Friday, January 25, 2019

No. 40 - Macedonia - A Week in Skopje

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We left Tirana in route to Skopje in a 15-passenger minibus for the 9 hour drive. There were only five on board so we got to spread out...and got maybe a combined two hours of sleep. The route took us up and into the snowy border mountains. We had to get out at the border for a customs inspection. They thoroughly checked everyone's bags EXCEPT ours. We arrived in Skopje 2 1/2 hours early at 1:30 AM and had to wait in the bus station with homeless folks sleeping next to us on benches and the floor--the bus station is heated and also not patrolled by the police--no worries--but we DID NOT sleep...LOL. 
Our host met up promptly at 4AM as promised and ten minutes later we were unlocking the door to our REALLY LOVELY new home. After getting organized we climbed into the Temperpedic King bed and fell asleep. After three hours we were having breakfast, talking about going out to shop for groceries after another nap...and then coming back home and taking another nap before dinner.

For the next six days we took daily walks, joined a Free Walking Tour of the Historic City Center, and relaxes.  Having such a well-equipped apartment certainly made that easier.  We even took in a new movie at the local Cineplex.

The city has undergone a huge rebuilding and modernization program over the past 10 years.  These are restaurants built to look like ships.  They are owned by the city and leased out to private entrepreneurs.

 The memorial arch built by the French in the early 1800s.
 Statue of Alexander the the center of the city square.
 Plaque marking the original birthplace of Mother Teresa.  Today is it an outline on the pavement of the city square.

 The city has over 250 statues.  This one reminded me of one in Helsinki.

 The church were Mother Teresa was baptized was lost in the 1963 earthquake.  They built this memorial on site using much of the original building blocks.  It houses a small museum and a really nice chapel in her memory.
 The is the new Marriott, just completed last month, and designed to look like the other French revival buildings.
The Stone of the notable symbols of the city, and built by the Ottomans in the 1400s.
 Our guide, Zoran, awarded "best local guide" by the country five years running.  We were joined by a married couple from Slovakia...both ladies were lovely.
 All of these impressive buildings are NEW and completed in 2013.  They are a combination of cultural and civic buildings and part of the city's revival.

 Another fountain dedicated to Alexander the Great.
 A fountain dedicated to the Jewish holocaust of Macedonia.

 These two buildings, side by side used to be identical.  The city has undertaken a huge project to convert the exteriors to match the French Revival style.  Inside they are the same.  Replacing the old Soviet styled block housing is going to take some time.
Turkish bathhouse from the 15th century now an art gallery.
 Old Town with its many shops and street vendors.  We wandered for several hours.

 We visited the fortress that overlooks the city and here is where out tour ended.  We said goodbye to the ladies and Zoran and enjoyed more time walking the walls.  The intense air pollution was overwhelming.  What looks like fog is really smog and Skopje is listed as one of the worst in Europe for air quality...especially in the winter when many people still use wood and oil to heat their homes and apartment buildings.

 This building is actually a water tower.  There are small city offices that surround a huge central tank.

 We loved this lion guarding the royal family at one of the fountains.

 One of the many bridges adorned with statues of leaders, artists, philosophers, scientists, etc.  This bridge has forty of them.

 We took a day to visit the history museum.  The highlights were the many historical paintings done by a contemporary classical school.
 And a copy of the original tomb of Alexander the Great as described in scrolls.  No one knows where he is actually buried...some think in Egypt.  However, since he was born and started his reign in Macedonia...he is there patron hero...and the proudly claim him on almost every corner.
 The most interesting part of the new museum in one of those new classical buildings was the ceiling.  It is suspended wooden slats and it was the entire second floor.

 The was figures were a bit creepy.  Many were in standing in shadows and under stairwells peering out.

 An original Roman mosaic floor found in a newly discovered villa.
 Great collection of Neolythic finds...some dating back to the 12th millennium BC.

 On another day we visited the Mother Teresa memorial.  Reading the letters she wrote to leaders of the world was especially moving.
 The memorial chapel.
 On our last full day we opted to take a very long walk acorss the city...all six miles of see a movie at a shopping mall.  The walk took a while, was refreshing in the cool air, and the movie was fine.  Along the way we passed two restaurants side by side.  Their signs say it all.

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