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Published: March 8th 2016
Hello my fellow travellers!
I woke up this morning after a very poor night's sleep on that dreary train ride only to find myself having to switch to a bus due to works on the track. Because of that I arrived in Skopje almost two hours late and I was immediately swarmed by taxi drivers the second I stepped of the bus. Tonnes of them everywhere! I almost had to beat them off with a stick just to be able to enter the station building!
Anyway, I got into the bus station which is in the same building as the train station. Due to the delay I only had a few minutes to get tickets and get onthe bus to Pristina but it was okay because the bus station in Skopje is very easy to navigate. I got on the bus in time and I was off for Kosovo after just a few minutes in Skopje!
This bus was actually very nice, it was comfortable and had good air conditioning. The bus ride was only 520 MKD for a return ride and it took about two and a half hour to get to Pristina. On the way we
of course passed a border control and whilst waiting for the processing I started talking to one of the Kosovo officers because I needed to use the bathroom. He spoke good English and was really nice. He let me use the restroom in their patrol house but I had to leave my bags outside of course. He asked how long I'd be staying and I told him I'd only be there for a few hours and I think he was a bit disappointed about that but he wished me a nice stay in Kosovo and I reply that I will since it is so beautiful. And I wasn't lying either because the view up there was absolutely breathtaking! I really wish I could have taken some photos to show you but they wouldn't let me.
When I arrived at the bus station in Pristina I was quite surprised to find a modern, clean and well kept station which further improved my view of Kosovo so far. Before I set out to see the city I decided to get a bit to eat, the meal was a bit on the expensive side and didn't really rock my world so to
speak but it was decent enough. So, with some food in my belly I continued down to Pristina and I can tell you that every image I've ever had about this place was wrong. What met me was a young, modern and vibrant city with the most relaxed feeling I've ever felt in any capital city I ever visited. I ended up spending more time than I had planned for here and I can actually recommend this as a place to visit for a few days rather than just over the day like I did.
Bill Clinton seems to be held in high regard here, I've seen both a statue of him, a billboard with him and a street named after him.
Sure, there wasn't much in terms of sights but there are some interesting ones to see though. The first one I visited was the Cathedral of the Blessed Mother Teresa which was still undergoing some construction. However, it was still possible to visit it, it was quite bare though so it wasn't all that much to see.
From there I went to the centre of Pristina where I took a look at the statues of
Zahir Pajaziti and Skanderbeg. Zahir Pajaziti was a commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army who was killed in 1997 by the Yugoslav Army. Skanderbeg was a 15th century Albanian warrior and nobleman who fought hard to keep the Ottomans out of Europe and repeatedly pummelled their forces in battle up until his death in 1468. Both the statues are impressive and are a nice legacy of the men they commemorate. At the centre is also a statue of Mother Teresa caring for a small child. It is understandable that a statue of her can be found here since she was an Albanian and her home was in Skopje, not far from here. She is highly venerated and, as you probably noticed, the new Cathedral is also named after her!
Just a short stroll from the centre is the Kosovo Museum so I went there, passing the Monument of Brotherhood and Unity from 1961 on the way. The museum is quite fascinating and houses a more extensive and impressive collection than I had anticipated. Ranging from the the antiquities up until modern times. Around the museum are three Ottoman mosques, the Carshi Mosque which is the oldest building in Pristina
built in the 15th century, the Jashar Pasha Mosque from 1834 and the Sultan Mehmet Fatih Mosque from 1461. All of them are quite beautiful and within a stones throw of each other. Close by is also the aptly named Clock Tower, built by Jashar Pasha in the 19th century to "help" the citizens keep track of prayer times.
Next I walked on to the National Library of Kosovo, a building quite unlike any I've seen before to be honest, it kind of looks like it's covered from top to bottom in a steel net. Right next to the library is the Christ Saviour Cathedral, construction of it began in 1995 but it kind of on a hiatus at the moment and remains unfinished seeing how the predominantly Muslim population isn't to fond of it's construction and there are voices calling for it's demolition. Even the ground on which it stands is currently disputed between the University and the Serbian Orthodox Church.
When I was done I went back to the bus station and hopped on the bus back to Skopje. Turned out that my return ticket wasn't valid because it was a different company. I had to
buy a new ticket for 4 EUR although I ended up paying 5 EUR. I didn't argue though, I was to tired and even with the extra cost it was still cheaper for me to visit a new country than to get to work and back at home. This is definitely the cheapest visit to another country I've ever done despite this sudden add on.
