Skopje: Macedonia’s bizarre capital

This place is weird. There, I said it.

Weird in a good way though, I think. Along the lines of your aloof classmate who sits in the corner keeping to himself, while sometimes erupting in energetic and vibrant offerings to society – rather than the dirty classmate who will definitely grow up to be a criminal, who speaks in Parseltongue and is only friends with cats.

The capital of Macedonia is dotted with weird sculptures and statues the size of skyscrapers, paying homage to historical greats Philip II of Macedon, and Alexander the Great (and there seems to be a replica of the Arc de Triomphe for some reason).

It’s obvious you get the feeling Macedonia has claimed the duo as their official mascots, naming their country after them – just to make sure the world makes no mistakes where the pair came from (currently a contentious issue, because Greece argues that Phil and Alex hailed from what was their territory once upon a time, and a measly country name won’t change that).

What this has resulted in, seems like a haphazard attempt to make Skopje a modern-day Grecian wonderland.

Sprawling marble buildings line the waterways, held high by towering Roman pillars and built as if they’d stood for thousands of years – if it were not for their gleaming paint job and sparkling finish.

There’s building going on left, right and centre, and anyone would think the city had entered something of a cultural boom.

Instead, it’s resulted in widespread unhappiness, with the city’s citizens unhappy longstanding history and architecture is being wiped out to make way for the misshapen vision of the government.

Thus, the splashes of fluoro paint and graffiti that adorn these brand new sculptures, buildings and artistic pieces.


Regardless, Skopje is a nice enough place for a day or two. Wander the town, take in the stone bridge and definitely spend some time wandering the gangways of the Old Bazaar.

DO:

– Kale Fortress: Sure, there’s not much there aside from a well constructed stone wall, but it affords excellent views of the city and the surrounding mountains.
– Old Bazaar: It gets crowded, but brave the throngs because this place is great. The largest bazaar in the Balkans is heaving with merchants from crappy souvenirs to rugs to electronics, and they’re all great craic.
– Explore Matka Canyon and the looming Mount Vodno: See the separate post on this.

TIPS:

DO NOT get an “overnight” bus from Sofia to Skopje. It will take you approximately four hours, the clock will go back one hour, and you will be stranded at the bus station at approximately 2am with no heating and no way of getting to your accommodation.
– Opt to avoid the guide on the working tour who may either be the highlight of your stay, or a pretty clandestine lowlight. He does not appreciate even the slightest judgement of his town, including fairly straightforward questions, and he will argue emphatically with anyone who has a thing or two to ask about its past. We won’t name him, because there can’t be that many guides in Skopje with a penchant for heated arguments.

EAT:

– This is going to earn us some hate mail, but please avoid the famed Destan in the Old Bazaar. We were served up several pieces of dry kebapcinja for a price that really didn’t get us going, which frankly paled in comparison to the meal we’d had at a no-name restaurant in an indiscernible alley in the Old Bazaar the day before. We vote getting lost, finding a nice looking place, and getting stuck into pork stuffed with cheese and all things really bad for your waistlines, followed by the best baklava we’ve ever had.

STAY:

Hostel Infinity: It may be yonks out of the city centre, but it’s worth it for hospitality like this. The older couple who run this place are caring and kind, and they will have no hesitation in considering sending out a search party when you return from Kosovo several hours later than scheduled (a very close call, might I add. The troops were rallied by the time I merrily returned). They’ll invite you inside their home (next-door) for a Turkish coffee and a block of chocolate, and they’ll have you feeling right at home. The facilities are brand new, and it’s more homely than most hostels.

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