The siren song of Macedonia
Skopje (pronounced scope-ya – damn that tricky Albanian language) is the capital of Macedonia and about a two hour bus ride from Pristina. There are so many great niches to explore in the Balkans, but Skopje was at the top of my list and I had to go exploring.
The city has been the site of human settlement since 3500 BC, a major stop of ancient Greek and Roman trade routes, an important city in the Byzantine empire (395-1392AD), and a hub for commerce for 500 years under Ottoman rule.
In recent history the capital was the launch point for NATO forces into Kosovo in 1999, and has been experiencing a massive urban renewal leading to a very… lets say interesting… visual aesthetic as you walk around town. The best I can describe it as is traditional grey communist buildings meets new age neo-classical, add in some glass skyscrapers and then for fun throw in 30 or so mosques.
Macedonia, like the other Balkan states has interesting relationships with it’s neighbors. In the case of Macedonia and Greece, it has been an immortally strained relationship. Nowhere is this more clear than the case of who gets to claim Alexander the Great.
While most Greek historians would not argue that Alexander came from the line of Macedon, they maintain that this has nothing to do with modern day macedonia. Macedonia, as evidenced by their huge statute of Alexander seen above, clearly disagree.
Walking around, the city has two very different areas; the old turkish town and the new vibrant modern city separated by many bridges along the River Varder. In some ways it reminded me of walking around the old part of Istanbul.
I didn’t realize before coming to Kosovo just how evident the Ottoman piece of the past would be, but everywhere I have been so far in Kosovo and Macedonia has such a clear link to this past era.
It is evident walking around town but also when having dinner with Turks and Albanians together. There is almost constant disagreement about who stole what from whom. Everything is good natured until my Albanian friend Benny says Ataturk is from Albania – then the turkish guys look murderous. These disagreements over history are an almost hourly occurrence so far during my time in the Balkans. I attempt to stay neutral to maintain friendships.
While the old town’s twisted pedestrian lanes were a pleasure to stroll around, two sights really made an impression on my in Skopje. The first was a well preserved Kale fortress set above the old city. It has been a site of occupation since 4000BC (This is not a typo with an extra zero). Sadly because of demonstrations they have closed it off. Sometimes the never-ending ethnic tension and the fallout starts to get a travelling girl down.
The second site that I loved was the Bezisten covered market. It reminded me of a grittier pike place market from my hometown of Seattle, and I felt so at home. Sometimes you find pieces of home in very unexpected places.
Despite a really good time, I also realized that I am developing a dangerous new habit. Around 4:30 pm an almost overwhelming urge comes to eat a piece of baklava and drink a tea or glass of red wine.
So far I have not been able to resist, and things are looking worse as the days goes on. I am hopeful that the novelty of ubiquitous baklava will wear off.. No luck at the time of current writing.
Anyone else picked up a terrible habit lately? I am all ears.