When I came back to Skopje I asked which way the centre was the staff helpfully showed me the way, after beating off yet a few taxi drivers I made my way there. It was very easy to get there from the station, just 15 minutes walk straight ahead. When I reached the centre I was stunned! It is absolutely gorgeous and not what I expected at all. It reminded me a bit of Rome actually, so much beautiful things to see that it overwhelms the senses. It is kind of random and chaotic though, there's monuments and statues and beautiful architecture everywhere with little sense of zoning or planning. Kind of a cram as much as possible in while we can sort of feeling to it. I don't think you could throw a
stick here and not hit a monument of some kind! In the distant, crowning on the Vodno Mountain, you can see the Millennium Cross which was erected in 2000 and stands at an impressive 66 metres tall.
Pretty much every step I took I needed to stop and take in some new marvel, I mean the ambitions of the architects here is beyond words. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Financial Police Office and the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia are all housed in elaborate buildings and each of them basically have their own grand bridge leading to them lined with exquisite statues! Construction was still undergoing on large parts and this is probably the largest scaled construction works I have laid my eyes upon, they are really going for something extraordinary here and I would love to come back and see the finished result! They call this elaborate project Skopje 2014 and I'm not sure I want to know the total tally of that bill!
Two statues that have been the source of much controversy with Greece is that statues of Warrior and Warrior on a Horse which are not so subtle statues of Philip II of Macedon
and Alexander the Great, even if they aren't officially named after them. Just as the very name of the nation, Macedonia, is being disputed with Greece so is of course the origins of these two prominent figures in history. I guess in a way you could call the statues a big "up your's" from Macedonia to Greece.
From the Warrior on a Horse there's just a short walk to the Arch of Macedonia which is a really impressive arch of triumph that is clad in marble with depictions of important events in Macedonian history. The entire area is littered with statues and monuments of kings and emperors, of revolutionists and statesmen, of warriors and of intellectuals.
After a while I felt quite content with the company of the revolutionaries and so I crossed the Stone Bridge, a real landmark that was built in the 15th century, and made my way towards the Skopje Fortress, passing the National Gallery of Macedonia, housed in the 15th century Daut Pasha Hammam on my way. It was getting dark by now and when I reached the gates of the fortress they were actually in the process of closing it up, I asked
if I could be let in any way and they gave me a few minutes so I rushed in. Once inside though I found more people walking around at a gentle pace so I slowed down and took it a bit easier, enjoying my exploration of the massive walls.
In fact, while enjoying myself up there I ended up loosing track of time and I realized that I wouldn't make it to the train in time so I contacted my host Mihajlo and told him I'd have to take the last train at 22.40 instead which would arrive in Veles at 23.30, he said it's okay and that he'd wait for me at the station. That meant that all of a sudden I had an additional three hours to spend in Skopje which was awesome! I checked out a few more sights, including the Memorial House of Mother Teresa, but then I sat down in a marvellous restaurant and ate a lovely risotto. The place was great, just a few metres from the Warrior on a Horse! The staff was wonderful and I can't find a single thing to remark on. Even better is that the delicious meal, two
big drafts of beer and the great service cost me less than a lunch in Sweden! Above all it was very nice to just sit down and relax for a few hours. After all, this trip has been quite hectic so far!
Finally, after a great time in Skopje I headed over to the train station only to find it had already closed, I had been told it was open 24/7 but they must have confused it with the bus station. I got a hold off a few of the guards who informed me that I could pay my ticket on the train and that I could pay in EUR (I had lost track of my MKD so I didn't have as much left as I thought).
I hopped on the train and the conductor came, I told him I wanted a ticket to Veles. When I picked up my EUR he shook his head and said that he couldn't accept that. He could probably see that I was really tired (it had been a long day after all with exploring both Pristina and Skopje after a really dreary train ride) and he just smiled and wrote me
a ticket without charge! I can not even begin to express how grateful I was to him for that kindness!
On the train I talked for a while with a man living in Veles who works in Skopje and I honestly think that if I'd run into trouble in Veles he would have helped me out but luckily Mihajlo was there, waiting for me as promised, together with his father. We went to his parents' place where we ate an evening meal together.
Tomorrow Mihajlo will give me a tour of Veles and I'm really looking forward to it! After that I will return to Skopje and go up to the Millenium Cross.
Until tomorrow I wish you all peace and happy travels!
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