Wake up at a respectable hour even though I got laundry’d hard late into the night. MacKay is already up and ready. I have to wait for someone to use the shower. It’s just a one bathroom place. But we get out the door around 10am and are eager to see what Skopje is all about
Mickitos is right in Old Town. Just a few steps out the door and we’re surrounded by statues, in the Old Bazaar and right beside the ruins of a fortress on the hill. Things feel slightly less European and a little more Middle Eastern here on first impression. We strike a bearing towards what seems like the heart of things on a mission to find breakfast.
Just around the corner we are immediately met with a towering statue. “Ok, that has to be Alexander the Great, right?!”, “Nah. Has a beard.”
MacKay is right, it’s his dad, Phillip II of Macedon.
Perhaps he’s celebrating victory at the Battle of Chaeronea, or maybe just enjoying an AC/DC concert. Either way this is a sweet statue and fountain. It’s either fairly new or they take great care of their statues here in Skopje. It is immaculate with little to no weathering or erosion. So epic is Phillip II’s legacy that not a single pigeon dares shit on it.
Without Phillip II there would be no Alex da G, not only for birds and bees reasons, he was instrumental in the rise of the Macedon kingdom and domination of the Grecian World and surrounding regions in the mid 4th century BC. While being held as a hostage in Thebes for a number of years, he studied war, new tactics, and weaponry. He brought those ideas home with him and evolved them. He reformed the ancient Macedonian army and revised their training and equipment, and also introduced a new phalanx formation with longer spears, called sarissa. With a clever combination of the phalanx and supporting skirmishers, cavalry and siege weapons, Phillip II had built the foundation of a new war machine capable of out-maneuvering and crushing the stagnant methods of his peers. Which he did.
Between this, shrewd diplomacy, advantageous marriage arrangements, and the creation of a federation of Greek states, known as the Hellenic League (or League of Corinth), the stage was set for his son Alexander to take the reigns. Which happened upon Phillip II’s untimely assassination during the wedding ceremony of his daughter, Cleopatra, at the hands of a jilted personal body guard, Pausanias of Orestis (That’s a fun read. Also, not that Cleopatra, Alexander the Great’s sister was also named Cleopatra. The Egyptian ruler Cleopatra lived 300 years later in the city founded by Alexander the Great, Alexandria).
So father’s lead-in to Alexander the Great’s whole conquering of the known world thing was almost equally as great. The prequel/origin story, if you will.
Oh wow, as we pass Phillip II the whole area opens up into a crazy statue wonderland spread of Greek fountains and architecture
This statue and columns theme continues off into the distance and seems well worth investigating, but we’re distracted by a nice looking patio and the promise of coffee. It’s a spot called Mulliri and looks a little uppity. We walk up to the counter and discover that it’s all pastry goodies in here. MacKay puts in for a coffee and a pastry of some sort. I just double down on it, we pay up and grab some seats in the shade outside.
Moments later this shows up. “Did you order the diabetes special or something?”, “Ya I had no idea it would be this haha.”
Despite it being nothing like we’d normally order it is a delicious treat and we scarf it down like chubby cheeked quokkas who’ve never eaten sweets before. There’s more whip cream in the cup than coffee though so a re-up will be in order at a less decadent venue.
We finish up and continue our exploration of Skopje’s statue wonderland. In front of Phillip II is a long stone bridge leading to what looks like an even more magnificent square and… “Ok dude, that has got to be Alexander the Great”, “Oh definitely. Pfffft that’s like, 6 stories tall!”
This stone bridge over the Vardar river was originally built in the 6th century BC and revamped in the 15th. We look back and give Phillip a wave.
Across the bridge and into the square, there are rows of jumping water shoots preceding the absolutely over-the-top and ridiculously huge statue of Alexander the Great.
I suppose if there was one person that may warrant the largest statue on Earth it would be this guy (although I think a number of Buddhas are currently holding this title). Look at this thing!
A ring of warriors at the bottom, fight scenes on the column, lions shooting water out of their mouths, elaborate foliage.. this monument has it all. We circle it a few times just floored by how epicly outlandish it is.
Wow. We turn and start to walk away but hear water crashing behind us. Water cascades down from the central dias in a curtain for a moment but I miss it. This thing is nuts.
There are statues everywhere. Another offshoot of the square leads to a bridge over the Vardar that has statues on it every 20 feet and looks like it leads to a newer museum. The whole area is over the top in the best way possible. But we’re hankering for a real breakfast and more coffee. Figure there’s got to be a good spot in this square.
We dip into a spot called Kolektiv. It has an artsy, enclosed outdoor patio and looks to be harboring a craft brewery as well. There’s a 90s hip hop playlist on the go and we grab seats as Mary j Blige starts belting out Ghetto Superstar. Real breakfast is a go. Win
We pull out the phones and continue to refine our progress through the Balkans. “Ohrid looks sick, man. We should get there”, “By Lake Ohrid?”, “Ya, it’s the oldest city in this whole area. Take a look.” Picturesque old city on a lake nestled in the South West corner of the country. It does look dope. More ‘real’ than the manufactured history that Skopje is currently presenting us.
“I wonder if we can cross from there into Albania by boat?”, “Ya maybe. Then up into Kosovo and over to Montenegro. A big loop”, “Sounds doable. Are you gonna be able to eat with that giant horse cock staring at you?”, “Lol jeeeezus, maybe if I get a little closer…”
The perspective is way off and MacKay just has a tiny lizard tongue but it’s not hard to imagine what he’s going for here.
Nice. Real breakfast is the best.
Kolektiv seems like a cool spot but we don’t waste much time. There’s just way too much to investigate here. No Diggity comes on as we’re leaving, “No Diggity? Now I want a beer”, “Let’s look around a bit more before hitting the brain suds”, “Yaaaaa. It’s just.. No Diggity.”
We roll over to the bridge in front of the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia. Just need to pass a few more statues.
That museum is probably badass. Hopefully they’ll have a collection of Great artifacts.
This thing is pimping. There’s a plaque that says it’s The Bridge of Civilizations in Macedonia. It’s lined with statues of prominent figures through the ages
Here’s King Perdiccas I from 707 – 659 BC.
“How do they even know what these people looked like?”, “Thaaaat’s a good question”
King Marko here is dual wielding a short sword and mace. What a champ
“Yeah they didn’t skimp on the legendary shit”, “There are galleons in the river over there. Looks like bars and restaurants in them”, “Isn’t this a landlocked country haha?”
Another prominent figure from the region, Mother Teresa was born in Skopje.
Is the new Foal’s album, Everything not saved will be lost, a misquote of Mother Teresa?
Well it’s Monday and the museum is closed. Fu-shatszas. That sucks. I bet there’s fun stuff in there. Still lots to see around here though and it’s a nice temp for a walkabout.
This whole area is just bonkers. This arch w columns and statues leads into Mother Teresa square with the Opera, Ballet and Philharmonic theatres within.
Down to a second bridge, The Art Bridge, it’s similar to the Bridge of Civilizations but with prominent figures from arts and literature adorning it.
I thought this would be another museum that would be closed off to us today but instead it’s a pimped up Public Prosecutor’s office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Let’s take a look down either side of the river from the bridge.
On the one hand it’s all sensationally cool, on the other it’s audaciously cheeky and kitsch. Doesn’t help that everything feels like it was built yesterday but trying to portray things from some of the oldest recorded civilizations on the planet. Maybe in a couple centuries aliens will find this place and think it was the pinnacle of human culture and achievement (if they don’t find Ashgabat first).
Alright, time to check out the Old Bazaar and that fortress on the hill.