Skopje is the capital of Macedonia and was the last stop on my Balkans trip in July that included Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania. I really just added it in because it was cheaper to fly out of than Pristina, Kosovo, and going there would mean visiting a fourth new country on the trip.
I can’t say I regret going to Skopje, but I can say it was weird. After walking around Prizren the previous day constantly thinking how cute it was, I walked around Skopje thinking, “what the f**k?”
My first impression of Skopje was my hotel – a hotel that was described as being five stars but, aside from the enormous size of my room, everything about it screamed two and a half stars. My air conditioning didn’t seem to work, my television had no international channels, my bed was flat and lumpy and covered with the type of bedspread you would find at a Motel Six. But really, none of that mattered since I was only spending one night and I would spend most of my time trying to see what I could of the city.
Through an online search I discovered a walking tour app that I downloaded to my iPhone – it included two walking tours, one of the new part of the city and one of the older part. I attempted to do both.
It is worth noting that Skopje was hit by a major earthquake back in 1963 that destroyed 80% of the city. The reconstruction effort left the city with a fairly Soviet feel (not surprising, given the influence of the Soviet Union in the region at the time). In recent years, the city has undergone a massive project to give the city a more “capital-like” feel, adding or reconstructing a variety of monuments, fountains, squares and bridges. As a result, the city is an odd mix of old and new with all sorts of wanna-be landmarks that just don’t fit in. The massive arch that totally makes sense in Rome or Paris just looks out of place in Skopje. Likewise with the gargantuan statue and fountain on the main square.
Aside from Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, Skopje may be the weirdest feeling city I have ever visited. The new part of the city felt like a massive construction zone and the old part of the city (mostly reconstructed after the earthquake) was oddly empty – entire streets with empty storefronts made me feel like I was on a movie set, not in the middle of a capital city.
I ended up only spending a few hours exploring Skopje – it was well over 100 degrees so after trying to do the walking tour in the new part of the city (I say “tried” because I ran into construction along the way and had to skip a big part of it), I returned to my hotel to rest and cool off. A couple hours later, I headed out to the old part of the city, once again trying to follow the walking tour, but getting lost about halfway through. As I left the old city to head to Skopje’s castle, I asked a local man for directions after hearing him speak English and ended up chatting with him for a good 45 minutes (we’re now friends on Facebook – gotta love travel!). By the time I made it to the castle, I had to beg the caretaker to let me in as he was closing the gates. He gave me 15 minutes to quickly explore and catch some sunset views before he closed up.
By the time I returned to the new city, night had fallen and the city had come alive! Lights everywhere. Music everywhere. People everywhere!
So I wrapped up my night with some people watching on the square as I downed my third cup of ice cream of the day (I blame the heat for the fact that all I ate in Skopje was ice cream!!) and I kind of wished I had one more day to experience it all.