Thursday, March 09, 2017

Sightseeing: Skopje

For my first holiday of the year I chose to go for a small break in Eastern Europe visiting some countries that were part of the former Yugoslavia: Macedonia and Kosovo. Whilst not a popular destination (I didn't know of anyone who had been to either) I've been to a lot of Europe and need to visit some of these countries to keep the "visited countries" count up.

The trip would have me based in the Macedonian capital, Skopje and from there I would do a couple of day trips to Ohrid and Pristina.

The flight was fine, I went with Hungarian budget airline Wizz and got a good deal, only paying the additional surcharge for larger carry on and not checking any luggage in. The outbound flight which runs twice a week would get me there around midnight. Macedonian currency isn't possible to get in the UK (well at least I couldn't find anywhere that had any) so I would have to get currency on landing. Skopje airport is also a bit of a drive from the city where I was staying. So the only bit of the trip I couldn't plan for certain for was making sure I got enough money on landing to get me to the hotel. I tried to make that easier by pre-purchasing the coach transfer from Wizz but that didn't go to plan as they don't give you a ticket and you then have to negotiate with the driver that you've paid in advance. I was able to show my booking summary but the driver wasn't happy with that. One good point however was I had no issue getting money from the airport. There was an ATM by the exit and a man selling coach tickets if you wish to wait until you arrive. Another good thing is that the coach stops at the hotel I'd chosen, the Holiday Inn Express in the city centre.

and I'd gotten a lovely room on the corner overlooking the main buildings in the city.

On the first morning I thought I'd check out the city with a walking tour of my own creation. I spent quite a lot of time on Google Earth checking out possible itineraries. The first observation was that there were a lot of statues in the city. 

The river running through Skopje is the River Vardar and a number of the major buildings are built alongside it. There are also a number of bridges crossing it. The domed building is the Financial Police Building and the bridge is called The Art Bridge.

That bridge has a load of statues of...yes, you've guessed it, artists!

That is not a real boat.

Less than one minute away is another bridge. this one is the Eye Bridge and the building opposite that is the Archaelogical Museum.

A statue of a guy wearing ill-fitting clothes but still being a badass with it.

There was a small collection of rides on the coaster.

More statues.

This is the most famous bridge in the city and is called The Stone Bridge. It was originally built in the 14th century but has had to be rebuilt a few times since then.

By far the biggest statue in the city is one of Alexandra the Great which can be found in the main square on the south side of the city. Macedonian's believe he was born here, Greeks believe he was born there. This has led to some issues between the two countries and it's not even clear who is right. According to wikipedia he was born in a town called Pella which is found in Macedonia, Greece. There's some confusion around where Macedonia actually is and that is contested too. Who said Geography is straight forward.

Overly muscular horse.

One of the downsides to travelling in the down-season is that not everything is functioning and in Skopje none of the fountains were operating whilst they were being cleaned.

This is the city's holocaust museum. Having been to Auschwitz and getting totally depressed by it I had no inclination to give this one a visit. 

The largest statue on the northern side of the river on the edge of the old town is that of Philip II, an ancient king.

The high point of the city is Fortress Kale, a partly restored fort that has been there since the 6th century...old!

This mosque building is now the National Gallery of Macedonia. It houses a small collection of art pieces. 

This was my favourite piece.

This is the old town or bazaar as it is more commonly known. It has been in existence since the 12th century but now contains a number of shops aimed at the tourists.

Another mosque. This part of the world has a mixture of churches and mosques co-existing. 

After a little ascent through the bazaar I got to the top of the hill. To the west is the city football stadium.

The entrance to the Kale was a little bit sketchy haha. The gate was open and I wasn't stopped for any entrance fee. I could see another couple of tourists walking within so I headed in too.

There was some works going on within so I couldn't get around all of the complex but the place looked great otherwise.

I was able to walk around the top of the fort for some nice views over the city.

Walking back down from the fort I passed this brightly coloured building which looked like a school but probably wasn't. 

At each end of the Goce Delcev bridge are a pair of lions. At the northern end the lions have a near cubist style.

At the other end they're more conventional. This bridge is the main road bridge over the river. All the ones seen previously were food bridges only.

