I am finishing my 3-day visit to the capital of Macedonia today. I was here on business but got the opportunity to explore Skopje a bit. I really enjoyed our stay mostly for two reasons. First, I stayed at the Alexander Palace Hotel, which had 6 tennis courts and a café/bar sponsored by the Skovin Winery. We played a lot of tennis and enjoyed the Macedonian wines. The second reason was the hospitality of our hosts, the Novakoski Family. Viktor Novakoski is the principal of the Nova International School in Skopje. They are fellow members of the Central and Eastern European Schools Association. Nova has become a valuable partner in developing our sports programs. Viktor and his team were fabulous hosts and I was very impressed with their school and his mission of bringing international education to the young nation of Macedonia.
The city itself is smaller than I expected, with a population of around 700,000. The topography and climate is very Mediterranean, and it looked and felt like Spain, Greece, or the Croatian coast. Skopje is surrounded by green mountains and with the perfect sunshine and blue skies, it was a very enjoyable 3 days. I was happy my Serbian was useful in getting around the city and the Macedonians easily understood me. I didn’t notice any difference in the Cyrillic script as well.
I came with question of where the Macedonians fit in the Slavic spectrum. They are not as tall as the Serbs, and being the southern most Slavic people, the city had a lot of Turkish or Albanian ambiance. There are many mosques, however, the city seemed divided between the Macedonian part and the Albanian part. Walking through the old Turkish market today, I felt like I was in Sarajevo. We even heard the call to prayer one night at dinner. With a growing population of ethnic Albanian Macedonians, it will be interesting to see how the two groups interact in future years. Can the country hold together?
I also was interested in seeing the infamous Skopje 2014 project. City leaders have this plan to build these huge statues, huge Greek Revival buildings, and fountains, plazas, etc. It was a bit amusement park like to see a 50-foot bronze Alexander the Great on horseback on a towering pillar in the center of a fountain. The fountain shooting streams of water in synch with classical music, including lights. They are spending a lot of money developing buildings and statues along the river. I have not seen anything like it and it would be interesting to hear the opinions of Macedonians if this has improved the city. There was also a really nice running track along the Vardar river, going from our hotel to downtown. It was a great place to exercise and I hope they add to the network.
In reading about the history of the Macedonians, I asked the question, are they more like the Bulgarians or the Serbians. I would say that the city felt more like Sofia than Belgrade and they are definitely more Bulgarian, but slightly less central Asian. They truly are a people in between the Serbs and the Turks. Everyone was friendly and treated us well. I would recommend a visit to the country!