Tim likes to travel. Follow his adventures as he explores the world.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Skopje, Macedonia: The Balkans by Bus Road Trip Christmas 2016 pt. 5

This is a six-part blog. Here are the links to all of them:
Veliko Tarnovo and Vratsa, Bulgaria / Final thoughts


Just an amazing shot for so many reasons
Just an amazing shot for so many reasons

I bruised my ribs climbing this, but it was worth it
I bruised my ribs climbing this, but it was worth it

Day 11: Arrive to Skopje after two hours on a packed minibus. Bus station is filled with wood smoke, like more than I've seen before. Taxi to hostel. Only one girl, Jaime from Alaska, in my room, and with Thao and Dong, only four of us in the whole hostel. Go out with Thao and Dong and they show me around a little bit since they arrived yesterday and know more about the city than me. There are as many statues as people in Skopje. We grab a bite to eat and have a drink before heading back to the hostel. 


Alexander the Great, Tim the Magnificent, The Dong, and Thao the Spectacular
Alexander the Great, Tim the Magnificent, The Dong, and Thao the Spectacular

Day 12: Wake up early for breakfast at the hostel, a pastry filled with cheese, similar to burek, and then head out into the city for the free walking tour with Miha. Joining us are Angie from Australia, and a group of four from Hong Kong. As we do the tour, we stop at the Mother Teresa Museum and get a mini tour with the museum curator. We continue down to the main square, then over two statue-laden bridges, before we head to Kursumli An (a former inn that was a center for trade). Next, we go to the old bazaar, where Mahi treats us to Macedonian rakia. Continue and enter Mustafa Pasha Mosque, where Mahi gives us history and shows us some architectural anomalies. Continue to the Kale fortress and then finish the tour just outside of it. 

What we learned on the tour:
-After the 1963 earthquake 80% of the city was wiped out. 
-Everything is new and built in baroque style, but not well-liked by many of the locals, as they've paint bombed many buildings and monuments. 
-Double decker buses donated by England after earthquake and the city just liked them so they ordered new ones that currently still run. 
-Many interesting facts about the life of Mother Teresa.
-Macedonia is the only ex-Yugoslavia country to not have war for independence. 
-Skopje has the largest Alexander the Great statue in the world, though they cannot call it that due to the Greek's patenting his name, and so it is called "The Warrior on a Horse". 

After the tour, Angie and I walk around the bazaar. There are so many beggars in the bazaar, especially children. We stop at a restaurant recommended by our guide, Mahi, and get uvijac (pork wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheese) and nafora (grilled bread with cheese). Not bad, but not the best food I've eaten on this trip. Go back into the bazaar and get lost awhile, before heading up to the fortress again. As night falls, we head to the supermarket, and then we part ways. 

Head back to the hostel and Marina, the hostel manager, is watching GoPro adventure commercials and eating dinner with Thao and Dong, so I join them. John from Australia, Adis from Kosovo, and Bilana from Macedonia, join us a bit later. We chat and discuss deep philosophical things, like how to pronounce the letter R (American vs. Australian accent). Adis says I look like Thierry Henry, and we take a photo together pretending I'm him, and he gets texts and phone calls from friends and family wanting to see if Adis is really with him. Reminds me of the time in San Fermin that a group of French tourists took a picture with me, thinking I was him as well.

Later, we go out for a drink all together at Skopje's first brewery. I don't like beer but the waiter is certain that I will like theirs, so he brings me a sample to try... and I threw it on the ground! Just kidding, but I didn't like it, so I just got a wine. Next, we go to a soul music bar with live music and the band is pretty good. Things get a little wild and crazy, but we manage to get back to the hostel with no problems. #Goodtimes.

Thoughts:  "Thank you" in Macedonian is much easier than Albanian (fala vs faleminderit), though many people speak Albanian here and I can use both. The tour guide said the best way to deal with beggars is to act like they don't exist - such a harsh truth, because they can be quite persistent and/or bothersome if you engage them. 

The city's monuments are "copied and pasted" from other major cities. Skopje has helpful tourist maps around town. I used to be terribly bothered by the smell of cigarettes, but at this point in my trip, I've become indifferent to the smell. I have to stop complaining about my visa issues in Spain because the Kosovars have it worse, as they can't even visit. Seems they love soul music in the Balkans.


Stock market bull in front of a shoe store to give confidence is the economic stability of shoe sales
Stock market bull in front of a shoe store to give confidence in the economic stability of shoe sales

Inside the Mother Teresa chape
Inside the Mother Teresa chapel

One of the two bridges of a thousand statues
One of the two bridges of a thousand statues

"Alexander, I am your father..." -Alexander II
"Alexander, I am your father..." -Alexander II

Uh oh, somebody didn't measure correctly
Uh oh, somebody didn't measure correctly

The city is so beautiful from up(side down) here
The city is so beautiful from up(side down) here

If I were to make a postcard, this would be it
If I were to make a postcard, this would be it

And this would be the night shot postcard
And this would be the night shot postcard

The whole crew at Hi Skopje Hostel, getting ready to go out
The whole crew at Hi Skopje Hostel, getting ready to go out

Day 13: Wake up late and I cook a 3-egg omelet breakfast with all the fixin's. Head into town and walk around a bit and have a coffee with John and Adis, before heading back to the hostel to grab my stuff and walk to the bus station. They told me it's 25 minutes from the hostel, but it took me almost 40 minutes to get there, and I was hustling! 17 people load onto a 21-pax minibus for 5 hours (6 with time Zone change) to Sofia. 

Thoughts: Skopje is actually completely unlike what I was expecting. I had an image of Serbia but I've discovered that each country has its uniqueness and differences, despite many commonalities (i.e. bad drivers, food, language). They seem to fight over: Alexander the Great's nationality, the best rakia, use of names for countries, etc.)

Mother Teresa is kind of a big deal in this region.  I've had sunny weather everyday and it hasn't rained once. Hi Skopje is the nicest hostel of all those that I've stayed in so far.


Mother Teresa actually had some prime real estate
Mother Teresa actually had some prime real estate

Continue the journey with me to Veliko Tarnovo and Vratsa, Bulgaria






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Location: Skopje, Macedonia (FYROM)

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