The bus trip from Nis to Skopje was something that just really needed to happen. Serbia and I were like peanut butter and tunafish, we just didn’t go together at all.
I was feeling pretty exhausted and emotionally depleted leaving Serbia and I was hoping that Macedonia would be a breath of fresh air. As we left Serbia I felt that same lifting of consciousness that comes whenever I leave the USA, it was like the eyes of the world were suddenly no longer looking right at me.
It wasn’t the only change. The landscape changed fairly dramatically as well. From the sort of rolling hills and fields of Serbia, there was suddenly a bit more contour to the land and while I still had the sense that this was the Mediterranean, it was different. When we passed the first mosque, I felt my spirits lift. al-hamdililah! The first town the bus pulled into was a shock too, far from being the lily white blondeness of Serbia, this was a definite brown town. The bus depot area was filled with dark Roma gypsies. The contrast was sharp and sudden. It was like going from Utah to Mazatlan. The town looked poor and the people, while they didn’t look overly cheerful like Pacific Islanders, they looked normal. Hard life for some, easier for others.
I was reminded quite a bit of Morocco as the bus wound its way toward Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, I was feeling very good about coming to this place. Skopje seemed to be an economic success story with plenty of new building, a big park and pool, and thankfully, much less of the crappy tagging I’d seen too much of recently.
As usual, I’d looked online and saw there were some hostels in Skopje, so I didn’t go any further and do things that a normal person would like find out where they were, see if they were open, or anything else. I don’t recommend doing things this way.
So, I arrived in Skopje, walked out of the bus station and looked for a sign saying hostel. I saw one and I walked off in the direction it pointed. Soon, I was wandering around what looked like a bad neighborhood and no sign of a hostel. Seeing a very pretty woman, I stopped her in the street and asked if she knew where the hostel on the sign was. She spoke great English and said that although she didn’t know where the hostel was, I should come with her so she could model the sexy underwear she’d just bought…oh wait…no, that was the little fantasy I had.
Instead, she told me she didn’t know where the hostel was but pointed me to the Hosteling International where they wanted $30 per night! I passed on that and decided to wander around Skopje pricing hotels. I’ll write about that in a later post along with a review of where I ended up staying.
So, I had a nice wander around Skopje. It’s one reason I travel with only one light bag because I can do things just as if I don’t have a bag at all, mostly. I’ve gone on hikes with all my luggage, walked long, long distances, and even gone to amusement parks with everything I travel with.
Skopje was cool but expensive. The prices were about what I remembered from Paris. The coffee was about $6 at the first cafe I stopped at. Skopje was filled with upscale stores like Prada, Gucci, and plenty of cafe/bars named after all the cities of the world. Barcelona Cafe, Madrid Cafe, Baghdad Cafe, Buenes Aires Cafe and so on.
On a more interesting note, Skopje was filled with tons of bizarre statues and some incredible architecture, some of it built right around the old world architecture as this city becomes ultra-modern. When I looked around, it was astounding how many of the buildings are new! The reason? An earthquake in 1963 leveled 75% of the standing structures and everything after that was built to be ultra-modern. The initial project was to make Skopje the model of the entire socialist world. According to wikipedia ‘The plan was drawn by the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, who also designed the new railway station. The plan was never fully carried out.”
I wouldn’t say that there are a lot of interesting sites in Skopje, but there is plenty to look at. The odd statues, the old town across the bridge, the Kale Fortress, and the interesting architecture. The heart of Skopje is Macedonia Square. If you search enough and care enough you can find the place where Mother Theresa was born. The house is gone, but the place is still there.
Skopje is surrounded with incredible things to do and Macedonia seems an amazing country. The cost surprise, I’m told is unique to Skopje, mainly because it is the capital city and as the nearest city to Kosovo and Prishtina that isn’t Serbian, it has benefited greatly from UN and NGO influxes of capital. The downside is that most of the bureaucrats and NGO staff are on bloated expense accounts which have opened the door to price racketeering and made Skopje a very high end city.
I was in a hurry to get to Morocco so I could give flowers to my wife on Valentines Day or I would have probably really enjoyed Macedonia. As it is, I can tell you that the wine is great and at about a Euro per bottle, an exceptional value.