Arriving in Macedonia showed a stark contrast from Switzerland. I left a place where people washed already spotless windows, commodities were exceptionally expensive, and everything was aimed at efficiency (red and green lights in parking garages so you can tell from the end of the row if spots are free? Genius). Macedonia on the other hand has a much more complicated history of religion, invasion and government; this clearly shows in the countryside and capital city of Skopje. The coach bus from the airport to downtown was clean but worn, the countryside was filled with houses in disrepair, and the streets were dirty. Far from being disenchanting, this immediate change in atmosphere endeared Macedonia to me; there wasn't a cow in sight and my water at the airport only cost $1.50.
The city immediately left me in awe and confusion, I was admittedly a little disoriented. Here 30 foot tall fountains had intricate water jets and yet a building 50 feet away was in total disappear and another was half built. There are a high number of stray dogs here, they all have tagged ears like cows in Switzerland. When I got up relatively early to start touring (okay, so it was 9:30 on a Saturday), I found the city's main square nearly empty of people, the only noise was the classical music piped through speakers into the empty space.
My trip to Skopje was just two months after the 'Colorful Revolution' and protests in Macedonia. The remnants of these protests were everywhere in the form of paint covered monuments and bridges. Protesters fired paint-filled balloons at government buildings, statues, and police during the numerous assemblies in May and June. The effect is a stained monument that, although vandalized, is exceptionally beautiful.
As part of my sightseeing, I toured the Macedonia Struggle for Independence museum with a guide, and since I was the only one in the museum it became a fun private tour. I knew relatively little about Balkan history prior to my arrival, particularly Macedonian history, but I can say I left a lot more knowledgeable. The history of Macedonia is riddled with territory disputes, failed revolutions, work camps, communism and astronomical amounts of bloodshed. My guide did a great job explaining the complex history and highlighting key figures of Macedonian independence, although it's a lot to remember. The museum is definitely worth seeing in Skopje, but be warned the history is violent and the museum doesn't shy away from showing it.
After a long morning of touring the city, I ate a late lunch at an outdoor restaurant in the old Ottoman bazaar. This section of town is what remains of the Ottoman Empire in Macedonia from 1400-1900 and is comprised of winding streets and plentiful shops. A meal of kebab, beans and bread is best walked off by exploring all the shops the bazaar has to offer.
My two nights in Skopje were eye opening and entirely unique when compared to my previous destinations. I will always remember it as a fascinating capital city and hope to come back in a few years to see the city again.