Skopje Macedonia. The land of statues and why you need to go right now! 

Skopje Macedonia. The land of statues and why you need to go right now! 

Omg there’s a burning trash can, where the hell am I!?

 

Burning trash can Macedonia

 

Just kidding, Macedonia is lovely.

The best part is it’s still undiscovered by tourists and is very cheap compared to other parts of Europe. There’s lots to do in the capital Skopje or a short bus ride away.

 

Getting there

 

I flew to Skopje from Bratislava, Slovakia, with Wizz Air. My flight cost €9. If you book a few months in advance you can get good deals. Since they started flying to Skopje the city has become more accessible.

Unfortunately the airport transport connections aren’t great and there’s no train, only the Airport bus run by Vardar Ekspress. It cost 150 MKD (€2.50) and I bought my ticket in the arrivals hall at the airport. The bus takes you to the main station in Skopje. While it was a nice coach, like all buses in Skopje, it didn’t come regularly and I had to wait over an hour. Timetable is below.

 

Bus timetable from the airport
Bus timetable from the airport

 

Macedonia is still a taxi city. A taxi from the airport to the city costs €25 and most hostels/hotels can arrange cheaper pick-up if there’s a group of you and you don’t want to wait for the bus.

If you get a taxi – never use the taxi guys in the arrivals hall and always go to the designated taxi rank.

 

Get a car

 

Skopje is one city where having a car would have been really helpful, for example, to go to Canyon Matka, Millennium Cross and Lake Ohrid.

 

Background

 

Macedonia has been ruled by the Romans, Ottomans, Byzantines, Bulgarians and Serbians. This is reflected in the city and the architecture.

Skopje had two major earthquakes. The most recent was in 1963, killing over 1,000 people. Due to these earthquakes there has been a lot of rebuilding of historic sites.

There is also an ongoing dispute with Greece over using the name Macedonia. There’s a push in Skopje to emphasise that things are Macedonian.

 

The city

 

The first thing you’ll notice is the statues. They are everywhere. It’s pretty incredible and also very strange. There’s quite a lot of rubbish on the streets and it’s as dirty as most capital cities but throughout it are beautiful, bright white and bronze statues.

They are part of project Skopje 2014, financed by the Macedonian government to turn Skopje into a tourist hotspot with a more classical appeal. It was meant to end in 2014 but when I visited in March 2017 it was still very much in progress. There is construction on every street. The cost of this project has gone into several hundred million euros.

I was taking a photo of a statue when a woman came and yelled at me – “this is fake, all fake, not real Macedonia”. The people living here have mixed feelings over the controversial project.

 

Statues of Skopje Macedonia

Statues of Skopje Macedonia

Statues of Skopje Macedonia
Statues of Skopje

 

Warrior on a Horse

 

Another huge statue is Warrior on a Horse, which is Alexander The Great but he isn’t allowed to be called that due to the conflict with Greece (but we all know that’s him).

 

Warrior on a Horse – Cost 8.3 million euros
Warrior on a Horse – Cost 8.3 million euros

 

Fountain of Mothers of Macedonia

 

This is an example of the on going building work here. This huge bronze statue, said to be Alexander the Great’s mother with Alexander as a child at various stages, was built as part of the Skopje 2014 project and is still not finished.

 

Fountain of Mothers of Macedonia

Fountain of Mothers of Macedonia
Fountain of Mothers of Macedonia

 

Copy and paste

 

Another strange thing about Skopje is there are lots of statues and buildings resembling monuments from other places. It feels as if someone visited Europe and copied everything they liked and pasted it into Skopje.

 

Bronze bull outside Macedonia’s Stock Exchange
Bronze bull outside Macedonia’s Stock Exchange

 

Bronze bull outside Macedonia’s Stock Exchange is similar to that on Wall Street in New York.

 

Porta Macedonia
Porta Macedonia

 

Porta Macedonia is very similar to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It cost 4.4 million euros to build and was included in the 2014 project.

There are also large boat restaurants along the Vardar river, which look very out of place. These resemble those in Holland.

 

Boat restaurant
Boat restaurant

 

Spanish steps like in Rome, and a Skopje Wheel like the London Eye are already in the pipeline.

 

The German Shepherd

 

The first night I arrived in Macedonia I headed to the Old Bazaar for a drink. On my walk there I encountered a German Shepherd. Skopje is full of stray dogs and cats. The dogs have a yellow tag on their ear indicating they have been treated by a vet. There are groups of people in the city who feed the dogs and the ones I saw looked pretty healthy.

 

The German Shepard

The German Shepard
The German Shepherd

 

Memorial House of Mother Teresa

 

Every day at 11am a free walking tour starts here. It’s a very in depth tour that lasts 3 hours and covers many of the places I recommending visiting. You’re also joined by my German Shepherd friend who follows the group.

 

Memorial House of Mother Teresa
Memorial House of Mother Teresa
German Shepard joined us for the free walking tour
German Shepherd joined us for the free walking tour

 

This house isn’t where Mother Teresa lived. It’s a small memorial with a chapel built on the site of her birth. The people working here spoke fluent English and were very informative.

There’s lots of photos and relics inside including her nun outfit. The chapel upstairs is very beautiful and the glass walls are wrought in filigree – a traditional craft of Skopje.

