Driving down to Skopje was a breeze as border control is not a problem other than during rush hour when it could get a bit clogged up. The drive was rather scenic and you can see remnants of the former Yugoslavia, construction projects in various stages as well as small villages and towns along the way. The city is easy to navigate and the city center is active and full of activities for the traveler, especially at night.
On my first trip I found a parking spot in a structure within walking distance of the city center and started my journey. This area is where the seat of government lies and there appeared to be a concerted effort to erect as many statues as possible during what appeared to be a major overhaul of the city’s facade. As I approached, I walked through a structure remarkably similar to the Arc de Triomph in Paris but on a smaller scale and the color scheme was gold and white. As I continued my journey I came to an enormous statue and fountain combination in the center of the pedestrian area that dominates the area. It’s a warrior the locals believe is Alexander the Great.
Personally, I don’t know as I’m not a historian nor am I Macedonian but hey if that’s what they believe. Who knows, maybe it’s true. Anyhow … the whole downtown area is in a state of being rebuilt and I crossed over one of the bridges into an area referred to as the “Old Town”. When I was there I had to navigate a construction path past a museum and orchestra hall, up some stairs and into the Old Town to look around. It’s filled with restaurants, bars, mosques, churches and an enormous bazaar which is partially outdoor and indoor. Of course the first thing I had to do was eat some local food so I walked in a small restaurant that had a capacity of around 10 people. I ordered some type of meat pie looking thing and some coffee and sat by the window to watch the pedestrian traffic. Every time I visited the town, this part was teaming with activity due to restaurants and shopping I suppose.
After a quick bite I began visiting the shops in search of the perfect souvenir and eventually found my way to the bazaar I should mention that none of the cobblestone pedestrian walkways are straight and it can be a bit confusing at first as you wind your way through the area. To make the journey even more interesting, several of the walkways go up the adjacent hill and you can find yourself either retracing your route or trying to locate a way back on some other path. Anyhow, back to the bazaar . It’s absolutely crammed to the rafters with more trinkets, clothing, food and hand made items than any reasonable person could possible desire.
You name it and some vendor is selling it. Oh, and you think the street maze is difficult to navigate, the bazaar is a twisted maze probably designed to keep people inside and shopping as locating a way out takes some effort once you enter. It was fascinating to say the least and if you’re a shopper you absolutely must visit this place if you’re ever in Skopje. I eventually tried to cross back over and as I was busy in conversation with a friend I just walked the steps on the closest bridge only to find that is didn’t even cross the river. I loudly remarked the same when I heard an American voice remark, ‘Eventually it will”.
I headed in the direction of the voice and asked her what she was doing in Macedonia. She said she moved there and opened a coffee shop and told me where it was so I spent the next half hour or so trying to locate it. It was at the top a path I mentioned earlier and I eventually located it. Since I had spent so much effort trying to locate the place I sat down to have a piece of cheese cake and coffee. It was a nice looking little place and the staff was friendly and helpful. Something I found interesting was a spiral staircase that either wound up to the kitchen or down to the bathroom and storage area. A great use of a small space I felt. The staff spoke English so I stuck around for a bit and chatted with them. Eventually I made my way back into the center of the town where, you guessed it, there are a multitude of bars, restaurants and a good sized shopping center.
Everywhere I went the place was alive with pedestrian activity. In case I forgot to mention it, the economics of what was Yugoslavia make it nearly impossible for most people to find a job of any type let alone a good paying job. This may be the reason there are so many people just hanging out but everyone I met was generally friendly. I can appreciate that it will take some time to rebuild a country after the breakup of Yugoslavia and the locals are striving to do just that. Did I mention I walked by the Zoo and stopped by? Check it out if you get the chance. Oh, as luck would have it I saw a sign for the Balkans Circus while I was there once and figured, “Why not?”. Skopje is a great place to spend time if you’re in Macedonia. It seems safe and there are a multitude of activities to occupy your time. Did I mention I did New Year’s Eve in Skopje? Visit the page to learn more.
So, the Roma population in Macedonia and specifically, Skopje is a bit of an issue. As I mentioned I had no idea there was an issue and for me there still isn’t as I’m not from the area but I did get a close up of the lifestyle. As I drove into Skopje the Roma were at many of the traffic lights and stop signs trying to wash the windshield. Back in the states we see the homeless trying to pick up a few bucks doing this but the Roma are particularly aggressive in their attempts to offer the service. I don’t have any particular problem with them as a general rule and learned to time my travels to avoid red lights and limit my time at stop signs. The whole thing made for an interesting trip though. On my first trip to Skopje I found a large parking lot and someone walked up and offered to help me park. I wasn’t paying attention and though the guy was a parking lot attendant. One of my passengers brought to my attention that the guy looked homeless and on closer inspection I could see he probably wasn’t an attendant. t required a forceful stance on my part but we eventually convinced him we didn’t need any help.
This occurred on several occasions and I learned to deal with it and be polite at the same time despite the language barrier. On another occasion I was walking down the pedestrian area and as I travel quite frequently had everything in my front pockets with my hands firmly in control of the contents. As I was walking children came up and began to get my attention by tapping my legs and pushing on my stomach in an attempt it turns out to distract me. Every time one of them pushed me from the front, someone in the back reached in my pockets. I was ready for them as I indicated and let them go about their business until they realized nothing would come of it. They grew weary of the whole process and left after a short time but it was another experience for me.
Something I did notice was if the local authorities noticed the Roma bothering tourists they came down rather hard on them. I’m sure they have their reasons probably if the tourists feel they are being constantly harassed, why bother returning so the locals are taking a proactive approach.
As I said, I don’t have any issue per se as I feel everyone is entitled to live their life but I also feel you should leave people alone as well. Just something to keep in mind when you’re there.
As Always I took dozens of pictures and you can see them all by visiting the following pages
Here are dozens of videos I shot while walking around the city