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Published: April 12th 2020
After a hearty breakfast, I headed out to join the free walking tour. I am definitely a bit addicted to these tours, but I feel like it gives me a good overview of the city I'm in. This one met in front of Mother Teresa Memorial House. It was a beautiful morning, nice and sunny. There were only about five of us on the tour, which made a nice change after the bigger tours I'd been on in Sofia. We headed off to our first stop, which was at the end of the street. This was the old Skopje Train Station, which has now been turned into a museum. The train station was damaged by an earthquake in 1963 and this meant it was no longer used for its original purpose. I really liked the building, the style and architecture was a striking mix, much better than the ghetto looking place that Skopje has now. We headed back down the street and looked at some of the random statues that are scattered all over Skopje. I enjoyed the walk along Macedonia Street. It is filled bars, shops and restaurants at street level with apartments on the upper floors of the beautiful
buildings. Our guide told us that the street's name has changed a few times and told us a nice anecdote about a housebound woman who'd lived in three different places while having never left her flat.
We stopped back in front of the Mother Teresa Memorial House and the rather grand looking church next to it. I was rather shocked to learn that what I thought was restoration work on an old church was actually the building of a new church. We continued down the street until we came to a statue in front of a shoe shop. The guide explained why Skopje has so many and so bizarre statues. They are part of the hugely controversial Skopje 2014 project. This project was designed to revamp the city, showcase Macedonian identity, which had been suppressed when the country was part of Yugoslavia, and to attract visitors (and I would guess potential investors) from abroad. The project had been instigated by the then prime minister, Nikola Gruevski. The project was estimated to cost around 80 million euros, but has well exceeded that amount, and a lot of people think that the money could have been better spent and that there
was a lot of corruption going on, which I don't doubt as most countries suffer from corruption in one form or another. Also a lot of people think the make over is tacky and extreme. I have to agree that some of the statues are rather over the top, but since I don't have any real knowledge of what the city was like before I can't say whether it is better now or before. Something here, that caught everyone's eye was the ambulance parked up outside of a hotel and police not allowing people to walk down the street. Was it a suspected Corona Virus sufferer or had something more sinister went on? My imagination did go into overdrive a bit, but no one emerged while we were there, so I will never know the outcome.
We headed to Macedonia Square and the Warrior on a Horse Statue. In the bright sunlight, the square looked really pretty. It had looked nice the day before, but some bright sunlight and a deep blue sky just makes everything look better. Our guide continued to tell us about the history of Macedonia, both old historical stuff and the more contemporary stuff. It
was interesting to hear how the country had been forced to change its name in order to try to gain membership to the EU, but even after doing that the goalposts were shifted and it seemed that the country would never gain accession. We headed down to the banks of the Vardar Rive, and of course, were greeted with more statues. From here, we could see two bridges spanning the river, the Stone Bridge and the Eye Bridge also known as the The Bridge of Civilisations in Macedonia. The Eye Bridge was built as part of the Skopje 2014 project and is littered with statues of what I think are famous people, not that I knew who any of them were. I think they could have been religious figures. At the opposite end of the bridge is the Archaeology Museum, which looks really impressive. I really liked that there was a dog chilling, having a nap in the sun on the base of one of the statues. From the bridge, we got great views of the Stone Bridge and the guide explained a bit about the history of the bridge. The bridge has suffered over the years and although it
dates back to the 25th century, it has undergone a lot of restoration and repairs throughout the centuries. It was interesting to learn that executions were carried out on the bridge including the execution of Karposh in 1689. Karposh was the leader of a Christian rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans. On the other side of the river near the place of his execution there is a statue of Karposh to honour him.
