Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Skopje (pronounced scop-yeh) was by far the most interesting city we visited during October break which came as quite a surprise because neither of us knew that much about it coming in. To be honest, we visited Skopje because there was a cheap flight from there to Saint Louis. And had we visited only a couple of years earlier, it would have been a completely different experience.
This town, the capital of Macedonia, is currently undergoing a massive face lift in a project called Skopje 2014 which aims to give the city a more classical, monumental, and generally pleasing look by 2014. 80% of Skopje was destroyed in an earthquake in 1963 and the buildings where initially replaced then -- today, they hope to rebuild some of the buildings as they were before. The government has spent an estimated 80 to 500 million euros on this project. And not everyone is pleased, in a country with high unemployment and many social problems, the beautification of the capital seems wasteful.
We arrived in the early afternoon after a long bus ride (and a super long border crossing, of course). As we exited we were hounded by a taxi driver who wouldn't take "no" for an answer (our hostel was super close to the bus station begin with). One of the things we discovered in Eastern Europe is that saying "taxi" near taxi drivers is like announcing you need a ride. For example, you can say "we don't need to take a taxi" and 5 taxi drivers will emerge and say "taxi? taxi?".
Our hostel was pretty tiny, with only two rooms, a cozy living room, and tiny kitchen (and only one bathroom). But it had three puppies! They also had the mother, but I think she had been rescued from the streets and therefore was a bit skittish bout people.

Note: Australian girl on the third year of  her decade abroad. (We met a ridiculous number of Australians on ridiculously long trips on this trip. Do people not have to work in Australia? Or what?) 
That evening we didn't do much, because we were exhausted. However, we did take night stroll. 

Admittedly,  the new buildings look pretty cool all lit up at night. 
The architecture is mostly neoclassical which is a style I usually hate because everyone did it death in the 19th century. However, I've never seen 21st century neoclassical and I found it quite interesting.

One of the things we noticed is that they seem to want to steal the monuments of other  European cities. For example, there is a bridge much like this in Prague.
Walking around the city, I was reminded of a book that I read at the beginning of my time in France called The Devil in the White City. This book is the novelization of the building of the Chicago world fair and how that intermingled with the story of serial killer that lived in that area during that time. Skopje recalled the "white city" to me. Everyone who see the buildings of the world's fair spring up and everyone who visits it experiences it as magical. It was fascinating to see the national monuments of a country under construction. Sure, it might all fall to disrepair, and it might be a waste of money -- but it's interesting to think that these buildings could become the symbols of Macedonia in the future. Every country has build it's national buildings at some point.
They had gone completely sculpture mad... 
Particularly they like to invoke a supposedly glorious Macedonian past (particularly they like to claim Alexander the Great). This Justinian II, I think...
We spent the morning and early afternoon seeing the new monuments they have erected. These are only a fraction of them! And they are no where near finished, there is construction everywhere.

Personally, I think these benches are the greatest symbol of government waste in Skopje.  I mean, what is their purpose? There is no way you could have a performance in this Rotunda thingy. 
This is the original train station, in ruins after the earthquake. 
During the afternoon, we walked over the bridge to the old town of Skopje, which was much less epic in scale. We had burek (a greasy, delicious pastry stuffed with beef (or other things)) and cevapi (cheh-va-pee  -- type of sausage wrapped in delicious bread with onions) both Turkish/Balkan specialties for lunch. While  we ate the burek, we were stared at by a small gypsy boy, who wouldn't take our refuse to make eye contact as a refusal. It was awkward, and also sad. But giving money wouldn't help him, he surely is being used by someone to guilt people into giving money. 
After we ate, we walked up to the old fortress, but it was closed. That night we went to a Mexican food restaurant called Amigos, that was actually pretty good but played horrible music. 
The next morning we did a little more site seeing and searched for post office to send our post cards before leaving to come back to Saint Louis...

This is where the post office was. It really makes you understand the desire to tear down everything that they rebuilt in 1963.

One more gratuitous puppy picture. The puppies didn't have names, so we named them. From left to right: Boris, Constantine, and Alexander the Great. 
Stay tuned for winter break posts, which will hopefully be more timely than this one. :)

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