Skopje: Mountains of Dawn
THE DOGS OF LUST
The light of dawn breaks over a neon cross on the hill as my train pulls into Skopje’s now ageing station elevated by design. It has seen better days but is still light years ahead of Belgrade’s decaying effort. From there stray dogs greet and follow me on my walk to my hostel.
Elsewhere, Ferrell cats in garbage cans and the smell of summer garden fires are the enduring thoughts I’ll take with me from Skopje, capital of a country caught between the Russian trappings of its former home in Yugoslavia and the Greek world to its immediate south.
It only merits a couple of days but is unique for sure. For a start I can’t tell you the last time I got roped into doing a jigsaw but that’s what happens one night at the hostel when an Aussie girl with big frizzy hair decides to pour all the pieces onto a table and the rest of us (myself, a very amiable American guy and other fleeting comrades) get sucked in by her enthusiasm.
It’s an old world map jigsaw, lots of words, lots of latin text, it’s a good few hours before we get any coast line. Some stay ’til the end at 4am, I’m gone a lot sooner. *picture above from Budapest.
AN ETERNAL FLAME
This may sound as if Skopje is boring which is not necessarily the case, though most of what it has to offer can be observed without purchase price (statues, town gate ‘arc de triomph’, parliament building), so great news for the thrifty. You could say that sometimes the communal spirit between those of us travelling outstrips the desire to wander alone.
Skopje is a pleasant excursion – check out Heroes Square, a monument with an eternal flame (I expect you’re expecting a Bangles reference here but nah – even if it was produced by Davitt Sigerson). It’s also a city with a youthful spring in its step courtesy of the university students whose campus lies near the bazaar cross river and the surrounding hills and mountains may offer some hiking or climbing possibilities.
Be forewarned that exchange places including Global Exchange and the one in the mall I waited two hours to open don’t want to change Hungarian, Chinese or any other currency save the Euros of course. I change only 50 of those which keeps my accommodation and food for a couple of days.
In a way I am part way through doing my own real time jigsaw and Skopje occurs as Sofia and Bulgaria are a missing piece that continue to elude me (the same as Japan in the orient). The hilltop (Millennium) cross – supposedly the biggest in the world – also escapes me but I can’t help stare in awe at the snow capped mountains in the distance.
I then take Turkish tea (served by Albanians), and experience a beautiful cafe with a coffee machine that resolutely refuses to dispense the lemon tea it advertises. So this means latte and chocolate croissant in place of the huge apple strudel I had lined up on my plate.
TWO VERSIONS OF MACEDONIA
It’s a neat city square with the most pristine Marriott hotel I’ve ever set foot in and whose staff were amazing even though I wasn’t staying with them. Likewise with the IBIS around the corner, sadly no longer the budget haven of yesteryear or maybe I hadn’t been as successful in adult life as I might’ve been. Still, once a student always a student and now happy to be a scholar of the world.
After two days’ the money dwindles and I jump for Greece a day early, actually a good few months early. I’ll be back onto the Euro and back on terra firma as far as civilisation goes. Stranger still, when you depart Macedonia you’re still in Macedonia! Some say Skopje surprises and it does. Expect to hear more of this place in the future, the dogs are waiting to welcome you to the city they guard on the valley floor.
**tip: the IBIS is (apparently) cheaper on the weekends and a new IBIS Styles opening is imminent (possibly open by now).
PLAYLIST AND CREDITS
Thanks for reading here. Should anyone be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, please contact me for a FREE Overview PDF. Meanwhile, stay tuned with Kulture Kiosk via The Atlas or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. Playlist and credits follow…
Diamond Dogs – David Bowie
Being Boring – Pet Shop Boys
Old World New World – INXS
Mountain of Needles – Brian Eno
Hotel Year – Tim Bowness
Terra Incognita – Iva Davies