Macedonia – Skopje
Posted on February 8, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
After a breakfast of unusual local fare, we head off down the main avenue where the better shops are located.
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?
Facing the Mother Teresa Museum is this bronze.
Down the street a piece, we begin to notice buildings with unusual architectural features.
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.
Here and there we see street vendors.
We cross the river, first using the new “Art Bridge”. It is lined with 29 sculptures representing Macedonian poets, writers and artists, mostly Christian.
Protecting one of the fine buildings is this guy on horseback, rifle in hand.
We walk along for a while, mindful of pitfalls.
Ooh, more protectors of the Fatherland.
What is this evil building spying on us? Surely not the National Theater!
Is this place falling down?
Now we get to the Muslim Ottoman Quarter.
We find a pastry shop of our liking.
We order coffee. The proprietor leaves the shop and returns presently. Before too long, coffee is delivered from another shop.
We stroll around.
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.
As we prepare to cross to the south side of the river we spy a fascinating building to the east.
We stroll up the way and come across this sign.
We cross one of the main bridges, guarded by a fire breathing lion, it seems.
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.
At least we can show how great we are by building every outlandish building we can think of, but starting with classical elements.
It’s time for a bit of levity. Here are some nice guys having a good time with music and a bottle.
As evening falls it’s time to cross over to the other side again.
We drop by the Symphony Hall for a fine view over the river.
We walk to the city ramparts for our last impressions of Skopje before we say goodbye.