We walked across to the Old Bazaar, it felt like we were stepping into a different country. The look and feel of the place was just so different. Here we were going to take a bit of a break. We headed to one of the small restaurants down one of the bazaar's many streets. I probably never would have stumbled across Kaj Serdarot on my own and I'm glad that the guide took us here as it seems to be down one of the quieter side streets. Normally, when I have taken a walking tour and there is a stop for food and/or drink, you have to buy it, but not here, the food and drinks were free. We were given a large platter
of salad, fries, small kebabs and cheese bread to share and of course some rakia to drink. It was also nice to take a break and talk to the others on the tour and hear about the places that they had visited in the Balkans and in particular those that they recommended, adding more places to my ever growing to visit list. Once we were sated, we headed off again through the Old Bazaar. I really liked all the little cafes and bars we passed, it would be a great place to hang out with friends. I really like the look of the brewery and bar. We did quite a bit of walking uphill to get to our final big destination of the tour, the Kale Fortress. The views of the area surrounding the fortress were beautiful. I loved looking at the snow capped mountains and also Vodno Mountain with the Millennium Cross on top of it. The army definitely would have been able to see others arriving ready to attack the area. Our guide also told us that the original capital had been built in a slightly different location. Another thing he mentioned was the Macedonian flag, which is
pretty unique looking with a sun in the centre and what look like rays coming off it. The flag was designed in the 1990s and represents the new sun of liberty.
We headed back to the Church of the Ascension of Jesus at the edge of the Old Bazaar and our tour finished there with our guide pointing out things that we could do nearby. I contemplated heading into the church for a look around as it houses some great examples of wood carvings in Macedonia, but didn't really feel like it. Instead, I headed into the Old Bazaar to have more of a walk around there. While I am not a great fan of shopping, I did rather enjoy walking around the streets of the Bazaar, admiring the architecture and getting lost wandering up and down the different streets. It definitely had a more Middle Eastern than European vibe to it. After the Bazaar, I headed to the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia as the guide had recommended it. I have to say I was rather disappointed by it. The entrance fee was a lot more than the Holocaust Museum and I felt that it was rather overpriced for
what was on display. There was only one room open downstairs that displayed some interesting stone work. I quite enjoyed looking around those as there was some pretty intricate details on them. The upper floor was split into two sections and these contained glasses cases filled with various artefacts. I can only look at these type of things for so long without any context, which this museum was sadly lacking. I need more information about day to day life in these different periods of history rather than just a name and a date on a label by the object. For me, the museum was rather lacklustre and in hindsight, I probably should have skipped it. I had done a lot of walking by this point and deiced to head back to my hostel for a rest and to recharge my batteries so I could explore more later in the afternoon.
I was feeling hungry and although I thought I should have some more Macedonian cuisine, I had found a Chinese restaurant online and quite fancied trying that. The reviews were up and down, some great and some terrible, so I decided to chance it. Peking Garden was easy to
find as it was on one of the main streets off the main square. Since I was there outside of traditional eating times, it was dead.I had already consulted the online menu and had decided what I wanted. However, I decided to get some baozi along with my favourite dish, fish flavoured pork with steamed rice. I also got to enjoy my first Macedonian beer as I waited for the food to cook. My food didn't take too long to come and I was soon digging into my first baozi. That one was okay, a little cold in one spot but definitely edible. The other one was still very much frozen. the waitress was lovely and took it away and a piping hot and even slightly crispy baozi came in its place. The fish flavour pork was a rather large portion and nice and spicy. It was pretty similar to the dish I would get in China apart from the meat was a different, bigger cut.
I was rather stuffed after my late lunch/early dinner and since it was still quite early and light out, I decided to go for a walk along the river. My plan was to
walk along one side, then cross a bridge and walk back on the opposite side. The walk was really nice and I ended up walking further than I intended. I was looking to cross over the river but all of the bridges seemed close together and as I hoped for another one, there just wasn't any further along and as the landscape turned more industrious, I turned back. There was some cool graffiti on both sides of the river. There were also quite a few people walking, running or jogging, getting in some early evening exercise. On the other side of the river, I had hoped to carry on in the opposite direction, but the path was blocked off, so that put the end to that idea.
There was one last place that I wanted to visit, the Mother Teresa Memorial House. We had briefly talked about Mother Teresa on the walking tour that morning. The house hadn't been her actual house although she had lived nearby. The house was built on the site of the former Sacred Heart of Jesus Roman Catholic Church, which was where Mother Teresa was baptised and went to church. The house was opened
in 2009. Mother Teresa is one of those iconic figures that I knew, but I didn't really actually know too much about her. The memorial house gives a good introduction to her life and there were small display cases that exhibited some items from her life. I learned a bit about her childhood, becoming a nun and heading to Ireland to do her training, and then her subsequent life in India and the people she helped there. The top floor of the memorial house has a small chapel, where you can reflect on mother Teresa and/or anything else you wish. It was a good place to end my day's exploration of Skopje.
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