There’s no question. Skopje is an unusual city – weird, disjointed, quirky, odd. Choose your adjective. Maybe it’s a really great place to visit because of the surprising visual elements greeting you at every turn. Largely destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 1963, it was rebuilt under a variety of regimes and tenuous times – Tito, Socialist, as well as the odd Skopje 2014 plan to bring a nationalist focus to the urban center. Huge gobs of money are being spent which is amazing for a country of only two million people and nothing in the bank.

Government building

Government building

I think its politicians are strutting about, trying to lay on a facade of importance and national unity where there is none. Let’s take a look around using photos from my iPad to glimpse what I’m getting at. There are lots of photos because there are lots of bizarre things to point out to you. Hold on.

We arrived by old timey train at the dark and dismal station as daylight was waning. European funds are being spent presently to bring it up to safety code.

We arrive with all our possessions at the train station.

We arrive at the train station with all our possessions in hand.

As luck would have it, our superior taxi driver knew just where to take us to meet our apartment host. We were located in a rather obscure nook of a huge highrise complex so we had arranged to be shown the way. Our place was just lovely, modern and convenient. We couldn’t have asked for better. Our host, a computer guy who spoke flawless English, explained every little detail of the place. We were instantly at home.

Part of the living room, with a sliding door to a balcony.

Part of the living room, with a sliding door to a balcony.

View from the balcony is not so great.

View from the balcony is not so great.

View in another direction onto the new cross, a point of civic pride.

View in another direction onto the new cross, a point of civic pride.

About the cross and things – The city of 500,000 is divided by the River Vardar. The south, larger, side is more or less Christian. They get the cross. The other side is largely Muslim. They get the mosques. The gypsies get the shacks beyond the mosques. The Turks get the baths and bazaar.

We go out to find food for breakfast. Next to the bakery is the meat market. Well, we can certainly see where our meat comes from.

Fresh from the farmer

Fresh from the farmer

Notice the pearly teeth?

Notice the pearly teeth?

After a breakfast of unusual local fare, we head off down the main avenue where the better shops are located.

A main shopping street

A main shopping street

Here's a nice Santa in the window.

Here’s a nice Santa in the window.

Are we in Vienna?

Are we in Vienna?

A nice piece for the mantle

A nice piece for the mantle

Across the street is a small patch of verdure. It’s the location of the Mother Teresa Museum. She was born in Skopje but of Albanian heritage, a Roman Catholic nun. She mostly lived in and died in India but Macedonia clings to her. Who could possibly have conceived of such a building?

Bronze representation of Mother Teresa

Bronze representation of Mother Teresa

The museum

The museum

A side view

A side view

Facing the Mother Teresa Museum is this bronze.

Rather more eye catching than Mother Teresa

Rather more eye catching than Mother Teresa

Down the street a piece, we begin to notice buildings with unusual architectural features.

A new building

A new building

We approach the river and see something in the water, perhaps a boat. But no, it’s too tall to slip beneath the bridges. There are actually several of these things. When finished they will be restaurants. Can’t wait for a river cruise, dining and dancing and no chance of getting sea sick.

A "river boat"

A “river boat”

Here and there we see street vendors.

Vendor of religious items

Vendor of religious items

Bookstore on the street

Bookstore on the street

This person sells only shoelaces.

This person sells only shoelaces.

We cross the river, first using the new “Art Bridge”. It is lined with 29 sculptures representing Macedonian poets, writers and artists, mostly Christian.

The Art Bridge

The Art Bridge

Our photo team at work

Our photo team at work

Here's one of the writers. I don't know who he is because the plaque is in Cyrillic.

Here’s one of the writers.

Protecting one of the fine buildings is this guy on horseback, rifle in hand.

Armed and ready to go

Armed and ready to go

These folks seem safe.

These folks seem safe.

Dress is a bit out of fashion.

Dress is a bit out of fashion.

We walk along for a while, mindful of pitfalls.

A not uncommon hazard

A not uncommon hazard

Ooh, more protectors of the Fatherland.

Go get 'um

Go get ‘um

Follow me to victory.

Follow me to victory.

What is this evil building spying on us? Surely not the National Theater!

The National Theater

The National Theater

Is this place falling down?

What's this?

What’s this?

