"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own"   Sri Chinmoy

Vodno Hike - October 2022 - Skopje, Macedonia

Vodno, with it's eye-catching Millennium Cross, dominates the skyline over Skopje and is accessible as a bike ride, a hike or a hill-run; so it was a must-do when we were in town after the Meditation Festival. After the usual chaos trying to organise the trip, we hatched a plan to go by taxi to the Hotel Panoramika and find the trailhead from there. We needed 2 cars but miraculously we arrived within a couple of minutes of each other and with the Mapy-CZ app downloaded with offline trail maps, we soon found the start of a waymarked path up the mountain. The plan was to hike up and come down at least partly by cable car, so we could be at the Turkish Bazaar to meet the rest of our party for lunch early afternoon. That meant a steady pace on the hike up, with back-to-back races and the Matka Canyon trek still in our legs. Not sure how the others were standing up to that intensity but my quads were sorer than the sorest.

Fortunately the miracle-weather of the Macedonian autumn was still with us - over 5 days in Skopje, at the end off October, I didn't see a single cloud. Our cab driver said they expected only 33 days of rain in 2022. Oh I should mention that cabs are remarkably cheap - we got across town to the trailhead for less and 2 euro. Between 4 of us.

Once winding our way into the woods the sun shone through the birch forest and the scenery and trail were both idyllic. Finding the way was easy enough - the app told us which route to take when the trail divided but it was really a case of "all roads lead to Rome" and the alternate trails were just gentler climbs that re-joined the main path later. Or in some cases steeper short-cuts that our post-race legs simply didn't need.

Half way up, after around 50 minutes, we crossed a road at a parking lot and saw that the final stretch of switchback-climb roadway was barred to traffic. It was open to bikers and hikers, but we opted for the direct route through the trees on a steep path and soon the woodland thinned out and we could see the cross at the summit.

It was a really enjoyable climb, easy going in dry weather but pretty steep and pretty direct. Once at the top we didn't hang around, perhaps as lunch was next on the agenda and we all had a bit of a calorie deficit. The views were awesome, the best shot I took was probably the one at the top of this page, with all of Skopje nestling in its valley like a Balkan version of Kathmandu.

We queued for 15 minutes for the cable car only to find we should have first purchased a ticket from a nondescript and virtually invisible booth up near the summit. Fortunately the guy checking tickets let us nip back to buy them then come up to the front without queuing again. Nice guy. Nobody in the line complained. The cable car had a wonderful bird's eye view of the city and got us down to the parking lot pretty quickly for less than 1 euro (50 dinar) where Nivedak, who had jogged down, was wondering where we had got to. That queue had taken longer than expected! We refuelled with magnums (well, a local equivalent) that were also cheap as chips and then wondered how best to get to the bazaar. There were a couple of taxis but the drivers said they were pre-booked and unavailable, there was a 40-odd minute hike to the hotel where we might be able to pick up a car or bus, then there were the double decker buses (very much like old London buses) waiting in the parking lot. A brief enquiry told us they were free on Sundays (wahay!) and the next one was due to leave in around 20 minutes. We queued stratefically close to the doors of both waiting buses, not sure which would be the one leaving next, and when the driver did appear and open the doors to one of them we were swept in and up the stairs by a cheerful and good-natured but incredibly intense wave of Macedonian crowd - it was quite a surge. We did all manage to get on though.

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