After Part 3’s drama, here I finally make it up to the top of the cross and am greeted with stunning views across the whole of the Skopje Valley.
First, though, I had to get up there, so far I had dodged a rather shifty looking police station and the even more dangerous Skopje traffic. Now though, I had actually got to make my way to the top on what everyone was telling me, was the hottest days of the year.
The hike was pretty easy, to be honest, and was well sheltered there were a few unmarked paths and I took a couple of wrong turns. But in no time at all, I was at the cable car area, about a third of the way up the mountain. Due to the intense heat, I had already exhausted my water supply, fortunately, there were loads of mountain springs up here, so a quick top up and I was ready for the cable car.
Now, I am not scared of many things, wild dogs and death that is pretty much it. But when I saw the cable car didn’t seem to be moving, I tell ya, my heart rate hit the roof. There was no way, in this heat I was going to be hiking all the way up to the top.
The whole area also seemed to be deserted, there was not a soul about, I quickly fired up my phone and realized that there was no way I could get to the top and back down with the remaining daylight. Scrambling around I found an information poster, unfortunately, it was all in Macedonian.
Now, I may know how to say hello, in around seven different languages, but Macedonian was certainly not one of them. I quickly scanned over the message board and with the help of some rather bizarre free WiFi, free high-speed WiFi half the way up a mountain, don’t find that in developed countries! I was able to figure out the cable car ran on 15-minute intervals and I had literally just missed the last one.
With my heart rate now subsiding. I bought a nice ice cream, downed a ridiculous amount of water and took some great photos of the surrounding area, down the Skopje Valley.
During my travels, I have constantly been amazed at some of the infrastructures you find in these so-called less developed countries. If this was a cable car running up to one of the highest peaks of the country in France, Spain or Switzerland, it would be full of tourists especially as this was the height of the tourist season, end of July. But here in Macedonia, by the time the cable car was starting up again, the queue was just around 10 people deep. I know it was the hottest day of the year, but that very rarely fazes tourists.
It was probably one of the most spectacular cable car rides I’ve ever taken, gently lifting you up over the Skopje Valley. As it got higher and higher the views came more and more breathtaking, high mountains collapsing into massive valleys, and a sky so big it felt like it went on forever…
Seriously if this was Switzerland the place would be swamped with tourist, but at the top, there was just a little shop and around fifty odd people. It had recently been totally renovated with a little play park for kids and large picnic tables. It was one of the most peaceful and relaxing places I’ve ever been to, no fighting tourists for the best photos and there were a couple of little trails you could take including to what I regarded as the most picturesque eating spot in the world…
As you can probably tell I was in awe of this place, this was Macedonia, one of the least visited countries in the world. Most people who come here just seem to drive straight through on their way to holiday in Greece or back home to Germany. To be honest it reminded me of a more picturesque and less developed version of Switzerland. The mountains just stretched on and on forever, and I wanted to climb every single one of them! The Skopje Valley was just stunning.
I think in the end I spent over 3 hours at the top, exploring little trails and grabbing a bite to eat at the little café. To be honest, I just didn’t want to go back down; I wanted to keep on exploring up here forever…
Of course, I couldn’t, mainly because it was getting dark soon. So I quickly headed down the cable car, scrambled down the side of the mountain, avoided getting detained at the worlds strangest police station and dodged all the cars. I had made it back to the hostel in one piece. Much to the receptionist’s surprise I wasn’t even sunburned.
I only had one more day left in Macedonia and I felt like I needed longer. I had no idea what to expect when I started out on this trip around the Balkans, I didn’t even know the history of the place. This, as I’ve mentioned before is one of the best ways to travel, a certain ignorance allows you to see past the prejudice of the past and just enjoy the present…
I really feel that with the right development and good governance, Macedonia could really be one of Europe’s top hiking and skiing destination. It is a country of extremes, stunning scenery and extreme levels of wealth clash with rundown shanty towns and Dickensian levels of poverty. It’s somewhere I would go back to in a heartbeat (in the summer naturally) and was a brilliant start to my trip through the Balkans.
Part 5 will be up next, where I explore old ruins and get the wacky races bus to Kosovo.