Now we get to the Muslim Ottoman Quarter.

Small shops and mosques in the Ottoman quarter

Small shops and mosques in the Ottoman quarter

A bit seedy here and there - nothing new.

A bit seedy here and there – nothing new.

A right nice place to stroll and have coffee.

Here’s a nice street to stroll and have coffee.

We find a pastry shop of our liking.

Turkish pastries

Turkish pastries

We try an assortment

We try an assortment

We order coffee. The proprietor leaves the shop and returns presently. Before too long, coffee is delivered from another shop.

Worth the wait

Worth the wait

We stroll around.

Santa and a "tree" made of empty beer bottles.

Santa and a “tree” made of empty beer bottles.

A real tailor at his sewing machine

A real tailor at his sewing machine

How does this door handle work?

How does this door handle work?

A typical way of locking your place

A typical way of locking your place

Now lunchtime befalls us and we head for one of the highly recommended restaurants, to heck with busloads of tourists and inflated prices. Were we ever in for a pleasant surprise. Great food, great service, great prices and not a tourist in sight. Just another fine experience.

Old House Restaurant

Old House Restaurant

Building in the family for 180 years.

Building in the family for 180 years.

Interior

Interior

One of several dishes we gorged on.

One of several dishes we gorged on.

As we prepare to cross to the south side of the river we spy a fascinating building to the east.

Out in the boonies

Out in the boonies

We stroll up the way and come across this sign.

Let's not stay at the Shanti Hostel, rather stay in the Centar of town.

Let’s not stay at the Shanti Hostel, rather stay in the Centar of town.

One evening we say a horse drawn wagon, hauling cardboard for recycling.

One evening we see a horse drawn wagon, hauling cardboard for recycling.

Horse drawn wagon carrying recyclables.

Wagons are not common during the day.

Coke is everywhere, as in all over the world, helping rot everyone's teeth.

Coke is everywhere, as in all over the world, helping rot everyone’s teeth.

We cross one of the main bridges, guarded by a fire breathing lion, it seems.

Guard lion

Guard lion

As we cross the river we find ourselves at the main city plaza and the striking statue of the Warrior on a Horse. Of course, everyone knows he represents Alexander the Great, but politics with Greece do not permit this name, as Greece claims him as their own. In fact, Greece claims ownership of the word Macedonia and grieves to their innermost soul that this upstart country has made use of it. It has almost been worth going to war over, but Greece actually has kept Macedonia from being able to join NATO because of the name.

Warrior on a Horse

Warrior on His Horse

Let's remember all the battles past. Never let go of how great we were.

Let’s remember all the battles past. Never let go of how great we were.

We are all warriers at heart. Pick up your pichforks and follow me!

We are all warriers at heart. Pick up your pichforks and follow me!

What's this guy doing here?

What’s this guy doing here?

We're so great we'll win against all odds.

We’re so great we’ll win against all odds.

In numbers we will beat the enemy.

In numbers we will beat the enemy.

At least we can show how great we are by building every outlandish building we can think of, but starting with classical elements.

Let's throw in a triumphal arch about here.

Let’s throw in a triumphal arch about here.

This Roman temple will add a bit of class. Let's place it over here somewhere.

This Roman temple will add a bit of class. Let’s place it over here somewhere.

What's this?

What’s this?

Modern copycat

Modern copycat

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Leaning towers

Curvy shapes

It’s time for a bit of levity. Here are some nice guys having a good time with music and a bottle.

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Now we're talking real fun.

Now we’re talking real fun.

One of those "Christmas Trees"

One of those “Christmas Trees”

As evening falls it’s time to cross over to the other side again.

Mosque among the old bazaar shops. Time for a call to prayer.

Mosque among the old bazaar shops. Time for a call to prayer.

We drop by the Symphony Hall for a fine view over the river.

Wonderful front doors with Art Nouveau leaded glass.

Wonderful front doors with Art Nouveau leaded glass.

The lobby

The lobby

Music maker on the terrace overlooking the river and the other side.

Music maker on the terrace overlooking the river and the other side.

The view up river

The view up river

We walk to the city ramparts for our last impressions of Skopje before we say goodbye.

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The fortress of old

The fortress of old, solid as a rock, just as Macedonia would like to be.

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