01.08.2007 34 °C
Skopje is not a city I ever plan to return to in this lifetime. Its intentions may be good, but there is little endearing about this dusty, modern town. I usually do a pretty good job seeking out the silver lining in cities which fail to charm tourists with their natural beauty. But my ability was strained during the 2 day stop in Macedonia's capital. That said, I would not go as far as to demand for those 48 hours of my life back. I'm glad I saw it, perhaps though it could have been in a shorter period of time. It seemed as if it could all be done in just a few hours, and from there I found myself simply pounding pavement in every direction to get a better sense of the gritty existence that is life here.
To be fair, much of the blame can be attributed to mother nature. The city suffered an earthquake here in 1963 which levelled 90% of the city. Its a case of unfortunate timing really - with the rebuilding effort occuring at the height of Eastern Europe's obsession with soviet-style high rises. What exists today Im only assuming is much different than what lied here before, rows of high rise buildings sprawling out of the central square. It makes one wonder what harm might be perceived forty years down the road if a city today was afforded a similar clean slate to start over from. The remaining 10 percent is fortunately some of the cities best sites - the old mosque, fortress, and original turkish bazar.
Where I gained the most was my time spent in the Turkish quarter north of the Vardar river bisecting the city. This side is more village than city, alive with action during the day and almost abandoned once night comes. It maintains an extremely genuine feel, vibrant and not tainted by even a speck of tourist oriented commerce. The market place is bustling during the day, with any commodity one might ever be in need of available for sale. Its a rare opportunity to visit any capital city and find it so devoid of fellow tourists, though there is a sizable english speaking community who commute to and from Kosovo. In a way it didnt feel like Europe, with such a strong turkish community, a remnant of their 500 year rule.
Anyway, I was very glad to move on to a more relaxing setting and have found Lake Ohrid to be a far more appealing destination in Macedonia. If it wasnt so far out of the way, I'd suggest you all come to visit this place. But then you would have to spend a few hours in Skopje. Proceed at your own risk. At least I have done my part, you have be warned. I have never had dirtier feet in my life. Its a dust bowl.
View from Fortress, Across Vardar River, of Modern Skopje:
Couple Interesting Encounters:
I arrived in Skopje on what ended up being a 14 hour night train through the Serbian countryside. The trip was quite eventful, spent talking with two extremely friendly Serbian guys who represented such different sides of the spectrum of your average Serb. One was from Novi Sad, a city two hours north of Belgrade. He was a teacher, quite religious, and on his way to volunteer in Greece for the next month. The other was a young guy from Belgrade, who drilled me for a long time about the nightlife in NY even after I explained to him that I had little info to offer. He was typical Belgrade guy in his mid 20s, stylish tight clothes who loved house music and was off to party in Greece with some friends.
At about 2 in the morning another man entered our compartment. I'd presume him to be about 45, and a self proclaimed Serbian peasant. For the next several hours the two younger guys took turns doing a rough translation of his ongoing monologue, apparently including serbian swear words every 5th word or so. He loved that I was American, and would not stop handing me his 2 liter beer which I reluctantly took in hand, sipped, and passed back. Must have had half of it by the time we finally went to bed. He even gave me a present on the way out, a gag gift that is a license to drink which he made, in Serbian of course. Quite the experience, very interesting guy, who brought the house down for a couple hours.
Next I arrived in Skopje with little more than a street address on how to get to my hostel, thinking that it would not be so hard to ask and then find it. Well, apparently street names change here every fifth day, leaving me ready to succumb to the line of taxis salivating for the chance to overcharge me, when low and behold, a jehovah witness recognizes my being lost, asks if I need help, and proceeds to walk me the fifteen minutes to the hostel, asking every policeman and store clerk in sight if we were on the right track. Great guy, didnt even preach to me in fact, though we spoke briefly of the philosophy. I just might show these people a little more love when confronted with them in the future.
Finally, my nemesis in Skopje was a young Norwegian electrian named Laurus. He latched on quickly at the hostel, and somehow suckered me into making him dinner alongside mine. I finally left his pasta to cool off, refusing to poor the sauce on for him, bc he was so reluctant to take part in the cooking. Even after I washed the dishes. But more so, he could not resist using the word in america before any of the thousand generalizations he made in our time together and hanging out with this czech dude. He was often wrong to, and we finally got into a debate about Norways welfare state as I defended the virtue of the American way. Worse yet, I ran into in my next hostel and endured another night of him. Awful..