Just home from a two-day business trip to Skopje, Macedonia. Have to say, I’m pleasently surprised! What a beautiful city!
Traveling from the small, but modern airport, I have to admit, I was a bit put off, considering the outskirts of the city are up for a thorough clean out, but the city itself proved quite lovely.
We were staying at City Central Hotel, which is a small hotel located on the second floor of a shopping mall. A bit hard to find, as it’s not exactly advertised on signs (especially id your knowledge of the cyrillic alphabet is as limited as mine), but a pretty good basic accommodation. Plus, it’s smack down the city center.
Rooms are small and offer only queen sized double beds, which was in itself interesting as I was traveling with coworkers. There’s a lot to be said about sharing bed with your boss, and very little would go through the censors, so lets call it “interesting” and leave it at that you’ll be snuggling up to whomever you share room with.
City center of Skopje is interesting. An earthquake destroyed most of the buildings in 1979, and what you see now, with the very modern take on baroque buildings is the result of a EU-project that ends in 2014. Ergo, the city if trying to use up the funds, quickly. But the result is interesting – magnificent, baroque buildings are being erected all over the city, and a stroll down the river banks offer a mishmash of emotions. But it’s quite… nice! It feels homely. A big city (Skopje has approximately 500,000 inhabitants) that feels like a small, friendly town.
The Old Bazaar is the most authentic part of town, and second largest bazaar in the world (second only to the one in Istanbul). In a myriad of small streets, you find yourself amongst small shops selling everything from touristic knickknacks to excellent leatherware and small cafés. Completely clogged with locals, which is nice – but as my coworker acknowledged “damn, doesn’t anybody work in this town?”, as there was more or less no place to sit down in the middle of the day.
Must see in the Old Bazaar are the mosques – Mustafa Pasa, amongst others – and the Ottoman empire Hammams.
The Kale, fortress, borders the Old Bazaar, and is worth a quick visit. At the moment, it’s basically outer walls and a construction site inside, but what’s amazing about this city is, it’s constantly developing. Restauration and construction everywhere, and it’s heartwarming to see, as a lot of beautiful cities around Europe deteriorate due to lack of funding of interest for upkeep. Take a walk over the city walls and get the full panorama of Skopje – definitely worth the climb!
When standing at the square, with the statue of Alexander the Great before you, you have a perfect view of the entire city’s best sight-seeing. Across the river Vardar, which you cross over the Stone Bridge, you have the already mentioned Old Bazaar and Kale. At your back, up the hills, you have the stunning view of Skopje from the Millenium Cross. To your right, you have Gate of Macedonia and the house of Mother Teresa – little known fact: Mother Teresa was born and raised in Skopje!
While in the city, don’t miss the Museum of Macedonian Struggle, which I regrettably did.
As this was a business trip, we also met up with the Yes Incubator. If you’re into entrepreneurship (or thinking about opening up a business in forthcoming Macedonia), I highly recommend booking in a meeting with the guys working with future business owners of Macedonia, as they are a very friendly and open group of people, ready to show you their Skopje at the drop of a hat.
Food in Skopje is good – think a huge Greek BBQ. Loads of meat, hearty meals and amazing fresh vegetables, all in superhuge portions to very fair prices. Will get back with restaurant recommendations as soon as I figure out where we are – but most of the venues are good. At the riverbanks, you get the view with each meal, but the prices are higher.
I’d also recommend a visit to Skovin Winery – one of the oldest and best in Macedonia. It started as a governmental project, as everything back in the communist era, but is since 2001 privately held, and offers excellent wine, tours of the premisses, talks about wine making process – and dinner with wine tasting for groups. Contact fantastic and serviceminded Eli at the Winery for prices and booking.
All and all, I can say I didn’t get enough of the city in the two days I spent here. I will be coming back – just for fun this time – to really see what Skopje has to offer. I’m sad to have missed Lake Matka, and will most definitely also take a tour out to Orhid.