Macedonia or is it Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or North Macedonia…god knows what the country is called but on arrival to the small capital of Skopje, that subject just went out of window of the bus I was on so I decided to call the local Skopjians (scorpions)…get it? Sorry, a sad little joke from an Englishman at the start but before I tell you guys about the beautiful hike I did here, I like to tell a story.
It involves drugs. Yes, I could have been arrested at the border of Bulgaria and FYR Macedonia for drug smuggling and I didn’t know I was doing it at the time. On the approach to the border, I was happy chatting away to other folk on the bus before we had to get off for passports and customs. On every seat in the aisle of the bus was a black bin bag. The sniffer dogs got onto the bus with their customs handlers and a few minutes later after all the checks were done, we were allowed on and the bus carried on with it’s journey through the Balkans.
On the outskirts of Skopje, the bus stopped and a few people got off. There was an elderly lady and a young boy on the back seat who got off but before she did she went into my black bin bag and grab this package which look like drugs with cling fling wrapped around it. Was it cannabis, weed, other stuff…god knows. I never touched the stuff in my life. She buggered off the coach and then it dawned on me that if the dogs found the drugs during the checks, I would have been arrested. Rule number one of international bus travel now, don’t have a bin bag next to you.
Welcome to Skopje I said. Later on that afternoon after checking into an apartment, it was time to discover the city in such a short time. Stone Bridge, Mother Teresa statue, big square, a fancy looking Bazaar, 10p ice lollies, the city was pretty cool.
However that wasn’t the reason I came here. Ok, the city is charming, I liked it and glad I saw it but there is one mountain I always wanted to hike up. Not sure why. It’s not massive. It’s not spectacular, all I remember at the time when I was looking into this trip was going to a mountain called Vodno. It sounded like a place in the Pacific Ocean. The next day I was to hike this with my best buddy, Ollie.
It was an early start, however we kinda slept in most of the morning and was quite a far distance from the bottom of the mountain which lies on the southern edge of Skopje. We had to cheat a little and grab a taxi to the Saint Pantelejmon Monastery (Gorno Nerezi). This small but beautiful 12th century Byzantine church is dedicated to the patron saint of physicians. I wanted to have a sneak peak inside but the doors were closed. Nobody was home. It was time to start the hike.
We walked up this path and for some reason the path got narrower and narrower and before we knew it, we were walking right on the edge of a mountain cliff for about 500 meters. It was crazy. Was this a path that never got used because it was so dangerous? To be honest I was getting a bit worried because a slip or a trip and I would be stranded. We were nowhere near buildings, a road and our cellphones didn’t pick up a signal in this country. However we managed to carry on, climb over huge rocks until we found a road. Which way shall we go we both asked each other. The direction where we can see the tarmac going up. And it was up we went.
It wasn’t long until we were at the summit. Here at 1066 meters (that’s a horrible number to write as it was the only time the Brits got invaded by a foreign nation after losing the Battle of the Hastings), we saw the latest tourist landmark to be put up by the government, the Millennium Cross which is one of the biggest Christian Crosses in the world. However, the locals hate it. We basked in the mid-summer sunshine for a while, taking in the breathtaking views of the Macedonian capital down below.
To be honest, after that minor mishap with the path on the way up, the hike was actually pretty uneventful. We walked down the road we hiked up but carried on all the way to the city centre before making our way to the apartment. It probably took us about 60-90 minutes to walk down, it was a brisk walk. At the bottom, cheap beer awaited us and we were happy with the short hike despite sleeping in that morning.