Travel Diary » Playgrounds and bazaars - four days in Skopje
Last week we flew out of the UK to spend two months in Eastern Europe. Our first destination - Skopje, Macedonia.
Now if you are anything like us, it's probably not a city or country you know much about. We previously couldn't even point Skopje out on a map.
Why did we start there? Well when we were in the planning stages for our trip, we were looking for the cheapest flights from London into Eastern Europe. We knew ground transport was relatively cheap once we arrived so we didn't mind where we started, we just had to get into the region and we could start from there. Then we stumbled across ridiculously cheap flights from London to Skopje with Wizz Airlines. After some further research Skopje seemed like an interesting city, it was centrally located and well connected to other countries by bus and train so we booked the tickets!
It's not the most beautiful city we've seen but there was something about it that we just loved. Perhaps it was the old market places with the cobbled streets, dozens of mosques, cheap clothing, quaint restaurants and ancient Turkish bathhouses. Maybe it was the 1000 year old fortress overlooking the city centre.
Or the fact that just across the river from all these ancient sites were shopping streets that could have been taken from any European city. It could have been the people that were all friendly and loved children. Or the fact that it was compact and flat, with sidewalks that are actually used as sidewalks making it easy to get around with kids.
We literally couldn't find a meal in Skopje that wasn't 'to die for'. The fruits and vegetables were fresh and the best I've ever seen. And it was all cheap. Almost Thailand cheap.
After so long in Asia, Skopje was exotic. There's something exciting about being in a city without a guide book and not knowing what's around the next corner. And there's definitely something to be said for visiting less-touristed cities ... in low season.
We spent four nights in Skopje. We could have easily stayed longer. The hostel we were staying at, Urban Hostel, had a fantastic apartment that was just the right size for us.
While Skopje doesn't offer a plethora of kid friendly museums and playgrounds, we found a lot of things that captured the kids attention, as well as ours.
I've written an article at Vagabond Family outlining the highlights of Skopje for families, as well as the basic costs and tips. Instead of rewriting it all again, here are some of our favourite places and photos from the four days we spent in Skopje.
Overlooking the river in the centre of town, Kale Fortress was originally built in the 6th century, but there is evidence that humans have used the site for over 6000 years. It was a good place to let the kids run, explore and learn. Our mostly ran!
The "Old Bazaar" is located just past the fortress and are the largest Turkish markets in the Balkans outside of Istanbul. This area has been the city's centre of commerce and trade since the 12th Century.
This was definitely my favourite part of the city. It had that unpolished bohemian feel to it, where you never knew what was around the corner. A spice shop, a shoe store, a butchers, a tiny cafe or an art gallery set inside an old Turkish bathhouse with domed roofs.
We had lunch each day in a busy small local restaurant serving grilled chicken and kebabs with fresh bread for less than 5 Euros including drinks. It was packed every-time, with people queueing out the door for tables.
The kids were excited to find a lolly shop with fresh roasted nuts, bags of candy canes and buckets of hard boiled sweets.
Funnily enough they bypassed the salted roasted peanuts and headed straight for the candy canes. Me stating "Those peanuts sure look delicious yum" didn't seem to have the desired effect. I guess it's a pretty hard sell!
A suit of amour outside an antique store also made a great talking point!
Hayley was rather impressed with modern Macedonian wedding dresses ...
The opposite side of the river to the Old Bazaar and fortress is largely modern. Well by modern I mean a mix of new buildings and 19th Century architecture. That's new right compared with 1000 year old fortresses?
The kids really loved the huge Macedonia Square filled with statues, fountains and wide spaces to run in.
The old stone bridge has been in place for centuries. No one knows how long as apparently anytime the city was conquered, the conqueror felt the need to stamp his mark on the city by redesigning the bridge.
No that's not someone crazy enough to swim in the river in winter. Skopje is filled with statues, modern and old. Some of the modern sculptures are fantastic - girls in crop tops showing far too much butt crack and these swimming ladies .... brrrr
On our last afternoon exploring the city we came across boys skating on make-shift ramps near the bridge.
Of course, probably the highlight for everyone was the free indoor playground at Vero Shopping centre. The kids spent almost 6 hours there one day making friends and playing. There were tables right outside with WIFI, coffee shops and McDonald's so even the adults were even happier!