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The Millennium Cross of Mount Vodno

Stretched out along the Vardar River, Skopje is a long and narrow city whose expansion to the south is hindered by the presence of Mount Vodno. We took a cable car to the summit of Vodno for a close-up look of the Millennium Cross which crowns it, and to get a birds-eye view over Skopje and the surrounding region.

Erected in 2002 to commemorate 2000 years of Christianity in Macedonia, the Millennium Cross is among the largest Christian crosses in the world, measuring in at 66 meters (217 feet) in height. By comparison, Rio de Janeiro’s Cristo Redentor reaches just 30 meters. Massive, and the Millennium Cross is visible for miles around, particularly at night when illuminated with bright yellow lights.

It’s impressive, but the building of the cross was bound to be controversial in multi-ethnic Macedonia. The prominent hilltop location was seen by Macedonia’s significant Muslim Albanian population as a provocation, and it didn’t help that its construction was partially funded by the Macedonian government, after the Orthodox Church didn’t have enough cash to finish the project.

The outrage is understandable, but we like the Millennium Cross because it serves as a useful orientation point, and because we tend to like ridiculously big monuments. Plus, it’s easy to reach, which is another selling point. A dedicated “Millennium Cross” double-decker bus leaves from the Central Bus Station every forty minutes and will deposit you at Hotel Vodno, midway up the mountain. To reach the summit, you have a choice: hike the rest of the way, which would take about an hour, or hop on the ropeway and arrive in seven minutes. The hike is supposed to be nice but we chose laziness during our initial excursion to the top of Vodno.

Once at the peak, there wasn’t a lot to do. The cross is equipped with an interior elevator, and is surrounded by refreshment stands, but all this was closed during our visit (on a Wednesday afternoon). So we contented ourselves with a short walk around the summit, and enjoyed the sweeping panoramas of Skopje and the surrounding countryside.

Vodno offers more than just views and the Millennium Cross. There’s a well-trodden hike leaving here for nearby Lake Matka, and it’s a popular place for Skopjites to simply spend a day in nature, hunting for wild herbs and mushrooms.

-Skopje Short Term Apartment Rentals

Gondola To Vodno Mountain
Gondola To Vodno Mountain
Gondola To Vodno Mountain
Gondola To Vodno Mountain
Gondola To Vodno Mountain
Gondola To Vodno Mountain
Gondola To Vodno Mountain
Gondola To Vodno Mountain
Gondola To Vodno Mountain
Gondola To Vodno Mountain
Gondola To Vodno Mountain
Gondola To Vodno Mountain
Gondola To Vodno Mountain
Gondola To Vodno Mountain
Gondola To Vodno Mountain
Gondola To Vodno Mountain

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Yesterday at 5:14 pm Comments (0)

Skopje – Our Home for Three Months

Skopje is Macedonia’s capital and largest city, and will be our base of operations for the next three months. It’s not as large or as resplendent as most European capitals, but this little city along the Vardar River is growing in population and prestige every year.

Skopje Travel Blog

Evidence of human presence in Skopje dates to the Neolithic period, around 6000 years ago, but it wasn’t until the Romans arrived in 148 BC that the city entered into the story of civilization. Skupi, as it was called, was in the crossroads of the Balkans and grew into an important trading center. Eventually, the Roman Empire splintered, and Skupi fell under the protection of the Byzantines.

Far from Constantinople, but so close to the upstart Bulgarian and Serbian Kingdoms, Skopje continually found itself with new masters. It was named capital of the Bulgarian Empire in the 10th century, and became the capital of Serbia in the 14th. But in 1392, the Ottoman Turks arrived and brought with them five centuries of stability, along with a new religion, new architecture and culture. And a new name: the city was now to be called Üsküb.

Üsküb quickly took to the religion of its new masters, and soon mosques and bath houses were springing up around town. The Ottomans were tolerant, and Jews who had been kicked out of Spain in 1492 found a permanent home here alongside populations of Roma, Greeks, Albanians, Vlachs, Bulgarians and more. This cosmopolitan mix of cultures and identities has mostly survived into the present day, and is still one of the Skopje’s defining characteristics.

Skopje Travel Blog

By the dawn of the 20th century, the Ottoman Empire was falling apart. After the Turks were expelled from the region, Üsküb reverted to the Slavic-Roman pronunciation of its name, Skopje, and became part of the Serbian Kingdom. During World War II, Nazi-affiliated Bulgaria claimed the city and exported its entire population of 3000 Jews to the Polish death camp of Treblinka. In 1944, the occupation came to an end, and a liberated Skopje was named capital of the new Yugoslavian state of Macedonia.

