When I started planning this trip I asked myself what I wanted to do and at the very top of my list was to go and see some places that didn’t fit the norm. And just like Limmy spoke of Yoker as ‘some mad fabled land‘ I definitely felt a bit like the man himself, sitting at Sofia Bus Station with the rest of the troops as we humbly awaited to hit the road. Obviously a peely-wally Scotsman wi’ ginger hair stuck out like a sore thumb at the Balkan bus stop. But I wasn’t for caring. I was heading on my merry way to the Macedonian capital of Skopje.
I’m not gonna lie. This place is a bit mental. Half the city is being reconstructed as the government try to promote tourism and move away from the carry on with the name and the culture. I don’t even know where to begin if i’m honest. The people sound Slavic. The alphabet is Cyrillic. But the fridge magnet I brought back was definitely a wee Greek soldier. I think that’s why I bought it. It represented my confusion by this mesh of cultures. I’m not the only one. Bulgarians say Macedonia is Bulgaria. The Greeks say it’s Northern Greece. Albanians say it’s Eastern Albania. And the whole time there’s a collective of politicians sitting in the Macedonian government ripping the arse out of it and spending millions on rubbing in the fact that they don’t really care.
And if you thought that was bad, I hadn’t mentioned religion. On the outskirts of Skopje there were some hills, the top being visible from the city centre. Erected at the peak of the hill was a massive Christ’s Cross and at night it glowed clear white so as to look as though it was suspended in the dark night sky. Sound lads. Looked a bit like a Justice cover album and that gave me some peace of mind. But when walking through the old Town with this in full, clear vision and the Islamic Call to Prayer blasting through the Mosque speakers not far ahead… I grew up in the West of Scotland so religious tension is generally not a bother to me. But this was probably on another level. At least, the natives didn’t seem too fussed.
In the city centre there’s an Arc de Triomphe twenty yards away from where Mother Teresa was born. Then another short distance down the road there is a garden with miniature sized statues and memorials inspired by different countries. There’s a replica of the Berlin Jewish Memorial. In the main city square there is a massive statue which is basically Alexander the Great but because the Greeks are absolutely raging it’s been officially named ‘Man On a Horse’. They don’t give a monkeys.
There was a free street festival on during my time. The headliners were a national hip-hop treasure. I didn’t understand a word and there was points where it seemed like more of a political rally than a concert. It was government funded after all. Still, it was class.
”Rap music is not dead. It faked it’s own death and moved to Skopje.”
It’s not all about the madness though. I took a bus from the city centre with some others to Matka Canyon. Twenty five minutes away. Beautiful place with a nice bar, a restaurant and a small pier where we hired some kayaks.
An absolute anomaly of a place. Bewilderingly abnormal.
The North Korea of Europe. There I said it. Inspired by they mad Macedonians. Bold as brass.
And I absolutely loved it.
Unfortunately I didn’t take too many photos, but the internet is a smashing place. And here is a site that documents perfectly oor Skopje. Have a look!