Memories of Macedonia
Among all travels that we have done for the last three years with Eusoff, this is the most challenging yet. The places that we went to this time around were new for me, as compared to previously, i have been to all those places or at least have friends at that particular city. This time around, totally new places, no one that we know of (except for Bucharest), we embark on the journey to the other side of Europe. Macedonia, Bulgaria and Romania. Will write about Bulgaria and Romania in another entry dedicated to each country.
First of all, we did not fly in directly to Skopje, but we started our journey by taking Wizz Air from Dubai to Sofia. The reason is of course because of the fare it offered. It was the second time we flown with Wizz Air, the first was when we went to Budapest in 2016. One way ticket from Dubai to Sofia for 2 adults, 1 child with 1 large check in luggage (32kg) cost RM1,300. Tips: To get extra discount, sign up to Wizz Discount Club. At first, we were planning to get return ticket Dubai-Sofia, but after looking that it would be cheaper if we took one way to Sofia and then return one way from Bucharest, we decided to include Bucharest in our itinerary.
We arrived in Sofia airport at midnight and i booked airport transfer from the airport to the hostel that we stay for few hours near to the Sofia Central Station. The airport transfer was booked via booking.com for RM49 one way and the hostel RM185 per night. There was a cheaper hostel, but as we are catching 9.30 a.m. bus, we just opted for the nearest to the central station and have private bathroom. Rest for a while and freshen up and went to the central station early in the morning. The hostel is only 5 minutes walking distance to the central station, so we have plenty of time to figure out where is the exact platform our bus will depart. Tips: There are two bus station area at the Central Bus station. Better go early to know which bus station your bus departs from.
Bus from Sofia to Skopje took about 6 hours and cost RM290 return (child ticket is free). Tips: You will get extra discount if you buy return ticket instead of one way. For the first 2 nights in Skopje, we booked an apartment via Airbnb. The apartment that we booked was within walking distance to the bus station and the host came and pick us up from the bus station when we arrived. It was 2 bedroom apartment complete with washer/ dryer which is very convenient when you are travelling with child. The apartment cost RM305 for two nights. The host was very welcoming and gave us good tips of how to go around the city. The city centre was only about 15 minutes walking distance from the apartment. The Macedonian dinar (MKD) is pegged to Euro (EUR), MKD60~EUR1. It is much easier to carry Euro to exchange in the money changer. We continue to rest for the afternoon after back to back long travel (have to consider wifey and Eusoff) and only went out at night.
Walking to the city centre was easy and it was good walk, despite the heat (when you are living in a place that temperature could go up to 50 degrees, 30 degrees is nothing). The city centre was filled with lots and lots of statues. Vardar river flows in the middle of the city centre and the main attraction was the Stone Bridge which connects the Macedonia Square to the Old Bazaar. We had our dinner at Destan restaurant in the Old Bazaar, been lauded to serve the best kebab in Skopje. The kebab comes in form of similar to hotdogs and it does have that aromatic flavor to it. And it is Halal, in case anyone is wondering. Tips: Halal food is very easy to find in Skopje especially in Old Bazaar. We spent the night just walking and took pictures of night time in Skopje then headed back to the apartment.
The following morning we hired a car with driver for our excursion to Vodno Mountain and Matka Canyon. It was recommended by our Airbnb host and he really provided good service while we were there. The cost was EUR30 (EUR10 to Vodno, EUR20 to Matka Canyon). It would be much cheaper to go by bus to both locations, but EUR30 is pretty reasonable price to have a car with driver. First up we went to the cable car station to take us up to the top of Vodno. The cable car cost MKD100 per adult and free for children. The view from the top of Vodno was breathtaking, as you could see the panoramic view of the city as well as on the other side of the mountain. We stay for about an hour and took the trip down. Tips: Cable only goes up and down every one hour. Need to coordinate the timing to ensure you won't miss the cable car.
The driver is a muslim and it was Friday, so we went to the Old Bazaar where wifey and Eusoff stay at one of the restaurant (most of the restaurant in Old Bazaar is closed during Friday prayers) and we went for Friday prayers. There were about 3 big mosques within 1km radius of one another at the Old Bazaar, and we went to the one across the Old Bazaar as the one in the Old Bazaar and the famous Mustafa Pasha mosque were quite full.
Our next destination was Matka Canyon. Took about 45 minutes car ride from the city centre, and about 15 minutes walking from the car park to reach the dock where we took the boat ride along the Matka Lake. Cost MKD400 per person and free for children. The boat ride took about 1 hour with one stop at the cave. Not sure what exactly the name, but it was a beautiful sight along the lake. One of those thing that is in the list of must do in Skopje and does not break your wallet. We went back to the apartment after stopping by to one of halal eatery on the way back to the apartment. We spent the night in the apartment and cooked dinner. Tips: There are Halal products sold at the supermarket including chicken and eggs.
The following day we check in into one of the hotel in the city centre. Just our thing, to stay 2 nights in a budget-friendly accommodation and to experience one night in a nice hotel. The hotel was right in the city centre and our room were facing the famous Stone Bridge. It is in a perfect location and within much nearer walking distance to other places in our list including the Stone Fortress, Mustafa Pasha Mosque, just to name a few. Cost RM300 per night with breakfast which was served on the 14th floor with fantastic view of the city centre. Most of the day was spent in the Old Bazaar and the surrounding area. Tips: Souvenirs are mostly sold in the Old Bazaar and reasonably priced. We bought a cute Macedonian-style leather shoes for Eusoff which cost EUR5 (cheaper than those shoes sold at Mothercare).
Our bus departs back to Sofia at 3.30 p.m., so we have the morning to do another sightseeing. We walked up to the Stone Fortress which offers a fantastic view of the city centre and had lunch at one of the halal establishment in the Old Bazaar, a restaurant named Teteks. Our Airbnb host was kind enough to offer to pick us up from the hotel to send to the bus station (seriously amazed by this). We had coffee then off we went to the bus station to take the bus to Sofia.
Skopje definitely surprised us. The people are friendly, and even with the language barrier, they are helpful. The signage are written in Cyrillic symbols, but it still easy to go around, mostly on foot. The city itself was beautiful surrounded by mountains and the price are cheaper than those in western part of Europe. Halal foods and mosques are easy to find and all within the city centre and walking distance. Macedonia is yet to be part of the European Union, so for the trip to Skopje alone we have 4 stamps in our passport as there are border control between Bulgaria and Macedonia. We definitely think that it is a city worth visiting and we won't mind going to Macedonia again, perhaps to another city named Ohrid in the southern part of Macedonia. Another memory of travelling for us and especially for Eusoff, the good ones of course, the Memories of Macedonia.