In this part I get offered a bunch of rather handsome jewellery, eat ice cream and discover a fortress made of Kale, sorry I mean a Kale Fortress, nope, sorry again, the Skopje Fortress. Welcome to Part 5!
After successfully conquering the Skopje Cross, I had one more day to explore the city. Actually, on that subject, I think I should talk a little more about Skopje because it is really is a one of a kind city. The whole centre, near the waterfront, is covered with super modern buildings that seem to be trying their best to look like super old buildings. There are loads of museums about as well, most of them seemed deserted when I visited in the middle of summer, there’s plenty to pick from though. Starting with the Holocaust museum all the way to the history of Macedonia museum (not exactly sure what the Greeks are going to think about that.)
It does though, despite my reservations about it, create a real grandeur to the city, but to be frank, I am not sure, for a place as poor as this, it was truly necessary. Once you step away from the modern bridges and audacious statues, its back to more of the same, old concrete tower blocks, rundown markets and begging children. Every city of course has these problems, but the true stark between audacious modernity and extreme poverty, can really only ever be found in these sorts of countries.
Crossing over the main bridge into the old bazaar and it is like being transported back to a different time. It reminded me of Turkey as the smell of dried out drains mixed elegantly with the waft of slowly roasting kebab meat. There were plenty of shops, most of the jewellery shops, and the shopkeepers would stand in the street trying to persuade you to browse their establishment. I didn’t really get it though, if you say no to one jewellery store, you’re rather unlikely to say yes, thirty seconds later. Maybe it’s just me but I very rarely, if ever spontaneously buy jewellery.
Actually, I am doing it a disservice really, it is stunningly beautiful with little pieces of artwork hanging above all the streets, such as this one of little cute umbrellas…
There were plenty of big and small cafes, in little old squares, lots of other stores as well, selling mainly rugs and of course the normal tourist tat. In all honesty, I much preferred ambling around this party of town in comparison to the sparkling new part next to the river, which seemed more like a set for a Hollywood movie than anything real.
I spent an hour or so wandering around the little streets, trying on random bits of jewellery as middle-aged women accosted me and thrust their wears upon me. One of them even tried to sell me this rug, but when I explained that backpack was too small, she then said she had a friend who sells backpacks and could get me a very cheap one that would happily fit her rug for a very good price. I did think that was a bit extreme, buying a new backpack just so I could get a new rug, but at least they didn’t give in, they’d be perfect as Vodafone sales ladies.
After getting one of the world’s cheapest and tastiest ice cream, like the jewellery & rug shops there also seemed to be loads of ice cream stands, I then headed up to the hill overlooking the city. Unlike the cross, this seemed to be an old Skopje fortress. It offered stunning views of the city though…
As far as I could tell the Skopje Fortress was actually called Kale Fortress, but to be honest, I don’t think it is actually related to the vegetable. From now on though, I think I’ll just call it the Skopje Fortress as the Kale one is making me hungry.
Surprisingly it was free to enter, up through the old bazaar and across a small little park where workman escaped the searing heat of the midday son kipping on the lawn. I, like a mad dog Englishman, laugh in the face of the sun, and pay the price, I spent half my time walking around looking like a boiled beetroot.
Established back in 6 AD it’s an incredibly old and historic sight, while I was there, there seemed to be a couple of archaeologists digging about. To be honest, I couldn’t believe that it was free, you could just roam around along the walls for as long as you wished…
As I watched the sun slip slowly below the horizon, my attention turned to my next destination, Kosovo. If it was anything like Macedonia, I was truly in for a treat.
Summing up my thoughts on the country, I returned to the hostel and once again shared a drink with the receptionist. I waxed lyrical about the stunning scenery, cheap food and ancient ruins. She then asked me a rather potent question. ‘Would I choose to live in Macedonia?’ And the truth of the matter is, I really wouldn’t, don’t get me wrong, it’s the perfect place to spend 3 – 4 days in the summer and certainly worth a trip for any budding traveller.
It’s also pretty easy to get to, with cheap flights from most of Western & Eastern Europe, so why not forget the typical city break to Prague, and make it to Macedonia instead. You’ll be in for a treat, I can assure you.
Next up I head off on the road to Kosovo, in a minibus driven by someone who has the need for speed… Enjoy!