Immediately upon entering Macedonia we were kicked of the bus. Luckily, there was another bus waiting for us. We jumped on, and immediately upon entering the city of Skopje, we were kicked of the bus. We asked to be taken to the bus terminal but were facing a greater language barrier than previously encountered. We went looking for our trusty Lonely Planet to find a map and to point at the main bus terminal. As we picked it up the driver said “No? Okay!” and walked away to get on the bus to leave us behind. There was a young Macedonian who stopped and translated for us, so he let us back on and drove us to the shifty looking bus station. In between the shouts of “My Friend! Taxi” we took the opportunity to book our bus into Thessanoliki for the following afternoon, before walking towards the city to find our hostel.
We headed towards the main part of the city and wandered along the Vardar River front. We wandered passed café after café while noticing on the other side of the river some huge buildings that were adorned with heaps of statues. Then we noticed a bridge lined with statues. And then another bridge lined with statues. We stopped at a statue just before Kamen Most (Stone Bridge) to get our bearings, when we turned around to find an enormous statue of Alexander the Great, being gazed at by a massive statue of Tsar Samuil while being ‘vomited’ on by statues of lions. On the other side of the river was an equally enormous statue of Philip II of Macedon next to the massive Fountain of the Mothers of Macedon. Wow, there is a lot of statues. Slightly bewildered, we continued along the Vardar until we found the Government Building, where across from it, was meant to be our hostel, Unity Hostel. We eventually noticed a small sign on an apartment building above a few shops. As we walked up, we were a little doubtful. The walls were tagged in graffiti and a big sign on the door said “PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU LOCK THE DOOR BEHIND YOU!!” With trepidation, we climbed the stairs to find a really nice hostel. Phew.
We gave our clothes to the staff for a much needed wash before wandering out to explore the city and its statues. Across the river from the hostel was the ottoman Trvinda Fortress. It was late in the afternoon, so we decided to explore it tomorrow, and instead wandered past the strange looking Post Office Building towards our old friend with the vomiting lions, AtG. We were still quite puzzled as to all these ‘Old’ statues so decided to do some investigating. By that, we mean, we walked up and tapped them to realise they were all completely hollow and made from quite thin steel and painted to look like weathered bronze. Between the flashes of purple, pink and blue lights, we saw that some were already corroding. It was all a bit bizarre so we decided to walk across to the old marble bridges with all the other statues. Again, that statues were the same as before, and the marble bridges still had pencil lines on it from when it was built marking where to cut etc, yet nothing fitted into place. Unlike most European cities where the “New Town” is actually centuries old, Skopje’s New Town really did seem brand new. It is a calm and relaxing city, but we couldn’t help but feel that perhaps in their excitement in obtaining independence from Yogoslavia, they have tried to enforce their identity a bit too much. Perhaps if the money were spent on two really good statues, rather than two hundred, it would have more natural appeal to it than what we encountered.
We decided to leave the new town and wander across the beautiful Stone Bridge in the Old Turkish Bazaar, Carsija. It was now the evening so Bazaar was quiet and peaceful so we wandered around being enticed by smells from the grills of the kebabvilnici’s. We had eaten a lot of meat since heading into the landlocked Balkans so were tempted on just getting a salad, when we noticed everyone around us all had ordered the same thing, Macedonian Kebab. So, doing as the locals did, we ordered the kebab and dined on what be our last pile of meat for a while (so we told ourselves). Wandering back over the Vadar, we stopped in at one of the cafes for quick drink. Again, there was a slight language barrier so after ordering a Skopsko Beer and a Margherita we almost ended up with a beer and a pizza. Time for bed!
The following morning we indulged in the free breakfast and wandered across the bridge (yes it had statues – Four Lions) and up the hill to Trvinda Fortress. There was a lot of building work taking place where it looked like they were recreating the fortress from new but also trying to make it look old again but resulting in something that doesn’t really seem right. It is free to walk up and through Trvinda, which is great, but maybe if they charged a small fee, the money could go towards restoring the fortress rather than building a new one on top of it. We walked back down through the bazaar which this time was in full swing. There were streets for antiques, streets for jewellery, streets for food as well as one whole street seemingly dedicated to travel agents. We managed to get slightly lost and ended up in the area where we got kicked off the bus the second time which in hindsight, was 10 minutes walk from the hostel rather than 45 minutes from the main bus station. We worked up enough appetite for lunch so headed back to the bar from the night before to confuse the same waitress by ordering a beer and a margherita (pizza).
We spent the afternoon making ourselves a noodle salad picnic for our bus trip into Greece, hoping that we left some sort of mark upon the city so maybe, we too can be a statue upon the Vadar River.