I was hoping to see some examples of Brutalism in this part of the world and this was the best I could find in Skopje. The city was hit hard by a earthquake in the 60s which led to the loss of a large number of buildings. This is the city post office.

This is the Government Parliament building.

At this point in my walk I guess I'm walking into the CCB-run turf.

You don't need to understand Cyrillic to get this. The language here is predominantly Cyrillic but in Skopje, English is written too. The advantage of being a tourist city. Also they accept Euros here.

They city stadium is where Macedonia beat Scotland 1-0. Not one of our prouder moments.

Behind the stadium I found the city amusement park. It wasn't open for business but a gate was open allowing me in for quick sneak around accompanied by one of the many stray dogs in the city (he was at my feet when I took this one).

There's a zoo nearby which I didn't want to visit but I did know there was some graffiti on it's walls which I wanted to check out. However they were mostly advertising various "ultra" organisations which would either be cigarettes or football hooligans. I can safely assume it was the latter that were painted on the walls. 

A few shots inside the city park.

More crazy statues.

This is the main church in the city named after Clement Ohridski, a scholar bought in 840AD

One of the main boulevards. The aircon tower on the right looked cool.

More musicians. These are quite cool.

Speaking of cool musicians, this isn't one of them.

Back at the main square.

Yet another statue, this time of Tsar Samuel. 

I'm always interested in who's touring through destinations I'm visiting. This one looked quite good. Whether it would be as good as Richard Clayderman I wouldn't get to find out.

I like the exterior of this one.

This is Mother Theresa's house. 

Similar to that on Wall Street. It looks like it's been touched for luck a bit too much.

One of the older statues in the city going back to the 3rd century... :)

Cyrillic is like a code breaker puzzle and if you can learn the letters you can read some of the signs. I can't speak any of these languages but I do OK with signs like these. Well done if you know the word is "festival". The Skopje City Mall is a short walk or bus ride from the centre of the city and is a new mall that has only recently opened.

South of the main square is this building which used to be the city railway station before the earthquake wrecked that. It's now the city museum.

Next door is another mall. This is a good place to grab a quick snack. The food court upstairs was OK.

The city bus looks to have it's design based on our routemasters.

5 minutes away from the hotel is the Vero shopping centre. This was my regular place to grab snacks and drinks to take back to the hotel. Food is cheap and tasty, the fruit salad in particular tasted much better than we have back home. 

This is the new train station and under it the bus station which I would be using for my day trips.

Another nice church. This one is fenced off for constructions reasons.

Located near the city police station is this weird sculpture that resembles a hand grenade. That's because during the second world war there was a grenade factory on this site.

Here's the random find of the day. A dog's jawbone.

This was my favourite statue. A totally bad ass looking communist piece that resembles a world's strongest man competitor doing cosplay.

More statues. If you love statues, this is a great city to visit. The reason for having them is to attract tourists to the city (and away from Greece). The city has spent a fortune on making the city centre an attractive destination; a kitsch strategy I think.

Some more cool sculpture work outside another city church. There are a lot of churches.

The city concert hall.

Hear me roar!

This one is quite charming.

The Museum of the Macedonian Battle is open on the ground floor but to see the rest of the building you're encouraged to join a guided tour which lasts an hour. I made do with skipping that. 

An impressive hall in the Museum.

The ceiling of the museum.

and some of the paintings that I could get to. I loved both of these, the expressions in the first are great and in the second I loved the guy who's looking back at the artist like he's super aware of what's going on.

More bizarre sculptures.

Are you fed up with the statues yet?

This is a shopping arcade that runs along the south side of the river. It's next to the hotel and the shop selection isn't that brilliant. If you want to do shopping head to the new mall.

A monument commemorating fallen heroes. There's an eternal flame within this.

Just in case you hadn't had enough of the statues.

This is a parliament building.

The Gatway to the Macedonia which is an Arc d'Triomphe clone.

As the sun went down I thought I'd run around and get some night shots.

I liked Skopje, it's very straightforward and easy to get around. The statues are a bit much though. The people are very friendly and welcoming and I didn't feel unsafe at any point.

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