We visited Skopje on at least three different occasions between November and December 2015, for one or two nights each. The most memorable bit about Skopje is the invasion of statues. They are literally everywhere. Some are enormous, others are normal height, others are smaller still. But they are everywhere, with signage in Macedonian. Though Macedonian uses the Cyrillic alphabet, and I was able to read some of it, most of the time we had no idea who the statue was or what it commemorated.
A lot of Skopje residents despise them. The statues, for them, are nothing more than symbols of corruption in the Macedonian government. Instead of improving healthcare or providing services to the poor, the government decided building hundreds of statues was the best use of the money.
For example, the first picture is a giant bronze statue. It bears an “uncanny resemblance” to Alexander the Great, who was the Greek King of Macedon. The Greeks say they are directly descended from him; meanwhile, the Macedonians also claim dibs. More in a moment.
The next statue, a marble Tsar Samoil, angered the Bulgarians who claim this guy is actually Bulgarian, and not Macedonian.
The formal name for the country is The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). It seems that every country is fine with shortening the name to Republic of Macedonia, with the exception of one country: Greece. FYROM and Greece share a border. This border area of Greece is called Macedonia as well (GM), named after the Greek King Macedon. Hence, the Greeks living in GM identify as Macedonians. People living in FYROM also identify as Macedonians, though the people in FYROM are a Slavic people, not Greek. Essentially, Greece is saying “you can’t call yourselves Macedonian because we called dibs on the name first.”
The Macedonian flag looks a lot like a sunburst. In fact, the yellow in the flag represents the light of the 300 sunny days per year in Macedonia. Weather is kind to them. History has not been kind, yet Macedonians are optimistic about the future. The red in the flag represents the blood of the thousands of people that fought in wars over the 2,000 years of history.
Food and drink are cheap. It is the Balkans, and if you’re in this region already, it’s easy to get to Skopje from the west, north or south. Convert about $30/ 30 Euro/ 30GBP into Macedonian Dinars, and that will likely be enough for a two-day stay. Not many places take credit cards, so don’t count on this. Take money out at the airport (at the ATM, do not go to the exchange counter) or at the train/ bus station.
There is a free walking tour of Skopje though we did not take it as it’s once daily at 10:30am, and sometimes not even then.
Macedonians are very friendly people and many speak fine English. We did not encounter a language barrier.
If you’re taking a bus into Skopje, relax. It probably won’t have WiFi. There’s also a chance it could break down. Allow plenty of buffer travel time.
In the winter, it does get cold. In the spring, summer and fall, you’ll enjoy those 300 days of sunshine.
Hostels are abundant and easy to find. Don’t pay more than 10 euros for a bed.
It’s a very walkable city. No uber. If you use a taxi, agree on a fare before you get into the car.