres. The beginning of my hike was a good twenty-minute walk from my hostel, and as Skopje isn’t exactly a big city, this gave me a chance to scope the place out a bit more. Scoping out Skopje, (hilarious aren’t I?).
To explore them more rough and ready parts of the city can be interesting and exciting in equal measures. Wondering past the old large communist tower blocks, with crumbling exteriors, crumbling pavements and crumbling windows. Basically, everything was a bit crumbly and not in a good way, like on an Apple Pie. Sorry, where was I? Ah, yes, wandering around the back streets of Skopje.
To be honest, it was all a bit dodgy. Most of the pavements were missing, zebra crossings were never acknowledged. People would actually speed upon seeing you trying to cross! Which led to a few hairy moments, especially when trying to cross multiple lanes, as one person would slow down, one would speed up and the other one was too busy on his phone, arranging another corrupt deal, he (it was always a he) would fail to see you.
As you start to step away from the centre, all cities, in general, are rather similar, rows upon rows of either flats or houses, some modern, most old stretching into the suburbs. Skopje is no different from the rest of them, the sights and sounds of just ordinary people going about their ordinary business. There was everything you could need, from hairdressers to butchers, dentists to doctors. I don’t know why things like that always surprise me, everyone in the world, all seven billion of us, have to shop, eat and cut our hair at some point I suppose.
Anyway, back to the Skopje Cross, I’d made my way through the suburbs, dodged around the cars and found myself on a run down dirt track leading up into the mountains. My maps, google maps, of course, assured me this was the way to the path leading up to the cable car base. To me though, it looked like the sort of track that leads to a rundown house in the middle of the countryside where a mad man with a gun was waiting to kill me.
Sure enough, the path led to a rundown house in the countryside, with rudimentary barbed wire fence around it, a bunch of chained up dogs howling away at me, and a topless man with a gun stood on the porch. Okay, maybe I made that last bit up. It’s at moment’s like this when you are travelling, you actually sort of realize what you are doing. Here I was, alone in the middle of Macedonia, at the end of a dirt track, at the bottom of a mountain, with not a single bar of phone signal, and a bunch of dogs barking and growling at me as if I was a giant piece of steak.
I quickly, once again, consulted Google Maps, and it assured me that path started right next to this building. I took a moment, considered turning back, but laziness and determination quickly changed my mind and I continued towards the rundown house.
As I got closer to it, the dog parking reached fever pitch, I noticed a rudimentary gym around the back, a sort of dog training course in the garden and a load of old police cars parked on the driveway. Damn! It was then I noticed the sign, this old rundown house was not in fact a rundown house, but an old rundown police station, that weirdly still seemed to be in operation.
Weird place for a police station I thought, rather remote, secluded, quiet, the sort of place no one could hear you scream. Ah, now it was all starting to make sense. Not wanting to find myself in a torture basement, I quickly found my path and started the scramble up to Skopje Cross…