Macedonia has an interesting history. Throughout time, the area was constantly taken over by various rulers and empires, only to eventually win it’s independence back again and again. More recently it was part of Yugoslavia until they succeeded in 1991. They renamed the country the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) but there was a naming dispute with Greece, who held claim to the name Macedonia. In 2018 the dispute was settled and the country is now called the Republic of North Macedonia. The capital of North Macedonia is Skopje, it’s also the largest city and where a quarter of the country lives. That’s where we have been for the last month.
The first thing we noticed in the city center were all the statues. There must be hundreds of them. Some were small, some were enormous and they were everywhere. The second thing we noticed were a lot of the buildings in the city center appeared old until you got up close. It was obvious then that this was all new constructions and the structures had a facade to make them look like older buildings. Combined with the ornate bridges, fountains, pirate ship hotel and of course, the statues, it reminded me a lot of Las Vegas and gave the city a surreal look and feel. Unfortunately not all the buildings were finished and the ones that weren’t hadn’t been worked on in a long time.
All this was part of a government directed building project, Skopje 2014, that took place from 2014 – 2018. The government was trying to give the city a unique identity that didn’t focus on any one ethnic or religious group. This caused a lot of controversy, starting with the destruction of the actual old buildings to make room for the new-but-look-old ones. The high cost added to the quarrel and in 2018 the project was halted. A few of the monuments were even removed and this is how the city appears today. There is even a large tower on top of the mountain by the Millennium Cross that stands half constructed with an abandoned crane at the top. I’m surprised it hasn’t fallen in a storm.
The Macedonian language is very close to Bulgarian, with many of the same or similar words. Macedonian is a lot softer for a Slavic language though. For example, bag – as in a bag of groceries, is pronounced “tor-bich-ca” in Bulgarian, but is simply “tor-ba” in Macdonian. I am terrible at speaking any Slavic language, but that wasn’t a problem here. Just about everyone speaks English, good English, with not much of an accent. Thank you is ” blagodaram”, very close to thank you in Bulgarian, but they also say “fala” which must come from “hvala”, which is thank you in Croatian and Serbian. Any one of these will work unless you are in the Old Bazaar. This area is mainly inhabited by Albanians, which make up 25% of the population. Thank you in Albanian is “faleminderit” which translates to “I bow to your honor”. The vendors in the bazaar seem to really like when you thank them in their native language.
We enjoyed wandering around the Old Bazaar. Part of it is a maze of narrow streets lined with restaurants and shops. Farther in it turns into Bit Pazar, a covered area with vendors selling fruits, vegetables, and other items.
The first 3 weeks we were were in Skopje we didn’t do too much, just the usual work, work, work, with an occasional break for lunch or dinner, and to wander around a bit. We were saving most of the touristy things to do for when Howard’s dad was visiting. Since his arrival we have done so much. We explored Kale Fortress, the large fort that looms over the Old Bazaar. We spend a day at the Skopje Zoo. I was happy to see all the improvement projects going on and some of the animal enclosures were pretty nice. We went to the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle, which I highly recommend to anyone coming to Skopje. We took the bus halfway up the mountain to the cable car which we rode to the top where you can get up close to the Millennium Cross that lights up the city each night (I wrote another post about getting to the cross. You can find it here.) We also ate a ton of delicious food and pet as many stray dogs and cats as we could.
There is definitely a lot to do in Skopje and I feel like we packed a lot of it in to the last week. This is not usually how we travel and I’m tired. I’m actually looking forward to getting back to work or having a lazy days sitting in a cafe. That will have to wait though. Tomorrow we are off to Tirana, Albania and we will be exploring that city along with Howard’s dad.