Still from Colm McGrath blog.
We are sitting in front of a pool in the Modern Boutique Hotel in Skopje, capital of Macedonia and described by the Lonely Planet as one of “Europe’ s most entertaining and eclectic small capital cities”. So far so good…
The riding was interesting to say the least as it rained in Biblical proportions all day, and we rode everything from old, grass covered cobblestoned mountain roads, to white rock and gravel clinging to steep hillsides above a lake, a sublimely paved bit of twisty (this one tempered by the large amount of fallen rock and sand that had washed onto the road…) and finally finishing through flooded farm roads leading into Skopje. But the main course was a closed military road leading from the end of the gravel to a 1160 m pass up a very narrow paved road with seemingly endless drops off the side – the rain and fog at the top obscured the views but we caught glimpses of huge drops as we were riding up. It required some negotiation and a gift of cigarettes to get past the checkpoint. Spectacular even in the rain – hard to imagine it being more impressive in the sunshine.
The the terrain here is awesome but softer than that of Albania. Hints of other places in Europe come through – a road on the west coast of Ireland or even a blush of rural Italy with cypress and neat fields in places. But the architecture and presence of little mosques – their minarets announcing the upcoming towns before we see anything else – are unique.
Now a late entry. Last evening we walked the 15 minutes the down town core of this city of one million. The main square and pedestrian malls, huge assortment of statues and newly built bridges, blend together in yes, an eclectic manner, with the old Byzantine bridge, Mother Theresa’s home and the well lit old walled citadel overlooking downtown. We were given a recommendation of a restaurant in the core but decided to ask a taxi driver to take us to a local’s favourite. We ended up far from the centre at a busy spot – unfortunately hosting a traditional Macedonian wedding and not open for business. Somehow a single table was found, we were welcomed in and we enjoyed the food and the sights and sounds of the hundreds of people celebrating the wedding. The dancing in the centre of the open air restaurant was mesmerizing, with young and old moving rhythmically to the tradional sounds of the band, swaying, hands locked together, in large, rotating concentric circles. And again demonstrating the friendliness of the Macedonians.