 

Inside Memorial House of Mother Teresa
Inside Memorial House of Mother Teresa
Chapel in Memorial House of Mother Teresa
Chapel in Memorial House of Mother Teresa
Glass walls wrought in filigree
Glass walls wrought in filigree

 

The Stone Bridge

 

This is an old popular bridge dating back to 1451 and has been subsequently damaged in earthquakes and Nazi explosions, and then repaired.

It’s often seen as a symbol of Macedonia.

 

The Stone Bridge in the background
The Stone Bridge in the background

 

Skopje Fortress Kale

 

Kale is located on the highest point of the city and has great views. There wasn’t a fee to wander around up here. Lots of sections were closed for reconstruction and maintenance. Maybe in a few years this will have more to offer but at the moment it’s just the main wall. On the plus side it’s not very busy.

 

Skopje Fortress Kale
Skopje Fortress Kale
View from Fortress Kale with the football stadium in
View from Fortress Kale with the football stadium in the background
German Shepard friend resting
German Shepherd friend resting

 

Old Bazaar

 

This is between the stone bridge and the Skopje Fortress Kale.

Old bazaar is a good place to get food and it’s fairly lively. There are lots of tourist shops. I didn’t find it particularly special but it’s a nice place to walk through on the way to the key sites.

 

Old Bazaar Skopje

Old Bazaar Skopje
Old Bazaar Skopje

 

Bezisten – a covered market built in the 15th century and rebuilt in 1899.

 

Bezisten in Old Bazaar Skopje
Bezisten in Old Bazaar Skopje

 

Mustafa Pasha Mosque

 

This Ottoman era mosque is located next to the fortress and allows non-Muslims to enter and take photos. Some mosques don’t allow non-Muslims in so I was excited to go here.

 

Mustafa Pasha Mosque

Mustafa Pasha Mosque

Mustafa Pasha Mosque
Mustafa Pasha Mosque

 

Unfortunately on the day I visited they were having a graduation for students of religion and visitors weren’t allowed.

If you aren’t Muslim and you get the timing right, this might be a good opportunity to see inside a mosque.

 

Holy Savior Church

 

The walking tour ended here and I decided to visit this Christian Orthodox church. The church was locked and no one was at the admissions booth. This is common in the Balkans. Eventually someone with a key turned up and let us in. Inside you can’t take photos.

 

Holy Savior Church Skopje Macedonia

Holy Savior Church Skopje Macedonia
Holy Savior Church

 

The church was partly underground. Under Ottoman rule Christian buildings couldn’t be taller than the Islam Mosques.

This small church is filled with intricate wooden carvings, which took men 7 years, working 7 days a week to make. There’s even a small skull and cross bones hidden in the middle. Looking up, you see a painting of God with a globe under his hand.

 

German Shepherd had to wait outside
German Shepherd had to wait outside

 

Archaeological Museum of Macedonia

 

The outside of this building is extremely impressive. It was built as part of the 2014 project.

 

Archaeological Museum of Macedonia

Archaeological Museum of Macedonia
Archaeological Museum of Macedonia

 

I didn’t have time to visit as I was there on a Monday and it was closed.

 

Outside the city

 

Lake Matka – this takes a whole day. I really recommend it.

You can read my blog post about it here: https://farfranhome.com/canyon-matka-macedonia-what-to-do/

Millennium Cross – I didn’t have time to visit here. I heard mixed reviews but the main reason I didn’t go was because the busses are so irregular and it needs forward planning.

 

Millennium Cross on the hill in the distance
Millennium Cross on the hill in the distance

 

This is another reason why having a car here is a good idea.

 

What to eat and drink

 

Wine – Tikveš dry red wine is fruity and very drinkable. I’d like to go back to Macedonian to visit their wine region.

 

Tikveš red wine
Tikveš red wine

 

Beer – Skopsko is the most popular beer in Macedonia. It’s sold everywhere. If you’re going to drink beer in Macedonia you must go for one of their own.

 

Skopsko Macedonian beer
Skopsko Macedonian beer

 

Rakia – no trip to the Balkans could be complete without rakia their favourite brandy. We were given free shots on the walking tour. My favourite is made from grape.

 

Free shots of Rakia on the walking tour
Free shots of Rakia on the walking tour

 

Uvijaci (rolled meat) – this might just be the best thing I’ve ever eaten.

 

Food selection
Food selection

 

You can choose from beef or chicken. I chose chicken. It’s chicken rolls with melted cheese in, wrapped in bacon.

I highly recommend you try this.

 

Uvijaci (rolled meat)
Uvijaci (rolled meat)

 

Sharska Pleskavica – these burgers have cheese inside. When the burger is fried, the cheese inside makes a crust that seals in the moisture making them nice and juicy.

 

Sharska Pleskavica
Sharska Pleskavica
German Shepard joined us for lunch
German Shepherd joined us for lunch

 

Don’t do

 

Don’t climb the bell tower in the main square. While there is a ladder and you might want to take some good photos, we did this and came down to one pissed off old guy and three Macedonian police officers. They really don’t like people doing this.

 

Views from the bell tower

Views from the bell tower
Views from the bell tower
Bells
Bells

 

Overall

 

I recommend you visit this city. The number of statues everywhere makes it unique. The food is delicious for meat eaters and the wine is great. You might even meet the German Shepherd.

 

German Shepard selfie
German Shepherd selfie

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