Skopje, Macedonia

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is one of the southernmost parts of the former Yugoslavia. The dichotomy of the city is striking in its architecture. There are areas where one side of a bridge shows glass skyscraper buildings, and the other side shows grey, decrepit, and bland communist era buildings. It declared independence from communism in 1991, but reminders of that political system remain.

The culture of Skopje is intricate and complex. Eastern Orthodox churches find themselves meters away from Islamic mosques. The two appear to comingle naturally and without tension.

As Hannah and I walked through Old Town Skopje, we took in the fast paced haggling of what is rumored to be the second largest bazaar outside of Istanbul. 1 kilogram of oranges sold for about 100 denar, or about $1.75. The poignant aroma of brightly colored sacks of paprika and red pepper flakes dotted the never ending stalls.

As we exited the bazaar, we found an elderly Muslim woman selling tulumba in a small wooden 5×5 foot shop. As we approached, she smiled and placed a piece of wax paper on each sweet, dripping pile of doughy goodness. With her encouragement, we each took one and immediately vowed to remake the same decision again later in the stay. Tulumba comes from Turkey and is a crispy fried dough with ridges, a soft inside, and soaked in honey. It is by far one of the top desserts I have ever had in my life. On a return visit, a nearby older shopkeeper watched us struggling with tolumba honey dripping down our hands. With a friendly smile, he quickly motioned us over and ran into his shop to bring back napkins. The generosity of a stranger is enough to make my day.

As we strolled through the cobbled streets of Old Town Skopje, we heard the messein from the local mosque, calling Muslims to prayer. I had seen this in a movie, but never in real life. The sound brought with it a blanket of calm and quiet on the city. Muslim men left their stalls and shops, winding their way through the maze of streets to the mosque. There, the men took off their shoes and washed their feet in an adjacent fountain before entering for prayer. I come from a culture where the media seems to only depict the fringe radicalism of Islam. What I witnessed in Skopje was peaceful, respectful, and reverent. Our Airbnb host said that Skopje is estimated to be about 20% Muslim, and the large majority Eastern Orthodox Christian. It was an experience I won’t forget, and one I hope to encounter again.

A note on Airbnb

Our Airbnb hosts were wonderful. They fed us homemade baklava when we first got in and took care to answer many of our questions about Yugoslavia, former communist influence, and current day Skopje. They also lent us their bus cards to get to a town outside Skopje. Thankfully, we were also able to do laundry for the first time and nothing feels better than some clean jeans!

During the several discussions with our hosts, the word “absurdity” came up often. This was to describe some of the current urban development and policies in Skopje. For example, we counted probably 8 “new” gigantic bronze statues in the city center. This might not seem crazy, but 20% of Macedonia is unemployed. These statues are also situated between abandoned construction projects and half-finished bridges. There is a perceived effort to “modernize” here, but some question if this should be the top priority. Skopje has many examples of antiquity and modern juxtaposition. I highly recommend travelers try Airbnb, as well. The ability to converse with a local for their recommendations, history, and inside knowledge is absolutely invaluable.


We learned a bit about gypsies, henceforth in this post known as the Roma people. The Roma have brownish, red tanned skin, weathered by age and the conditions of a more nomadic lifestyle. In most case, we saw them begging or children performing for the hopes of spare denar. Our hosts explained that Skopje has its own municipality for the Roma, with their own mayor and representation. She also explained that they do not adjust easily to the organized system and frequently reject it. She said the children are put in school, but will run away to rejoin the streets, instead. They originate from a northern province in India and some from settlements in Egypt, as well. We watched a Roma man with a horse and buggy pulling recycling goods out of bins and trash in order to take it to a recycling unit for cash. While we did not get a chance to interact much with the Roma, Skopje held the highest population we had encountered yet.


During our final day to Skopje, we took a bus to Matka Canyon on the outskirts of Skopje. A deep forested valley with high rising topography on either side. The water is a rich, dark green. A walking path parallels the river for quite a way, while boat tours take tourists to the 3rd deepest cave in Europe. Divers still have not found the bottom since beginning efforts in the 1970’s. Hannah and I packed a lunch of fruit and something likened to a pita pocket. We often play chess when we travel, and we packed a small magnetic chess board for the trip. It was a beautiful place to take in the sounds of the babbling water and softly whistling breeze as her King entered checkmate.

Final Thoughts

Much like the pawns of a chess match, the people of Skopje are resilient. They progress onward to the end of the board in hope they can reemerge from such change in a better position than the last. They are a people filled with optimism and plenty of appropriate skepticism. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and wish it the best.


5 thoughts on “Skopje, Macedonia

  1. I was lucky to volunteer and live for half year in Skopje in a local youth center 🙂 it was a pleasure to read your impressions and see your photos from such a special city for me 🙂 have fun! cheers from Lisbon, PedroL


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