Friday, May 16, 2014

Macedonia trip: hiking to Mt. Vodno

Last weekend, my friend C and I took a flight after work to Skopje, Macedonia. It was a fantastic trip as Skopje is interesting in its own right, but even better because we were able to hang out with locals. C had studied in Skopje earlier in her academic career so we met up with her friends she made from the first trip, and even friends of her friends.

After our bleary (and somewhat scary) flight that brought us in at an alarmingly early time on Saturday morning, we woke up and prepared for a hike. C's friend had hooked us up with one of her own friends who would take us to Mount Vodno, located on the south side of Skopje. He drove us to a midpoint on the mountain (thank goodness! the mountain is 1,066 meters tall!) and we began our hike there. It was a nice area, complete with picnic areas, a snack stand, and the entrance to the gondola to ride up and down the mountain.

Even better yet? He gave me a trekking/hiking pole to borrow. I see Germans using them all the time, even on flat surfaces, but have never used one myself. I was wondering if it was just an elderly German lady thing (but kudos for them for rocking out at a good clip on the paths!). During this hike, I was introduced to how useful these poles (or pole, in this case) are. I wasn't really in prime hiking shape (or any shape at all) since I was restricted on physical activity in April. Mr. Hiking Pole definitely made the hike easier as I used him to help propel me up the mountain. I'm now on the lookout for a set of poles for myself.

The trek up the mountain was brisk, mostly because my counterparts were quite fit. I didn't lag too far behind but did need several breaks to catch my breath. We took the trail that our guide considered to be medium in difficulty. There were many bits where we had to trek up what could be washed out areas with loose rocks. I guess a weekend warrior (aka someone who's not super fit) could do the hike easily enough, but the trail is a little rough. Another option is to hike up the winding, paved road to the top.

Our scramble up the mountain was rewarded by a stop at hut at the summit. In the hut, one can buy drinks and snacks or even bring one's own, and sit at wooden tables and benches. The view is wonderful!

There is also a giant cross, named the Millennium Cross. I have heard that one can take an elevator to the top but we didn't take part in that. At the bottom of the cross, there's a cement pad that's painted to look like the Macedonian flag (red background, with a funky yellow sun).

At the base of the cross C played "Spot the German," which is easy enough. Basically, if anyone is wearing Jack Wolfskin clothing, it's highly likely the person is either German or lives there. The woman we met is actually Macedonian, but she lives and works somewhat near us in Germany. We had a nice chat in German as she doesn't speak English. I wish that I were in that situation more often, where the other person doesn't speak English, so I'd be forced to speak more German. Otherwise I'm so lazy about it. No wonder why my German isn't taking off like I'd like it to!

Soon after it was time to get back down the mountain. I suggested taking the gondolas. It was really inexpensive at about 100 denars per person (less than $2) and the view was great.

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