Continuing the recap of my 2017 Balkans tour…..
Skopje, North Macedonia
You may have gathered that I do not like the ‘new’ Skopje, the €500 million vanity project that looks like it was dreamed up by Liberace on acid.
Thankfully we arrived armed with a couple of decent things to take in if, as was indeed the case, we wanted to escape the tackiness for a while. Plans were forged over a very nice dark beer in the spanking new German style brew house.
After spurning two rip off merchants, we agreed a taxi fare to take us 3km out of town to the village of Vizbegovo see a Roman aqueduct, and then high up in the hills above Skopje to the St Pantileimon Monastery.
We were soon turning off the highway and along some potholed roads into a rural landscape. Our driver noticeably shuddered as we passed a gypsy camp “Albania mafia” he exclaimed.
Roman Aqueduct, Skopje
As we passed along a dirt track between uncultivated fields, the Roman structure came into view. Although not a hugely impressive example it looked well worth our visit.
Upon exiting the taxi, we noticed a photographic drone flying above the wall. A well made up woman was posing for the cameras.
She was not dressed like a bride and we couldn’t see a groom. It transpired that the black-clad lady in bright red lipstick was a Macedonian pop star diva and was here shooting a vignette for her latest music video. I hovered close enough to give me hope that I may appear as an extra on Macedonian MTV!
I chatted to the crew for a few minutes and told them I had been to Skopje eleven years prior and it had changed so much. The quip came back that it had changed a lot in the last eleven days!
The aqueduct was in use until the eighteenth century. Only 386 metres and 55 arches of the stone & brick structure remain today. It is believed that the aqueduct took water from a spring nine kilometres from Skopje the city .
We satisfied ourselves with a few credible shots. It was no Segovia or Caesarea, but definitely a pleasant interlude. Its presence was completely unmarked in any way and we felt that it was perhaps not considered worthy of touristic status by the Skopje tourist board, who preferred huge fountains and a multitude of statues. At least officially that is!
We followed Macedonia’s answer to Adele and her crew back down the uneven track to the main road and soon found ourselves spiraling up into the hills above the city.
St Pantileimon Monastery, Skopje
The monastery complex is situated near the village of Gorno Nerezi on the forested slopes of Mount Vodno, a journey taking about 20 minutes from the centre.
The area of the monastery had a chilled alpine air to it and a wonderful peace.
The church dedicated to the saint of health & physicians, was a little gem with some lovely frescoed walls & ceiling. I happily paid the €2 entrance fee, for which I received my ‘ticket’, a postcard depicting the good Saint himself.
Built in the 12th Century, the Byzantine frescoes are famous throughout the Orthodox world, including the one of Pantileimon and others such as depictions of the Communion of the Apostles, the Transfiguration, the Raising of Lazarus, the Birth of the Mother of God, the Presentation of the Mother of God to the Temple, the Entry into Jerusalem and the Descent from the Cross.
I missed the ‘no photography’ sign and managed to take a few flash free shots before being rebuked!
We were rather reluctant to leave such a lovely area, but after taking in the view of Skopje far below, our taxi driver made it clear it was time we descended.
We were dropped off in the centre, our driver being absolutely delighted with the €5 tip we gave him. I just wished those who had tried to overcharge us had witnessed it.
We wasted the rest of our stay drinking dark beer and eating pizza, before making off to the train station for our overnight transport to Belgrade………
Travelling By Train Across The Balkans
My book about all of my train travels in the eleven countries that make up the Balkan region is now available from Amazon.