Imagine this: You’re walking through the main square of Skopje for the first time. You hear the footsteps of a dog to your left and as you look around you stumble upon your first statue.
Statues are always nice, right? As you continue to walk, you notice that there is a statue posted on every street corner. Eventually you find a sidewalk running parallel to the river and for every brick you step on, there is a statue. Okay, this is getting a little excessive. Lets cross this stone bridge and check out what the other side has to offer. As you attempt to look over the railing, your view is blocked by the statue of an ancient scholar. As you gaze down the rest of the bridge, not only do you find 12 more scholars but you realize that the bridge is actually just a statue. Every statue is accompanied by another statue and everything around you is actually just another statue. Next thing you know, you’re a statue.
Welcome to Skopje.
Skopje was first settled in 4000BC so obviously it has gone through a handful of changes. One reminder is the giant clock above the old train station that will always say 5:17am. That is the exact time when the infamous earthquake of 1963 destroyed roughly 80% of the city. That earthquake led to Skopje getting its first contemporary makeover. The latest one was in 2014. With roughly €200-500 million, they were able to turn this city into anything they wanted to.
And they did.
You will find buildings dressed with greek columns, an arch that might make you second guess your location (Macedonia or Italy??) and they even tried to introduce a tropical splash by adding palm trees. Although the palm trees couldn’t survive in this climate, they did decorate the city with more than enough statues. After spending a few days in the “City of Statues” I discovered this city had a few other quirks.
I get these moments of “homesickness” a lot. I’ve learned when to embrace them and when to battle them. I felt a huge pang in Macedonia and Skopje had all of the necessary remedies, Skopje is known for a few different things, but my favorite was the amount of friendly stray dogs that roamed the city. The city tour guide told us it’s not uncommon for a dog to follow you around for the whole day. They’re not really expecting anything besides a human companion for a few hours, and maybe a few pieces of that gyro you’re eating.. After 4 days of wandering across bridges and old roads with a four-legged travel companion, I totally understand why people go through the stress of traveling with dogs.
One downside of traveling is that it’s hard to have a pet. I’ve met some pet friendly travelers, and I’ve read many blogs about traveling with animals but I just wouldn’t be able to do it. Sometimes I find myself feeling homesick for a future life I’m still creating. I’m homesick for the genuine, mundane aspects of life. I’m homesick for seeing the same friends every day and forming a wholesome stable life. I’m homesick for the future: enjoying a cup of tea on my porch with my herd of animals by my side.
Has anyone else noticed that a common theme over the past few months has been running into movie buffs or finding cities that looked like Wes Anderson sets?? Skopje was no exception. I made it into town for the Macedonian film festival. I met a couple in my hostel who were on a tour through a few Balkan film festivals and they just came from a festival in Croatia. I told them the story about getting picked up by a Bosnian film director while hitchhiking.
“His name wasn’t Boris, by any chance… right?”
I happened to get picked up by one of their favorite local directors. Small world, right? Later that day, I saw “The Shape of Water” in a local cinema. The movie wasn’t coming out in the USA until March, so I was beyond thrilled to see it early. I was a frequent Orbit DVD customer and my perfect Sunday evening meant wandering over to Asheville Pizza & Brewing for a solo movie date. This opportunity was crucial to battling the homesickness.
Sometimes you just need to breathe and re-energize. Why not pet a dog and watch a film?
With love and gyros,
The Three Toed Traveler