Skopje: first day exploring the city

Living room at Shanti Hostel, Skopje

As I went down for breakfast, I met a fellow American traveller called Josh. He was from the state of New Jersey, but is currently working as a professor in Serbia. He is doing a trip thru the balkans during a two week break from school. I shared with him stories from my west coast road trip which I did in 2017. He was of the same certitude that “the west coast is the best coast” like some other Americans I had heard say that before.

After a quick, simple breakfast, we headed off to a free walking tour of the city. Miha, our tour guide from Skopje, was very informative, not just about historic facts, but also about local culture and characteristics of Macedonian people. He also brought along a good sense of humour, that without, the tour would have been a bit too long, taking approximately three hours.

We had to meet our tour guide near Mother Theresa’s memorial. We waited a bit and a cheerful group of people joined.

We started walking and the first thing we noticed was the amount of stray dogs on the streets.They seem to have a hobby which consists of barking at every passing car or bicycle. Mainly they are very friendly and free of diseases. The government here picks them up from the streets, tags them, gives them the vaccines so they don’t get sick. After that, they castrate them so they don’t reproduce.

Ultimately they release them again and feed them daily throughout designated places in the city. Since they aren’t reproducing, they will eventually phase out naturally by age instead of having to put them down.

We went into Mother Teresa’s memorial and our guide explained how she was born here in Skopje and and after eighteen years moved to Ireland to become a nun. Exactly after that, she founded a charity mission and moved to India where she lived most of her life. She was canonised by pope Francis who made her a saint in September 2016.

We proceeded down the end of the block which across laid half of the old train station.

It was July 26th 1963 at exactly 5:17 am when an earthquake of 6.1 magnitude struck Skopje, which was then part of the SFR Yugoslavia. The tremors which only lasted 20 seconds killed 1,070 people, injured approximately 4,000 and left 200,000 people homeless. About 80% of the city was destroyed that morning.

Within days after the earthquake took place, 35 nations requested that the United Nations assembly place relief for Skopje on their list of agendas. Relief, in the form of money, medical, engineering and building teams and supplies was offered from 78 countries all over the world. After years of being rebuilt from ruins thanks to the relief from all around the world, Skopje is often referred to as “The City of International Solidarity”, which is its motto.

Until today, the clock on the side still shows the exact time that the earthquake took place.

While we walked in the opposite direction on the main street of Skopje, Miha shared with us his views about his countries past, which changed names many times over and is about to do so again very soon (Northern republic of Macedonia). He explained an interesting story of a woman who was bed ridden, yet changed country four times without ever leaving her apartment in central Skopje!

As we got to the main square and we saw the 22 meter statue of Alexander the great. We learned about the controversial Skopje 2014 project which the statue symbolically represents. The statue here is called warrior on a horse because of the constant claims by the Greeks about their warrior god.

The cost of the project is estimated at anywhere from 80 to more than 500 million euros and many Macedonian nationals have been highly critical of and I would strongly agree… They believe that money would have better been spent on the infrastructure. With poverty and high levels of unemployment throughout the whole country, that money could have been used better than trying to turn Skopje into a mini Las Vegas without the casinos.

We proceeded through the old bazaar to our next stop. The fortress is situated on the highest point in the city overlooking the Vardar river.

After Miha asked a couple of interesting questions to the group and proposed us a bet. If anyone paid enough attention to remember the key answer he would give us a coupon each for free beer at the local brewery (This would later become my favourite place to hang out on my visit) I couldn’t remember exactly what year the earthquake was but luckily the American lady next to me did so we all got free drinks! ***Cheers***

Miha provided us with recommendations for restaurants and things he feels one should do when visiting the city.We donated some money and thanked him for the tour. Everyone from the group then proceeded to the brewery for the free pint.

Needless to say a pint turned into a couple …

Whilst sampling some of the tastiest beer I have tried in a while, we got acquainted with the group. Firstly we met the Danish, a group of five friends who ran their own rock bar in Copenhagen.*see you soon! Skol*They were here on a “company meeting” to visit bars and pubs to get ideas and possibly inspiration. We shared our plans for the weekend and they were going to the mountains the next morning.

A couple of pints in and I sat down for lunch with the peace corps crew. They were all from the United States and currently stationed here doing some diplomatic work for their government.They thought why not join the walking tour to learn a bit about this city. During the years they had been placed to a lot of other countries across west Africa . There were mentions of Benin, Chad, Nigeria and Liberia. At one point, they were discussing the types of diseases they encountered on their placements, luckily I still didn’t have any stories to share in that department! I got the gist that, for them being stationed here right now feels like a piece of cake!

After trying a variety of meats amongst other local delicacies, me and Josh were feeling quite tired, so we parted ways with the group and headed back to the hostel for a nap….

If you are ever in Skopje and need a cool hostel to stay, I would definitely recommend Shanti Hostel!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *