Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Roaming Around Matka Canyon (Skopje, Macedonia)

Skopje isn't a city that will necessarily steal your heart, unless you're a big fan of Vegas and all things kitschy. It's full of wonderful people, and ample good food and beverage, but it's clear that the government is spending all its money to redesign the city as a giant grandiose homage to Alexander the Great and other famed historical Macedonian figures (and not all that tastefully.) It's important to commemorate your history, but not at the expense of your future. Almost everyone I spoke to, and we had the pleasure of being showed around by some great people, did not approve of the recent changes. We met up with a wonderful fellow named Vlad while we were there (thanks to our friends Andrei and Iva), and he was our tour guide and pal throughout our time there. I also got the feeling that he was none too impressed with all this money being spent on redecorating while the economy essentially fell apart and unemployment soared. I mean the new buildings and statues weren't terrible, but there was classical music playing out of the fountain below, and it was all a bit bizarre.

Luckily, you won't have to hear me rant about a city that I'm clearly unsure how I feel about. The place I'll be mentioning today, Matka Canyon, is a place I'm quite sure of how I feel about. It's not more than about a half an hour drive outside of the city, but Matka Canyon offers some serene beauty. This isn't lost on the Macedonian people as it's simply packed with people out there, but that makes perfect sense. Istanbul, I can tell you from personal experience, could use a natural sanctuary like this more than anything. Though, there is some pretty decent hiking not that far away, I shouldn't complain too much! I suppose it's just my frame of reference - I've spent large swaths of time in Istanbul, Seoul, and Toronto and these are cities where you can barely drive across a neighbourhood in 30 minutes. I'm quite sure that this enabled me to appreciate Matka even more, and Bri felt much the same.

When we arrived, there was an international kayaking competition in the works. Not a bad start to be sure.

The area originally served as a religious escape of sorts as the hillsides are peppered with old monasteries, cathedrals, and churches. Many of these sights of worship have been well restored throughout the years and look to be in good shape, despite being built as far back as the 14th century. More recently, Matka Canyon appears to have been developed to accommodate the demand of the Macedonian people to come and enjoy the natural setting. There are well built hiking trails, a man-made lake (Lake Matka, which is the oldest man-made lake in the country), and restaurants along the paths that serve delicious cuisine. The area, some 5000 hectares large, is the perfect place to spend a half or full day out of Skopje.

Being in Toronto at the moment, yet thinking more deeply about my experiences in Macedonia, it reminds me of the responsibility I feel that governments (both locally and nationally) have to look out for the welfare and happiness of their citizens - that is, after all, what they're elected to do. In Toronto, there's an abundance of parks and space for leisure, and in Macedonia they've clearly made some effort to look out for their people in creating and providing a space such as this. In Istanbul, there's really no emphasis on space for the people, as much as there is emphasis on land being sold to corporations and investors. It all just gets me thinking, how important nature and leisure is, as cities tend to get more "urbanized" by the day. Based on our experiences, I can only imagine that Matka will be enjoyed for millennia to come.