With a population of over 500,000, or about 25% of the country’s total, Skopje is far and away Macedonia’s largest city, and the center of Macedonian culture, learning, sports and art. The city lies in a valley along the Vardar River, which flows south to Thessaloniki and drains into the Aegean Sea. Skopje is encircled by mountains, and prone to violent earthquakes. The latest came in 1963, when a 6.1 magnitude quake destroyed the city center and killed 1000 people.

While driving from the airport to our apartment, near the town center, we couldn’t help but get excited by the city scenes passing by the window. We saw mosques and Orthodox churches, crowded cafes, the broad Vardar River, ostentatious statues and deteriorating buildings. Later, standing on our balcony as the sun went down, we heard the call of the muezzin… a plaintively beautiful sound we had become accustomed to in Istanbul, but hadn’t expected to hear in Macedonia.

Probably, we should have expected it. But the truth is that we hadn’t done a lot of research, and didn’t come to Skopje with any expectations. Ultimately, that might be for the best. Skopje seems to be full of surprises, and it’s going to be a blast to discover what else this up-and-coming city has to offer.

-Rent an Apartment In Skopje

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July 21, 2014 at 5:27 pm Comments (4)

Zdravo, Macedonia! Kako Ste?

The Republic of Macedonia is a small country in the Balkans, bordering Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and Kosovo. Its people speak Macedonian, its capital is Skopje, and until recently it was part of Yugoslavia. And that is the sum total of everything I knew about Macedonia before arriving. I’m not alone in my ignorance; this land-locked Balkan country is among the most unknown in Europe, and the least explored by tourists.

When we were revealing to family and friends that our next destination would Macedonia, the regular reaction was a blank stare. Followed by: “Now, where is that exactly?” Thanks to Alexander the Great, whose Kingdom of Macedonia was among antiquity’s greatest powers, most people have heard of it, but not many know much about the country as it presently exists. That’s understandable… Macedonia has a complicated history, low international profile, and is in the heart of Europe’s most bewildering region, the Balkans. Easier just not to think about it, at all.

Usually, Macedonia has existed not as a country, but as a geographic region administered by others, such as Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Normans, the Ottomans, Bulgaria, Serbia and Yugoslavia. Finally, in 1991, as Yugoslavia was falling apart, Macedonians recognized the opportunity to achieve a long-awaited dream and declare independence. With the Serbian army already engaged in Bosnia and Croatia, the small southern republic managed to secede without any bloodshed.

The arrival of a new nation is always going to cause friction, especially when it carries a name of such historical weight. Greece considers the term “Macedonia” to be theirs, and sees their Slavic neighbors to the north as usurpers to proper Greek heritage. They don’t want the country to be called “Macedonia”, and refuse to recognize it as such. Because of the naming dispute, Greece has unilaterally blocked Macedonia’s accession to NATO and the European Union, and forced it (for a time) to be known as The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, usually abbreviated to FYROM. Negotiations are on-going, but today most of the international community recognizes the country by its constitutional name: “The Republic of Macedonia”.

So, we’ve learned some of its history, but Jürgen and I still don’t know anything about Macedonia’s people or culture. Its cuisine, nature, monuments, towns, customs and festivals are complete mysteries, and we can hardly wait to start learning. We will be based in Skopje for our three months here, but plan on traveling to every corner of the country, which should be possible since it’s roughly the size of Vermont. We’ll visit ancient Lake Orhid in the southwest, the wine-producing Tikvês Plains in the southeast, Albanian villages in the northwest, the rolling hills of the northeast… as well as everything in between.

For our previous “For 91 Days”, in Tokyo, we arrived with an exhaustive itinerary of temples, neighborhoods, food and famous sights to see. Turns out, there’s not nearly as much information available about Macedonia as Tokyo, and our advance research was middling at best. So our time here is going to be much more about exploration and discovery. The nature is mountainous and relatively unscathed, so I assume that we’ll be hiking a lot. Hopefully, we’ll find some colorful village festivals. I’m certain that we’ll be learning some Macedonian (Помогне, ние сме изгубени!), and probably some Albanian (Tungjatjeta). The cuisine looks divine, a mix of Turkish, Mediterranean and European, all prepared with the best veggies in the Balkans. And we hope to come away with great photographs of one of Europe’s most overlooked areas.

More so than in other places, we’re going to need help from Macedonians and others who know the country well. If you have any tips for us about hidden gems, areas that deserve to be seen, delicious foods, or anything else, please don’t hesitate to leave comments or contact us. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter, as well as Instagram. Please wish us luck as we embark on our thirteenth 91 day adventure! We’re not at all sure how it’s going to turn out, but I have a feeling our time in Macedonia is going to be special.

-We Rented From Skopje Apartments


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July 21, 2014 at 6:46 am Comments (4)